Chapter 26: Commentary

Chapter 26 A continuation of the third and final section of Proverbs attributed to Solomon (25:-29:27). Typically one-verse proverbs, sometimes addressed to "my son," they tend to be loosely grouped around themes and formatting.


26:1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.

     Like here in America, snow during the summer in Israel is just not a reality - it wouldn't even rain there during that time. But even if it did snow at that time of the year, it wouldn't do crops much good.
      Yet, while rain might happen during their harvest time (March and April), it wouldn't do much to help those crops being harvested, either. So both the snow and rain mentioned here would hardly ever happen; but, even if they did, they wouldn't really do any good.
      This verse compares honoring a fool to this snow or rain. Honor is just not appropriate for a fool. If it is given, the fool won't handle it well; it won't do him or anyone else any real good.
      In reality, even if it sounds like there might be some value here, everything mentioned in this verse just turns out to be a colossal waste of time and resources! So don't wait for snow in summer or rain in harvest, and certainly don't waste any honor on a fool.

26:2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.

     This wise saying compares two things from the living world, "a fluttering sparrow" and "a darting swallow." Both are small birds that keep on the move. Easily spooked, they never stop anywhere for long.
      Both birds are compared to "an undeserved curse." Admittedly, they would not seem to have anything in common. But it's what they do that is similar.
      These birds never settle down anywhere. That would be like this "undeserved curse" which "does not come to rest."
      While a curse might go out in this verse, it is undeserved and has no real impact on the one cursed. Whatever you feel about curses, I don't think it really matters in relation to what's discussed here.
      The message of this wise saying is that - when we are doing the right thing - we don't have to worry about something or someone sneaking up on us and messing things up. While God isn't mentioned, there's no question that He's the one who keeps things even.
      If He does allow something to come my way, it will be for my benefit and good. It will add value to my life on some level or He won't let it stick.
      So, one day at a time, let's get back out there and do the next right thing!

26:3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools!

     This wise saying compares physical discipline for three different entities - a horse, a donkey and a fool. It's a unique comparison, but definitely make the point.
      There are three different mediums of discipline here - a whip, a bridle and a rod. Each sounds like punishment.
      But I want to suggest this is actually more about discipline than punishment. It's all about each one being "motivated" to do what they're supposed to do.
      Discipline, by definition, is not punishment. The English words "discipline" and "disciple" come from the same Latin root relating to education, training, learning or following.
      Here in Baltimore, "The Ravens Way" is a form of discipline that guys choose to follow - if they want to be on the Ravens football team, if they want to play in NFL games and if they want to get paid! Admittedly, some players might feel like practice is punishment, but it's actually for their own good.
      So, in order to do what we should, we need to get comfortable with the fact that God and others will do what it takes to get our attention to help us do the next right thing.
      In truth, most of us learn our greatest lessons when under the greatest stress. That's what discipline's all about. It's designed to help us do what we need to do and to make us better people.
      Hopefully, in the end, we will be able to appreciate the process!

26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes

     These two verses are suggested to be an example of contradictions in the Bible. I don't think so!
      Here's what they say. It's not a good idea to respond to a "fool" who's acting like one by reasoning with him. Sadly his foolish responses to my reasonable words can get me so worked up, that I start sounding and acting just like him! It happens and that's not good.
      Then the very next verse discusses the exact same "answer a fool according to his folly" scenario and offers the exact opposite advice! Here it says we should answer this fool or he will continue to go on thinking and acting as the fool he is.
      While these are opposite statements, they teach a profound truth. There are times that we really need to speak up and there are also times we need to shut up – and the wisdom of Proverbs shows us when to do which!
      As the Prophet Isaiah once wrote, "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run" – or was that Kenny Rogers, I always get those two guys confused!
      There are right and wrong times to do and say things, especially in response to what is happening around us. The wisdom of Proverbs teaches us how to get that right every time!

26:6 Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one's feet or drinking poison.

     This verse is about making really dumb decisions. In antiquity, I wouldn't be surprised if someone laughed whenever this wise saying was quoted.
      "Cutting off one's feet or drinking poison" is, of course, nothing a sane person would consider doing. But such insane activities are offered in simile to "sending a message by the hands of a fool."
      One of the most discussed characters in Proverbs, the "fool" is not someone who is mentally deficient. Instead, the fool is someone who doesn't consider God to be a factor in their life (Psalms 14:1).
      Such a mindset creates significant barriers for us to do the things we should do or be the person we can be. If I have an important message or critical business that needs to be done, I really should have confidence in the person to whom I give it.
      We shouldn't consider cutting off our own feet or drinking poison as a good idea. But there is a very good chance some of us might trust some fool with an important task today.
      This verse suggests we better consider it very carefully. Don't drink that poison, don't whack off that body part and, maybe, its best I don't trust that guy or gal!

26:7 Like a lame man's legs that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.

     A man who was lame in his legs indicates that his legs didn't work as they should. He still had them, but they did not really do him much good. In the ancient world, except for a miraculous healing from God, his lame legs would even be seen as a hardship. His legs did him and anyone else very little good.
      What is compared to the legs of a lame man is a wise saying ("proverb") in a fool's mouth. Legs are good and so is a proverb. But legs of a lame man do no good and are even a burden. So a wise saying in a fool's mouth has little value for him or anyone who hears it. The messenger really can have an impact on and make a difference in his message.

26:8 Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.

     This verse compares "tying a stone in a sling" to "giving honor to a fool." Slings were long-range weapons in the Old Testament world – ancient artillery.
      So a soldier or shepherd who tied a stone into the pocket of his sling would make it virtually useless as a long-range weapon - even a waste of valuable resources if he threw it. In fact, it would be just plain stupid!
      Honoring a fool is compared to such an act of stupidity. It only empowers and emboldens the fool in his folly. Honoring a guy (or gal) like that can even cause them (or others) think that such behavior actually pays off.
      While the ancients would snicker at the thought of a shepherd or soldier tying a stone into his sling, they might still struggle - like the rest of us - with giving honor to a fool. It is an especially difficult decision when the fool is a family member or good friend.
      But "honoring a fool" produces nothing of value for them or anyone else. An exercise in stupidity and futility, it's as useless as tying a stone in a sling and hoping it will be an effective long-range weapon!

26:10 Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.

     The Hebrew text of this verse can be understood in a number of ways. It's led to numerous translations. This translation (NIV) is appropriate and quite literal.
      "Like an archer who wounds at random" seems to suggest someone just shooting arrows randomly into a crowd with the idea that surely I'll hit someone. Hopefully, this represents a wartime situation!
      But the randomness of his actions wouldn't seem to be terribly effective and is compared to "one who hires a fool or any passer-by." Anyone who would hire a known "fool" or a random "passer-by" really can't expect to accomplish much, either.
      Good business practices are at focus here. It's all about taking the time and effort to do something right - like making deliberate choices to find and empower right people - even the best people.
      We all want to work alongside folks we can trust and count on to be there. That doesn't happen by capricious random acts, but is the result of taking time and making tough choices to do the right things.

26:11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.

     Dogs are well known to eat something that makes them sick. Their stomachs reject it and they regurgitate it. But amazingly, there is also something else they are known to do – ingest again what they recently vomited. It is disgusting and so unhealthy and seems like such a stupid thing to do. Why go back and eat something that made you sick in the first place!
      Such thinking and behavior is not wise and just plain stupid. But many of us wind up doing things just as idiotic. We continue with the same attitudes and behaviors which created so many problems for us in the past ("his folly"). In the world of recovery, this concept is often referred to as the definition of insanity – doing the same things over and over, but expecting different results. It is just not a good way to live, but way too many of us spend way too much time continuing to live that way.

      Peter refers to men who follow their sinful nature and corrupt desires as being like these dogs (2 Peter 2:10-22). While it is such a dead-end way to live, and they frequently have to suffer the consequences of these choices, these men continue to live this way.

26:13 A sluggard says, "There's a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!"

     This wise saying speaks virtually the same message as 22:13 -- both are the words of the "sluggard," a lazy person. Both also speak of a "lion" on the loose, and both represent the sluggard's excuses for not doing what they don't want to do.
      While an ancient "road" may represent the pathway from one town to another, the ancient "streets" of this verse are public spaces within the walls of an ancient city. Lions did roam the countryside of ancient Palestine, but they didn't get inside a city's walls or gates very often.
      The words of this sluggard do not speak truth, but are a feeble attempt to get out of doing what he should. As he announced these words, I bet his associates rolled their eyes and snickered at his suggestion that it wasn't safe to go out in the city. They knew him and what was really going on!
      Sadly, I have plenty such excuses for my own shortcomings, but I don't want to sound as lame as this guy! The best way I know to insure I don't is to just get up, get out there and get 'er done!

26:14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.

     This proverb refers to the typical ancient wooden door being attached to a vertical wooden post which turned in upper and lower socketstones ("hinges") -- one on the floor and the other in the ceiling. Like in our homes today, ancient doors opened and closed on hinges along only one side of the doorway.
      Some translate "hinges" as "pivots," because it comes from the Hebrew verb "to turn." So the lazy guy ("sluggard") keeps turning back and forth in his bed, like the doorpost keeps turning open and closed in the socketstones.
      This isn't a new insight, just an analogy that lazy men stay in bed, turning over again and again. All a door does is turn back and forth and this guy can't be counted to do any more than just that!
      Want to see a little more about ancient doorways on site in the Holy Land? Click here!

26:17 Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

     Dogs are only mentioned twice in Proverbs and both in this chapter. In the ancient world they were not pets to play with but work animals (see notes on dogs in 26:11). Either way, they don't like to be grabbed by the ears and will try to bite anyone willing to try. Anyone who would attempt such a thing, would just have to understand that it will lead to some difficulties.
      This is compared to walking along and seeing other people having an argument and deciding to insert myself into their disagreement. I should expect them to turn on me like that dog would.
      Admittedly, there are times when we are passing by and see an injustice and feel that we must do something. But in doing so, we should still be prepared to face what may come back at us. It is not that it is wrong to get involved, just that we need to understand the consequences.

26:18 Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows

26:19 is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!"

     A madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is never a good thing. Firebrands and deadly arrows can hurt or kill and a madman doing the damage would make it even worse. This actually sounds like something out of a modern news report. We all understand the danger in such a situation.
      This explosive scenario is compared to something most of us would not consider to be too awful. We might have done so on occasion ourselves – deceiving a neighbor and then making a joke of it. The madman is doing lots of bad things while what the other man does is more about words.
      The truth is that what might seem to be innocent words and deception with a "neighbor" (the same Hebrew word for "friend") and then laughing about it can do real damage – to their relationship and to the neighbor. We need to realize the damage we can do to others, even just by our words. We must also learn to be honest and not do or say things at the expense of others, especially to our friends.

26:27 If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it; if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him.

     A man digs a pit that may have been used in any number of ways. In fact, it was probably not for anything evil. But after all his hard work – digging the pit would have been very hard work – unfortunately the man turned around and fell into his pit.
      Another man rolls a stone somewhere for some purpose, but it winds up rolling back on him. They seem like such sad stories. They may or may not have been greatly injured by these incidents, but they were great examples of doing something and having it come back on us.
      This verse reminds me of the cartoon Road Runner and Wiley Coyote. It didn't matter what Wiley Coyote did to hurt Road Runner, it always turned back on him somehow. We need to know that we will "reap what we sow" and our choices may well come back on us.