Contending with a Fool
If a wise man contendeth with a foolish man,
whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest.
1. This proverb gives advice when contending with a fool.
2. Solomon doesn’t actually say whether to contend with the fool or not, but he does describe the outcome – “no rest.”
If a wise man contendeth with a foolish man, whether he rage or laugh…
1. Contending with a fool is the subject at hand.
2. First let’s look at the terms describing the two men in this “contention.”
a. Wise man: Skilled; learned; discerning; shrewd.
b. Foolish man: Without understanding; simpleton; unwise and lacking a capacity to understand because of a stubborn will.
3. Contending defined:
a. In a legal setting: To judge a case; adjudicate a matter between two parties in a court; executing law; executing judgment and justice in a legal setting.
b. In a more general setting: Deciding controversies; to judge; to argue or argue a case.
c. In Proverbs 29:9, it is probably best to understand the term in a more generic sense – any kind of argument, debate, or dispute – whether before a court of law or an argument with a fool in the street or at work or anywhere.
4. The main point is the fact that it is a wise man arguing with a fool.
a. Given the two parties in this dispute, one might think that the debate would be a slam dunk for the wise man.
b. The wise man has wisdom and knowledge. He has discernment. He probably has a good mastery of the language too.
c. Prov. 15:7 – “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so.” The wise man has a good grasp of the knowledge needed in the debate.
d. Prov. 18:6-7 – “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. 7A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” The fool’s mouth utters such foolish things, most would conclude he needs a whipping! His mouth is his destruction. How could he ever hope to win an argument with a wise man?
e. Ecc. 10:12-14 – The fool is not even in the same category as the wise man. How could he ever win a debate?
f. The wise man has all the knowledge and all the answers and the fool does not.
g. However, Proverbs 29:9 seems to indicate that arguing with a fool is NOT a slam dunk for the wise man. In fact, this proverb encourages the wise man to think twice before even entering into a debate with a fool.
5. “Whether he rage or laugh…”
a. This implies that when arguing with a fool, he will either rage or laugh.
b. There are two possible approaches a fool will take:
• He might make a mockery out of the debate by laughing…
» He will mock and ridicule whatever the wise man says.
» He will not take the debate seriously.
» He will hope to get the onlookers to side with him and laugh with him… because he is jovial and laughing—and the wise man might be very serious-minded (not a “fun” person)
» He will listen to the wise man’s argument and rather than reasonably respond, he will simply laugh and mock… perhaps sprinkled with some name calling.
» Prov. 10:23 – “It is as a sport to a fool to do mischief.” Some fools love to argue and ridicule their opponents. It’s a game to them.
» Prov. 14:9 – “Fools make a mock at sin.”
• OR he will become enraged that someone has the audacity to challenge him.
» Prov. 27:2 says that a “fool’s wrath is heavier than” a large stone or much sand.
» A fool can get angry in a hurry. His wrath can be quite potent and powerful.
» Instead of a sane, logical argument where reason rules, it will degenerate into a heated quarrel that accomplishes nothing but fans the flames of fury, rage, and perhaps violence.
» Fools don’t like to be confronted or corrected!
» Prov. 23:9 – “Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.”
c. Either way, Solomon implies that the fool argues on the basis of raw emotion rather than on reason, logic, or common sense.
There is no rest.
1. If a wise man argues with another wise man, he at least knows that his points will be understood and debated sensibly.
a. He will know that the debate will be based on reason and logic.
b. There is hope of making your case when debating with a wise man.
c. He may disagree—but at least a sensible discussion can be had, and a reasonable and rational outcome.
2. But when debating with a fool, “there is no rest.” (quietness; peace)
a. No rest – the argument will never end.
b. It will go on until the fool wears out the wise man with his folly.
c. The fool will mock, scorn, laugh, and ridicule, and there will be no rest.
d. Or the fool will become enraged, furious, and even violent.
e. And there will be no rest—no end—to his rage.
f. Prov. 27:4 – “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous.” An argument based on wrath and anger will go nowhere good.
g. There will be no end to rage and fury.
3. While Solomon doesn’t make any specific commands in this proverb, the point is pretty clear: don’t even ENTER into a debate with a fool!
a. It is a losing proposition.
b. You may have the right answers; the logic may clearly be on your side; you may have all the knowledge and the facts, but that doesn’t matter when debating a fool.
c. The fool will be too busy laughing and mocking, or raging in anger to even listen to reason.
d. Fools don’t enter into debates or discussions because they are seeking for the truth. They have a different agenda.
4. Prov. 26:4-5 – “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. 5Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”
a. These two proverbs are put side by side for a reason.
b. At first glance, they seem to contradict each other. First he says not to answer a fool… then he tells you to answer a fool.
c. And Solomon gives good reasons for both!
d. These two proverbs really make one point: you can’t win in a conversation or an argument with a fool!
e. If you answer him – you have stooped to his level and you become “like” him.
f. If you don’t answer him – then the fool considers that he has won the debate. He thinks that his arguments are irrefutable.
5. Matt. 7:6 – “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
a. There are some foolish men we should NOT engage into conversation with.
b. Here the Lord likens these foolish men to swine—not very complimentary term for a Jew to use.
c. Why not cast pearls before swine? Because pigs have no use for pearls. They don’t appreciate the beauty or value of pearls.
d. So too, a foolish man does not see the beauty in truth, nor appreciate the value of truth.
e. Instead of a sensible debate based on facts, the swine will turn on you!
f. It is futile to enter into arguments with fools, dogs, or pigs.
g. Prov.10:13 – the only “argument” a fool understands is the rod.