Beware of Mama Bears

Read: Proverbs 17:12

Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs than to encounter a fool immersed in folly (Proverbs 17:12, author’s translation).

Some years ago Tommy and Ray Magliozzi (beloved hosts of NPR’s CarTalk) sponsored a contest called “Famous Last Words.” Here were some of the contenders:

Are you sure the power is off?

Pull the pin and count to what?

These are the good kind of mushrooms.

What does THIS button do?

However, the hands-down winner, in my opinion, was this one:

I wonder where the mother bear could be?

Getting between a mother bear and her cubs is universally recognized as a bad idea. No—check that. It’s a phenomenally bad idea.

Yet, Proverbs 17:12 suggests that there is something that is even worse: encountering a fool immersed in folly. I would say that’s a pretty good indication of scale!

So, what’s so dangerous about coming face to face with a fool immersed in folly?

First, let’s talk about what the Bible means by “fool.” Unlike people who lack intelligence, fools may actually know better; they simply don’t care. Proverbs 2:22 says that this type of person “hates knowledge.” For whatever reason, the fool does not seem to care about consequences. Attracting attention and short-term gain seem to eclipse everything else.

Second, let’s admit that fools can sometimes be the life of the party. They’re often funny—and they invariably attract a crowd of admirers. They may tempt us to drop our guard. We may even catch ourselves smiling. The fool’s rants seem too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

But here is where the “mama bear” analogy is so instructive. When we’re wandering through the woods, our first instinct may be to say, “Oh, look at those adorable bear cubs!” No one would argue that they are not cute. But “cute” may be distracting us from danger, and that moment of distraction could cost us our life.

The power of this proverb is in the way it alerts us to the urgency of our situation. Immediate action is required; denial is not an option. We may choose to climb a tree. We may choose to run. (Tommy and Ray would remind us that we only have to be faster than the other guy.) But God help us, we’d better do something.

Ponder: Where have you encountered foolishness lately? How would you describe the danger? What do you plan to do about it?

Pray: Make us alert enough to see the danger and wise enough to know what to do about it. When the foolishness lies within us, then forgive us, and show us a more excellent way.