"Folly is joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight"
This is the Hebrew word ewil, which is the standard word for folly. Folly is the action of a fool. This is what fools do that let you know who you are dealing with. Let me again remind you that these are not people who are lacking in intelligence; they are lacking moral intelligence. They do not understand that selfishness, impulsiveness, and rebellion have a moral component. They are bent on satisfying themselves. The book of Proverbs sets out the stark difference between the way of the wise person and the way of the fool. The fools inject folly into their system because it seems right. They seem unaware or unconcerned that they are injecting a toxin into their life and future.
All of us are tempted to pursue selfish, impulsive, rebellious actions because it "feels" right, but we must resist our natural tendency to move in that direction and instead embrace wisdom through counsel, prayer, and reflection. The triple-win action and choice pays rich dividends.
This is the Hebrew word simha, which means joy, merriment, mirth, glad, cheer. In the Hebrew the word joyincludes the feeling that we would describe as happiness as well as the deep, abiding satisfaction and connection with the right relationships that we would call joy. It is almost as though these are treated as different layers of the same idea. Real joy comes from deep relationships. It is in connections with real people that life’s greatest joys come. Yes, there is great happiness from doing fun things but deep abiding joy, satisfaction, and meaning come through relationships. That is why it is possible for a person to be poor and still be deeply joyful.
In this instance Solomon points out that fools fixate on the external feeling and how they can have that feeling more and quickly. They decide that this happy feeling comes most quickly when they get what they want. So they then begin to pursue selfishness for the happiness that it brings. This shortsightedness gives them happiness but slowly robs them of joy because the more selfish a person becomes, the shallower their relationships. One cannot maintain deep relationships from a selfish perspective. Eventually the fool’s fixation on selfish pursuits puts them on an island disconnected from others with no means of real communication – for real communication is selfless and giving.
Senses is the Hebrew word leb, which is the word heart or soul. The fools are those who increasingly live their life externally. They do lack heart because they have allowed it to atrophy. The rich wonder of relationships and meditation is lost to these fools for they live to and for themselves. They shrivel their souls because the only person they are in love with is themselves. It eventually becomes difficult for them to hear about anything that somehow cannot relate to them.
Solomon is telling a truism. Those who find selfishness a delight have a shriveled soul. Solomon is also giving a formula. Those who pursue selfishness as their joy and happiness have a shriveled soul. Eventually the pursuit of the folly will no longer satisfy the shriveling of their soul, and they are distraught. We see this clearly in the life of alcoholics who are using drink to hide deep pain and find, in the alcohol, the dodge from the soul work they need to pursue. They continue to self-medicate and find temporary joy in the ability of alcohol to let them forget and all the while shrinking their soul. Many other types of selfish pursuits accomplish the same thing – whether it is workaholism, beauty, parties, travel, power, etc. When the pursuit is selfish, it robs us of the soul work that we need to go through in order to live a truly blessed and wise life.
This is the Hebrew word tebuna, which means understanding. To understand is to discern, to have insight, to perceive connections between things. Those who have understanding are able to realize that everything they do has a number of consequences. They are like the people playing chess who make a potential move but do not take their hands off the piece while they survey all the results of that move before they actually make it.
Solomon is giving the contrast with this phrase. He is saying that those who have understanding feel the same pull to the selfish thing, but they can see what doing that will do to them and all the other consequences that will come from pursuing the selfish "that would make me happy" thing.
The question before us today is: Do you ponder the results of your actions before you do them or do you just think “Do I want to do that or not?” There are many things we should examine in our lives. Some are new opportunities and some are a part of our everyday lives. We should examine all new opportunities; but also we should look at what we do most evenings, what we do on the weekends, what we do with our discretionary time. Does it represent pursuit of folly or understanding?
This is the Hebrew word yasar, which means be level, straight, upright, just, lawful. This tells us that the people of understanding keep their enjoyment of pleasure within the boundaries of righteousness and morality. They do not allow their desires to suck them out to doing things that are beyond decency and morality. Those who have understanding are especially sensitive to those activities that will move a person beyond the lines laid out by God in the Ten Commandments.