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Let’s read those verses separately.  Proverbs 26:4 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”  Then, Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”  The seeming contradiction between the two verses has troubled some.  In verse 4, we’re told not to answer a fool.  In verse 5 we’re told that we are to answer a fool.  What is the Lord trying to teach us here?

First of all, there are a couple of words in the Old Testament that are translated ‘fool’.  For example, Psalms 14:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”  The Hebrew word for ‘fool’ here refers to a wicked or vile person.  The Hebrew word for ‘fool’ in Proverbs 26 refers to a silly or foolish person.

We understand that the words of Proverbs 26:4 are warning us not to engage a foolish person in a foolish manner.  If we do this, we become just like him.  If the foolish person speaks with insults, silly arguments, or sarcasm, and we react in like manner, then we have become foolish ourselves.  On the other hand, in Proverbs 26:5, we are told to answer, or respond, to a foolish person in such a way that he will not think of himself as being wise.  If we keep silent when a foolish person is acting like a buffoon, then we give him the impression that he is being clever.  It is better to cause temporary sorrow to a foolish person than to allow him to continue in a way that will eventually cause him great sorrow.  We read in Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”  When we wound out of true Christian love for a person, it is really an act of kindness.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon warns against the ways and behaviors of a fool 49 times.  In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon warns against the foolish person 17 times.  It is a serious thing for someone to be considered foolish.  Solomon writes in Proverbs 18:2, “A fool hath no delight in understanding…”  In Proverbs 19:1 he writes, “Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.”  In Ecclesiastes 10:12 Solomon writes, “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.”

My dear friends let us not engage in foolish practices in an effort to correct a foolish person.  May we act in such a way that the foolish person will realize the folly of his way, repent, and seek wisdom from the Lord.  (123.6)