Proverbs 1:8-9 - Christian Education: Basic Training in Wisdom
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and reject not your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head,
and pendants for your neck.
Here speaks the wisdom teacher, the man who in Israel became more and more prominent as the teacher of the youth and as writer and collector of proverbs. One commentator writes:
Especially in the time of Hezekiah and following years, the wise men occupied themselves with the teaching of the youth and with the literature of the Jews by formulating and passing on the practical wisdom for everyday life ... These men were known for their piety, which was apparent also from their close adherence to the Torah, the Pentateuch. After the exile these wise men in Israel became known as the Scribes.Dr. W.H. Gispen in De Wijze in Israel [The Wise Men in Israel]
The wise man, then, was the teacher of the youth, at least in palace circles. Such a man is speaking here in the first chapter of Proverbs. He addresses his students with my son. Also in the New Testament do we find this same custom that teachers and scribes were addressed as father.
Proverbs 1:8-9 summarizes the first lesson in the school of wisdom, and it is an incredibly important lesson. The wisdom teacher gently introduces the youth of the church to wisdom, he teaches them the art of living. No, he does not say, “I will teach you what life is all about, how you ought to go about it and what is best for you. It is good that you came to me, because I am obviously able to teach you a few things. Together we will build something nice. Forget everything you have learned so far in your life, we will make a new start.”
Instead, he says, Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching...
In other words, if you want to be wise, if you want to learn how to give your life shape and content, then point one is: do not forget your upbringing, your christian upbringing – hold fast to what you have learned at home. We will not ignore your upbringing, let alone undo it. We are not going to start again. On the contrary, in the school of wisdom we will continue to build on the basis of your christian upbringing. The foundations have been laid, and we will make thankful use of them. We will now begin with the superstructure, building on top of what has been put into place by the discipline of your father and the teaching of your mother during those first years of your life.
Proverbs 1:8-9, Matthew 23:7-9
The ABC's of Wisdom
Let’s have another look at Proverbs 1:8 and 9, and note especially the place of these words. That is important. The Holy Spirit has given this book of wisdom to the church of all ages; He inspired it and He gave it form. We know already that chapters 1 through 9 of Proverbs form the introduction, and that the real study starts with chapter 10.
With this in mind, consider 1:8-9. We have read verses 1-7 which summarize the content and purpose of this book: to teach wisdom to the youth and to the older people. The starting point and theme can only be the fear and awe for the Lord. That is the introduction.
Then comes the introductory lesson, verses 8 and 9 – remember, we are still busy with the introduction of Proverbs, and more precisely, within that section with the introduction to the introduction!
Well, these then are the ABCs of the school of wisdom, the absolute ABC, the first introductory lesson. This is the way the Holy Spirit has put this book together. This also means that you will not even get to the rest of the book if you already trip over these two verses. How can you learn wisdom if you would fail already at this point? If you were to wipe these ABCs off the table, you might as well forget the rest. These verses, therefore, throw a remarkable light on the irreplaceable, unique and fundamental importance of family life and a christian upbringing. Young people do well to remember that.
Do not let your christian upbringing embarrass you. Put even more strongly, you are not allowed to let it embarrass you. You should be proud of it and show that it is your ornament which you like to show to everyone. It makes you look good. They are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck. Many young people, boys as well as girls, wear a necklace.
If you wear such a necklace, but you ignore what you have learned at home, than you have an ornament, but it is not the ornament which the Holy Spirit would like to see you wear. Do not drop your parents as hopelessly old-fashioned, unable to understand the times in which you live.
When you start your first job, or when you go to college, or when you leave home and move into your own apartment, or when you become independent, never throw away your christian upbringing. That would be terribly unwise.
What a marvelous beginning to wisdom instruction! The students of these teachers of wisdom could well make great advances in wisdom, in the art of living. But never would they be allowed to become an elite, far removed above all ordinary people. They were not permitted to become the upper ten, removed from everyday life in the family. The wise man, the teacher of wisdom was fully part of the people, part of the church.
However many differences there may be in development, gifts and talents, education and even levels of wisdom, God’s people are always united in the covenant; they are one in circumcision and baptism, and in what that sacrament means for upbringing and education.
Baptism, our form for baptism, the baptismal vow – they have everything to do with Proverbs 1:8-9, with the building of the church.
What should be the relationship between parents and children? Hear, my son, your father’s instruction ... The word hearing in this text means much more than being aware of sound. A father charges his son to do a job for him; the son does not move; the father repeats his words; the son answers in a biting manner, “I’ve heard you.” But that is not hearing; only the eardrum moved, without any further result! Real hearing is a matter of the heart. When Solomon prayed to the Lord for wisdom, he used these words, So give your servant a discerning heart ... Literally he says here, a hearing heart, indicating hearing with attention and obedience. Real hearing means obediently responding. When a mother says to her daughter, “Listen carefully to what I have to say,” she does not expect her daughter to listen politely till mom has finished speaking, and then to continue with whatever she was doing. Hearing means obediently doing what your parents say. You are not allowed to put the teachings of your mother aside. You must take careful note of them with a listening heart.
Why? Because God wants you to become a wise and discerning person: He wants you to learn how to live for Him. Therefore you are not allowed to ignore the words of your mother.
But, you might argue, when I turn eighteen, I reach the legal age of majority. That means that my parents no longer have control over me, does it not?
It is true, when you have reached the legal age of majority you are able to buy, for instance, a house. But whether you have become mature is another matter. Common sense tells us that with your eighteenth birthday you do not pass some magic boundary which suddenly changes relationships and excuses young people from the responsibility to honour the ordinances of the Lord.
As children grow up, the relationship between parents and children will change; at a certain age, for instance, you will no longer get a spanking. Yet your parents remain your parents; you must continue to honour them. Also when through advanced studies you grow beyond the level of schooling of your parents, you are called to continue to respect them because it has pleased God to give you these parents.
When they have grown old and you have become an adult, you will still be able to learn from the life experience of your mother or ask for advice from the wisdom of your father. And when they no longer will be able to do this because of age or sickness, your calling to honour them remains, even when they have to be cared for in a nursing home, or when their mind fails them.
Harken to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.
1 Kings 3:9 (NIV), Proverbs 23:22
From the Confessions:
Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 29
In the meantime, those who read all this may begin to object. I hear them mutter, “What do you know? My father and mother are not perfect. Don’t talk as if they do not make mistakes, as if they are always right and I always have to obey them.”
Remember, we are dealing with proverbs which have their own characteristic use of absolute statements. There is, of course, another side to the words of Proverbs 1:8-9. When the student in the school of wisdom is called to accept the instruction (= discipline) of his father and the teaching of his mother, than it is assumed that father indeed approaches his son with his instruction, and that mother does not withhold her teaching from her child. In other words, it is assumed here that a father and mother are indeed really father and mother to their children. At baptism, father and mother promised to help their child eventually to understand the meaning of the baptism; they also promised to instruct their child in the doctrine of salvation.
Have them instructed – among other things, this demands a careful choice when it comes to schooling for the children. If at all possible that will be a reformed school.
Instruct – you must do that yourselves, as father and mother. And a promise remains a promise! You cannot shrug that off, however demanding and tiring that may be.
And you shall teach them diligently to your children – we read in the Bible. The word used here for teach means literally to pierce, inculcate, prick, sharpen, whet. Indeed, a telling description of the teaching task of the parents. Such teaching will be forceful and will persevere. Parents will repeatedly remind their children to love the Lord and to serve Him. Such repetitions show wisdom and understanding. Proverbs itself is full of repetitions; you will often find the same or related proverbs. That is not done thoughtlessly; such repetitions have their own value and importance. Do not consider them an unnecessary waste of paper. This way of teaching has a most practical reason: you do not become wise overnight.
The son must listen to the instruction of his father. But the father must then also give that instruction to his son. That instruction shows the way, indeed, the right way. This fatherly teaching shows the son and daughter the right direction and will keep them on the right track. Therefore this instruction is at the same time discipline, at times painfully felt.
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him...
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.
If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol.
Of course, these are proverbs, saying things pointedly and tersely. Of course it is wrong to hit a child in mad anger. These proverbs do not give anyone a license to abuse his or her children. But let father not despise the wisdom of God’s Spirit which is offered here. A spanking, administered at the right moment and at the right address, may well be necessary at times, and may well prove to be beneficial. If psychologists tell us differently, then they will have to make way for the Word of God.
Your mother’s teaching – literally: torah, precept, statute. The word teaching is used in Scripture in various meanings. It may refer to the laws of the Lord. It may also refer to the acts of the Lord, to the history of the church. It also refers to the daily activity of teaching and instructing the children, of showing them the way in life. Mothers should tell their children about the Lord, who He is, and how He works in history; about what He wants and why. Those informal discussions between mother and child are invaluable – in the kitchen, on the edge of the bed, while strolling along in the park, shorter and longer talks, planned or unplanned. The Lord uses those discussions to change children into mature adults. He uses them to teach the children the ABCs in the school of His wisdom.
Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 23:13-14, Ephesians 6:4