The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
In the Proverbs we are presented with the contrast between two types of individuals: the wise man and the fool. We’ve already seen how the “wise man will hear and increase learning” and how a “man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5). And now we’re introduced to the man who lives at the other end of the spectrum— the fool.
But what is a fool? And what is it about a fool that compels him to “despise wisdom and instruction?” (Prov. 1:7).
The Fool Defined
When we use the term fool today we think of someone who acts unwisely or imprudently, maybe a silly person who tries to dupe, trick or prank us. We often equate the term with being stupid, simple or naive. But the word, as used in the Proverbs, has a much sinister meaning.
In Proverbs 1:7 the Hebrew word for fool is eviyl and means “foolish in the sense of one who hates wisdom and walks in folly by despising wisdom and morality.” It describes one who “mocks when found guilty, one who is continually quarrelsome and one who is licentious in his behavior.”
After all, the Proverbs say that “fools hate knowledge” (Prov. 1:22) and “fools die for lack of wisdom” (Prov. 10:21). The heart of a fool, the very center of their being “proclaims foolishness” (Prov. 12:23) and it’s against their very nature, in fact, “it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil” and do what is right (Prov. 13:19). Fools “mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9), and their mouth not only “feeds on foolishness” but “pours forth foolishness” like a flood (Prov. 15:2, 14).
Therefore, one who lives and thinks this way would naturally despise any “wisdom and instruction” that points out the errors in their actions or lifestyle. Why? Because “the foolishness of a man twists (or, perverts) his way, and his heart frets (or, is enraged) against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3) and the “way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 12:15). Plus, you can “grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Prov. 27:22). Their foolishness is embedded in their nature, it’s part of their DNA, it’s in the marrow of their bones.
But there’s more to a fool than just a rejection of the truth found in the Scriptures. The verse also states that fools “despise” both the “wisdom and instruction” of God. And despise is a strong word. It means to “hold in contempt, to deem insignificant, to show scorn or disrespect for someone or something.” So putting this all together, Proverbs 1:7 reads like this:
The fear (or, awe, profound reverence, terror and dread) of the LORD is the beginning (or, starting point, inception, genesis) of knowledge (or, discernment and insight into the things of God), but (the contrast) fools (or, those who mock when they are found guilty in their sin, those who are licentious or who are promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters and live immoral lives) despise (or, scorn, disrespect, ridicule and view as insignificant and worthless) wisdom (or, the ability to discern and judge what is right, true, and lasting) and instruction (or, discipline, chastening, and correction, with the imagery of a father disciplining his son that he loves).
In fact, this truth is so important that Proverbs 23:9 restates it as such: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, (why) for he will despise the wisdom of your words.”
The Fool More Clearly Defined
But the Scriptures, especially the Proverbs, have much more to say about the fool. In fact, the Lord gives us almost an entire chapter to show us, in graphic detail, the life and future of a fool. Look what He says in Proverbs 26:1-12 and note the contrast between the wise and the fool:
As snow in summer and rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight.
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the fool’s back.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, (why) lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
The great God who formed everything gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.
As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
And there’s so much more.
The Fool’s Pay-Off
Which brings us to the pressing question, Why? Why would anyone willingly choose the life of what the Scripture calls a fool? Why would anyone foolishly run down the path that leads to only hardship, suffering, and destruction? What’s the upside, the advantage, the benefit, the payoff for choosing to live and think as a fool? And since most of our culture has embraced foolishness, what makes the life of a fool so obviously appealing?
And this is where the problem lies. It’s a problem of perspective and belief.
You see, our culture calls a “self-made man” a hero. We applaud the antics of someone who calls his own shots, who’s a leader among leaders, who refuses to take “no” as an answer and cannot be deterred in his passionate quest for what he truly wants. We want to emulate the person who bows down to no one, who can “give better than he gets” and who is committed and single-focused on his own agenda and way of seeing things.
These are the attributes that create the celebrated icons of our society. These are the character traits that lead to success in this world. And if you desire to live like your heroes, then these are the types of people you must become.
Yet these are also the traits and convictions that make someone a fool in the eyes of Scripture. Just think about it. Our fallen, prideful culture says that the most important thing in this world is “me”. It’s my wants, my rights, my desires, my opinions, my future, my calling, my future, my happiness, my importance… or simply “me.” And so the mantra goes: “If I can’t love myself then I can’t love others. I have to love me first.” Or, as Shakespeare put it, “To thine own self be true.” But to think like that and especially to live like that makes you a fool in the eyes of the Lord.
The Heart of the Cross is Sacrifice
Why? Because the heart of the Christian life, the essence of the Christian message, is about love displayed in sacrifice and service to others. After all, didn’t Jesus say “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13)?
Then, if all this is true, why is the world almost irresistibly drawn to the lifestyle deemed as foolish by the Lord? Why can they not see the error of their ways, the inevitable damning consequences of their selfish choices? Why is the world so blind to the truth and why do they not only reject, but literally detest, the “wisdom and instruction” of the Lord?
The answer is found in the cross of Christ.
The greatest act of self-sacrifice known to humanity was displayed by Christ on the cross where He willingly died for the sins of others. But this act of sacrifice and love, the agony of the ages, is considered to the lost, the unregenerate, the world, to those the Scripture calls fools, as foolishness to them. In other words, the world calls the cross of Christ “foolishness” and therefore becomes a “fool” by despising the “instruction and wisdom” of the Lord. This is a tragic case of verbal gymnastics at its very best.
1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the message (or, preaching, power, wisdom and instruction) of the cross is foolishness (or, moronic, absurdity, folly) to (who) those who are perishing (the lost, the unredeemed, the world), but to us (the elect, the redeemed, the children of God) who are being saved it is the power of God.
But there’s more. Read on.
1 Corinthians 1:19-31 – For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made (what) foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the (what) foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen (His action) the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen (His action) the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen (His action), and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, (why) that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are (what) in Christ Jesus, who became for us (1) wisdom from God—and (2) righteousness and (3) sanctification and (4) redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
It’s More than Mere Semantics
But this is much more than mere semantics. These words have eternal consequences. If you live in the world and believe this is your Best Life Now!, you will see the wisdom of God and the sacrifice of Christ as foolish or moronic. But if you live in the Kingdom of God, you will understand that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but fools”, those who reject the gospel and all it entails, by their very nature, “despise knowledge and instruction” of the Lord (Prov. 1:7)
So which are you? A fool in the eyes of the world for believing in the cross of Christ or a fool in the eyes of Scripture who rejects the very truths of God? The choice is yours. And the consequences of your choice are eternal.
So choose wisely.
1. Do you remember the time when you played the fool for the world and all it promised you? What was that like? Did the world deliver on its promises? Or were you left disappointed and empty-handed?
2. What was it like for you when you began to understand the cross of Christ for what it truly is? How did you pass from viewing it as mere foolishness to understanding and embracing it as the power and wisdom of God? (1 Cor. 1:18). Can you describe that experience? Have you had that experience?
3. Can you list a few examples from your own life when you despised the “knowledge and instruction” of the Lord? (Prov. 1:7). Are their things in His Word that you disagree with or refuse to accept and obey? And, if so, what are they? Do you see these instances as areas where you are despising God’s knowledge and instruction? And if so, does that make you a fool?
4. What changes are you committed to make to align your life with the eternal, infallible wisdom of God? Have you identified areas that need addressing? And are you fervent enough in your faith to address those areas in your life, no matter the costs? And if not, does that also make you a fool?
5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?
Next Step Challenge
Take your Bible and look up the following verses in the Proverbs that deal with the contrast between the wise and the fool. Do a word study and define some of the terms used to make sure you have a complete understanding of what the Lord is saying in these passages. Then ask yourself a few questions.
Proverbs 14:33 – Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the heart of fools is made known.
Proverbs 17:16 – Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, since he has no heart for it?
Proverbs 18:2 – A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.
What do these verses mean to you? Can you see yourself in any of these warnings and contrasts? And if so, in what way? What does it mean when it says, “he has no heart for it” (Prov. 17:16). Do you have a heart for God’s wisdom?
And what does it mean to be a fool today? Do you know anyone the Scripture would deem a fool? Do you have any of those traits in your own life? And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?