There are many places in Proverbs where Solomon contrasts the lifestyle of the fool with the lifestyle of the wise person and Proverbs 12:23 is a great example.
A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness. (Pro 12:23)
Noticing Solomon’s word choices is key to understanding his meaning here. He says the “heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.” Solomon’s first focus is not on the words of the fool, but on his heart, the fool’s inner man, his core. Why? “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34b). The Lord warns us: “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36b). The fool completely disregards any such warnings. The fool’s heart proclaims foolishness. In other words, his words broadcast his foolishness in bold print, using letters three feet high. You see him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You hear him at Starbucks, Wal-Mart, everywhere! It’s interesting that the word translated “proclaim” is the same word to describe Wisdom when she cries out to fools to change their ways: “[Wisdom] crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city…” (Pro 1:21b). A fool cannot hear wisdom, because he’s too busy proclaiming (shouting) whatever comes into his head. He’s the guy with an opinion about everything and shares it whether others want it or not.
This is in sharp contrast to the wise. Solomon says of him: “A prudent man concealeth knowledge….” At first glance, it sounds like the prudent man withholds knowledge, but Solomon’s word choice is interesting here. The first time the word “prudent” is used in Scripture, it is used of the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “Now the serpent was more subtil [prudent] than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made…” (Gen 3:1a). The word means “crafty, subtle, shrewd, sensible.” Clearly, it is a word dependent on its context and it is a skill that can be used for good or evil. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29), but God gives us the freedom and responsibility to choose how we use them. The wise man uses his “subtlety” to good effect. Unlike the fool, he does not simply “speak his mind.” He is careful with his words.
The word translated “conceals” means to “plump, fill hollows.” It also means to “cover, as in to hide, or properly clothe.” Most of the time this word appears in the Old Testament, it is translated “hide, conceal, or cover.” The first time it appears, it is used to describe the waters of the Flood.
“And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.” (Genesis 7:19).
A fool will let his words run around naked. He just puts them out there without any thought as to how they might be perceived. A prudent man, on the other hand, waits to make his words known. He makes sure they are properly clothed before he lets them out in public.
Five years ago, I took the challenge to read a chapter of Proverbs a day. It’s easy to do. Just look at the calendar date and read the corresponding chapter in Proverbs. In addition to that challenge I also took up the challenge of writing down at least one thing I learned from my reading and to meditate upon it throughout the day. For the first year or so it seemed like every passage that talked about the fool and his mouth had my picture next to it. As I learned more and more from the Proverbs, I found myself becoming more and more quiet. I listened more than I spoke and most times I just kept my opinions to myself. Why? Because my words will never help anyone. God’s Word will convert souls. As I continued in my meditating on the Proverbs, I found fewer of my statements starting with “Well, I think…,” and more of them being like, “Scripture says….” I’m not saying that to brag on me, or to imply that I have all of this down. I will never “have it all down” until I get to Heaven and God makes me completely right in the head and in my heart. I’m just saying this to testify to the cleansing and maturing effect of God’s Word. If you really want to gauge the status of your heart, pay attention to what comes out of your mouth. Are your words just your naked opinion, or are they clothed in God’s truth?