Proverbs 26 – Answering a Fool, Laziness, and Flattery & Dogs in the Ancient World

1 As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honor is not seemly for a fool.

“rain in harvest” – it rarely rains in the Holy Land from June through September, but see 1 Sam 12:17-18.

2 As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.

“the curse causeless shall not come” – a curse without basis.  When David was cursed by Shimei, he realized that the curse would not take effect because he was innocent of the charge of murdering members of Saul’s family (2 Sam 16:8. 12). 

3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.

4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

“Answer not a fool according to his folly” – do not stoop to his level (see 23:9; Matt 7:6)

5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

“Answer a fool according to his folly” – sometimes folly must be plainly exposed and denounced.

6 He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage.

7 The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools.

“a parable in the mouth of fools” – he will likely misrepresent the one who sends him, or in some other manner frustrate the sender’s purpose (see 13:17).

8 As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honor to a fool.

“As he that bindeth a stone in a sling” – a fool with authority wields a formidable weapon, but is useless in his hands – a useless as a stone that is tied, not placed in the sling.

9 As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.

A fool reciting a proverb will do as much damage to himself and others as a drunkard wielding a thorn bush (makes you think of Obama).

10 The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.

11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

“As a dog returneth to his vomit” – quoted in 2 Peter 2:22 with reference to false teachers.

“fool returneth to his folly” – he repeats the same foolish actions, like the drunkard who returns to his drink (23:35).

12 Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.

“wise in his own conceit” – this conceit is applied to the sluggard in v 16 and the rich in 28:11; cf 26:5.

13 The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets.

14 As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.

The sluggard loves to sleep and seems to be attached to his bed as a door to its hinges.

15 The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.

16 The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.

17 He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.

“taketh a dog by the ears” – to do so is to immediately create a disturbance.

18 As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death,

“As a mad man who casteth” – cf, the archer in v 10.

“firebrands” – could easily ignite sheaves of grain (cf Zech 12:6).

19 So is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, Am not I in sport?

“Am not I in sport? ” – claims that he is joking or playing a prank.

20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.

21 As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

22 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.

23 Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross.

“Burning lips and a wicked heart” – the speech of the adulteress is seductive (2:16; 5:3).

“silver dross” – or “glaze.”  Cf, the clean outside of the cut and dish (Lk 11:39; cf, Matt 23:27).

24 He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him;

25 When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart.

“he speaketh fair” – he uses gracious speech to deceive.  See Jer 9:8.

“seven” – many.  For seven things the Lord detests see 6:16-19.

26 Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation.

27 Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.

Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein” – “His mischief shall return upon his own head” (Ps 7:16).

28 A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.

Dogs in the Ancient World  

Mallaha – on the shores of the ancient Lake Huleh – is one of the best known Natufian type-sites.

At the “village” there still remains half buried small houses of round or semi-circular shape, most of them hedged with stones and with timber-post wedgings, pits, hearths and graves.

This exceptional state of conservation allows detailed research into the Natufian way of life.

In Prov 26:11 a fool is said to return to his folly as surely as a dog to its vomit (2 Pet 2:22), and in v. 17 Solomon pointed out – possibly from childhood experienced – that it is dangerous to grab a dog by the ears.

These statements would be equally true of both wild and domesticated dogs.  But the question is often asked: Did the Israelites keep dogs as pets?

Dogs were first domesticated in prehistoric times.  A site called Ein Mallah in northern Israel yields the earliest uncontested archaeological evidence for domesticated dogs (9600 B.C.), though there may be an earlier site at the Palegawa Cave in Iraq.

Even so, most dogs in the early Biblical period were wild, and ancient people naturally regarded them with fear and disdain.  The portrayal of dogs in the Bible is especially negative (e.g., 1 Sam 17:42-43).  They are depicted as roaming carnivores that hunted in packs, even roaming carnivores that hunted in packs, even inside cities (1 Kgs 14:11; Ps 22:16).

To have one’s corpse devoured by dogs was dreadful fate (1 Kgs 21:19), and the epithet “dog” was insulting (2 Kgs 8:13), if not humiliating (2 Sam 3:8), implying that an individual was either worthless (1 Sam 24:14) or evil (Ps 22:1).  In fact, the reference to a dog in Deut 23:18 probably refer to a male prostitute.

Assyrian Huntsmen with Hounds
Dogs are depicted in Mesopotamian art as hunters but also as companions. Dogs were kept in the home and were treated in much the same way by caring families as they are today. Inscriptions and inlaid plaques depict dogs waiting for their masters and, according to the historian Bertman, even listening to their master play music: “The images on inlaid plaques, carved seal-stones, and sculpted reliefs transport us back…We watch a shepherd playing his flute as his dog sits and attentively listens” (294).

Dogs protected the home and amuletic images of canines – such as the one mentioned above from Uruk – were carried for personal protection. The famous Nimrud Dogs, clay figurines of canines found at the city of Kalhu, were buried under or beside the threshold of buildings for their protective power.

Five other dog statuettes were recovered from the ruins of Nineveh and inscriptions relate how these figurines were imbued with the power of the dog to protect against danger.

Further, the “gods of therapeutics” Von Soden references above were the deities involved with health and healing and, most notably, the goddess Gula who was regularly depicted in the presence of her dog. Dog saliva was considered medicinal because it was noted that, when dogs licked their wounds, it promoted healing.

Other ancient cultures viewed dogs more positively.  In Mesopotamia puppies were used in purification and healing rites.  In Persia dogs were revered. Similarly, in Egypt some dogs were considered sacred, and many were mummified. The Philistine city of Ashkelon, during the Persian period, maintained a cemetery of over 1,000 pits filled with carefully buried puppies, though the significance and function of this burial ground is difficult to interpret.

In the Greco-Roman world dogs were frequently domesticated, as it attested in a conversation between Jesus and a Phoenician woman (Matt 15:26-27), as well as by Greek vases depicting hunters with their dogs at their sides.  A Latin sign found in Pompeii reads cave canem (“beware of dog”).

Whether the ancient Israelites dislike dogs more than did other peoples are unknown.  Most Biblical references to dogs are negative, but that may be more an accident than a reflection of how the Israelites felt overall about this species.

Dog Mosaic
Dogs have been a part of the history of human beings since before the written word.
The ancient temple of Gobekli-Tepe in Turkey, dated to at least 12,000 years BCE, has provided archaeologists with evidence of domesticated dogs in the Middle East corresponding to the earliest evidence of domestication, the Natufian Grave, (c. 12,000 BCE) discovered in Ein Mallaha, Israel, in which an old man was buried with a puppy.

In many cultures throughout the ancient world, dogs figured prominently and, largely, were regarded in much the same way that they are today. Dogs were seen as faithful companions, hunters, guardians, and as a treasured part of the family.

There are occasional positive references to dogs (Job 30:1).  For the sake of comparison, we might observe that there is no word for “cat” in Biblical Hebrew, although cats were domesticated in Egypt and must have been known in Israel.

It may be coincidental that cats are never mentioned in the Old Testament (although there is on reference to cats in Aprocrypha at Bar 6:22).

The reality is that we cannot say with certainty how the ancient Israelites viewed dogs (or cats)  in general or how common it was to have such animals in the home.

Some of the earliest villages ever discovered were from the Fertile Crescent (modern day middle east). The culture that inhabited these villages has been dubbed Natufian, and dates to around 12,500 B.C.

Two of these villages, Hayonim and ‘Ain Mallaha were relatively close to one another. At first I would have been reasonable to presume that these villagers bred with one another. They were close and each one had relatively small populations. But it turns out they didn’t, and the reason has much to do with simple probability.

That and wisdom teeth, or the third-molars. The Hayonim people had “”agenesis” of the third-molar – that is, they never grew in. But the ‘Ain Mallah group nearly all had their third-molars.

After the last Ice Age, as the climate became warmer and rainfull more abundant, the nomadic population of the eastern Meditgerranean began to establish the first permanent settlements.

The site of Eynan/Ain Mallah, situated between the hills of Galilee and Lake Hula in the Levant, was inhabited from 10,000 to 8200 B.C., during the Natufian period. Eynan (in Hebrew)/Ain Mallaha (in Arabic) is one of hundreds of Natufian settlements known from the eastern mediterranean, where remains of a rich and dynamic artistic tradition have been discovered.