3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
and a rod for the backs of fools!
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
The horse cannot be reasoned with, the donkey will not be persuaded by words. The same goes for the fool. He ignores advice, he stubbornly resists guidance. Only force gets through to him, he will not change his ways without pain. “Do not be like the horse or the mule,” do not wait to be forced into obedience. The wise person learns from the painful lessons of others, he is guided by advice and motivated by gratitude.
Yet we all have some desire to go our own way, some stubbornness which only responds to pain. “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Are you attentive to the whispers or do you only hear the shouts? Think about the last lesson you learned through pain – how can you use it to become more wise?
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” How should we respond to fools? According to Proverbs, we ought to do it carefully. The fool blurts out his thoughts without consideration. You may be tempted to respond in kind, but what good will come of that? Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Foolish speech is ineffective, it never hits the mark for which it was intended.
When you encounter folly, take a moment to think through the opportunity and decide whether to let it pass. If an answer is worth the trouble you should consider your aim carefully, focus with precision, and let it fly appropriately and true. If you don’t hope to help the fool, don’t bother responding to him. If he must be dealt with, seek the counsel of others, and consider how you will use force if your words don’t get through. Resolve to be kind and gentle, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”