Folly & Idolatry

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
that he not be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26.4-5

Scripture has much to say of a fool and of folly. While there are different Hebrew words translated “fool” (folly or foolishness), the same concept is present in all. That concept is that a foolish person is always contrasted with a wise person. Never is a fool or one engaged in folly spoken of in scripture as being wise. Even though being foolish may at times in scripture mean simply to be naive or simple-minded, it still has the basic concept of one who lacks wisdom. In the scriptures, a fool is defined as one who ignores or rejects God’s instructions.

The Holy Spirit has declared that a wise man and a foolish man are different because of one thing: their attitudes toward God’s wisdom. Wisdom and God are synonymous. To recognize this is the starting point to becoming wise. Job wrote: “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living” (Job 28.12-13). Then Job stated, “God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof” (Job 28.23). These truths being so, Job declared, “And unto man he said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding’” (Job 28.28).

In the midst of Job’s struggle to understand the source of his sufferings while maintaining his own innocence (cf. Job 31), Job displayed folly in questioning God. Job was in no way, by his wisdom, in a position to question God. God made this known to Job by a series of rhetorical questions. By these, Job saw that God’s wisdom is unequalled. God asked Job, “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” (Job 40.2). “Will you really annul my judgment? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (Job 40.8). 

In doing so, Job declared himself a fool. After this exchange, Job responds with words that show the proper attitude needed toward God’s wisdom: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask you and you instruct me.’ I have heard of you but the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you; therefore, I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42.1-6). Job was given indisputable evidence from God. He had questioned God before; now what would his response be?

The Holy Spirit has revealed that only a fool would, in the face of indisputable evidence, still refuse to acknowledge the superiority of God’s wisdom to himself or to any other source. Worldly wisdom always (and will continue to) flaunt itself — boasting great things, viewing itself as in control of its own destiny. Worldly wisdom is a personification of the fool in scripture. The fool declares that he, not God, knows how to chart his course of life. He cannot add to his life even in the smallest way (Luke 12.25-26), yet rejects and rages against the God who can and will provide for his every need. The folly of a fool is to be anxious, rather than acknowledge and heed such wisdom as declared in Philippines 4.6: “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by preyer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

We are foolish when we are too impatient to wait upon God. King Saul’s impatience cost him the throne (cf. 1 Samuel 10.8 with 13.8-13). Samuel told him that he had “done foolishly.” Taking matters into our own hands because God does not act when we, in our own wisdom, think he should is folly. We should rather take our concerns, fears, and anxieties to him in preyer and…wait upon the Lord.

How are folly and idolatry related? Consider what God hath revealed about an idol from Psalm 115.4-7: Idols are “the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not;; eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not; they have hands, but they handle not; feet have they, but they walk not; neither speak they through their throat.” Only a fool flaunting his wisdom would boast of such a creation and then fall down before it in worship. Of those who would do this, the psalmist added, “They that make them shall be like not them; yea, every one that trusteth in them” (Psalm 115.8).

How must one whom God has identified as “wise in his own eyes” be handled? Proverbs 26.4-5 states the answer. The New Testament equivalent to this proverb is 2 Timothy 2.24-26. Recovery from the snare of the devil must be their own choice. Let us give diligence in our evangelistic efforts to enable their decisions to be based upon God’s wisdom, not ours.