A Parable in the Mouth of Fools
1. Have you ever seen those tests where various pictures are given and you are told to find “what’s wrong with this picture?”
2. In this chapter, Solomon has been setting side by side, things that don’t belong side by side.
a. Vs. 1: snow in summer; honor for a fool.
b. Vs. 4: whether to answer a fool or not to answer a fool.
c. Vs. 6: sending a message but using a fool to deliver it; it’s like trying to deliver a message by cutting off your feet—a messenger without feet…
d. Vs. 7: a parable and a fool’s mouth… they don’t go together.
The legs of a lame man…
1. Solomon is using a lame man as his illustration.
a. Lame: Crippled; maimed; i.e., pertaining to a person in a more or less permanent physically incapacitated state, where body parts do not function normally.
b. I Kings 18:21 – This term (lame) is translated “halt” in this verse. It speaks of being incapacitated to make a decision or hobbling between two opinions… like a man hobbling on two crutches.
c. II Sam. 4:4 – It was also used of Mephibosheth who fell and became lame in his feet.
2. “Are not equal”
a. This expression means: To hang down; to hang limp; dangle; to be weak and not able to move or function; to be feeble; dried up; made thin; poor; unequal… like a man on crutches.
b. The picture Solomon paints is one of a man who is lame in his legs; he is incapacitated; unable to function; his legs are dried up and feeble.
c. The legs of a lame were limp, almost lifeless and useless.
3. A lame man might have lots of other good qualities, but his legs were not his forte.
a. He might be a fine artist, but he would not be expected to be an athlete or run a race.
b. He might be a wonderful teacher, but he would never be a good dancer… or a mailman… or a marathon runner. That would not be consistent with the facts.
4. In our culture if a man who was lame wanted to be a dancer, an athlete, or a runner, we would probably cheer him on and shout, “Go for it! You can be whatever you want to be; you can do whatever you want to do.” (But of course, that is not true.)
5. But in Solomon’s day that kind of cheering would be considered foolish and even cruel. They were much more sensible than we are.
a. There were no Special Olympics in that day. He would have to compete against the top athletes.
b. They would look at a lame man trying to be an athlete and think of him as someone to be pitied… a poor fool.
c. Doesn’t he realize that he can’t do that? He’s never going to be able to compete. Doesn’t he accept reality? Why does he want to accentuate his deficiencies? Why would he want to publicly display his weakness? Why would he want to make a fool of himself by attempting to be something he is obviously not meant to be? Doesn’t he even realize he is in over his head?
d. He should do something else. He should accept the facts of life and seek to be a painter, a teacher, a politician, or use his hands as a craftsman.
e. They would think, “If your legs are no good, accept the facts of life and develop your strengths.”
f. In Solomon’s day, a lame man who attempted to do something for which he was ill equipped would not be considered heroic, but foolish.
g. The legs of a lame man are not equal: they are limp and useless. Therefore he would be ill-advised to set his sights on becoming a marathon runner or a dancer. A lame man and a dancer or runner doesn’t go together. There would be something wrong and incongruous with that picture.
A parable in the mouth of fools…
1. The point: A parable and the mouth of a fool don’t fit together either!
2. When a fool opens his mouth and begins to speak parables, there is something inappropriate, incongruous and just plain wrong about that.
3. Parable: A poetic figure of speech; a proverb; words of wisdom; an allegory; a discourse of ethical and moral sayings.
a. The word “parable” here is the word translated “proverb” in Prov. 10:1.
b. But the word itself is much broader and inclusive of more types of “words of wisdom” than the short, concise, and pithy sayings in the book of Proverbs.
c. It could include poems, allegories, riddles, or the kind of parables that Jesus told.
d. The term “parable” is used next to the word “riddle” in Ezekiel 17:2 and were used interchangeably to refer to the same figure of speech.
4. The “parable” in the mouth of a fool should be understood in the broader sense of any type of literary device used to put forth words of intelligence, understanding, and wisdom.
5. The point of the proverb is simple:
a. It is just as incongruous and inappropriate for a fool to attempt to speak forth words of wisdom as it is for a lame man to attempt to dance for an audience or to run a marathon.
b. There is something wrong with this picture! These things don’t go together… they don’t fit together. It’s like trying to put a round peg in a square hole. It doesn’t fit.
c. Proverbs 17:7 – “Excellent speech becometh not a fool.” The two don’t go together. A fool shouldn’t even try.
d. Don’t attempt that for which you are ill-equipped.
e. When someone who has a lousy voice gets up to sing, it makes people cringe. People are thinking, “That poor fool. Doesn’t he realize how bad he sounds?”
f. When someone who is lame gets up to dance, people pity him and think, “Doesn’t he realize that he can’t do that? I feel sorry for him—he’s making a fool of himself.”
g. You are embarrassed for that person.
h. And now, more to our point, when someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about gets up to explain a difficult concept, people cringe and think, “That poor fool. Why is he displaying his weakness… accentuate his deficiencies? Doesn’t he realize he’s in over his head? He would do much better to just sit down and be quiet.”
6. Prov. 24:7 – “Wisdom is too high for a fool.”
a. Wisdom is out of his league. It is over his head. It is beyond him.
b. Thus, he would do well not to attempt to speak forth words of wisdom or be a teacher of wisdom. He will surely botch his attempt. It will not come off well. He will only make more of a fool of himself… like a lame man who attempts something that his legs won’t allow him to do.
c. He would do well to acknowledge his shortcomings in this area and keep quiet.
d. We would do well to learn from this proverb: when it comes to topics that are “over our heads”, don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject and start shooting off your mouth. We would do better to realize our weakness on that subject, and keep quiet.
e. This can become a very delicate issue in the local church.
• Someone who clearly does NOT have the gift of teaching may long to teach and volunteer to teach often…
• Or a relatively new believer wants to be an elder…
• Or someone who is not proficient in a musical instrument wants to play special music…
• Or someone who does not have a solo voice wants to sing a solo.
• Often it is with the very best of intentions and from a good heart… which makes it all the more difficult to deal with.
• A man who is lame shouldn’t try to be a dancer or a runner. He should acknowledge that that is not his strength. He should learn what his strengths are and develop them.
• A believer too should learn what his gifts are and develop them… rather than to seek to serve in a way in which he is not equipped.
• If someone who cannot play the violin well attempts to play special music in church in hopes of bringing attention and glory to God… the result is that all the attention goes to the sour notes… and screeching sounds of horse hairs scraping against cat guts. It does not cause our attention to go to the Lord. That believer might do a great job on the cleanup crew or as a Sunday school teacher… but not as a violinist.
7. Prov. 17:28 – “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
a. If you don’t know what you’re talking about—then don’t say anything! There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant.
b. But there is something wrong with being FOOLISH—and saying foolish things. You’re better off being quiet and letting others speak.
c. It is great wisdom to know when and where to speak… and when and where to be silent.
8. Attempting to put a parable or any literary device designed to convey wisdom in the mouth of a fool is never appropriate.
a. Just as the legs of a lame man are useless and ineffective, so are words of so called wisdom in the mouth of a fool.
b. Why accentuate one’s infirmity?
c. It’s much better for the lame man not to attempt to dance.
d. It’s much better for the man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about to keep quiet.
e. Keeping this proverb in mind might prevent us from making a fool of ourselves at some point in the future.
f. Instead of having people look at us cringing and feeling embarrassed for us, it is better to keep quiet and let them “esteem us to be a man of understanding.”