Proverbs: Primer for Princes (3)

The Scorner

He has a mind of his own.” “He just won’t listen.” “You can’t reason with him.” “There’s no telling him anything.” “Talking to him is like talking to the wall.”

The Scorner and Guidance

We’ve all met people like that and have found ourselves using phrases like these to explain their apparent intransigence. Surprisingly, this is the major character trait of the person whom the writer of the Proverbs calls “the Scorner.” His scorn of others – of their wisdom, warnings, and experience – leads him to turn a deaf ear to any counsel outside the calcified precincts of his own mind. Sharp lines of contrast are drawn between him and the wise person. For example, although a wise son will hear his father’s instruction, “a scorner heareth not rebuke” (13:1). A truly wise man will value advice as well as the advisor (9:8); but “a scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise” (15:12). We are cautioned that reproving a scorner can be hazardous to our health: “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee” (9:8). Wishing to remain in the cocoon-like comfort of his own thinking and opinions, he will resist any intrusion and will not “go unto the wise.” When David was puzzled by Saul’s sudden treachery and jealousy, he went to “the wise,” to Samuel, an older believer who could steady the confused and teetering young Psalmist. Even the Apostle Paul went up to Jerusalem to consult with those who seemed to be pillars, wisely wishing to obtain the advice of more experienced saints and servants. But the scorner, whether “smitten” (19:25), “punished” (21:11), or “reproved” (9:7), never benefits from the correction or discipline. Are we open to advice and counsel from fellow-believers or do we view it as a personal attack?

The Scorner and God

The scorner’s attitude towards advice and counsel puts him in sharp relief to the wise man. But God views the source of this aversion – his proud, independent attitude. This is so different from the humility that delights God’s heart. “Surely He scorneth the scorners: but He giveth grace unto the lowly” (3:34). In the NT, James and Peter confirm that pride is at the root of the scorner’s attitude by their insightful observations on this verse, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God: “But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Lacking the grace of self-control, the scorner’s pride causes him to strike out at others. “Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath” (21:24). And since it is only by pride that strife is caused (13:10), the wise man counsels, “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (22:10). Sadly, when God’s infinite wisdom makes an appeal to the scorner, it seems to fall on deaf ears: “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?” (1:22). The High and Lofty One dwells with the lowly and contrite (Isa 57:15), but the scorner can never enjoy the presence of God or be enjoyed by God. Pride, and the scornful attitude it engenders, militates against the scorner’s benefitting from any search for knowledge: “A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth” (14:6). With his mind hermetically sealed against all salubrious influences, the scorner will listen to no one – not even God. Does our attitude deprive us of deeper communion with God? And has our pride “withheld good things” from us?

The Scorner and God’s Son

Part of the profit of Proverbs is in avoiding the pitfalls these character studies reveal. But rather than merely shunning the negative traits of the scorner, we have before us, for our emulation, the glorious example of our blessed Lord. Does the scorner refuse advice and counsel? Then listen to the dependent Son as He states: “He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the learned” (Isa 50:4). As the Blessed Man of Psalm 1, the Savior never walked in the counsel of the ungodly but lived life delighting in God and directed by His Word. Is the scorner motivated by pride and selfish concerns? Then how touching to note that one of the only self-descriptions we have of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel records is this: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Mat 11:29). Does the scorner deal in proud wrath, striking back at any who dare to question his wisdom? Then our redeemed spirits should exult in noting “the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” as we read His Word. Three times in the NT we read the phrase, “laughed to scorn,” and each time the scorners were directing their derision towards the Lord Jesus. Yet, when He was reviled, He reviled not again. His nobility and dignity inspire the hearts of His people. Finally, the writer of the Proverbs reminds us that the fitting recompense for the scorner is punishment: “Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools” (19:29). Yet it was our beloved Lord who bore our judgment and suffered the stripes so that we might be healed. He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. Do the eyes of God, an on-looking world, and our closest acquaintances detect in us scornful pride or Christ-like humility and grace?