I’m from Yorkshire and there’s an old saying that “You can always tell a Yorkshireman…but you can’t tell him much!” But what us Yorkshire lads did glean, we got from our dads. From my dad, I learnt about being careful with money, a love of history (and chocolate –he was a confectioner by profession) and my formative impressions of preaching. I learnt to enjoy the beauty of the Peak District, how to write some very basic computer programmes (now sadly forgotten) and much more.
In Proverbs, we are constantly presented with the importance of children learning from their parents (sons from fathers in particular). Wisdom was something to be passed on from generation.
Relational Wisdom (v1-9)
So, here we have the father passing on what he has heard from his father to his sons. Solomon learnt from David, Solomon taught Rehoboam. If only Rehoboam had stuck with the advice of his father’s counsellors instead of listening to his own yes-men! Wisdom is relational, Solomon tells us how he was “tenderly loved” as a son (v3). And so he too loves. In fact his love here is for wisdom
Just as we saw in chapter 3 that wisdom is to be treasured, so too here we see that advice is to be taken to heart (v4), remembered (v 5) and loved (v6)/ Wisdom is to be prized and embraced (v8). When wisdom is loved, it leads to honour and joy (v9).
These verses have the feel of a meditation on the 5th commandment. We see here why we are to honour our parents and why doing this will lead to a long life (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). This honour is about listening to their advice and teaching. It’s about following wisdom and obeying God’s commands. Parents had a duty to pass on God’s Word. Moses told those who witnessed God’s rescue from Egypt and heard God’s commandments before they entered the promised land to “Teach them to your children and to your children’s children”(Deuteronomy 4:9)
So here are a couple of things of note.
First of all at a very practical level we can see the importance of God centred families. Parents are responsible for bringing up their children to love and follow God. What are you passing on to your children? Ambition, the pursuit of success, self-confidence…? Or what about their need for a saviour and the good news that in Jesus, the saviour has come. Are you bringing them up to love mercy and justice? Are you teaching them integrity and faithfulness? Are you cultivating in them a sense of hope in God’s promises?
And children: are you listening? What are you picking up?
Secondly, we see that wisdom is relational. By the way, this does not mean that there aren’t commands and rules. Law and relationships are not contradictory. But God’s law comes in the context of family relationships. It isn’t just told, it is modelled.
Recently I have become more and more aware that we go off track when we lose sight of the nature of the church as family. When we see the church as a club or society we expect membership rights and when we see it as providing a service then we become consumers moving from church to church until we find the best place for us, We think of church leadership like a business executive or political cabinet and we try to work out where we fit in the hierarchy and it all ends up in tears. Yet at the heart of the New Testament’s portrayal of church is a family model. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have spiritual fathers and mothers and we become spiritual fathers and mothers. This provides the safe context to hear truth, be challenged, corrected, and even rebuked. It’s the safe place to be honest, to confess, to change, learn and grow.
Right paths (v10-27)
The driving theme of the father’s advice is to stay on the right road, don’t get side tracked, don’t veer off to left or right. Travelling across the country o Israel would have been dangerous but even more so if you left the beaten track onto rough terrain with pitfalls and traps to trip up and ensnare the unsuspecting.
Wisdom is seen as a guard (v 6) and a guide (v11) ensuring a good and long life. Here again we have echoes of the promise that accompanies the commandment to honour and obey father and mother. But we also have a responsibility to guard ourselves and the instructions we are given. This means not being enticed by those who love evil. We see how wicked behaviour becomes addictive. People take pleasure and in doing harm to others. They can’t wait or rest (v16-17). Sadly in our own society we see this cruelty at work. We see it when racist mobs run rampage. We see it made respectable on our TV screens in subtle meanness of stand-up comics or the much less mockery on our reality TV shows.
Again and again we see the moral character of wisdom. Its fruit is righteousness which is portrayed as a growing light (v18). This is contrasted with the darkness of wrongdoing and evil which causes people to stumble. Wrongdoing and foolishness lead to danger and death.
The father’s wisdom reminds us that there are two ways to live. Jesus talked about the broad path to destruction and the narrow path to life. Wisdom calls us to fix our eyes on the one who is wisdom, on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).