In recent weeks, some Americans sick with COVID-19 have been looking for a cure from a very unorthodox source: ivermectin. Here’s how the Food and Drug Administration described the situation in a letter to veterinarians and animal health retailers this week:
People are purchasing various highly concentrated animal ivermectin drug formulations such as “pour-on,” injectable, paste, and “drench” that are intended for horses, cattle, and sheep, and taking these drugs has made some people very sick.
Even if animal drugs have the same active ingredient as an approved human drug, animal drugs have not been evaluated for safety or effectiveness in humans. Treating human medical conditions with veterinary drugs can be very dangerous. The drug may not work at all, or it could worsen the illness and/or lead to serious, potentially life-threatening health complications. People should not take products approved for veterinary use, “for research only,” or otherwise not for human consumption.
Fox News as well as other conservative news outlets and radio personalities have promoted this cure. Among those was Phil Valentine, who recently died from COVID-19. He also was not vaccinated and urged his listeners to resist the vaccine.
What are people looking to such unusual and potentially dangerous forms of treatment? Do people know when they’re acting foolishly...or becoming a fool?
Dominick Hérnandez is associate professor of Old Testament at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and author of Proverbs: Pathways to Wisdom.
Hérnandez joined global media manager Morgan Lee and executive editor Ted Olsen to discuss fools, folly, and how the book of Proverbs might help us in our current environment where we see people all around us making decisions that make no sense to us.
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Music by Sweeps.
The transcript is edited by Faith Ndlovu
Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #279
Give us an overview of where the Bible talks about foolishness and especially the Book of Proverbs where the focus is on that.
Dominick Hernandez: Actually, I would rather take the conversation back to ivermectin. Many of us without training in infectious diseases have over the past year become experts in infectious diseases. Many of us with no military training have become experts in military strategy. As it relates to the Book of Proverbs, people that speak outside of their lane without listening to others that are walking in that lane would be considered fools. At the very beginning of the Book of Proverbs, we have this introduction to the book. We read the Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, King of Israel, and then the book begins to mention why the book is important; to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight. When we get to verse five it says, “let the wise hear and increase in learning.”
The parallel statement says, “and the one who understands obtains guidance to understand a proverb and a saying, the wise and their riddles.” In these two verses, those people that are considered wise are listeners. To learn, you have to hear, to understand Proverbs, you need to be a listener. In many cases, listening is done with the eyes as we read.
Proverbs 1:7 (Prov 1:7), says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” We have these concepts, the fear of the Lord and listening, combined right at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs that is intended to impart instruction upon the reader or the listener.
So, you do have this aspect where you are a listener, and there's a flip side of that, which Proverbs has all sorts of stuff about the fool speaks a ton. Is that just because they talk without listening, what's going on there?
Dominick Hernandez: The Proverbs uses various metaphors to refer to speech. Many times, when the Book of Proverbs does that, the mouth or the tongue or the lips are used to represent imprudent speech.
The Book of Proverbs encourages the reader or the listener to be quick to listen, as well as simultaneously receive instruction and you cannot receive instruction while you're running your mouth. Repeatedly throughout the Book of Proverbs, these metonyms are used: mouth tongue, lips to encourage people to be wise in their speech.
What are some of the attributes of a fool?
Dominick Hernandez: Some of the other attributes that we see specifically in the Book of Proverbs are those that don't respect their relationships to their family, the usage of speech, someone who is not humble, those who aren't diligent in their work, and then very pertinent to this situation we could say those people that are exclusively concerned about what they can get out of a situation and are not thinking about those that are vulnerable in society. They're considered fools in the Book of Proverbs.
In Isaiah, it speaks of the fool speaking folly and there is evil doing in their heart, more than just an idiot who loves to run his mouth off.
Whether it's the COVID debate, Christian nationalism, or any of these debates we're having, it seems that there are people who seem to have hearts of iniquity and attempting to deliberately give people false information. Then some people are led astray, people who are trying to seek truth and they're following the wrong dude. But the effect is the same, there's a listening aspect to the person that follows the fool.
What have you learned about foolishness and when we're in Proverbs, what's the relationship between the deceiver and the deceived?
Dominick Hernandez: I think that Proverbs presents two paths and providing many illustrations of people on those different paths. We have a pathway to wisdom and a pathway that leads to folly. Speech is one of the manifestations of which path you are on. What we see is that the fool speaks a lot. We read, for example, in Proverbs 10:19 (Prov 10:19), “when words are many transgression is not lacking, but whoever restraints, his lips are prudent.” So, we see a manifestation of wisdom in restraining one's lips. Then when that person speaks, they should speak wisdom, that is wisdom that coincides with what we see in the book of Proverbs which we've spoken about to a certain extent. But the biggest point that we can take away concerning the speech issue in the book of Proverbs is that those that do speak in the Book of Proverbs use words to reconcile, to bring peace and they speak less. For example, we see in Proverbs, 15:1 (Prov 15:1), “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Elsewhere in Proverbs 26:24 (Prov 26:24), “for a lack of wood the fire goes out and where there is no whisper, quarreling ceases.” We can judge speech based upon these criteria, but I also think that as followers and listeners to other people that are in positions, we could say expertise and authority, we should be judging their speech based upon these principles as well.
Jesus' words on the Sermon on the Mount about not calling people foolish make someone a little bit reluctant to say that person is either acting foolishly or is a fool. So where is the wisdom in both judging people as fools and warning people about fools?
Dominick Hernandez: There is a distinction between describing someone’s actions and calling the person despicable. Proverbs sets out plenty of examples of behavior that we can call despicable; not honoring the poor people in society, not caring for the widow, moving boundary points, being lazy and not desiring to work, people that use their tongue to divide. All of these things can be called despicable behavior, but I'm not sure that it's the responsibility of people now to point fingers and judge the intentions of a person and call the person names. We can let the scriptures do that. I'm trying to create a distinction here between judging the intentions of a person and calling out the behavior of a person.
In many ways, leadership is defined by speaking and by sharing the wisdom that you have often verbally. What does speaking look like when you are a leader who is attempting to not be foolish?
Dominick Hernandez: With those platforms that you're talking about comes an additional responsibility in terms of recognizing that we are responsible for how our words are perceived. When we're given this responsibility to speak in front of people, we have to recognize that those things that we say carry potentially greater consequences than if we're having a private conversation with friends that don't necessarily consider us an expert. When we're looking at leaders, by default we consider them to be experts and therefore in many cases, take their words to be an expert opinion on something and there's been such commercialization of the word ‘expert.’ Almost anyone can be called an expert or perceived to be an expert in lots of fields.
There is wisdom in how we position ourselves when we speak in front of people, which has everything to do with humility. We have to stay in our lanes and speak to those things for which we have training humbly.
So practically, should pastors address the topic of vaccines to their congregations?
Dominick Hernandez: I think that the leaders within the context of congregations and other leadership positions within the church are compelled to speak to things that affect the church at large from a biblical perspective. But I would like to state yes, in such a way that does not give pastors and leaders within the congregations free reign to simply express any perspective on something so important as vaccinations or vaccination status.
Morgan Lee: It is just a delicate dance with all of these things because sometimes, there just seems to be some subjectiveness, depending on how you might receive those words from that church leader or your pastor. That is what can make that standard a little bit challenging for people to implement.
Dominick Hernandez: There is always an element of subjectivity when we teach from the Bible about contemporary issues that weren't spoken to necessarily within the context of the scriptures. So, we're applying principles to contemporary situations, and in many cases that can be sticky, but the question related to whether it is the responsibility of church leaders to address these issues, would be a huge void in any ministry at this juncture a year and a half into the COVID situation to not address this issue.
What does the Book of Proverbs say about confronting each other about actions or behavior that we do not find to be godly?
Dominick Hernandez: The instruction in the Book of Proverbs is directed toward people closely associating or identifying with people that would not fear the Lord. So, for example, we read in Proverbs 22: 24-25 (Prov 22:24-25), “make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor with wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” The instruction in Proverbs is if you are a person that honors and respects God's word, then make sure not to intertwine yourself with those that would live lives that would not honor God lest you learn their ways.
Are you saying the confrontation is for people who are not currently following God, that's who we're called to potentially rebuke?
Dominick Hernandez: No, what I'm saying is that Proverbs speaks to the person who fears the Lord to stray from evil, not necessarily encouraging people to be callers outers of wicked behavior or the wicked people in that sense.
So, there's not a specific prophetic directive, I guess?
Dominick Hernandez: I don't see this prophetic directive per se, in the Book of Proverbs.
This is an actual composition that was put together with literary themes and with structure. What we end up seeing as we go through the book, for example, we have this preface that I mentioned, then we have the rest of chapters 1-9 being an introduction to these different pathways, mostly using the illustration of the wise woman and this woman of folly. We have these individual Proverbs that touch on a lot of the same themes between chapters 10 and 30 and then we have the Proverbs 31 poem at the end. But throughout, all of those independent compositions are eventually composed and put together with a literary purpose.
So, I don't see these individual verses to be commands for every single believer at all times, the Proverbs are situational, and they need the proper situation in order to be applicable. That is why we see, for example, as someone said that there are these contradictions in the Book of Proverbs. More specifically, what we see is the apparent contradiction in Proverbs 26:4-5 (Prov 26:4-5), where we have, “answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” and then the very next verse we have, “answer a fool according to his folly.”
If we view the Book of Proverbs and the individual Proverbs to be conditional, based upon situations then we know there are situations in which we do not answer people that are acting foolishly, for example, do you all answer all of the hate mail that you get, or the Facebook comments that you get from haters?
But then in the very next verse, “answer a fool according to his folly,” now I have children and I know that sometimes my children act foolishly. They don't want to do things that are good for them, and I will sit and reason with them, I will answer them.
Both of those Proverbs are completely true, they're just based upon situations. If we understand these Proverbs to be universally applicable commands, we're going to have a straight contradiction here.
If we recognize each of them to be a slice in this greater idea of biblical wisdom that we can apply in different circumstances, in different situations then the Proverbs turns into a magnificent composition that we can learn from and embrace in its totality.
Are you more likely to see Proverbs as being descriptive or prescriptive?
Dominick Hernandez: We do have descriptive and prescriptive, but the issue is we have to read this Book of Proverbs as a whole. We have to read it in its totality. There are different sections of the Book of Proverbs that I just mentioned and it's very clear that they all were not composed together. For example, we see at the beginning of Proverbs 25 (Prov 25), that there's a section that was put together by Hezekiah's men. We see Agur in chapter 30. We see Lemuel in chapter 31, we see the Proverbs of Solomon in chapter 10. All this was put together by a really smart author that knew what the author was doing. We miss something broader when we think in binaries. Literarily, this is good literature.
Ted Olsen: It is great literature. How though are we supposed to have this literature communicate with the rest of scripture? I read Ecclesiastes and it just rings true to me. I read Proverbs and I'm like that doesn't happen like that, that just seems to not be how the world works.
Dominick Hernandez: What I've found in my teaching that I think might be helpful is that taking Biblical texts at face value does not exclude the literary genius of the actual authors. That means we can take things at face value that were molded and crafted for the education of the reader and the listener. And I think that that's precisely what we have in the book of Proverbs.
We shouldn't create that dichotomy and say we like to take things at face value, and this doesn't match up to reality and therefore it's either not true, or I have to be a fool and make my reality not real and match up with the scriptures. We see different examples of that, in different areas of the church, to be honest, but you also mentioned, how the Book of Proverbs interacts or reads with other sections of the scripture. I would say it's important to recognize that as we read the Proverbs and we're able to see the themes that are repeated in the Proverbs, like caring for one's family, caring for the vulnerable, working hard, those things that we've mentioned already, we can't read one, one or two or 10 verses in the Proverbs and leave it there. We have to ask, what does the book say overall concerning these particular issues? That is if we were to read the book, not just one or two verses in their context. What can we learn from other wisdom about this particular issue? So how do, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes read together concerning these issues? If they still don't read so well together, what does the rest of the Bible say overall about these particular issues and how can what Proverbs teaches concerning a certain issue be viewed in light of the overall biblical teaching of a topic.
Just to give an example I'm just going to use Job's friends. So, we as readers are privileged to Job 1 and 2, we see what's going on in the prologue and then Job starts off in chapter 3 cursing the day of his birth and we're opposed to that because we know that this is not against Job. This is a divine contest. But what ends up happening is that Job's friends in the first round of speeches say to Job, “we recognize that traditional wisdom says that you are suffering like this because there's something hidden in your life you have got to confess something.” There is all of this traditional wisdom that we could say in the Book of Proverbs, that seems to line up with this. But here's the thing that the Book of Job does that Proverbs doesn't do; that is Job gives us a prologue in which we see that there are situations in which some of these sayings that are frequently quoted in the Book of Job by his friends do not line up and Job's situation is one of those situations in which what we would consider to be traditional wisdom and in some cases, biblical wisdom become trite sayings because we know as readers, they do not line up with Job's situation.
By the time we get into the second round of speeches, Job's friends are calling him wicked. They say that he's going to suffer the consequences of his wickedness or that he already has. He's eventually going to die because of his wickedness. Again, that sounds so much in so many ways, like the Book of Proverbs, but we have this privileged information in the prologue, and we know that Job is working through a situation in which many of those traditional sayings do not apply.
We have our authority in scripture. But then the Bible doesn't necessarily tell us whether to take Ivermectin and we've had some conversation about authority and about who to listen to and how we listen.
There's a tendency within American Christianity to push against expertise and to push against established authority. I can see a lot of pushes against authority in the Bible's conversation of foolishness and wisdom. So how do you know when you're pursuing wisdom and when you're pursuing foolishness?
Dominick Hernandez: There are some fundamental beliefs to Christianity and evangelical Christianity in particular that are used sometimes by groups that essentially are not used in helpful ways in difficult social moments. To be more specific, within the Bible, we see that there's constantly the mention of this remnant. There's a remnant of Israel and then there's a remnant in the New Testament, by the way, again, understand, I'm not saying that this is being used properly, but I'm saying this seems to be the logic here that this remnant of people has a unique knowledge concerning God that they've been able to somehow, or some way perceive that others haven't. Others have gone the way, I guess you could say of the beast so utilizing these biblical concepts, we have a situation in which some people believe that they're part of a remnant that has secret knowledge and that the rest have been sucked into this greater movement and we know that the gate is narrow and that can be problematic, but I would just encourage people that may think they're part of a remnant to remember that the Book of Proverbs pushes listening to people, even listening to people that aren't of your specific age group.
We see the constant intergenerational communication in the Book of Proverbs, and we see that the Book of Proverbs also pushes many other principles that don't coincide with this idea that I am going to protect my small group of people that has secret knowledge. For example, caring for people that are outside our community, especially those that might be poor or might be marginalized, the Book of Proverbs speaks to that.
So, I think on the one hand Christian beliefs and how some of these Christian concepts are misunderstood, like the concept of a remnant, the concept of having the unique knowledge of the Lord's things that are used to play into this idea there is a remnant that refuses to bend against the bigger machines.
COVID is such a fascinating place to be in because it has pushed to the forefront that Christians hold different beliefs which are going to lead to dramatically different actions inside or outside the church with regards to things like masking or being vaccinated, or having to be, in spaces with people who are not vaccinated. In those contexts, when you do think that the Christians that you are in community with are acting foolishly and foolishly to the point that they could hurt you, what type of guidance and wisdom does Proverbs offer that for us?
Dominick Hernandez: It's important to remember that as we read throughout the scriptures, we've never had a COVID moment in the scriptures.
Christians around the world are doing their best in many cases to think through this and to work through this in the community and that is a lot of us. We have different opinions. I live in a county that has a massive mandate right now and I go to a church about two miles away in another county that doesn't have a mask mandate. How do we think through these things? The principles that we see in books like Proverbs, especially in this case apply and that is, are we considering those around us? Are we considering those that may be on the margins of society? Are we thinking through how we can live in a community with one another before thinking about our rights?
In many cases, again, we have to recognize that the Bible doesn't speak directly to the COVID moment, but it does speak directly to how we treat each other in the community. We can learn a lot from the Book of Proverbs concerning how to go about being just kind to one another.
There is some concern from some people that it's really important that we don't overly cater to people's anxieties and that there are times when people's anxieties about something like the pandemic, may not be reflective of what we currently understand about the pandemic. There's a fair number of people who are very concerned about anxieties that are not based on reality.
Does Proverbs or the Bible at large offer a sense of what that line is between serving one another but maybe not overly validating anxieties that you feel to be false or misplaced.
Dominick Hernandez: I think that the church has dealt with this type of thing in the past. Let's just say on either side, it doesn't matter what we're talking about at this juncture there are over anxieties.
How would we work through this if it weren't a COVID moment? In many cases, we might treat this as maybe a mental health problem. How would we treat people with mental health issues within the context of our congregations? The answer to that is that we would be loving and kind and try to serve their needs as much as possible. So, I don't want to use the over-catering thing to push back against people that don't agree with me on these issues.
What I would like to say is even I and the eldership at my church, or even at my institution, think that the anxiety is not related and rooted in reality, as a brother in Christ or as a sister in Christ I do think that it is our responsibility to treat those people still with love, to watch our tongue and our lips and the things that we say and to do our best in this particular moment to treat those people with dignity and with honor.
Should we be reading one chapter of Proverbs a day, or does that strip it of the overall context that it needs to have?
Dominick Hernandez: My encouragement is to keep reading the Bible. We should read the Bible whether we understand it all or not, we want to do our best to continue to just read it because we believe our God is a verbal God that communicates through words, and we as believers can read and engage with the Almighty, through the written word.
So, keep reading. This is not an activity in elitism. I'm not saying you have to read well before you read it. What I am saying, however, is that in addition to reading your proverb or your chapter a day, it's important to be conscious of the fact that we are engaging with a composition that was carefully crafted and put together with literary purposes that we might not consider if we only read a little bit of it at a time.