The first eleven verses of Proverbs 26 have some strong words to say concerning fools – don’t honor a fool (vv.1,8); don’t trust a fool as your courier (v.6); don’t hire a fool (v.10); there is “a rod for the back of fools” (v.3); and other pointed statements as well! Indeed, ten of these first eleven verses of Proverbs 26 speak to the subject of fools … so that we have, in this portion of scripture, some very practical counsel for how to respond to them!
But then, in verse 12, comes this brief and fascinating little surprise:
“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Wow! After all he has said about the folly of fools (and perhaps after we have nodded our heads, knowingly, at his description of the very sorts of people that we actually know), Solomon throws verse 12 in for a kicker … saying, in effect: ‘But, as bad as it is to be a fool, there is someone worse off, even, than that! For even a fool has more hope than “a man wise in his own eyes”!’
Now, first we must ask: What does Solomon mean by “wise in his own eyes”? What sort of person is he critiquing? Does he have in mind the person who thinks himself wise, but who actually isn’t as enlightened as he thinks? Or is he referring to the person who actually has accumulated some wisdom, but is all too aware of that fact, to the point of arrogance? I tend to think it is probably the former, rather than the latter (see vv. 5 and 16 for contextual clues). Neither position is a good one, of course! But I believe Solomon is probably referring, in verse 12, to the man who believes himself to be wise, but who isn’t nearly as sage as he thinks.
And Solomon’s statement, there in v.12, comparing this over-confident man with the fool … that statement would be quite striking, even if we just took it by itself. It would be a significant thing to say, even if it were said in a vacuum, that is better to be a fool than to over-estimate one’s own wisdom! But Proverbs 26:12 does not come to us by itself; it does not exist in a vacuum! We find it, rather, at the tail end of the eleven verses that precede it … ten of which portray for us the fool in all his folly!
And it’s quite the unflattering portrait, isn’t it … this portrait of a fool? Solomon’s brushstrokes reveal the character of a person who is untrustworthy; whose counsels are not worth heeding; who is not to be honored; who needs sometimes to be put in his place; and who (like an animal) requires stern discipline to keep him on track. He’s a sad clown of a man, the fool.
And yet even this man has “more hope” than “a man wise in his own eyes”! Because perhaps the fool will receive the rebuke “his folly deserves”, and at least allow himself to be put in his place (v.5). But “a man wise in his own eyes” will think he knows better, even when the rebuke has come! And nor will he seek out or listen to more gentle forms of counsel, either! He already has the answers!
Beware of this, brothers and sisters! Beware of over-estimating your own wisdom! Beware of being unteachable! Beware the folly by which we spurn the counsel of God and of others – or (maybe even more often) by which it just never occurs to us to ask for such counsel – because we have yet to learn (or perhaps to accept!) just how little wisdom we ourselves have actually obtained, and how much we still have to learn.
There is great wisdom in realizing that you are not as wise as you might be tempted to think … and in seeking wisdom from God and from wise fellow men and women! Have you come to realize that? Are there areas in which you need to humble yourself, and to admit that you need counsel, and to seek it out, and to heed the wisdom that God provides you through it? Is there counsel or rebuke that you have spurned, but need to revisit? Bad as it would be for you to be a Proverbs 26 fool, there is even less hope for the man, woman, girl, or boy who thinks he already has all the answers!