The beginning of Proverbs (Ch. 1-9) contains 10 lessons of wisdom. This blog post will examine Lesson # 9. In the book of Proverbs, the “fool” is often used generally to describe the opposite of the wise, but here the father-sage gets more specific and he covers three different types of fools: “The Swindler” (6:1-5), “The Sluggard” (6:6-11) and “The Sociopath” (6:12-19). (1) As you read these sections, ask yourself if you have encountered this type of fool in your life. The wise person needs to know about these different types of fools so that you can first, recognize them, second, so that you can stay far away from their destructive influence in your life, and last, so that you know to never become like them. First, we meet “The Swindler”:
6:1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
2 you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
4 Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.
(Prov 6:1-5, NIV)
The swindler is an impulsive, greedy type of fool who will want to rope you into their financial entanglements. A “security” or a “pledge” (v 1) was collateral for debt. Shaking hands (v 1), like today, was a gesture for sealing a financial agreement. While the modern day concept of cosigning and loans with interest is not exactly identical to the ancient practice described here, the basic idea was still the same. Borrowing, co-signing, and incurring foolish debt, the father says is a “snare.” In the animal kingdom, a snare or “trap” was a device which concealed its deadly danger, in order to take its victim by surprise. This is the nature of the world of consumer debt. It’s a trap! Notice in verse 3 the father’s imperative, “Do this!” He speaks with urgency, aiming to rouse his son to immediate action. If you’re not familiar with financial advisor Dave Ramsey, his explanation of this passage of Proverbs and getting “Gazelle Intense” in order to become debt free is really something you should see. Dave vividly describes the gazelles running away from their predators, and urges his audience to be just that motivated to get out of debt. Go here for more. Dave Ramsey says, “You can wander into debt … but you can’t wander out … no, you gotta run like you’re on fire!”
The spiritual problem with debt is you are presuming on the future. This is outside of your control. As such, the father implores his son, get out of debt now, get out of your friend’s debts, and get away and stay away from all these kinds of financial liabilities. Solomon tells us elsewhere, “The borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov 22:7). The swindler, the father tells his son, is not your friend, and he’s definitely not your role model. Set some boundaries with that guy. Say “No” to the swindler” and stay out of debt. Next, we meet his close cousin, “The Sluggard”:
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.
(Prov 6:6-11, NIV)
“The Sluggard” is the type of fool who is characterized by laziness, a stubborn unwillingness to work and the chronic problem of never having enough money. Let me make a caveat, we are not talking about people who are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. These folks are of great concern to God (Prov 19:17). Instead, here we are talking about “self-inflicted” economic impoverishment. Look at the description. The sluggard’s love for sleep is his pure escapism, refusing to face the world. He withdraws from the pain of working and life in general. The sluggard prefers to rest. “I’ll get to that … sometime.” But he will not make or keep commitments, utterly frustrating everyone around him. Notice the exasperation in the questions, “How long will you …?” and “When will you …?” (v 9). He is driving everyone crazy.
As in the first section, again the father looks to the animal kingdom for an illustration. Here he encourages the sluggard to study “the ant.” (Note, this term refers to the “harvester ant,” an insect which is always diligently at work storing its grain within its nest). The ant is an example of hard work, planning, and industry, without even a need to be exhorted by a supervisor. The sluggard needs to study the ant.
The warning given here is of perpetual want and poverty which was a great danger in their society without the kind of social programs we in America are familiar with today. The father tells his son plainly, “While your eyes are shut and your hands are folded, your poverty will take over you!” The main problem, like the swindler, is that the sluggard too is presumptuous. He needs to work while it is still day and while he still can. The old adage, ““Make hay while the sun shines” fits well. The sluggard needs to get a job and go to work. The apostle Paul says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).
Finally, we meet “The Sociopath.”
12 A troublemaker and a villain,
who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
13 who winks maliciously with his eye,
signals with his feet
and motions with his fingers,
14 who plots evil with deceit in his heart—
he always stirs up conflict.
(Prov 6:12-14, NIV)
This third kind of fool has turned to the dark side. The term “troublemaker” (v 12) literally in Hebrew is the word “Belial,” which was a term used to describe the devil himself (1 Cor 6:15)! Bruce Waltke calls him “The Insurrectionist” for his rebellion against God and extreme antisocial behavior. (2) He has become a violent, perverse, rabble-rouser. He is a slanderer who distorts the truth because of his diabolical thinking and sinister behavior. His “winking” (v 13) here is a devious gesture that is malicious in its intent. His evil behavior is continual (“always,” see Gen 6:5). This person fits the description of what psychologists call a “Sociopath,” here are some well-known characteristics:
CHARACTERISTICS OF A SOCIOPATH: (3)
GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH –a grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth. Big egos. Sociopaths are people who believe they are superior human beings. They think they are smarter than others and therefore feel they can get away with their activity.
SUPERFICIAL CHARM — the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. They will charm his/her way into your life and heart, then take complete advantage of you – your emotions, your intellect, your finances.
NEED FOR STIMULATION OR PRONENESS TO BOREDOM — an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky.
PATHOLOGICAL LYING — in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.
CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS– the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present.
LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT — a lack of empathy or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims.
SHALLOW AFFECT — emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY — a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
PARASITIC LIFESTYLE — an intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR — a variety of brief, superficial relations, a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity.
POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS — expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
IMPULSIVITY — the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation,
IRRESPONSIBILITY – repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements, failure to learn from mistakes.
If you are in a relationship with a sociopath, you know it is exhausting, maddening and even soul-crushing. They will isolate you from your friends and possibly your family. And on top of it all, despite the obviousness of their wrongs, they will make you think you are the crazy one. Because the Sociopath refuses to listen and turn away from evil, the only recourse is to set boundaries and allow them to experience the consequences of their actions, which are quite severe.
15 Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant;
he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.
(Prov 6:15, NIV)
Sadly, the Sociopath simply will not behave within the standards around which a civil society is built. He is overthrowing the divine order. As such, the father says the Sociopath must be broken, or “destroyed” (a harsh word used of a ship being wrecked, or the fracturing of the human neck). The picture here is sudden destruction, likely a sign of divine wrath. His behaviors boomerang back onto him and after which, he is so totally defeated that no one wants to be like him. The characteristics of a Sociopath are not just foolish or ethically wrong, the LORD hates them, and so Solomon finishes this sobering lesson with this riddle:
16 There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
(Prov 6:16-19, NIV)
Here in these 7 things (an ancient memorable wisdom “riddle”), the father points out how this fool has misused his body parts for evil. Notice his description moving downward from the top of the fool’s head to the bottom of the fool’s feet, starting with the greatest abomination, his “haughty eyes,” the opposite of the fear of the Lord. The Sociopath denies the LORD’s authority (see Ps 101:5, Job 21:22, Isa 10:33) and will not be held accountable to anyone. At this point, he has become totally corrupt.
The three fools in this lesson have much in common. All three are disruptive, all three break the bond of trust and confidence with others, and all three violate the honor and dignity of other human beings made in the image of God. The problem with all three fools is they do not reflect God’s likeness as they ought and all three exhibit a failure to love. For the swindler, his financial delinquency is selfish, for the sluggard, his laziness refuses to carry its own weight, let alone help with others. For the sociopath, he loves things, uses people and glorifies himself. The wise son will be just the opposite and instead use things, to love others and glorify God.
Furthermore, there may also be a progression in this foolish behavior. The swindler begins with greed and impulsive spending, followed by compulsive borrowing and trying to make easy money, he becomes the sluggard with an addictive reluctance to avoid hard work, and he ends up a sociopath, with an insidious web of all kinds of sinful behaviors to keep his racket going as long as possible – until God Himself has to intervene, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim 6:10)
Here in Lesson # 9, the father is warning his young son to watch out for these three kinds of fools. Watch out for get rich quick schemes and schemers. Instead, work hard. Be generous. This ought to be the normal routine for the Christian. Bruce Waltke puts all the teaching on “the righteous” in the book of Proverbs into a concise and practical principle: “The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” (d)
If you are entangled with one of these fools, set boundaries and be wise. If you are behaving like one yourself, the path forward for you toward wisdom is repentance and humility. God is jealous for your heart. Return to Him.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10, NIV)
Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”
Next we will examine Lesson # 10.
The Ten Lessons of Wisdom:
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) – Part 1
- Lesson # 1: “Reject the Enticement of Sinners” (Prov 1:8-33) Part 2
- Lesson # 2: “Diligently Seek Wisdom … and You Will Experience Her Protective Benefits.” (Prov 2:1-22)
- Lesson # 3: “Live before God with Consistency.” (Prov 3:1-12)
- Lesson # 4: “Wisdom is a Tree of Life.” (Prov 3:13-35)
- Lesson # 5: “Your Spiritual Inheritance Comes With a Price.” (Prov 4:1-9)
- Lesson # 6: “Choose the Way of Wisdom.” (Prov 4:10-19)
- Lesson # 7: “Guard your Heart!” (Prov 4:20-27)
- Lesson # 8: “Flee from Immorality!” (Prov 5:1-23)
- Lesson # 9: “Avoid three Kinds of Fools: “The Swindler,” “The Sluggard” and “The Sociopath.”” (Prov 6:1-19)
- Lesson # 10: “If You Play With Fire, You Will Get Burned.” (Prov 6:20-35)
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 1
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 2
- Conclusion: Two Invitations from Wisdom and Folly (Prov 7:1-9:18) – Part 3
(1) I considered some other titles for this blog post like, “The Borrower,” “The Bum” and “Belial” and “The Debtor,” “The Do-Nothing,” and “The Devil” but ultimately landed here, feel free to use your own preferred titles.
(2) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 342-343.
(3) I am indebted to Professor Peter Hook at Philadelphia Biblical University for this insight. OT Poetic Books. Course Notes. 2000.
(4) Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, 97.