Proverbs 26:5
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) Answer a fool according to his folly.—As his folly deserves, sharply and decisively, and in language suited to his comprehension.

26:2. He that is cursed without cause, the curse shall do him no more harm than the bird that flies over his head. 3. Every creature must be dealt with according to its nature, but careless and profligate sinners never will be ruled by reason and persuasion. Man indeed is born like the wild ass's colt; but some, by the grace of God, are changed. 4,5. We are to fit our remarks to the man, and address them to his conscience, so as may best end the debate. 6-9. Fools are not fit to be trusted, nor to have any honour. Wise sayings, as a foolish man delivers and applies them, lose their usefulness. 10. This verse may either declare how the Lord, the Creator of all men, will deal with sinners according to their guilt, or, how the powerful among men should disgrace and punish the wicked. 11. The dog is a loathsome emblem of those sinners who return to their vices, 2Pe 2:22. 12. We see many a one who has some little sense, but is proud of it. This describes those who think their spiritual state to be good, when really it is very bad. 13. The slothful man hates every thing that requires care and labour. But it is foolish to frighten ourselves from real duties by fancied difficulties. This may be applied to a man slothful in the duties of religion. 14. Having seen the slothful man in fear of his work, here we find him in love with his ease. Bodily ease is the sad occasion of many spiritual diseases. He does not care to get forward with his business. Slothful professors turn thus. The world and the flesh are hinges on which they are hung; and though they move in a course of outward services, yet they are not the nearer to heaven. 15. The sluggard is now out of his bed, but he might have lain there, for any thing he is likely to bring to pass in his work. It is common for men who will not do their duty, to pretend they cannot. Those that are slothful in religion, will not be at the pains to feed their souls with the bread of life, nor to fetch in promised blessings by prayer. 16. He that takes pains in religion, knows he is working for a good Master, and that his labour shall not be in vain. 17. To make ourselves busy in other men's matters, is to thrust ourselves into temptation. 18,19. He that sins in jest, must repent in earnest, or his sin will be his ruin. 20-22. Contention heats the spirit, and puts families and societies into a flame. And that fire is commonly kindled and kept burning by whisperers and backbiters. 23. A wicked heart disguising itself, is like a potsherd covered with the dross of silver.Two sides of a truth. To "answer a fool according to his folly" is in Proverbs 26:4 to bandy words with him, to descend to his level of coarse anger and vile abuse; in Proverbs 26:5 it is to say the right word at the right time, to expose his unwisdom and untruth to others and to himself, not by a teaching beyond his reach, but by words that he is just able to apprehend. The apparent contradiction between the two verses led some of the rabbis to question the canonical authority of this book. The Pythagoreans had maxims expressing a truth in precepts seemingly contradictory. 5. Answer—by reproof. According to his folly; so as his folly needs and requires, convincing him strongly, reproving him sharply, exposing him to just shame, and correcting him with a rod, when he deserves it, and thou hast a just power to use it.

Lest he be wise in his own conceit; lest thy silence make him arrogant and presumptuous, as if his words were unanswerable. Answer a fool according to his folly,.... The Targum is,

"but speak with a fool in thy wisdom;''

and the Syriac version,

"yea, speak with a fool according to thy wisdom;''

which would at once remove the seeming contradiction in these words to the former, but then they are not a true version; indeed it is right, and must be the sense, that when a fool is answered, as it is sometimes necessary he should, that it be done in wisdom, and so as to expose his folly; he is to be answered and not answered according to different times, places, and circumstances, and manner of answering; he is to be answered when there is any hope of doing him good, or of doing good to others; or of preventing ill impressions being made upon others by what he has said; when the glory of God, the good of the church, and the cause of truth, require it; and when he would otherwise glory and triumph, as if his words or works were unanswerable, as follow;

lest he be wise in his own conceit; which fools are apt to be, and the rather when no answer is given them; imagining it arises from the strength of their arguments, and their nervous way of reasoning, when it is rather from a neglect and contempt of them.

Answer a fool {b} according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

(b) Reprove him as the matter requires.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Verse 5. - Answer a fool according to his folly. This maxim at first sight seems absolutely antagonistic to the purport of the preceding verse; but it is not so really. The words, "according to his folly," in this verse mean, as his folly deserves, in so plain a way as is expose it, and shame him, and bring him to a better mind. Lest he be wise in his own conceit; thinking, it may be, that he has said something worth hearing, or put you to silence by his superior intelligence. This verse, as it stands, is scarcely to be understood. The Venet. translates 27b literally: ἔρευνά τε δόξας αὐτῶν δόξα; but what is the reference of this כּבדם? Euchel and others refer it to men, for they translate: "to set a limit to the glory of man is true glory;" but the "glory of man" is denoted by the phrase כּבד אדם, not by כּבדם; and, besides, חקר does not mean measure and limit. Oetinger explains: "To eat too much honey is not good; whereas the searching after their glory, viz., of pleasant and praiseworthy things, which are likened to honey, is glory, cannot be too much done, and is never without utility and honour;" but how can כּבדם be of the same meaning as כּבד הדברים אשׁר or הנמשׁלים כּדּבשׁ - such an abbreviation of the expression is impossible. Schultens, according to Rashi: vestigatio gravitatis eorum est gravitas, i.e., the searching out of their difficulty is a trouble; better Vitringa (since כבוד nowhere occurs in this sense of gravitas molesta ac pondere oppressura): investigatio praestantiae eorum est gloriosa; but Vitringa, in order to gain a connection to 27a, needs to introduce etiamsi, and in both explanations the reference of the כּבדם is imaginary, and it by no means lies near, since the Scripture uses the word כבוד of God, and His kingdom and name, but never of His law or His revelation. Thus also is an argument against Bertheau, who translates: the searching out of their glory (viz., of the divine law and revelation) is a burden, a strenuous occupation of the mind, since חקר does not in itself mean searching out, and is equivocally, even unintelligibly, expressed, since כבוד denotes, it is true, here and there, a great multitude, but never a burden (as כּבד). The thought which Jerome finds in 27b: qui scrutator est majestatis opprimetur a gloria, is judicious, and connects itself synonym. with 27a; but such a thought is unwarranted, for he disregards the suff. of כּבדם, and renders כבוד in the sense of difficulty (oppression). Or should it perhaps be vocalized כּבדם (Syr., Targ., Theodotion, δεδοξασμένα equals נכבּדות)? Thus vocalized, Umbreit renders it in the sense of honores; Elster and Zckler in the sense of difficultates (difficilia); but this plur., neither the biblical, nor, so far as I know, the post-bibl. usage of the word has ever adopted. However, the sense of the proverb which Elster and Zckler gain is certainly that which is aimed at. We accordingly translate:

To surfeit oneself in eating honey is not good,

But as an inquirer to enter on what is difficult is honour.

We read כּבדם instead of כּבדם. This change commends itself far more than כּבד מכּבוד (וחקר), according to which Gesenius explains: nimium studium honoris est sine honore - impossible, for חקר does not signify nimium studium, in the sense of striving, but only that of inquiry: one strives after honour, but does not study it. Hitzig and Ewald, after the example of J. D. Michaelis, Arnoldi, and Ziegler, betake themselves therefore to the Arabic; Ewald explains, for he leaves the text unchanged: "To despise their honour (that is, of men) is honour (true, real honour);" Hitzig, for he changes the text like Gesenius: "To despise honour is more than honour," with the ingenious remark: To obtain an order [insigne ordinis] is an honour, but not to wear it then for the first time is its bouquet. Nowhere any trace either in Hebrew or in Aramaic is to be found of the verb חקר, to despise (to be despised), and so it must here remain without example.

(Note: The Hebrew meaning investigare, and the equivalent Arabic ḥaḳr, contemnere (contemtui esse), are derivations from the primary meaning (R. חק): to go down from above firmly on anything, and thus to press in (to cut in), or also to press downward.)

Nor have we any need of it. The change of כּבדם into כּבדם is enough. The proverb is an antithetic distich; 27a warns against inordinate longing after enjoyments, 27b praises earnest labour. Instead of דּבשׁ הרבּות, if honey in the mass were intended, the words would have been דּבשׁ הרבּה (Ecclesiastes 5:11; 1 Kings 10:10), or at least הרבּות דּבשׁ (Amos 4:9); הרבות can only be a n. actionis, and אכל דּבשׁ its inverted object (cf. Jeremiah 9:4), as Bttcher has discerned: to make much of the eating of honey, to do much therein is not good (cf. Proverbs 25:16). In 27b Luther also partly hits on the correct rendering: "and he who searches into difficult things, to him it is too difficult," for which it ought to be said: to him it is an honour. כּבדם, viz., דברים, signifies difficult things, as ריקים, Proverbs 12:11, vain things. The Heb. כּבד, however, never means difficult to be understood or comprehended (although more modern lexicons say this),

(Note: Cf. Sir. 3:20f. with Ben-Sira's Heb. text in my Gesch. der jd. Poesie, p. 204 (vv. 30-32); nowhere does this adj. כבד appears here in this warning against meditating over the transcendental.)

but always only burdensome and heavy, gravis, not difficilis. כבדם are also things of which the חקר, i.e., the fundamental searching into them (Proverbs 18:17; Proverbs 25:2.), costs an earnest effort, which perhaps, according to the first impression, appears to surpass the available strength (cf. Exodus 18:18). To overdo oneself in eating honey is not good; on the contrary, the searching into difficult subjects is nothing less than an eating of honey, but an honour. There is here a paronomasia. Fleischer translates it: explorare gravia grave est; but we render grave est not in the sense of molestiam creat, but gravitatem parit (weight equals respect, honour).

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