The Simple, the Fool, the Scoffer
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [or wisdom]…
You may have heard this proverb quoted. Christians love to quote it. However, that’s only the glass half-full portion of the entire proverb. There’s more. The latter portion (the glass half-empty portion) is rarely quoted.
…fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).
Today we’re going to examine the utterly dismal biblical picture of the fool. This morning we’re going to look at the glass half-empty portion of Proverbs 1:7. And, it is a warning for us all—whether we’re believers or non-believers.
Perhaps, you think: Wow, it’s good that they assigned Jason this topic because surely he knows a bunch about being simple minded or being foolish. However, while that may be an accurate assessment of me (that I’m a little slow), it’s not what the Bible means by fool or by being foolish.
Rather than an intellectual designation, the word fool biblically indicates someone’s “chosen outlook.”1 Consequently, being foolish is a moral choice which someone makes not simply an intellectual aptitude which that person innately has. In short, the biblical fool plays the fool by closing his or her mind to God.
(Allow me—as a side note here—to make the ironic observation that a person’s towering intellectual ability can, and often does, become the very thing which causes him or her to choose and, thus, earn the biblical designation of fool. In other words, intellectual pride can lead some individuals to reject or abandon godly wisdom and instruction—to give up the fear of the Lord.)
But, (in God’s evaluative system) SATs, ACTs, or GPAs don’t mean squat. High scores on such tests don’t, in the end, determine one’s wisdom or foolishness. Instead, our choices to take or not take godly counsel will lead to wisdom or folly. A choice to open our minds to God will lead to wisdom, but a choice to close our minds to God will lead to progressive stages of evermore dangerous foolishness.
In our little study of biblical folly, we’ll look at three types of idiots or fools: (1) the simple, (2) the fool, and (3) the scoffer. Each term personifies a progression of foolishness in the book of Proverbs, and each progression becomes more destructive and dangerous not only for the fool himself, but, also for those in relationship with him.
1. The Simple
This is our least foolish fool. He is not however a blank slate or innocent. For, biblically none are seen as innocent. Instead, he is not as bad as he could be. The simple is easily deceived or is gullible, and—in a fallen and sinful world—those are deadly-dangerous characteristics!
Think, for example, of Sampson and Delilah’s affair in the book of Judges. There, Sampson is a prime example of a simpleton as described in the proverbs. What does he do?
Three times he is asked by Delilah to reveal the secret of his great strength. And, three times he lies to her: (a) simply bind me with 7 fresh undried bowstrings, (b) simply bind me with new ropes that have not been used, and (c) simply weave the seven locks of my head and fasten it tightly with a pin—each time telling her, when she do these things, he’ll become as weak as other men.
After each lie, Sampson finds that Delilah has tried it so as to ensnare him. The Philistines are even there in Delilah’s house ready to capture and enslave him. You’d think he would have learned after three tries, but he is simple and gullible. Thus, the fourth proves his downfall, his folly (Judges 16).
- The simple believes everything, / but the prudent gives thought to his steps (Proverbs 14:15).
- The simple inherit folly, / but the prudent are crowned with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18).
The Simple are territory for which Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly contend. So Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly both cry-out:
- “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” (Proverbs 9:4, 16).
2. The Fool
While the simple are often too easily swayed by the words or opinions of others, the fool takes biblical idiocy a step forward (or, maybe more appropriately, a step backwards) by remaining “fixed in the correctness of his own opinion, which flies in the face of the established moral order.”2
- A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, / but only in expressing his opinion (Proverbs 18:2).
- The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, / but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15).
We’ve all had interactions with people who like to hear themselves talk. This is one particular characteristic of the biblical fool.
We have all had interactions with people who will only recognize an idea as a good idea if it’s their idea. This is a second particular characteristic of the biblical fool.
Whereas the simple hadn’t closed his mind to God but was easily led astray, the biblical fool has closed his mind to God unless God says what the fool says. How does this look? This is how it looks. The fool is:
Cocksure of his own point of view…, he has no heart for education…. As he airs his own opinions, he gets others…and himself into trouble…. He is hotheaded…, and takes delight in evil conduct…. Money in his hands is wasted…. He is inclined to mindless amusements…. [Consequently, it] is better to meet an angry she-bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly…. [He] returns to his folly “like a dog that returns to its vomit….”3
Playing the biblical fool is like emulating George Armstrong Custer riding up to Little Bighorn, and being friends with the biblical fool is like being one of the 7th Calvary Regiment riding up with Custer to his last stand.
The fool is not only a danger to himself but to all those with him!
If the simple are territory for which Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly contend. Then, the fool is territory that has been pretty firmly won by the call of Lady Folly. The fool has begun to drink of Folly’s “stolen water” and eat of her “secret bread.” He is no longer merely simple.
3. The Scoffer
Finally we meet the most foolish fool. He’s regressed far down Folly’s path. Unlike the simple, the scoffer or mocker won’t be easily swayed; he’s not aimless. And, unlike the fool, the scoffer is not content with merely hearing himself talk. The scoffer, instead, has been converted by Lady Folly and is now set upon converting others to foolishness as well!
- “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride (Proverbs 21:24).
- Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease (Proverbs 22:10).
- The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind (Proverbs 24:9).
Consider, for example, the ultimate scoffer in the entire Bible—the Devil. Converting simpletons to fools and fools to scoffers is always Satan’s highest goal. If wisdom is to open one’s self to God and to choose his ways over one’s own, then Satan aims to progressively close individuals to God by encouraging them to foolishly choose against him.
The Devil scoffs at God’s ways.
- Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). Does God really love you?
- If you eat of the fruit, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). God has been lying to you.
Do you see? The further down the path of folly we go—from simpleton to fool to scoffer—the more we look like Satan and the less we look like God.
Thus, what Proverbs does, with this regression of folly, is tell us a story. Perhaps, I should explain that it’s one possible ending to the story of you and me. You see, what we’re looking at today—with the simple, the fool, and the scoffer—is only one of two possible outcomes to the story of you and me, and of all people. It’s a story about choosing a family.
When I was young, I recall some friends having fewer boundaries than I did. (I’ll bet most of you can remember something like that from your own childhood.) I often complained to my parents that these friends had later curfews than I had or that these friends had more liberal driving privileges than I had around Jeff City or that these friends didn’t have to get a summer job like I did—their parents just gave them money!!!
These complaints slowly developed into negative thoughts about my family. I imagined that my family was too controlling and stifling to me and my siblings. And, I imagined that I would be better off if I were part of another family who would let me choose for myself and go my own way and really have my freedom. If only I were a Jordan or a Tellman or a Gates then I would be happy.
However, those were the thoughts of a simpleton, of a fool, and of a scoffer. I imagined all the boundaries that the Abbotts set up for their children were bad. But, really, they weren’t bad. I imagined that Abbott rules discouraged freedom. But, rather, they encouraged healthy freedom. I thought No proved I wasn’t loved. But, instead, it meant I was being lovingly protected from my own folly.
I was a fool! I wanted to join another family—one I wasn’t created for—simply because I naïvely believed I knew what was best for me, and my parents, who were far more experienced and wiser than I was, did not.
This is very similar to the story we’re being told in the book of Proverbs. Like me, during those years, many people today naïvely reject the boundaries, which biblical wisdom proclaims, as too restrictive and too hindering to follow. They wander into lifestyles which seem excellent to them and habits which they find convenient.
- In so doing, they regress from simpleton to fool to scoffer!
- In so doing, they reject the family they were born to be a part of!
You and I were born into this world to bear the marks of our Father—God. Rather than having the same crooked nose or squinty eyes or warm, gentle smile, we were born to exhibit our heavenly Father’s justice and mercy and love and patience and grace and a million other holy attributes.
We were born to bring glory to our heavenly Father by being beautiful like our heavenly Father is beautiful!
Yet, the story of the simple, the fool, and the scoffer in the book of Proverbs shows what happens to us when we scorn the calling to image our heavenly Father. When we long to join some other family, when we begin to reject God’s image, when we put on unholy character traits, we go from bad to worse.
We begin to bring glory to Satan—the Father of Lies—by being ugly just like he is ugly! We become more sons and daughters of hell than we do sons and daughters of heaven!
- So we must choose God’s family name and reject Satan’s family name.
- We must heed the call of Lady Wisdom and reject the call of Lady Folly.
However, though these are very good things for us to remember and to do, we must always keep them in right perspective. Since:
Ultimate wisdom has been revealed to us. For, as Paul says:
- [In] Jesus Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3-4).
- But to all who did receive [Jesus Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
The dismal reality is that without Christ, all are headed for the tragic ending of the simple, the fool, and the scoffer.
But, the good news is that, through faith in and dependence on Jesus Christ, we will be found eternally wise and are even now counted among the beloved members of God’s family.