How do you deal with fools who slander you and “despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7)? David sets a great example. When Shimei cursed him, he said, “Leave him alone, and let him curse.” Read on to learn why silence is the best response to proverbs fools.
Table of Contents
- Leave Fools Alone and Let Them Curse
- Respond to Fools with Godly Behavior
- Three Ways David Resembles Jesus in His Response to a Fool
- Don’t Respond to Fools with Words
- Understanding Proverbs Fools
- Identifying Proverbs Fools
- So, How Do You Deal with Fools?
- Three Encouragements When Dealing with Proverbs Fools
David was experiencing one of the lowest points in his life. He lost the throne. His wicked son, Absalom, is the one who stole it from him. Much of the nation joined Absalom. David was fleeing Jerusalem, and when you think things couldn’t get any worse, Shimei finds him:
2 Samuel 16:8 The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” 11 And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.
Shimei is related to Saul. Even though Saul lost the throne and died decades earlier, he still blames David for all of Saul’s misfortune. We tend to think that with time people move on. Sometimes they do, but other times the roots of bitterness continue to go grow and become even deeper as each year passes. That was the case with Shimei. He probably despised David more now than he did when Saul died.
Leave Fools Alone and Let Them Curse
David said, “Leave him alone, and let him curse.” The longer I’m a pastor, the greater wisdom I see in these words. Circle them, underline them, highlight them, or do whatever you need to do to remember them so you can come back to them when people slander you.
Gossip is spreading negative information about people to others who have no business knowing that information. But at least the information is true. Slander is spreading lies about people.
Let a Clear Conscience Keep You Silent
Shimei is slandering David. He falsely accused him of violently overthrowing the house of Saul. But it was just the opposite: David played music to alleviate Saul of his torment, repeatedly spared his life, was friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan, and was gracious to Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth. David knew what Shimei was saying was untrue and this allowed him to remain silent.
When David became king again Shimei did a 180, came back to David, and apologized. He said, “Do not let the king take it to heart” (2 Samuel 19:19). David didn’t have to take it to heart because he knew it wasn’t true. When people fools slander us, we don’t have to take it to heart, because it isn’t true.
1 Peter 3:16 Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Having a good conscience allows us to remain silent when slandered: If you know the slander against you is untrue then you can disregard it. You don’t have to give it a second thought, let it ruin your day, or let it weigh on you or keep you up at night. Instead, we should respond with, “good behavior.”
Respond to Fools with Godly Behavior
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the gentiles honorable, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation…15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
All three verses emphasize responding to slander with godly behavior: “your good behavior…your conduct…your good deeds…by doing good” (1 Peter 2:12, 2:15, 3:16). This is how “to silence the ignorance of foolish people,” or fools. This means keep serving the Lord, remaining faithful, having joy, and investing your time and energy with brothers and sisters in Christ.
The pastors I have developed close friendships with have told me about times that they had to put up with their own Shimeis. One of those friends is Cary Green. We became friends when he was going through something difficult in his church and he reached out to me. When we visited them, Katie was talking to Cary’s wife, Lois (a woman Katie looks up to), about it because she seemed to handle it so effortlessly.
Lois told Katie, which Katie and I have repeated to each other over the years: “There’s too much work to do for the Lord, and there are too many people to love and serve.” Lois recognized fools could be huge distractions and the best they could do was respond with godly behavior. Lois didn’t want to waste valuable time and energy. She knew there was too much important work to do.
One of the other wonderful things about responding with godly behavior is it maintains a good witness to the unbelieving world. As 1 Peter 2:12 says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they [slander NASB and AMP] you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Do good so the unbelieving world looks on and doesn’t believe the slander.
This response will also upset fools who don’t want you to be godly, because then their slander is shown to be untrue. They want you to be ungodly and live down to what they are saying. David sets a great example. He took the high road and maintained his composure.
Three Ways David Resembles Jesus in His Response to a Fool
First, Peter took out his sword to attack those coming after Jesus (John 18:10). Abishai was David’s Peter. He wanted to take out his sword and kill Shimei. David rebuked Abishai like Jesus rebuked Peter.
If you’re being slandered you’re probably going to have Peters and Abishais in your life who want to take out swords and start chopping off ears and heads. You might also have to tell them not to retaliate.
Second, Jesus “[entrusted] himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). David entrusted Himself to the Lord too. When Shimei slandered him, he said, “It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me” (2 Samuel 16:12). This is exactly what we need to do. We should take it to the Lord and trust Him to deal with it.
Third, David looks like Jesus regarding their silence. Nobody has ever been slandered as much as Christ. And the worst Christ was ever slandered was at the trials leading up to His crucifixion. If there has ever been a time when it must have been difficult to remain silent, it was then. Yet that is exactly what Christ did. When he was reviled – which is synonymous with slandered – He did not revile – or slander – in return…He did not threaten.
Jesus was silent to those slandering Him, David was silent to Shimei slandering him, and we should be silent to fools slandering us.
Don’t Respond to Fools with Words
Peter tells us how to respond – with godly behavior – and how not to respond: with words. David demonstrated this with Shimei. David talk in the account, and he even rebuked, but not to Shimei. He rebuked his men and told them to leave Shimei alone. That’s how committed David was to ignoring Shimei: he wouldn’t even let his men address him.
David describes his approach in the psalms:
Psalm 38:13 I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
He acts like someone who can’t even hear what’s being said about him.
Psalm 39:2 I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, (now listen to this…) and my distress grew worse.
It wasn’t easy for him to remain silent. It got harder and harder.
Psalm 39:8 Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! 9a I am mute; I do not open my mouth.
David was committed to remaining silent when scorned by fools. And there are good examples in Scripture of other people remaining silent.
Hezekiah’s Silence to a Fool
When Hezekiah was king of Judah, he was attacked by the Assyrians. Sennacherib was the king of Assyria, and he was antagonizing the Jews:
2 Kings 18:15 Do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you in this fashion, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!’” 16 And his servants said still more against the Lord God and against his servant Hezekiah. 17 And he wrote letters to cast contempt on the Lord, the God of Israel. 18 [the Assyrians] shouted…with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.
Sennacherib did everything he could to get the Jews to respond. When speaking didn’t work, he stepped up his game and wrote letters. Sennacherib’s behavior is common with foolish people. If they don’t get a response, they get angrier and angrier.
There was no response from the Jews, because “The people were silent and answered him not a word, for [Hezekiah’s] command was, ‘Do not answer him’” (2 Kings 18:36). Hezekiah didn’t just discourage the Jews from responding. He commanded them not to respond!
Jeremiah’s Silence to a Fool
Jeremiah was the prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. He told the Jews to submit to Babylon, because that meant submitting to the Lord. Rebelling against Babylon meant rebelling against the Lord.
The false prophets had a field day with this. They contradicted everything Jeremiah said, prophesied falsely to the people, and spreading lies about Jeremiah. They said he was trying to destroy Jerusalem when he was actually trying to save it. Their false prophecies were going to destroy it. It must have been incredibly difficult for Jeremiah to remain silent, but he managed to do so.
The prophets often used object lessons. Jeremiah was told to make a yoke and put it on his shoulders to show that the Jews were supposed to submit to Babylon. A false prophet named Hananiah knew how good it sounded to tell the people that God would defeat Babylon, but it was a lie:
Jeremiah 28:10 The prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them. 11 And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” But Jeremiah the prophet went his way.
Picture what this looked like. Hananiah walked up to Jeremiah, took the yoke off his shoulders, and broke it in front of the people. Then he turned and said, “This is exactly what God said He is going to do to Babylon.” Hananiah made Jeremiah look bad and declared that Jeremiah’s prophecies were false. Jeremiah responded by simply “[going] his way.” That’s it! He just walked away. He didn’t say anything.
This quote should encourage us to respond similarly to fools: “When you roll around in the mud with a pig, you both get muddy, but the pig likes it.” Fools are in the mud, and they want you to get in the mud with them. They want you to respond. They want to know they’ve upset you and gotten under your skin. Few things are more upsetting to fools than silence. When you don’t respond, they feel ignored and you’re depriving them of the joy they would have if you argued with them.
Fools Fish for Responses
The longer I’m in ministry the more convinced I become of three things:
- Fools want you to respond.
- The best thing you can do is ignore them.
- The worst thing you can do is respond.
Responding is simply pouring fuel on the fire. If you don’t respond I’m not guaranteeing the fire will go out. But if you do respond I can almost guarantee the fire will get even worse. We should learn from David’s example and say, “Leave them alone. Let them curse.”
When I taught elementary school one of my student had trouble remaining calm and not responding to people antagonizing him. Because students can be like sharks in the water smelling blood, they knew they could get a rise out of him and that encouraged them to harass him even more. I sat down with him on more than one occasion and explained that every time he got upset, he was doing what they wanted.
I shared a fishing analogy with him, “They cast in the hook, they want you to bite, you do, and then they start reeling you in…making you madder and madder and madder…which they want. You’re responding because you’re angry. But if you really want to upset them you need to ignore them. That is the best thing you can do.”
Understanding Proverbs Fools
There are two reasons to understand fools as they are described in Proverbs. First, so we know how to deal with fools. Second, so we can avoid being foolish ourselves. Even though certain people are identified as fools, there’s some foolishness in all of us. Learning about fools can convict us of our own foolishness. I know I have been foolish in my life and few things convict me more than reading about fools.
Whenever we read Proverbs, we need to remember it is wisdom literature versus law literature, and they shouldn’t be read the same. Leviticus is an example of law literature, and it provides black and white commands. We are told what we can and can’t do. It requires self-control, but it doesn’t require wisdom. Wisdom literature, on the other hand, gives us principles and generalities that allow us to navigate situations well.
The fool is one of the most common topics in Proverbs mentioned seventy-eight times. We don’t have the time to look at all the verses, but I have chosen some that help us understand how to deal with fools.
This is how miserable it is dealing with fools:
Proverbs 17:12 Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs, than a fool in his folly.
Identifying Proverbs Fools
Proverbs fools are described as unteachable:
Proverbs 1:7b Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:22c Fools hate knowledge.
It’s not that they literally hate wisdom, instruction, and knowledge. They hate it in the sense that they won’t gain any because they think they know everything:
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.
Because fools refuse to learn, they make the same mistakes:
Proverbs 26:11 As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Instead of learning:
Proverbs 18:2 A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.
This is to say they don’t want to understand. They just want to listen to themselves talk. This leaves them very puffed up:
Proverbs 14:3a In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride.
This pride leaves them blind to their own foolishness. They’re deceived:
Proverbs 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit.
Wise people know the truth about themselves. They see themselves accurately. Fools on the other hand have deceived themselves into thinking they’re wise. As a result they think they’re speaking wisdom, when in fact:
Proverbs 15:2b The mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.
Proverbs 15:14b The mouth of fools feeds on foolishness.
This is why their mouths and ignorance get them in trouble:
Proverbs 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
Proverbs 10:21 Fools die for lack of wisdom.
What’s the solution for them? How can they avoid the destruction their foolishness brings? The solution is to become teachable:
Proverbs 8:5 O you simple ones, understand prudence, and you fools, be of an understanding heart.
But the problem is…
Proverbs Fools Hate Correction
Fools respond poorly to correction:
Proverbs 9:8 Do not correct a scoffer or he will hate you.
This leads to terrible consequences…
Proverbs 13:18a Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction.
Proverbs 15:10b He who hates correction will die.
Proverbs 15:32 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul.
The consequences of getting angry when corrected are so severe it’s almost like punishing yourself.
Proverbs 29:1 He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
A fool will hate what you have to say:
Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.
You’ll be scorned if you try to correct a fool:
Proverbs 14:9a Fools mock at sin.
Fools can experience severe discipline, but they won’t change:
Proverbs 27:22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.
So, How Do You Deal with Fools?
Proverbs 12:16 The vexation (or anger or wrath) of a fool is known at once (this is Shimei, Sennacherib, and Hananiah), but the prudent ignores an insult (this is David, Hezekiah, and Jeremiah).
Fools get angry quickly, but the prudent – or wise – ignore an insult or remain silent.
Proverbs 14:7 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
This goes beyond just remaining silent. Now we’re told to get away from fools altogether. If you choose to hang around fools though, the Bible lets you know what to expect:
Proverbs 13:20b The companion of fools will be destroyed.
What if you don’t want to be the companion of fools, but you want to try to reason with a fool? You can’t because they will get angry with you:
Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
Now we’re told why we shouldn’t speak to fools: they will hate your words. It will just make them madder. It is pouring fuel on the fire.
Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit (again, this is Shimei, Sennacherib, and Hananiah), but a wise man quietly holds it back (again, this is David, Hezekiah, and Jeremiah).
Again, fools can’t control themselves. They lose their temper. But wise, or mature people, exhibit self-control and that self-control looks like quietly holding back from saying anything.
Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
It is so foolish to answer a fool you must be a fool to do so. Answering a fool makes you like the fool, hence the quote, “Don’t argue with a fool because people listening won’t be able to tell the difference.”
Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
This looks like a contradiction in Scripture: do not answer a fool and then answer a fool. There is no contradiction. These verses capture the dilemma with fools:
- You shouldn’t answer a fool for the reasons we’ve discussed.
- You should answer a fool or else they will be wise in [their] own eyes, which means they’ll continue to think they know everything.
The verse is not defending responding to fools. Instead, it is discouraging responding to fools while pointing out how hard it is not to respond. The clear instruction from Scripture is not to waste your time dealing with fools. It is a futile, frustrating endeavor. You can’t talk any sense into fools, and this is what makes them fools. If fools would listen, they would cease being foolish, but because they won’t it’s best to let them continue in their foolishness.
Three Encouragements When Dealing with Proverbs Fools
First, God Knows It’s Hard NOT to Respond to Proverbs Fools
It is hard not to respond to fools when they provoke us. We want to argue and get the last word. When people slander us, we want to defend ourselves, explain what really happened, and say, “This isn’t right. This is a lie. How could you say this?”
Proverbs 27:3 A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.
You read this and want to exclaim, “Amen!” I appreciate that when God speaks to us through His word, He reveals that He understands what we are going through and that is the point of this verse. He says, “It is easier to lift a heavy rock or lots of sand than it is to remain silent to a fool but be wise and remain silent.”
Second, Remaining Silent Is a Sign of Maturity
Because it is hard not to respond to fools, it says something about people when they can remain silent: they’re self-controlled. Keep in mind that when you remain silent, it is a reflection of your spiritual maturity and obedience to Scripture.
Third, Remaining Silent Looks Like Christ
In our loud, obnoxious world, it is harder to look like Christ in this way, because our world celebrates antagonistic proud people. Social media has made this incredibly worse. People are given platforms where they can gossip and slander, and other bitter people can encourage them by liking, commenting, and sharing.
But one of the wonderful ways to look like Christ, is to remain silent…
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
The focus is on Jesus’s silence in the face of opposition that pales in comparison to anything we experience.
We see the fulfillment in the Gospels…
Luke 23:8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him.
Herod heard about Jesus’s miracles, so he wanted to see Him perform some.
Luke 23:9 [Herod] questioned [Jesus] at some length, but He made no answer.
Jesus knew Herod was a foolish man who wasn’t interested in learning, so He didn’t respond.
Matthew 26:62 The high priest said [to Jesus], “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63a But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 27:12 When [Jesus] was accused by the chief priests and elders, He gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But He gave Him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Christ didn’t argue or stoop to the level of His accusers, and His silence even amazed Pilate. Your silence can similarly amaze unbelievers who have to admire your maturity and self-control.
And we are to follow Christ’s example…
1 Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
We’re told to follow Christ’s example, and Peter describes that example for us…
1 Peter 2:23 When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
And this is my encouragement. When proverbs fools revile or threaten you, don’t revile or threaten in return. Instead, trust yourself to God who judges justly. Let Christ’s example be the encouragement you need when dealing with fools.