The Master of Swagger - excerpt from FOOL

Mar 13, 2023 1:16 PM

More is said in Proverbs about one type of fool than any other.

Read about him in this excerpt from Chapter 8, “The Master of Swagger."


As we expand our discussion of folly to the next level, remember that to be a fool is not to be silly or ignorant. Folly is the biblical word for a self-destructive lifestyle. I use the term Character Deficiency Syndrome because (1) the problem of folly is about moral, not intellectual feebleness and (2) because it consists of degenerative and aggravated stages, in a definite sequence, with identifiable symptoms.

We noted in our discussion of the simple or naïve fool that if his tendency to follow his passions goes unchecked, he will descend to a deeper level of character deficiency. This is the self-confident fool. The Bible has more to say about this character than about any of the others.

The Soul with No Understanding

The Hebrew word is kesil (ke-seel). Some of the commentaries call this one the “silly fool.” This rendering is baffling to me. If it is a pun on the Hebrew (“ke-silly”?) it misses the point widely. The verses in which this word is used reveal an individual with a number of characteristic faults, but silliness is not one of them. The root verb kasalmeans “to be fat.” Related Hebrew words, interestingly, often have a positive meaning. Kesel has to do with a fullness of hope, and kislâ speaks of confidence. This particular term, however, carries all the negative connotations of fatness. No, we must not stoop to call this one a "fat head"—but he is “full of himself.”

The kesil is the person who, like the simple fool, is inclined to make the wrong moral choices, except that there is a difference. The simple fool might stumble into a disaster, but the self-confident fool will swagger in, convinced that he is the master of the situation. The self-confident fool cannot claim that the inevitable consequences never occurred to him. He proceeds deliberately into his sins with the delusion that he can avoid the consequences (“It will never happen to me!”).

Proverbs describes the self-confident fool as a soul with no moral understanding.  The key to understanding the self-confident fool is his spiritual blindness.


Lord, how great are your works,

and how deep are Your thoughts!

A stupid man does not know,

neither does a fool understand this.[i]


In these verses, our friend the kesil, the self-confident fool, is paired up with the ba’ar (ba-ar), the stupid man. The King James Version says “brutish.” This fellow is animal-like—not that he is necessarily violent, but rather that he acts irrationally, on impulse, without the use of reason, spirit, or deliberate choice. Basically he is, as they say in the South, just plain dumb. It is possible to be a fool yet still be otherwise bright and very clever. Not so the ba’ar. On the other hand, it is possible to lack common sense and still be a person of good character. Not so the ba’ar. That he is a subcategory of fool is demonstrated by his stiff-necked attitude. In particular he (or she—always keep in mind that folly is not prejudiced by gender) does not appreciate correction.[ii] He seems to be a very compatible companion and willing accomplice of the self-confident fool. A number of comedic possibilities come to mind, but we shall pass them by. We really want to get on to talking about the self-confident fool himself.

“Lord, how great are your works, and how deep are your thoughts.” Amen. Understanding of the greatness of God's works and the depth of His thoughts leads us to worship. But the self-confident fool has no perception or concern about God’s thoughts. His lack of understanding is closely related to his ignorance of sound doctrine and theology. It is probably not possible to know which came first—his ignorance about the things of God, or his lack of understanding of those things. It is safe to say, though, that he has probably never taken the time to really study or think about God or ethics or morality. He really has no interest in it.

Wisdom is before the face of him who has understanding,

but the eyes of a [self-confident] fool are on the ends of the earth.[iii]

His character deficiency is linked to a kind of moral attention deficit disorder. Again, which came first is hard to say. They seem to be inextricably connected. The point is that his attention is given to everything in the world except the things of God and the things of righteousness.

Even if he has studied such things, it has been to obscure the truth rather than to clarify it. In I Corinthians 15:35, the apostle Paul refers to those within the church who raise quarrelsome questions about the doctrine of the resurrection and calls them fools. Though he is not writing in Hebrew, the Greek word he uses[iv] refers to a mindless, senseless person; someone who lacks understanding or common sense; someone who refuses to think, who refuses to see the truth when it’s put before him. It sounds very much, in the present context, like the self-confident kind of fool.

[i] Psalm 92:5,6

[ii] Proverbs 12:1

[iii] Proverbs 17:24

[iv] aphron (aph-rone)

Copyright © 2015 by Garry D. Nation.  All rights reserved.

For more about the book, click here.

To order your copy, click here.