From my earliest days as a Christian, the Book of Proverbs has been an ever-constant companion. It is certainly the most studied book from the Old Testament I’ve invested in for my own personal sanctification. One central reason I have valued this portion of God’s Word so much is due to its primary purpose: to distill practical wisdom in how to live godly lives in an ungodly world. Hence, Proverbs is a divinely inspired “how-to” book. But it’s not “how-to” in a self-help way or merely a moralistic book of pithy sayings. Far from it! The Book of Proverbs is “breathed out by God” to profit the believer in Christ “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” so that he may be “competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Thus Proverbs has a redemptive purpose which points us to God as our only source, hope, and confidence for living wisely – which is living righteously (Prov. 1:7; 3:5-12).
One of the greatest benefits we find in Proverbs is the way in which it gives us “a window on the world.” In short, Proverbs is truth in street clothes. A Christian is provided by the divine wisdom of this book the insight and understanding in how things work and how people behave. This is especially helpful in the way that Proverbs teaches us prudence in handling relationships. Whether it’s with friends (Prov. 25:17;27:14, 17), the bad-tempered (Prov. 26:17), the foolish (Prov. 23:9), the powerful (Prov. 23:1-3), the adulteress (Prov. 5:1-23), and even with our children (Prov. 29:15) – Proverbs provides us with godly wisdom as to how we must interface with all types of people we will cross paths with in this fallen world.
One such person we are warned about in Proverbs is the scoffer. In the last eight years, I have personally come to see more people who fall into this category of character (and many of them within the visible church!). The very first mention of the scoffer in Proverbs is in chapter one, where the wisdom of God is personified as saying to the scoffer, “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing?” (1:22). By this one question we’re given a special insight into what this kind of sinner takes pleasure in: it is their scoffing.
By definition, to scoff is to deride or to mock. The root meaning of this word in the original Hebrew meant to “make mouths at.” It is the picture of conceited cynics who hold with indignant contempt what is sacred, and make every effort to ridicule it. It’s your modern atheists, like Richard Dawkins; or your religious apostates, like Bishop Shelby Spong; or your political pundits, like Stephen Colbert. These are the proverbial scoffers who take delight in their scoffing.
At the heart of a scoffer is what Proverbs 21:24 calls, “arrogant pride.” In fact, this is how Proverbs describes the scoffer – as someone “who acts with arrogant pride.” He’s not just prideful, but his pride is combined with arrogance. He’s therefore full of conceit, whereby he looks down his nose at everyone around him; believing that he alone has all the answers. However, Proverbs 14:6 tells us that the scoffer seeks wisdom in vain. Despite the fact that he thinks he’s wiser than everyone else, yet true wisdom is totally out of his reach. Indeed, he betrays his inability to gain wisdom, by his inability to control his temper with those who disagree with him. This is not because he is stupid or ignorant, but rather, he’s not teachable. Thus, he is puffed up in his own knowledge rather than trusting God for His wisdom to lead, rule, and govern his life.
When confronted with a scoffer, how do you suppose we should handle them? How would God’s wisdom direct our steps in the face of a scoffer? First, we must not correct them. Proverbs 9:7-8 actually warns us against correcting a scoffer. In fact, if we do proceed to correct them, we’re told that the scoffer will both hate us and abuse us for the correction. This is what Jesus Himself was warning against in Matthew 7:6, when He said that we must not “cast [our] pearls before swine.” If we do so, the “swine” will trample our pearls and then turn and tear us into pieces! Simply put: with a scoffer, there’s nothing more offensive than to be corrected. It is wisdom then to just leave them alone (see Matt. 15:12-13).
Second, we must avoid them. Proverbs 22:10 calls us to “drive out the scoffer.” Why? Because in their absence, “strife will go out” and “quarreling and abuse will cease.” If we want peace in our relationships, then we must flee the scoffer. We should pray for them to be sure, but it’s unwise and unhealthy to pursue a relationship with such arrogant, irrational, obstinate sinners. For they cannot be reasoned with and all their deeds are divisive. So, Christian, be wise – and steer clear of the scoffer!