In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.
כָּל־ע֭֭רוּם יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה בְדָ֑עַת ו֝֝כְסִ֗יל יִפְרֹ֥שׂ אִוֶּֽלֶת׃
In a San Francisco Examiner (7/7/93) report the California State Automobile Association claims office received a package by Federal Express. The unknown contents were bundled in a Fruit Loops cereal box.
Workers quickly became suspicious. Security guards called the police, and about 400 office workers were evacuated from the building. The bomb squad soon arrived on the scene.
The Fruit Loops cereal box was “neutralized” with a small cannon, and its contents were blasted into the air. The bomb squad, however, found no explosives. Inside the suspicious package was $24,000 in cash. The box contained bundles of $20 bills, $1,000 of which were destroyed in the blast.
The response of the SF police was understandable. A suspicious package arrived that had to be dealt with. Only after the cereal box was neutralized was the identity of the contents determined.
In our world it is necessary to use caution, but acting without more thorough investigation can destroy things more valuable than money.
In Proverbs 13:16 Solomon contrasts the wisdom of taking time to think before one takes action with the foolishness of taking active steps without thinking through one’s options.
Take Time to Think Through Decisions Carefully
Solomon starts off the proverb, “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge.” “Prudent” describes a person who thinks matters through faithfully. The root of the word comes from a Hebrew term (ע֭֭רוּם) meaning to “lay bare, to be naked.” To move from “naked” to “shrewd” appears to be a stretch. Yet when a person is naked, nothing is hidden. In the same way, when a person shows prudence, he lays bare his thoughts and plans to think through all the possibilities.
However, a person can also mull a matter over and over and not take any action. A Chinese proverb states, “He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.” We can contemplate so much we end up with inactivity or procrastination.
A wise person is not a know-it-all. He does his homework. He grabs a much closer look at the Fruit Loops box before neutralizing it and ruining a good thing.
However, to be prudent, a person “acts with knowledge” (יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה בְדָ֑עַת). The “knowledge” Solomon is described is not automatically acquired. To gain knowledge, one must first lay bare his ignorance. Then the wise person acts with deliberation, having considered all angles of a situation.
I can hear the protests, “That sounds like too much work and a great investment of time.”
We do not like waiting for anything or slowing down. Like me, most of you have apps with “To Do” lists and alarms to remind you to perform your tasks. We are constantly faced with decisions that must be made quickly and actions to be taken asap. It is tempting to “wing it” and not do what is necessary to gain knowledge before we act. Solomon’s message calls us to slow down long enough to think before we speak or act.
When looking for employment, some people have no problem padding their resumes with skills they do not have and ignore job requirements that demand certifications they lack. Their need to land employment is greater than the need to be honest or spend the time to gain the abilities required to be hired. Eventually, they will be busted for their dishonesty and their refusal to gain knowledge in certain areas.
Unless we apply prudence to our tasks, we will end up working on the “Penske file.” In the Seinfeld episode,”The Barber” George Costanza is given the Penske File as a project to work on in a job he may or may not have. Unsure as to whether he has the job, he is equally unsure as to what work he has to do on this file. George looks like he’s working hard, but he is doing a lot of nothing. People who are in a rush and make bad decisions end up working on the Penske File. Lots of thinking, but nothing is accomplished.
Take Actions that Make You Appear Wise
Solomon continues to complete the proverb: in contrast to the prudent who take time to think things through, “a fool flaunts his folly.” The Hebrew is vivid in its description, “he spreads out folly, as if exposing the wares of his shop”. Matthew Henry commented on this passage and advised, “It is folly to be rash, as the fool is, who is forward to talk of things he knows nothing of and undertake that which he is no way fit for, and so lays open his folly and makes himself ridiculous.”
The fool is so filled with himself, he lacks any idea how ignorant he appears. He puts forth his folly of ideas and plans he has not thought through. Yet he distracts people enough to follow him due to his personal charisma.
Sadly, once this person realizes the bad choices he is brandishing, he will have to work just as hard to salvage his reputation, demonstrate contriteness and take responsibility for speaking too quickly.
As a result, those who divulge their folly working on the Penske File, look busy but do not achieve much. No one gets applause for merely thinking. Too many people end up standing on one leg their entire lives. They are hesitant to take the first step towards completing a project. Instead, they procrastinate waiting for the right moment which never seems to come.
In Proverbs 16:13 Solomon instructs us to slow down long enough to scrutinize our options when facing a decision. However, the wise king is not suggesting we should merely accumulate information. Rather, he tells us not to act without careful thought. Don’t just step out for performance sake.
Andrew Jackson said, “Take time to be deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”