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God’s Word for You

Proverbs 26:6-11

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 25, 2020

6 He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence
  who sends a message by the hand of a fool.

This proverb is inverted from the usual pattern, perhaps because the first element is so startling. The fool as a useless messenger is also the theme of Proverbs 13:17. This particular saying is so dramatic that it’s clear Solomon is speaking from experience. A message in ancient times had to be sent by hand, carried by a trusted courier. When such a message was especially important (as in war time or some other emergency), using a fool as a messenger could be crippling, and could invite disaster. Notice how unusual is the phrase “drinks violence.” It occurred earlier in this book (Proverbs 4:17), suggesting an idiom from Solomon’s time. It is paired in 4:17 with “the bread of wickedness,” so we see a carryover into the New Testament with Paul’s “the yeast of malice and wickedness” as an image of the old covenant (1 Corinthians 5:8). The new covenant, the Lord’s Supper and the gospel of Jesus in general, is “the bread of sincerity and truth.” Therefore anyone who maligns the Lord’s Supper or abuses it is just such a fool as we see in this proverb. This is especially true of those who (1) turn the sacrament into a law or regulation to be kept, and (2) abuse the sacrament by despising its meaning or the fellowship it displays (1 Corinthians 10:17).

7 The legs of the lame that hang limp
  is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Why is this true? Verse 11 will answer, as it will answer for verses 8, 9, and 10 as well. The image in this case is of a pair of legs that don’t work as they should. A proverb in a fool’s mouth doesn’t work as it should, often because the fool doesn’t understand it and doesn’t know what it means. He can’t bring it out when it would be appropriate.

Sometimes a proverb can be constructed so cleverly that its true meaning is hidden to almost everyone. For example, the old American (Poor Richard’s) proverb “Starve a cold and feed a fever” is shrouded in the loss of the subjunctive mood in English, so that the “if… then” premise is missed. Today, that saying would be more clear if we said, “If you starve a cold, then you will feed a fever.” But too many people think that it’s advice to starve a cold, which of course is the opposite of the proverb’s intent. This isn’t the fault of the hearers today, but of a change in our language.

More often a proverb is simply misunderstood by a fool who then tries to use it when it doesn’t apply. This is when a proverb’s legs hang limp. In the case of Scripture, it is when an unbelieving fool tries to apply one passage or thought he or she thinks he knows from the Bible which is answered clearly and simply by another passage. Allowing certain passages to explain others and putting the whole of the Bible to work in one’s heart is known as the analogy of faith.

8 Like binding a stone in a sling
  is giving honor to a fool.

Some might take this to mean that giving honor to a fool is like placing a stone in his sling: he will have a weapon to use that might hurt somebody. However, Solomon has something else in mind. The verb tsarar, which can mean “be hostile / be an enemy” (Psalm 23:5) can also mean “to tie / bind.” So Solomon’s picture here is of securing a stone in a sling so that it will never launch. That is like giving honor to a fool. It is a thing that on the one hand shouldn’t be done, and on the other hand, won’t benefit the fool at all, since he won’t know what to do with it.

9 Like a thorn growing from the hand of a drunk
  is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Just as a fool won’t know how to use a proverb, so also a fool might well hurt someone with one. Words are powerful, and a fool can do damage with them. This proverb has proven to be difficult to translate, although the basic meaning is clear. The main questions are these:

1, Is it a thornbush, or a thorny plant such as a rose bush? Luther used the idea of the rose bush: “When a drunk carries and brandishes in his hand a thornbush, he scratches more with it than allows the roses to be smelled—so a fool with the Scriptures, or a right saying, often does more harm than good.”

2, Is the thorn something that is picked up, or is it growing out of the drunk’s hand? The question has to do with the plain verb ’alah (qal perfect, the dictionary form), which should mean “going up, growing.” If it’s growing in the hand of the drunk, it’s as if he’s nurturing it. He’s perhaps holding a pot, and the bush grows there. An absurdity is that the man is so drunk that he allows a thorn or thornbush to grow right into his hand. But another possibility is that a drunk has been staggering around and impales his hand on a thorn bush, tearing off a section. He is so drunk that he cannot detach himself from the object causing the pain, and so he flails it around, hurting other people. This is closer to the account of what happened with Satan when he fell. Pierced by an unrelenting thorn of punishment, and unable to detach it from himself, he has been continuously flailing it around, wounding other angels at first (Revelation 12:4) and mankind ever since (1 Peter 5:8).

10 The Great One who brought forth everything
  rewards the fool and rewards the transgressor.

The Hebrew text of this verse invites several interpretations. This is because the first word, rab “great” could be a verb (participle). That word, rabab, means to shoot (arrows); hence the translation offered by many 20th and 21st century Bibles: “Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a fool or hires anyone passing by. That translation needs to shoe-horn the term “writhe” (“bring forth,” as in childbirth) into a causative “makes them writhe; wounds” in the second part of the first line. If we leave the text in its plainest sense, we have the above saying which fits in completely with the rest of Scripture.

As to the meaning of the proverb, we can leave that to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). God provides for everyone. He will even “reward” the fool and the transgressing sinner. Is it their reward you seek?

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

Peter quotes this proverb (2 Peter 2:22) to show the folly of those who complained that the second coming of Christ wasn’t happening soon enough. It is the pattern of the fool to go back and back again to a useless point. It does no one any good, least of all the fool, except to show the world how foolish the fool is.

We see this group of proverbs (Proverbs 26:6-11) applied whenever someone tries to justify a new practice in a church which contradicts Scripture and even the words of Jesus Christ himself. This includes arguments that are growing old in our time: open pulpit fellowship and prayer fellowship, women clergy, open communion, no-fault divorce, abortion “rights” (but no rights for the baby), and also first commandment violations within Lodges and Boy Scouts. But today we see a renewed zeal to throw aside the word of Christ when the path to heaven is declared to be open to pagans and unbelievers, those who are Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and even Satanists—to anyone who is faithful to their way of worship. This is nothing but vomit spewed all over the altars of the ELCA, and the pastors are licking it up with joyful glee again and again. “They are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace… Land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In this end it will be burned” (Hebrews 6:6,8). The Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Nahum 1:3). So much for the dogs of the ELCA and their vomit.

The Great God and Lord of us all cherishes those who have faith. “The Lord is good, a refuge in a day of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). Trust in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Through Jesus you have a place with God forever in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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