“For a fool wisdom is an inaccessible fortress;
at the city gate he does not open his mouth…”
Because I was thinking about talking too much in my last mediation, this verse about the fool not opening his mouth seemed an appropriate follow-up.
Here is a little vision of my reading process:
When I read this the first time, I thought: the first clause (before the semi-colon) is perfectly obvious: the “fool” knows of the kingdom of wisdom but cannot find any way to enter it. The gates are locked, the draw bridge is pulled up, the walls are too high, and maybe there is a shark infested moat surrounding it.
But then, there is that part after the semi-colon about being at the city gate and not opening his mouth. As I read it initially, I thought it was a sign of the fool’s untapped wisdom: he doesn’t open his mouth. For a fool that could be a good thing. He doesn’t have any wisdom to offer, so he keeps his mouth shut.
I don’t know if my mind was wandering, but I was treating each part as a separate, almost unrelated, statement. It was as if I had wandered out of the metaphor the author was creating (a fortress) and into the streets leading up to a common city where people gathered at the gate to talk and share news and greet one another—to begin the business of the day. And in my imagination, there was this fool with his clothed mouth, experiencing the benefits of restraint. No wisdom to share, nothing to say. Just listening and learning.
But then, realizing that this didn’t seem to make sense, I looked back and realized that the city gate comes within the context of the metaphor of the fortress of Wisdom. And then I realized that the reason the fool cannot access the kingdom is because he will not open his mouth; he won’t ask to be let in. He’s too foolish to ask for access. It perfectly dramatizes the depths of his foolishness: this is a person who doesn’t even know enough to ask for help.
The second part of the statement develops the first. Now, to most people this may seem rather obvious in itself, but for me (a librarian and writer) it is a lesson I am always having to relearn.
At moments like this, I wonder if anyone else reads like me; as carelessly, as foolishly. And I wonder if my carless reading comes from lack of focus, from being unable to shut down all those voice in my head and just attend to the moment (the word on the page). This sounds like an odd struggle for a writer to have, getting lost midway through a short sentence. I wonder if it is related to talking too much? To those voices in my head that are constantly trying to interpret and decipher and dissect each and every situation, experience as if I were constantly trying to discover some hidden coded truth, constantly trying to prove myself, to justify my existence?
And so –I will write one more thought –nay two-- then then hold my tongue; reading this passage I come away with 2 lessons:
1. There is wisdom to be found in remaining silent, or as Proverbs says:
If the fool holds his tongue, he may pass for wise. (17:28)
2. And there is wisdom in speaking out. When you are standing at Wisdom’s gate, don’t be afraid to open your mouth and reveal you are a fool in need of assistance. It’s the only way you will be able to ask for help.
3. (okay –one more) And where better might we find the gates of the Kingdom of Wisdom, than in God’s word. So, when you are reading The Bible, don’t be a fool, humble your heart, open your mouth and ask for help. In fact, the author is right there standing at the gate, waiting for you. Just say the word and He will open the gate and let you in.