This is the way of those who are foolish, and of those after them who approve their words. Selah  Psalm 49:13  NASB

Approve – When is agreement an obvious mistake?  According to this psalm, when it aligns with the choices of the foolish.  Ah, but Hebrew has three words translated “fool,” and they don’t all mean the same thing.

This noun, except for three occurrences in Ps, is found only in Prov and Eccl. In Prov three words are rendered fool, kĕsîl referring to the dull or obstinate one, referring not to mental deficiency, but to a propensity to make wrong choices. ʾewîl refers to moral insolence, and nābāl to the boorish man of mean disposition.[1]

In order to understand when approval is reprehensible, we must first place it in the right context, and here the context is approving the words of someone who has the tendency to make wrong choices.  Not stupid choices.  Wrong choices.  How do we know that the choices are wrong?  Simple.  They are incompatible with God’s revelation through Moses.  Torah sets the boundaries.  Choices that push against the fence, or even jump over it, are wrong.  Actually, we probably shouldn’t say, “Wrong,” because right and wrong are cultural ethical categories.  We’re all part of our own cultures and often “wrong” is a function of cultural mores.  What’s right or wrong in one culture might not be the same as right and wrong in another culture.  The psalm tells us that this “approval” (rāṣâ—to be pleased with, to favor) is really a sinful choice, and sin is a religious category, not an ethical one.  What this suggests is that all of our choices are measured against God’s standard, not the cultural standard we happen to be part of.  In fact, even if we make the “right” choices from our cultural perspective, they can still be foolish from God’s point of view.

But it goes further than that.  This verse suggests that we don’t actually have to make the choice.  All we have to do is approve it, that is, all we have to do is agree.  The Hebrew text doesn’t use “words” in this verse.  It uses the term peh (mouth).  What the fool does finds its way to our mouths.  The deed becomes the word.  That shouldn’t be surprising.  In Hebrew, dābar, means both “word” and “thing.”[2]  In cases like this, we are called upon to ­dis-agree, to contest vocally and behaviorally.  Remember, this isn’t the fool of moral insolence or deliberate evil.  This is the fool who just doesn’t seem to know better.  According to Proverbs, this kind of fool has a chance.  He can be redeemed.  He can be taught.  How?  By disagreeing.  By protesting.  By resisting the temptation to “just get along.”

Dis-agreement is a biblical virtue.

Topical Index:  approve, rāṣâ, fool, kĕsîl, wrong, sin, Psalm 49:13

[1] Goldberg, L. (1999). 1011 כָסַל. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 449). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] See the lengthy discussion in TWOT. דָּבָר (dābār) word, speaking, speech, thing, etc.

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Richard Bridgan

Amen! And emet… I am such a fool; yet reproved. Hallelujah!