Proverbs 26:3

A Rod for the Fool’s Back


1. This proverb has a simple message conveyed by likening a fool to dumb animals.

2. It’s not very flattering, but it is true.

3a A whip for a horse, a bridle for the ass

A. A Whip for a Horse

1. Whips have always been used in training animals.

a. A whip is used to get a lazy horse to move.

b. Jockeys use a whip to steer, control, and encourage a horse to run hard during a race.

c. And yes, there are animal rights groups seeking to stop horse racing for this reason.

d. A whip is used to control the behavior of an animal.

e. Animals do not respond to human reasoning, but they do respond to pain.

f. Hence, the minor pain inflicted by a whip is used to train horses and to control them.

g. Jockeys and horse owners would love to be able to sit down and hold a rational conversation with their horse and explain the strategy of running the race or of doing the chores at the farm, but that is obviously impossible.
• Dumb animals do not have the sense of reason.
• They lack the understanding to engage them in an intelligent conversation.
• Hence, the only way to communicate to them is through pain.

h. The whip gives them a little sting and the snapping sound frightens them… and motivates them to respond.

i. If you want a dumb animal to respond, you have to use fear and pain.

j. There were no “horse whisperers” in Solomon’s day.

B. A Bridle for the Ass

1. A bridle is a piece of equipment used to direct a horse, camel, or some other animal.

a. A metal bit goes into the mouth of the horse, which is connected to the reins which when pulled properly will direct the horse either to the right or left.

b. The bit and bridle controlled the direction in which the horse would run.

c. Isa. 37:29 – “Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.”

d. The metal in the mouth was painful when pulled on the reins, and would force the animal to turn in the direction it was being pulled.

e. Like the whip, it applied pain to the animal and caused to submit.

2. Solomon speaks of the bridle used on the ass or donkey

a. Normally we would think of the bridle for the horse and a whip for the donkey.

b. However, some sources have noted that the Syrian (Middle Eastern) donkey is a finer breed than we have in this country. And also in that region in Solomon’s day, horses were not as commonly used for transportation as today.

c. Thus, Solomon speaks of a bridle on the donkey. Regardless of the animal on which it is used, the purpose is the same: it is used to direct them and guide them.

d. Donkeys didn’t always move in the direction the owner wanted—so a bridle was used.

e. The meaning of this illustration is basically identical to the first.

f. If any difference was intended by Solomon it may well have been that one causes a dumb animal to change direction (bridle) and the other causes the dumb animal to be motivated to move (whip).

3b And a rod for the fool’s back.

1. Solomon compares the horse and the ass (stubborn mule) to a foolish person.

a. Both are unreasonable and ungovernable apart from brute force.

b. Both have to be controlled by force and fear… corporal punishment.

c. Both are in a sense, dumb animals!

d. A foolish person may be brilliant in the natural realm. He may be a professor in a prestigious university… a high ranking politician… a poet or an artist… an inventor. He may have great wisdom in the world.

e. But often men who are wise in the natural realm are foolish in the spiritual realm. They have no knowledge of or fear of God. They are often stiff-necked, stubborn, and rebellious against God.

f. This man too is like a dumb animal in the spiritual realm. God may have to use drastic measures to get his attention.

2. Prov. 10:13

a. A wise man (the opposite of a fool) has understanding.

b. You can communicate with him intelligently. You can reason with him.

c. Because he is wise, he will respond to wise counsel.

d. But that is not so with a fool. He is void of understanding. You cannot reason with him.

e. Therefore, the only way to get his attention is the use of a whip – corporal punishment.

f. Fools are characterized by the inability and/or the unwillingness to reason with a wise man.

g. Children who won’t listen to reason will have to listen to the rod.

h. It is even more pitiful when an adult never grows up and never listens to reason.

i. He too needs to be treated like a dumb animal… the only language he responds to is strength and pain.

j. This is not the way it SHOULD be… but it is the way it is.

3. Prov. 20:30 – “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.”

a. Sometimes harsh treatment—physical punishment is the only way to get the attention of a fool.

b. Note that such chastening is effective: it has a cleansing effect in putting away evil.

c. In other words, correction drives folly and evil out of a person. That’s the purpose of it. And it has to “hurt” in order to be effective.

d. Just as a dumb animal will turn around when pulled with the bit or whipped, so a foolish person will often change his behavior when he is chastened.

e. That doesn’t always happen (see next verse!) but it is the purpose of chastening… and often does work.

f. God says that stripes (a whipping) on the back of a fool may leave bruises outwardly, but it cleanses on the inside—in the belly.

g. Ps. 119:67 – “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word.” That kind of chastening in the form of “affliction” is GOOD for us in the end.

4. Psalm 32:9 – Be not as the mule!

a. They have no understanding and thus have to be held in with a bit and bridle. Otherwise, they are dangerous!

b. Vs. 8 – God seeks to guide us and teach us. He is our Heavenly Father.
• But to be taught by God, we need to be submissive, tenderhearted, and sensitive to Him – like putty in His hands.
• He is able to teach and guide those with a tender heart… willing to hear counsel and advice… willing to respond in faith and obedience to His Word.
• But those who are foolish do not have a tender heart towards the things of God.
» They are like the stubborn mule or unbroken horse.
» They do not hear counsel and advice.
» They are not like putty in God’s hands.
• Instead, they are like hardened clay that needs to be crushed, broken, and beaten into submission.
• This is NOT God’s desire. He much prefers that we respond with a tender heart out of love for Him.
• But if we refuse to respond in love, God is plenty able and willing to use force.
» He knows just where to touch to get our attention. He knows how to get to each one of us.
» He knows how to humble us and force us into submission… to whip us into submission…
» And He will if we refuse to respond.
• But God much prefers to get our attention and submission through the gentle persuasion of the Spirit of God working in our hearts… making us soft and tender to His leading and guidance.
• He would much prefer to deal with His children through love—and by means of reason and gentle persuasion than force.
• Vs. 10-11 – The stubborn, wicked men shall have many sorrows—they will experience the whip. But those who trust in the Lord (respond in faith and submission) will experience His mercy and joy.