As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. Proverbs 26:11
Dog – It’s hard to know where to start with a verse like this. The imagery is disgusting. It makes you want to gag just thinking about it. But there is a reason why Solomon chose such a repulsive picture. A little background about his culture will help.
Dogs have been around men since the beginning of recorded history. But through most of that history, dogs have not been treated like pets. In the near east, dogs were considered especially vile. They ate garbage. They sniffed around dead things. They licked blood. These things made dogs unclean in every sense. They were often associated with evil. Of the 32 occurrences of keleb (dog), nearly all of them imply contempt. So, Solomon stands on familiar ground when he recalls the image of a dog eating its own vomit. Hardly anything could be more repugnant.
If you can’t stomach that picture, then you should be equally repulsed by the man who returns to his depravity again and again. He is eating what should have been ejected from his life. But here’s the tragedy. We turn away from the sick dog but we tolerate the sick soul. We offer nothing for the permanent recovery of the fool – and remember; the “fool” in the Bible is not mentally incapacitated. He is morally deficient. He is rebellious to God and cares not to change. Peter calls him a man who wades in a sewer. Solomon says he is like a vomiting dog.
The Bible has two suggestions when you come across a fool. The first is to leave him alone. A real fool is so far down the path away from any sense of righteousness that severe punishment is the only thing appropriate (and by the way, the punishment is not for his correction but to show others his plight as a warning to them). The second option is much more difficult. In one sense, the gospel is for fools – and only for fools. Jesus didn’t come to save those who were well. He came for the sick – and there is hardly a man sicker than the one who returns to what he has thrown up. His sickness is not in his stomach. It is in his heart. He has never felt the searing fire of real conviction, the trebling agony of real repentance and the amazing grace of true forgiveness. He is lost out there, somewhere in the world of pushes and pulls, trying to do what he can to make his way. But he knows it’s over. In the end, his life is putrid stench. He needs a savior.
The Bible is pretty clear about this: You are not the savior of the fool. Only God can take on that job. For you to try is fruitless and spiritually perilous. But you can do something. You can commit this wretched man to the stern hand of God. You can pray for his shattering. You can ask God to keep him living long enough for him to wake up and smell the vomit. God invented noses, so I suppose He knows how to make them work too.
Do you know a fool? I do. He used to have my name.