In a thought-provoking article entitled “The Pastoral Implications of Wise and Foolish Speech in the Book of Proverbs”, Eric Ortlund argues that, “in the book of Proverbs, one cannot argue with a fool without making things worse.”
You might think, as Ortlund acknowledges himself, that this conclusion is a little bit “extreme”. But after reading this article, I must say that I’m convinced by the author’s main point: “Proverbs never shows the wise man arguing with the fool” (the only possible exception is in 26:4-5).
To make his case, Ortlund contrasts the righteous-wise who “do right” and the wicked-fool who is wise in his own eyes and “consistently refuses to listen to instruction or rebuke or advice.” This is indeed what we can read in Proverbs 19:25: “Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence; rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge” (see also Proverbs 21:11). “Notice the implication”, says Ortlund, “when a fool is confronted, a third party (the simple) may learn as they observe the situation. But the scoffer learns nothing. No matter how obvious his wrong is to you and those around you, the fool is constitutionally unable to see and admit their wrong.” In light of that reality, no wonder that the book of Proverbs “recommends rebuking the wise, not a scoffer (9:8).”
As I was reading this article and reflecting on the characteristics of folly, I searched my own heart and realized that I hadn’t always been wise in my life – far from it! A few years ago, I remember arguing with a confident atheist who would openly mock the Lord on Twitter and who seemed to be “incorrigibly certain” that he knew how life worked. I realized too late that I had been wasting my breath (and my time!) and that our argument had cause more damage in many ways. I should have been wiser. I should have followed the example of Christ who didn’t retaliate when he was insulted but “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Eric Ortlund’s article can be found on The Gospel Coalition website: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-pastoral-implications-of-wise-and-foolish-speech-in-the-book-of-proverb/