26:7 Like the legs of the lame that hang limp Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Notice that this connects back with the previous verse, likening the effect a fool can have on someone’s legs. The word here for legs is different, but there’s still a parallel in play. Like wise words in the mouth of a foolish messenger, their effect is lost. And if a simple message by the hand of a fool is like inflicting violence on yourself, it doesn’t make matters better if you put a really good message in his hands. It doesn’t help if it’s a wise saying even. Your legs (ie. message) are still worthless and lame. It cannot accomplish what it is meant to accomplish. And this may even be suggesting a chronological order of sorts: i.e. after you have cut off your own feet with a foolish messenger, even putting a proverb in his mouth won’t help things.
The imagery also suggests that the fool is some sort of predator. He’s like a wolf with a chewed off elk leg hanging limp from his jaws. The proverb is in his mouth as a message, as wisdom, but the image is that it is a limp/lame leg hanging from his mouth. The suggestion is that wisdom in the mouth of fools is actually more dangerous. Fools going around with a proverb or a wise saying or more than likely going around making trouble, comparable to our saying, “I know just enough to be dangerous.” Or we might refer to the various kinds of “cage stages” in maturity and education.
The word for proverb is MASHAL, and its verb form means “to rule” (e.g. Gen. 1:18, 3:16, 45:8, etc.). But the noun form is a “dark saying, a riddle, a proverb” (Pr. 1:1, 6, 10:1) and can also refer to “prophesying” (e.g. Num. 23:7, Job 27:1, Ez. 17:2, 24:3). In the curses of Deuteronomy, God promises to bring all sorts of horrors upon Israel if they are not faithful, and one those curses is for things to go so badly with them that they become a “proverb” among all the nations in their exile (Dt. 28:37). Israel will become an object lesson for the nations, a riddle. The verb and noun meanings converge in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shout of a ruler among fools (Eccl. 9:17).
The word for legs here is the one used frequently in conjunction with sacrificial instructions. It’s frequently translated “thigh.” This portion of the sacrifice is a fat, meaty part, and it was the portion given to the priests (Ex. 29:27, 7:32-34, Num. 6:20, 18:18). Interestingly, Samuel sets aside this portion of a sacrifice for Saul when he is being chosen to be king (1 Sam. 9:24).
Being “lame” restricted men in the priestly line from serving as priests (Lev. 21:18), and animals that were lame could not be offered as sacrifices (Dt. 15:24, Mal. 1:8-13). The point seems to be that a proverb, words of wisdom, ought to be a priestly and sacrificial ministry. It ought to be the fatty meat that is the portion of priests. But in the mouth of fools, even proverbs become unclean and unfit for sacrifice. You can’t take wise words and put them in the mouth of a fool and expect them to be spoken as wisdom. Wise words in the mouth of a fool still come out as foolish words. This is a great reminder of reputations and the time it takes to make and break them.
The word for “lame” is “PESAYACH,” and it is very close to the word for Passover “PESACH.” If anything, this pun may be suggesting a reverse Passover; they are images of the covenant broken.
Elijah says that people of Israel are “lame” between two options when they cannot choose between Yahweh and Baal (1 Kgs. 18:21). This reveals a kind of ambiguity or double-mindedness in the word. It is untrustworthy. A proverb in the mouth of fools is not trustworthy and may be twisted in various directions.
Christ’s ministry includes the healing of many lame (Mt. 15:31, 21:14, Lk. 7:22). From the perspective of this proverb, the implication is that Jesus is not only restoring the bodies of Israel, but he is restoring wisdom. He is restoring proverbs and wise sayings. But beyond that we can say that he is restoring the ability of his people to speak and be heralds and messengers (26:6). Jesus is giving Israel her reputation back. His people are called to be ministers of grace and this always includes being witnesses of the resurrection. The resurrection is the great proverb, the riddle, the wise saying that transforms lives. This action of sharing the good news is a priestly calling, it is our fatty portion. And when we invite others to this feast, we are inviting them to be priests with us. But it is also a kingly and prophetic function. When we explain the wisdom of the gospel, we are ruling/prophesying to the nations. And it is the fact that we have been healed in numerous ways that converts us from fools to wise, and makes the proverb of the gospel real wisdom in our mouths.