Theme Party for July 16 (’14)
In last Wednesday’s post, we looked at the “simple” man of Proverbs, the one who Bruce Waltke describes as the “mildest sort of fool.” If you’ll recall, I said that Proverbs divides the world between the wise and the foolish. And then, we saw that there are classes among the foolish, and that at the most innocent end of the spectrum is the simple. To be simple in Proverbs is not really to be innocent though. It is rather to be undefended against danger, to be a blind man in a valley filled with bear traps, holes, snakes, and attack drones. It is a condition that the simple should make every effort to escape by learning prudence, because there is an excellent chance that the simple will find himself in the chambers of death before too long. It is a condition that is not morally neutral, unless neutral means to be on the dark side only half-heartedly. To be simple is to be outside the ranks of the wise. It’s the condition man is born into.
But at the far end of the spectrum of folly, we find those who have let their simplicity degrade into real foolishness, and who then found that they enjoyed it so much they let their foolishness harden into scoffing. And so we come to the worst sort of fool: the scoffer. The concise description we find in Proverbs is 21:24: “Scoffer is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” That’s the ESV rendering. A more literal translation might be: “Proud, arrogant, Scoffer is his name; acting in wrath of pride.” If the opposite of simplicity in Proverbs is prudence, the opposite of scoffing is humility: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (3:34). And one who lacks humility is one who can’t be taught. Other references in Proverbs show that his most distinguishing trait is that he is unteachable (9:7-8; 13:1; 15:12; 21:11):
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”
“A wise son hears his father’s instruction,
but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”
“A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
he will not go to the wise.“
“When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.”
A scoffer may be punished, but only the wise—or maybe the simple—will learn from it. But perhaps it’s best to not even bother rebuking the scoffer, because the rebuker will only receive abuse in return. The scoffer dislikes rebuke so much that he won’t even go to the wise for help. He’s like Ahab, who knew that his court prophets were full of hot air, but that was alright as long as he didn’t have to listen to Micaiah, since “I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil” (I Kings 22:8). Got that? Any admonition, even from a true prophet, will stir up hatred rather than repentance in a scoffer. The scoffer, like Ahab, will think the one telling the truth is nothing but a troubler of Israel.
So the scoffer is unteachable, but that doesn’t mean he’s unintelligent. He “seeks wisdom in vain” (14:6), that is, he refuses the fear of the Lord and so whatever intelligence or knowledge he has won’t profit him. The scoffers “mock” at the guilt offering (14:9) and at justice (19:28). In one writer’s words, scoffers suppose that it is their “mission in life to promote the corrosion of the values by which individuals and society lives.” The amount of trouble and strife is directly related to the scoffer’s presence: “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease” (22:10). A scoffer who is not driven out will leave a burning ruin behind: “Scoffers set a city aflame” (29:8). To sum up, the scoffer is “an abomination to mankind” (24:9). In an era of “tolerance”, Proverbs preaches.
In Isaiah’s time, the leadership of Jerusalem were scoffers (Isaiah 28:14, 22; 29:20). Those chapters in Isaiah are referenced several times in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:21; Matt. 21:42; Matt. 15:8; etc. ) because God’s words to Israel were again being fulfilled. Certainly, Israel’s leadership in Jesus’ time were scoffers: proud, unteachable, stirring up trouble everywhere. They fit the description quite well. In Jesus they met their counterpart. He is the opposite of the scoffer: the humble. The famous description of Jesus’ self-emptying in Philippians 2:5-8 exemplifies everything the scoffer is not.
Becoming a scoffer is a process. It is at the end of the train of foolishness, and it’s a destination from which Proverbs holds out little or no hope of escape. It’s a place where you’ll get all the scoffing you want—including God’s (3:34). Whether you’ll like that when it comes is another question. Keeping your eyes on Christ and considering Him often is the best way to keep off that train entirely.