The Application of Wisdom: Teachings About the Family

Notes on Proverbs

The first and primary human relationship was that of the man and woman in marriage (Genesis 2:18-24). From this relationship came the first children (Genesis 4:1-2) and all mankind descended from there (Acts 17:26). The book of Proverbs contains several instructions about family relationships, emphasizing the importance of harmony in the home, as well as responsibilities of parents, children, and grandparents.

Harmony in the Home

Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (15:17).

Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (17:1).

A poor family is unable to sustain itself on any more that a “dish of vegetables” and a “dry morsel.” While such a condition may not be desirable in itself, Solomon makes the point that if there is love and quietness (the absence of strife) within a home, poverty can be endured. More than that, the prosperity that allows one to enjoy feasting is not worth pursuing if it leads to hatred and strife within the home. Too many people sacrifice family in order to pursue success in the things of this life. But no amount of this world’s wealth can replace the blessing of harmony in the home.

A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother” (10:1).

A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (17:25).

A foolish son, by rejecting the ways of wisdom and being concerned only with fulfilling his desires, will cause trouble in the home. He causes grief to both father (17:25) and mother (10:1). By his selfish and rebellious actions, he demonstrates that he “despises his mother” (15:20). Rather than helping to preserve harmony in the family, the foolish son instead brings about “destruction” (19:13).

He who sires a fool does so to his sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy” (17:21).

The joy that accompanies the birth of a child does not always last. As the child grows, if he does not follow the path of wisdom, heeding the instruction of his parents, the “foolishness” that is “bound up in [his] heart” (22:15) will take root and will define his life. One is not a fool from conception or birth, but becomes one as he chooses the paths of wickedness. The father of such a one loses the joy he once experienced on account of his child, and it is replaced with sorrow.

My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad; and my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right” (23:15-16).

The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who sires a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you” (23:24-25).

In contrast with the verse noted previously about the fool causing sorrow (17:21), a son brings joy to his parents when he is wise (23:15), when he speaks what is right (23:16), and when he practices righteousness (23:24). The apostle John, though he spoke of children in the figurative sense, expressed the same joy that Solomon speaks about: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in truth” (3 John 4).

Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad, that I may reply to him who reproaches me” (27:11).

Solomon notes again that a wise son brings joy to his father (cf. 23:15-16, 24-25). In addition to this, he says that when his son walks in wisdom, that he is able to “reply to him who reproaches me.” Whether it is fair or not, the actions of a child affect the reputation of his parent. A son who acts wisely helps to preserve his father’s reputation before his fellow man.

To the Parents

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—how blessed are his sons after him” (20:7).

When one follows God as he ought to, not only will he be blessed (cf. 11:3-8), but his children will be blessed as well. First of all, as God delights in those who follow Him, a secondary benefit is that “the descendants of the righteous will be delivered” (11:20-21). Second, the children of the righteous man are blessed in that they have his good example to follow. Third, the children of the righteous man are blessed because they are taught by him “in the way [they] should go” (22:6).

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6).

This statement is one that is generally true. Certainly, because man has free will, it is possible for parents to teach their children as they ought to and then, when their children have grown, they forsake the paths of righteousness. But generally speaking, when parents lead their children in the way of truth, they will continue in it in their adult life. So the influence of the parents is not limited to the home prior to the children reaching adulthood. Therefore, parents must seriously consider their responsibility in teaching their children.

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (22:15).

Foolishness is used two different ways in the book of Proverbs. It can refer to the state of merely lacking knowledge. It can also refer to the state of willful rejection of knowledge. The former is the type of foolishness in the heart of a child. A child simply lacks knowledge and needs to be trained. Part of this training involves discipline. This is not referring to verbal reprimands – though there are times when verbal instruction is necessary – but corporal punishment. Solomon makes this clear because he does not just mention discipline, but the “rod of discipline.”

He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (13:24).

Those who refuse to use corporal punishment in the discipline of children believe they are acting in love. Yet Solomon says that the one who “withholds his rod” – by failing to administer this type of discipline – “hates his son.” Therefore, the one who loves his son will discipline him diligently. The word translated diligently means to seek early or earnestly. The point is that while parents must discipline their children in earnest, they must also do so in a timely manner. This means that from an early age, parents ought to discipline their children appropriately so that the children learn early in life that there are consequences for failing to obey.

Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death” (19:18).

Solomon says that discipline must be administered “while there is hope.” The implication is that the time may come when there is no hope. The age in which a child’s heart becomes hardened and unreceptive to the instruction of his parents will vary. Parents should then discipline their children diligently – earnestly and early [see comments on 13:24] – so that this point is never reached. The New American Standard version says: “Do not desire his death.” This suggests that discipline must always be done in love as an effort to train a child, not as a reaction in anger. The King James Version is worded a little differently: “Let not thy soul spare for his crying.” The type of discipline that Solomon refers to here (corporal punishment) will often result in the child crying. Parents should not allow this to deter them in their efforts to administer proper discipline. Solomon explains this in the following verse.

Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol” (23:13-14).

The discipline that Solomon talks about, though it is designed to inflict pain, will not result in serious injury or death. Therefore, though the child may cry (cf. 19:18), a parent should “not hold back discipline.” God designed children’s bodies to be able to withstand corporal punishment. The wise man explains why parents must not refrain from inflicting temporary pain in the discipline of their child – they might “rescue his soul from Sheol.” The purpose of discipline is not just so a child will learn to respect and obey his parents. It is also so that the child, as he grows, learns to respect and obey the One whom his parents also respect and obey – God.

The rod of reproof gives wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (29:15).

A child gains wisdom as his parents discipline him as they should. But the child who is spoiled and only gets what he wants and is never disciplined, “brings shame to his mother.” This child never learns limits, boundaries, or reality. Therefore, as he grows older and continues to act according to his own foolish and childish will – because it was never driven from him (cf. 22:15) – he becomes a source of shame for those who raised him.

Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul” (29:17).

When parents administers discipline to their child, the child will likely not seem to appreciate it. Yet as he grows older, he will come to appreciate the diligence of his parents in this regard. The Hebrew writer noted: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). A disciplined child may later provide comfort or rest (KJV) to his parents and “delight” their souls. From both a temporal and spiritual perspective, parents will find joy in the righteousness of their child. But discipline and correction are necessary for this to happen.

To the Children

A servant who acts wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully, and will share in the inheritance among brothers” (17:2).

This verse could be used to emphasize the hard work and dedication of the servant. However, there is another point to be made about the son that Solomon mentions. The fact that he was a son did not mean that his shameful actions would be overlooked. Being a son does not mean that one should feel entitled to anything that his parents have. Solomon specifically mentions the inheritance in this verse. While it is often true that a child will receive an inheritance from his parents, he should not act as though he has an exclusive right to what does not yet belong to him. Too many young people in our society develop an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Yet parents can use their resources as they see fit – even by leaving an inheritance to a wise servant. Rather than having a sense of entitlement, children of all ages should learn humility, walk righteously, and honor their parents.

He who robs his father or his mother and says, ‘It is not a transgression,’ is the companion of a man who destroys” (28:24).

This verse also deals with the entitlement mentality that many children have. They believe that they deserve whatever might belong to their parents, even before their parents might decide to freely give anything to them. So these wicked children feel as though they can rob their parents without doing anything wrong. The wise man notes how serious this crime is when he says that the one who would do this is “the companion of a man who destroys.”

He who assaults his father and drives his mother away is a shameful and disgraceful son” (19:26).

One who would arrogantly mistreat his parents is worse than a stranger who would treat them the same way. The son, because he is a reflection upon his parents [see comments on 27:11], brings shame and disgrace to his parents in addition to whatever physical pain he inflicts.

There is a kind of man who curses his father and does not bless his mother” (30:11).

The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it” (30:17).

The most fundamental command for children is the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). With this command came the promise that God would bless them in the land they were receiving. The verses above explain that those who fail to honor their parents will not only miss out on the blessings that come from obedience to this command, but will suffer a disgraceful punishment for his sin.

To the Grandparents

Grandchildren are the crown of old men, and the glory of sons is their fathers” (17:6).

A crown is a sign that one is deserving of honor and respect. Having grandchildren is also a sign that one is worthy of such honor and respect. In order to have grandchildren, a grandparent must first raise his own children in such a way that they are capable of raising their children (his grandchildren).

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (13:22).

This verse is not talking about a guaranteed outcome. One may be a good man, but on account of circumstances beyond his control, has nothing to leave as an inheritance to his children, let alone his grandchildren. Instead, this verse is talking about the fact that a good man will have the necessary characteristics that might allow him to leave an inheritance to his grandchildren – hard work, good stewardship, and a concern for future generations. Circumstances in life may not always work out as one would hope, but all men ought to have these qualities.

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