Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.
Is there hope for a fool? Not really. A few exceptions do not alter the general rule. No matter what you do to help a fool, he will stay a fool, for he has no heart for wisdom. Here is a profound proverb based on an agricultural metaphor that gives it its beauty.
There is hope for a foolish child or a temporary foolish adult, but there is no hope for an incorrigible fool. He is what he is; you cannot help him (Pr 17:10,12; 29:9). You must avoid him, not waste efforts to reform him, and learn why some people never change.
What is a fool? A fool is a person who has rejected God and true religion by either words or deeds (Ps 14:1; 53:1; Titus 1:16). He is too proud and stubborn to be instructed, so he must be corrected and motivated like a brute beast (Pr 10:8; 12:1; 14:16; 26:3).
He is arrogantly confident of himself, so he continues in his madness without caution or examination (Pr 10:23; 12:15; 15:5; 17:16; 26:11; 28:26). He is self-centered and profane, interested only in his own thoughts (Pr 14:9; 17:24; 18:2; 20:3; Eccl 10:2-3).
Children are born foolish, and folly remains bound in their hearts, if they are not trained. But corporal punishment and reproof will drive it out of children (Pr 19:18; 22:15; 29:15). Adult foolishness can be corrected by instruction, rebukes, and warnings (Pr 1:5; 9:8-9; 19:20,25; 21:11; 25:12; 26:3). There is hope in both these cases, but not with fools.
A mortar was a cup-shaped stone vessel that held grain, so it could be pulverized with a pestle, a club-like instrument used to pound the grain. Braying the grain meant to beat, bruise, and crush it to powder. The metaphor is powerful! If you were to smash a fool in a mortar with a pestle, you could not drive away his foolishness and make him wise.
How can you keep from being an incorrigible fool? Fearing God is your first step, for it is the beginning of wisdom and understanding (Pr 1:7; 9:10). You must reject your own thoughts (Pr 16:25; 26:12). Then you must love instruction and reproof to be wiser (Pr 9:8-9; 12:1). And you must avoid fools, so you do not become like them (Pr 9:6; 13:20).
A wise man will identify fools, remember they are beyond help and hope, and not waste his time or breath on them (Pr 17:10,12; 29:9). They are not worthy of honor, so do not give them any (Pr 26:1,8). They should only be answered to shut their mouths (Pr 26:4-5; Matt 7:6). If you must manage one, brute force is your best bet (Pr 26:3; Ps 32:9).
Some people never change. Fools from birth, they were never trained. Every kind of animal has been trained, but these unruly beasts are contrary to convention, truth, and wisdom. They never mature as they should; they never increase in wisdom and understanding; they are fools. Do not be frustrated or waste time. Avoid them instead.
All men by nature are religious fools, no matter how their parents trained them (Ep 2:1-3; 4:17-19; Rom 1:18-32). Even Paul, who had the best religious training, admitted he had been foolish before (Tit 3:3). How can a spiritual fool be made wise? By the regenerating power of God, Who sovereignly causes him to be born again (John 1:13; 3:8; Titus 3:5).
This powerful work of creation by God gives a man a new spiritual nature for him to see, hear, know, and do things to please God (Jn 3:3; 8:43,47; I Cor 2:14; Rom 8:7-8; Phil 2:12-13). This new nature is truly wise (I Cor 2:15). A person must be born again first to hear and obey the gospel (John 5:24; 10:26; I Cor 1:24; II Cor 4:3-4; Acts 13:48).
It is heresy to think changing the environment will make fools wise (Is 26:10). It is heresy to think that new evangelistic methods will work (Luke 16:31). It is heresy to buy decisions for Jesus with food, water, or medicine (II Cor 2:14-17). They must be born again (Jn 3:7)! Only God can make a wise man out of a fool (Pr 20:9; Job 14:4; John 3:6).
It is your duty and privilege to fear God, humble yourself before teachers and counselors, and reject the proud rebellion that enslaves the hearts and minds of fools. It is easier to learn this way than to be brayed with a pestle in a mortar, which the Lord Jesus Christ has done and will do to both foolish children and enemies (Heb 12:5-13; Matt 21:42-44).