Facing Off With Fools
This morning I want to talk to you about how to face off with a fool.
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I tell you that fools are everywhere.
One day a young mother and her kindergarten-age son were driving down the street. The inquisitive little boy asked, "Mommy, why do the idiots only come out when Daddy drives?" [i]
Idiots don’t come out when I’m driving, but doofuses do.
Yes, doofus is a real word. Believe it or not it comes from a Scottish word doof and the French word goffe from which we get the English word goofy. I could offer you a dictionary definition, but I mean something very specific when I call somebody a doofus.
A doofus is a person who knows what they ought to do, but deliberately chooses to do the opposite.
A doofus is a person who enjoys making you guess which way they’re turning instead of using the blinker.
A doofus passes you then slows down when you get behind them.
A doofus thinks a stop sign means slow down.
A doofus passes you in the emergency lane, in the pouring down rain, with his lights off.
They come out in force every time I pull out of my driveway—nay, they practically infest the highway, just to test my sanctification.
The Bible has another word for a doofus—fool. Most times when you read about a fool in the Bible, it’s not describing an unintelligent person, but a person who knows what’s right but deliberately chooses to do what’s wrong, a person who knows better but doesn’t do better.
The book of Proverbs abounds in examples:
Proverbs 10:23 To do evil is like sport to a fool, But a man of understanding has wisdom.
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.
Proverbs 14:16 A wise man fears and departs from evil, But a fool rages and is self-confident.
Proverbs 29:11 A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.
I imagine every one of us encounter fools on a regular basis: people who think their sin is no big deal, fools who think their way is the only way, self-confident doofuses who always let everybody know how they feel about everything.
How do you deal with doofuses? How do you face off with fools? I want to get some pointers this morning from 1 Samuel 25 where David faces off with a fool. (vs. 1-13).
The 19th century preacher Henry Ward Beecher entered the pulpit one Sunday to find an envelope with a letter inside which contained the single word "Fool". He looked up and said to his congregation, "I have known many instances of a man writing a letter and forgetting to sign his name, but this is the only instance I’ve ever known of a man signing his name and forgetting to write the letter."
You never know when you’ll face off with a fool. It’s good to be prepared, so listen up to what this story teaches us, beginning with item # 1:
1. Don’t let fools make a fool out of you. (v. 1-13)
This chapter begins on a sad note with the death of the prophet Samuel, the man who anointed David as king of Israel, who gave David refuge from king Saul, the man who probably spent a lot of time encouraging him at his low points.
I’m sure Samuel’s death makes David feel more alone than ever. Maybe it makes him doubt God’s plan or purpose for his life. It’s very possible that David becomes discouraged over the news of the death of the old prophet. But there’s not much time for grief. You never know when Saul will show up again, thirsty for blood, so David and his 600 men have to keep moving, keep surviving. It is in these circumstances of grief, discouragement, and danger that Scripture introduces us to the fool whom David faces off with: Nabal.
His very name means fool, and you’ve got to wonder if mayve his parents knew they had a doofus on their hands. He’s a rich fool, a prosperous livestock farmer. He’s got a wife with a good head on her shoulders—isn’t it a shame when a good woman marries a fool?—and on top of this she’s beautiful. He comes from a good family—the family of Caleb, who was one of the heroes back when Israel was conquering the promised land.
But Nabal doesn’t live up to either his good family nor his good wife. Vs. 3 says he’s harsh and evil in his doings= he’s a fool.
He shows off his doofus side when it comes time sheep-shearing time. This is a big celebration in Israel, almost like our Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, a time when people are joyful and generous. Maybe this is why David sends 10 men to Nabal now to ask him for help with food and provisions. He sends season’s greetings, wishing the rich fool peace and prosperity. He reminds Nabal how he and his men protected Nabal’s shepherds and sheep from foreign raiders who are known to come and rob flocks near Carmel and Maon. Nabal’s servant says in v. 16 ..they were a wall to us, both by night and by day… = a wall of protection from enemies. His request is respectful, humbly stressing their kinship by calling himself …your son, David… (v. 8).
Nabal’s reply is not so courteous.
Notice how many times the word I and mine appear in v. 11. Who is David to me? Why should I share my food and drink with the likes of you? You’re nothing but just another runaway rebel. Get lost!
This is a very selfish, very wicked, very foolish reply to somebody who does you a good turn. But the greater danger comes with David’s response. He tells his men to grab their swords and head out to Nabal’s place. There’s about to be a slaughter.
But wait: David knows better than this. He knows this is not how you treat an enemy; he proved that back in the previous chapter when he showed mercy to King Saul. David allows his anger to drive him to do something foolish. David allows this fool to make him foolish.
Watch out! This can happen to you, too! If you’re not careful, a fool can make a fool out of you. Nobody can make you do anything, but you can let them push your buttons so that you do something only a doofus would do.
A fool can lead you to say foolish words of anger, or hold on to foolish resentments. A fool can influence you to do foolish things, behave in foolish ways.
You know the right thing to do, but you allow a fool to make a fool out of you.
Don’t do it. Don’t descend to the level of a fool. Don’t let your emotions or your reactions be dictated by somebody else—especially not a fool.
A farmer had a watermelon patch that somebody kept helping themselves to without permission. So the farmer he farmer puts up a sign that reads "WARNING: ONE OF THESE WATERMELONS CONTAINS POISON!"
The farmer returns a few days later and sees somebody has scribbled on his sign "NOW THERE ARE TWO WATERMELONS WITH POISON IN THEM!"
David almost made a terrible mistake, but God sends somebody to help him come to his senses, somebody who gave him a chance to follow the second tactic for facing off with a fool:
2. Heed the voice of wisdom, and you’ll do the right thing. (v. 14-35)
In almost every culture of the ancient world, wisdom is personified as a lady. Seems the wise men knew that it often takes a lady to keep us men from acting like fools.
The wise lady here happens to be Nabal the fool’s wife. (What did she see in him? Must have been one of those arranged marriages!) One of her husband’s young servants runs and tells dear Abby what is happening. He is scared because Nabal’s foolishness is going to cost his whole family, and there’s no talking to him.
Abigail acts quickly and secretly, getting together food for David and his men, sending it on ahead of her, setting out to meet David, who is muttering to himself how he plans to kill every man and boy in Nabal’s household.
His ride is interrupted first by the servants with all the food, and then by Abigail, who humbly apologizes for her husband’s offensiveness. She puts a lot of thought into her speech.
Notice how tactfully she jokes about her husband’s name in v. 25 and then mentions a sling in v. 29, reminding David of his victory over Goliath. She lays out her case with shrewd wit and real skill. Abigail is one classy, smart lady.
Surely you wouldn’t do such a foolish thing as you’re planning! God promises to give you victory and make you King! Don’t let your anger lead you to sin! Trust God to deal with your enemies, and then you won’t have to live with regrets over such a bad decision.
Abigail stands between two foolish men, making an appeal to God’s man to heed God’s wisdom and do what’s right. David actually listens and recognizes in vs. 32 Abigail is God’s messenger to keep him from doing something foolish.
If you’ll listen, God will keep you from doing foolish things—especially when you face off with fools. He gives you His word to remind you of the wise thing to do. Sometimes he uses other people as His messengers to remind us to do the right thing.
Either way He will communicate His wisdom to you, but you must make the choice: are you going to be Nabal, such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to you? (v. 17) or will you be like David—who heeded God’s wisdom?
Abraham Lincoln was hired to sue someone over a $2.50 debt. He didn't want to do it; but his client insisted. So Abe asked for a $10.00 fee up front. He then gave half to the defendant, who promptly paid his debt, kept $2.50, and everyone went home happy.
Whichever choice you make, one more thing to keep in mind when you face off with a fool:
3. Both folly and wisdom have their payday. (v. 36-44)
It’s one of the hardest things to remember and easiest thing to forget—for every choice you make, there are consequences, for every seed you sow, you reap a harvest.
Proverbs 26:10 The great God who formed everything gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.
We forget this because payday for the fool or the wise man doesn’t usually come immediately, but it does come surely.
Nabal’s payday comes sooner than most. Abigail gets back home and he’s having a party fit for a king, feeling pretty good about himself, maybe about putting David in his place. He’s so drunk Abigail doesn’t bother telling him how close he came to losing everything.
The next morning he wakes up with a humongous hangover, his wise wife tells him what happened. It’s not clear exactly what happens, whether he is overcome with anger or fear, but he either has a stroke or heart attack (his heart died within him, and he became like a stone.-vs. 37.) He lingers on for 10 more days before he dies, and Scripture tells us the Lord struck Nabal, and he died. (v. 38). Payday came for this fool very quickly.
Payday comes quickly for the wise ones in this story, too.
David praises God for saving him from foolishness, but then he goes on to propose marriage to Abigail. This poor woman who had suffered no telling how long being married to a fool now becomes the wife of the man who will be king. She will one day follow David all the way out of the wilderness to the palace. Wisdom pays off for both David and for Abigail.
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
Both folly and wisdom have their payday for you and I, too. Somebody put it this way:
Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.[ii]
This would be so much easier to remember if payday came as soon for us as it did for Nabal and David. But it doesn’t usually happen this way.
The young man who chooses to take that first drink of alcohol hardly recognizes how in time he becomes the old drunk. The couple who gives in to sexual temptation might get away with it for awhile, but sooner or later they reap the harvest of shame, disease, unwanted pregnancy.
How many of us say painful, foolish words that come back to haunt us? How many do what we know is wrong, and live with the consequences of foolish choices for the rest of our lives?
On the other hand, making the wise choice always pays off in the end. It might seem like you’re missing all the fun. People may call you a fool for doing what’s right, but time will prove that it always pays to do what’s wise and what’s right. This is especially true about eternity.
Many years ago there was a king who kept a jester who was so good at his job, the king gave him a staff and charged him to keep it till he should meet anyone who was a greater fool than himself.
A few years later the king falls deathly ill. His fool comes to see his and is told by the king he must now shortly leave him. "And where will you go?" says the fool. "Into another world," says the king. "And will you return O king within a month?" "No." "Within a year?" "No." "When then?" "Never." "And what provision have you made for where you are going?" "None at all." "None?" said the fool, "You’re going away forever, and have made no arrangements for your new home, from where you shall never return? Here, my king, take my staff, for I am not guilty of any such foolishness as this."
The hardest fool to face off with is sometimes the one we face in the mirror. Sometimes the doofus is me. Sometimes the doofus is you.
But foolishness is not fatal for any of us, if we are willing to bring our faults and failures to Christ and find forgiveness. He will show you the right thing to do, how to face fools, and how to face eternity. Right now He calls you to do the wise thing: open your heart to the Lord, surrender yourself to God, obey His wisdom. Don’t just know what’s right; do what’s right and what’s wise and you’ll never be sorry. [Wise: be saved, rededicate your life, obey God]
[i] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 191.
[ii]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).