Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that Christians should “know the proper times and procedures because there is a proper time and procedure for every matter” (8:5-6). Before I get to a journalistic application of aptness and appropriateness of language it is worth a short digression to note that Proverbs argues for situational ethics. Not the Joseph Fletcher kind of situational ethics but the Biblical kind. A couple of verses will suffice to point out that the principles laid down in Proverbs are not always universally applicable but take a sanctified understanding of a situation to see the appropriateness of a given Proverb.
Proverb 26:7, “Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools.”
This proverb teaches that a fool cannot properly use a proverb. A proverb in the hands of a fool cannot be used for its rightful purpose, just as crippled legs cannot be used for their created purpose, which is to support the weight of the body. The fool may know the proverb, may even have it memorized but he will not be able to apply it appropriately when needed. One might even say that the fool looks ridiculous when he misapplies a proverb. One can make her own comparisons in this stark proverb about the foolish universal application of a proverb without wisdom. As Tremper Longman states, “A fool man know the proverb, but since proverbs are only true or helpful if uttered in the right context to the right person, then its knowledge and use will prove as ineffective as the legs of a paralyzed person.”
Before I leave this intriguing proverb it bears mentioning that Solomon doesn’t say that the proverb is worthless. Lame legs are better than no legs. So there can be some benefit in knowing the proverb, even for the fool. The point Solomon is making is that inappropriate use of a proverb will generate little or no use. The proverb may seem to be universal and applicable in all circumstances, like legs may appear to be sound. But when the proverb is misapplied it will fail to do the job intended. In short, use of the proverb all depends on the situation and circumstances.