Proverbs Thematic Sermon: Wisdom vs Foolishness Pt. 1: The Folly of the Fool; The Wisdom of the Wise

Jan 21, 2024    Erik Veerman

Wisdom vs. Foolishness Part 1: The folly of the fool; The wisdom of the wise


This is the second sermon in our Proverbs thematic study. Last week, we talked through our need for rebuke and discipline and godly counsellors in our lives. Those are important first steps as we move into these themes that deal with our words and actions.

If you’ll take out the Proverbs insert in your bulletin. On the front page, note our next theme focuses on wisdom and foolishness. We’ll be covering this theme in three sermons. The first, today, is on the nature of wisdom and foolishness. What is wisdom like? What is foolishness like? We’ll also consider their worth?

Then, next week, we’ll shift to consider the consequences of wisdom and folly. What are their near-term effects and long-term results?

Part 3 will be later in February or early March.

Go ahead and turn to the inside of the insert, you’ll see the Proverbs for today. There are two sub-categories. A - The nature of wisdom and folly and B - The worth of wisdom and folly to the wise and the fool.



Proverbs 24:3-7

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established;

by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might,

for by wise guidance you can wage your war,

and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Wisdom is too high for a fool; in the gate he does not open his mouth.

A. The nature of wisdom and folly

10:13-14 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,

but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.

The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.

12:23 A prudent man conceals knowledge,

but the heart of fools proclaims folly.

13:16 Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.

14:1 The wisest of women builds her house,

but folly with her own hands tears it down.

14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,

but the folly of fools is deceiving.

14:15-16 The simple believes everything,

but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,

but a fool is reckless and careless.

14:33 Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding,

but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.

15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,

but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

15:7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge;

not so the hearts of fools.

15:14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,

but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

17:7 Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a prince.

17:24 The discerning sets his face toward wisdom,

but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.

17:28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;

when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

19:2 Desire without knowledge is not good,

and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.

18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,

but only in expressing his opinion.

18:7 A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.

18:15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,

and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

27:12 The prudent sees danger and hides himself,

but the simple go on and suffer for it.

29:11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?

There is more hope for a fool than for him.

B. The worth of wisdom and folly to the wise and the fool

10:23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool,

but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.

12:14 From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,

and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.

13:19 A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul,

but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.

14:24 The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly.

15:21 Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,

but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.

16:16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!

To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

16:22 Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,

but the instruction of fools is folly.

17:16 Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom

when he has no sense?

19:8 Whoever gets sense loves his own soul;

he who keeps understanding will discover good.

20:15 There is gold and abundance of costly stones,

but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.

21:20 Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling,

but a foolish man devours it.

26:7 Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless,

is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

26:9 Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard

is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.



In the late 15th century, author Sebastian Brant wrote a book which he titled Ship of Fools. Maybe you’ve heard that phrase before. In his book, Brant critiques many of the follies of his time. His metaphor throughout the book is a ship filled with all sorts of foolish characters. The book has 112 chapters. And each chapter focuses on a different character, giving a satirical vignette of their foolish behavior or vice or disregard for reality…. Such as: flattery, greed, laziness, lust, lack of charity, neglect for one’s own affairs, foolish talk, disrespect for tradition and history. And the list goes on. Does that list sound familiar?

Well, Brant’s book became wildly popular, especially because of his use of satire. It was translated into multiple languages and inspired other writings and art. For example, a well-known painting by Hieronymus Bosch comes from Brant’s book. The painting, also titled “Ship of Fools” depicts a boat floating on the sea. And in it, 10 people are engrossed in all kinds of folly, oblivious to their surrounding. Next to the boat, 2 people swim carelessly. It’s a ship without a captain, without a rudder, floating aimlessly toward an uncertain end.

All of it really captures the essence of folly. In many ways, it captures how the book of Proverbs portrays the fool.

By the way, I want to acknowledge that this is not the first time we’ve come across wisdom and foolishness in Proverbs. Remember chapter 7? …the foolish man seduced by the adulteress. He was ignorant of her twisted speech and her deceptive ways. It was a trap and he fell prey to a tragic end.

And remember wisdom? Several chapters gave us a clear definition of wisdom including its value. Do you remember how chapter 1 described wisdom? Biblical wisdom has three parts: knowledge, righteousness, and discernment. (1) knowledge of God, his Word, and world; (2)righteousness that reflect God’s goodness and his Word in your life and (3) discernment in understand and applying what is true and right and good.. We covered that definition multiple times in the fall. Hopefully that is a good reminder.

Foolishness is like the mirror opposite of wisdom. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that cameras used to use film. Light helped to capture the image to the film, but what’s interesting about the film is that it captures the opposite. Dark colors were captured as light colors…. dark reds were light blues. Basically, it captured the inverse. That’s why they were sometimes called negatives.

Well, folly is the negative of wisdom. Instead of seeking truth and knowledge from God and seeking to apply that knowledge in righteousness and understanding, folly is the opposite. It is ignoring or rejecting knowledge and understanding and goodness.

In the original Hebrew text, there are two words in Proverbs which are translated “fool.” They’re also the root for the words foolish and folly.

The more common word for fool means someone with not just a lack of understanding but a rebellion against understanding. One commentator described it to be someone who has an active disregard for moral truth. It’s someone who defiantly opposes wisdom and instead doubles down on his folly. This word for fool is used about 80% of the time in Proverbs.

The second less common word for fool indicates someone more passive in his foolishness. It’s not a lack of ability to understand, rather it’s a lack of desire to understand. This kind of fool stubbornly rejects the need for wisdom because he doesn’t care.

So, foolishness can be active and passive.

That brings us to the two questions to which these verses speak.

#1 – What is the nature of wisdom and foolishness? Again, what does foolishness and wisdom each look like?

#2 – What is the worth of wisdom and folly to the wise and fool?

Those two questions line up with the two groupings of verses in the reading.

But really, instead of the word “foolishness,” we should talk about the fool. There are 26 occurrences of the word “fool” in these 41 verses. That’s a lot! You see, the contrast here is between the “fool” and the “wise.” It’s saying you are either in one category or another. You are either a fool or you are wise. These verses don’t present a middle ground. I think that’s hard for us to hear. Because if we reflect on our own lives, we’ll recognize that we each have a measure of foolishness in us. Don’t we?

I’ve been thinking about this, and I want to propose an analogy. Did you know, the City of Tucker is on the Eastern Continental divide? What that means is that when it rains in Tucker, some of the water flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and some of the water flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The line runs somewhere near Main Street. I’ve heard that sometimes the firetrucks will come out and turn on their hoses and spray them on one side of the eastern continental divide line… and then they will spray them on the other side. Interesting fact, isn’t it?

Well, each of us is like a drop of water in Tucker. We’re heading in one direction or another… not to the Gulf or to the Atlantic, but we’re either travelling down the path of wisdom or the path of folly. And Proverbs names the person travelling down the path of wisdom as a wise man or wise women (verse 14:1) and it names someone heading down the other path as a fool. I hope that helps orient you toward the language here.

In fact, what we learn from the first set of verses here is that a fool pursues folly and someone wise pursues wisdom. You see, the nature of a fool is self-perpetuating and the nature of the wise is self-perpetuating.

The Folly of Foolishness

Let’s start with the fool.

And actually, that self-perpetuating description is all throughout these verses. Let’s look at some of them.

·      Provrbs 12:23 in group A. “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.”

·      The next verse there is similar… 13:16. “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.”

·      Or on the right side of the list in section B. look at 14:24. “The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly.”

There are a few others verses that also show this. Foolishness breeds more foolishness. A raindrop falling on the Gulf side of the divide in Tucker is probably going to make its way into Peachtree Creek, which is then going to flow into the Chattahoochee River. It’s going to get bigger and bigger until it then flows out into the Gulf. Foolishness snowballs. That’s the nature of a fool.

And these verses get very specific in how that happens. Let me give you three things described here.

·      First, a fool rejects or ignores the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. I already briefly mentioned that, but look at Proverbs 15:14 – “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.” He rejects wisdom and instead seeks folly.

·      Second, a fool flaunts the fact that he rejects wisdom. He proclaims folly (12:23). He pours out folly (15:2). And there are a couple of other similar ones. Basically, a fools words spew forth whatever comes to mind - hurtful or vulgar or thoughtless words. Look at the beginning of 18:7 “A fool’s mouth is his ruin.” And 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” By the way, I know I’m listing these verses pretty quickly. All of my notes are published on our website and in our app if you’d like to go back. Also! One of the future themes is on words. Stay tuned for that.

·      Ok, first, a rejection of wisdom. Second, a flaunting of foolishness. And now third, “a fool is reckless and careless.” Those are the exact words right there in Proverbs 14:15-16. He is irresponsible in his words and actions. Proverbs gives us an example of that. Look on the top right to 27:12. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” A fool is irresponsible and reckless.

Ok! How about a real word example of such a fool? I’m going to give you one. Last November, Sam Bankman-Fried, or SBF as he’s known, was convicted of the biggest financial fraud in history. He’s 31 years old. He stole billions from his crypto customers and was convicted of fraud, embezzlement, and criminal conspiracy. He’s facing a 110-year prison sentence not to mention how his actions brought financial ruin to many of his customers. But also, let me read to you what he said just a couple of years ago. He said, “I would never read a book. I don’t want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that. ... If you wrote a book, you [messed] up…” only he didn’t use the word “messed.”

(1) He rejected the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. (2) He flaunted that rejection with thoughtless and crass words. And (3) he displayed utter reckless and careless actions. And all of that didn’t start a couple of years ago. No, SBF has been on the continental divide of foolishness his whole life.

Now, before we switch wisdom, let’s consider the second question applied to foolishness. What is the worth of wisdom and folly to the fool? The answer is this: a fool sees folly as worthwhile, and he sees wisdom as worthless.

Let’s look at some of the Proverbs on the right side of the page under grouping B.

·      Proverbs 10:23 – “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool.” This means either he laughs at his folly, or he pursues folly as if it is a funny joke.

·      Similarly, 15:21 “Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense.” A fool revels in his folly. He enjoys his careless and thoughtless words and actions.

·      And, as you would suspect, he also de-values wisdom. The last four Proverbs in the list speak to that. He “devours” the precious value of wisdom (that’s 21:20). Wisdom is “useless” to him (26:7). And Proverbs 26:9 “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” Wisdom, to him, is an irritating thorn. It only stirs his heart to more foolishness.

Let me summarize where we are. The nature of foolishness is a downward spiral of thoughtless and reckless words and actions. A fool is like a drop of water on one side of the continental divide that grows into a mighty river of a careless and self-centered existence. A fool rejects the pursuit of God and all knowledge and understanding that is found in him. True wisdom is worthless to the fool.

Now, we started with the fool because I didn’t want us to end there!

The Wisdom of the Wise

So, let’s switch to wisdom. The good news is that these verses also present the nature of wisdom. They direct us to the worthy pursuit of knowledge and discernment that is founded on the one who is wisdom.

Now, we already reviewed the definition of wisdom – knowledge, righteousness, and discernment. What these verses do, is give us a picture of how that Godly wisdom is lived out. It’s similar, of course, to how it painted a picture of the fool.

Ok, here’s the nature of wisdom: A wise person displays careful and thoughtful words and actions. His (or her) words reveal knowledge and demonstrate a discernment of what is good and true and right. His actions demonstrate a faithful pursuit of wisdom lived out in righteousness.

Let’s start with the words, and then move to the actions.

Again, his words demonstrate knowledge and discernment. Several Proverbs speak about this.

·      Look at Proverbs 15:2 - “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge.” The wise direct people to knowledge.

·      15:7 is very similar. “The lips of the wise spread knowledge”

·      But also, the wise are cautious in their words. They are not prideful in the knowledge and understanding that the Lord has given them. In other words, they don’t blurt out everything they know. Rather, they cautiously and humbly dispense the wisdom of God. Look at 12:23 – “A prudent man conceals knowledge.” That word “prudent” is used a few times here. It means discerning and sensible. Let me translate this into modern language. A wise man does not go around “mansplaining” what he knows to everyone. Yes, that word is in the dictionary.

In other words, he’s discerning about when and how to share his knowledge and understanding.

Ok, second… actions. A wise man or woman lives out that knowledge and discernment.

·      14:1 “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” A wise woman is intentional and diligent and careful.

·      Look again at Proverbs 14 verses 15-16. “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil.”

In summary, wisdom is lived out in a life faithful to the knowledge and righteousness of God. Wisdom is displayed in words and actions.

Let me add one more thing about the nature of wisdom. It’s like a rain drop on the other side of the continental divide. Wisdom grows in wisdom. Wisdom pursues wisdom.

Let me give you some rapid fire verses:

·      10:14 – “the wise lay up knowledge”

·      15:14 – he “seeks knowledge”

·      17:24 – “the discerning sets his face toward wisdom”

·      And 18:15 – “an intelligent heart acquires knowledge…” and it continues, “the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Think of someone in your life, present or past, who displays a maturity in wisdom. That person is likely stable, and thoughtful and intentional and caring… He studies God’s Word. She enjoy reading thoughtful and faithful books. In a discerning manner he applies God’s Word and his wisdom in situations. Her life displays a godliness, and she has a purpose in life that is centered on the Lord and his glory, not hers. When confronted with folly or evil, he speaks truth and respond carefully but firmly.

A few people come to mind who demonstrate several of those traits.

And there’s one thing that they all share. They point to the one who is wisdom. They point to Christ.

You see, if you are on the path of wisdom, one of the first things to know is that your wisdom journey will not end in this life. You will never become the perfect example of wisdom. And actually, to think that is foolish. But there is one who has.

This week, I was re-reading each of these verses on wisdom and thinking about how Jesus fulfilled them. It’s quite an encouraging exercise! We have a Lord who in every way demonstrated in his words and action and heart the fulness of wisdom.

·        As a child, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.

·        His words displayed an understanding of all things

·        In any conversation and interaction, he could penetrate to the heart of the matter with remarkable discernment.

·        He spread his knowledge and commended his wisdom to his disciples and the crowds and really, the world.

·        When confronted by foolishness, he dispelled arguments. He left his adversaries speechless.

·        The wisdom of his parables revealed an eternal perspective and justice that defied the way of the world.

·        His life testified to the wisdom of God’s Word as he perfectly fulfilled the law

·        He faithfully and sensitively ministered to any and all who came to him in need

·        He set his mind and heart on his purpose – not deterred by Satan nor the powers of this world, nor the detractors of the faith.

·        He faithfully endured the cross set before him. The cross, which was foolish to the world, yet through it, God fulfilled his infinite wisdom.

·        In all of it, as it says in 1 Corinthians 1, Christ Jesus became to us wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

He is wisdom. And for us, he is the beginning of wisdom. He is the continental divide, the line which determines if you are on the side of the fool or on the side of the wise.

He is the one who can move you to the other side of the divide… the only one who can redirect you to the path of true wisdom.

And when you have his wisdom, you have the most worthy knowledge and understanding.

That’s where I want to bring this to a close – the worthiness of the wisdom of Christ.

Look again at the verses in section B.

·        Proverbs 10:23, the second line. “Wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.” The wisdom of Christ is a joy to his heart.

·        It “satisfies him with good” (12:14); it is “sweet to the soul” (13:19)

·        His wisdom is better than gold and silver (16:16)

·        It is a “fountain of life to him who has it” (16:22) and “a precious jewel” (20:15)

·        And finally, as Proverbs 21:20 says, “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling.” To have the wisdom of Christ is to have precious treasure and oil that overflows in your life to others.

The wisdom that Jesus models and that he gives us is a wisdom that cannot be bought. It can only be received by faith. And when you receive it, it’s joy and blessing will radiate from a new heart – a heart of wisdom – the heart of Christ.

Are you on the ship of fools? Are you on the wrong side of the continental divide of foolishness and wisdom? If so, the wisdom of Jesus is for you… and it’s a wisdom that he offers to you.

So, may we each embrace the wisdom of Proverbs – a wisdom that pursues the knowledge of God and the righteousness of Christ.

And may we set aside our foolish ways and our foolish words that we may be wise in him… Amen.