Wise Words for Families
Whatever phase of life we are in now, we all, of course, started out with a mother and a father, regardless of the kind of relationship, if any at all, that we had with them after our birth. On the other hand, some people, other than having siblings or other relatives, never have a family of their own—other than the one they grew up in.
Whatever our situation, whatever our phase of life, the book of Proverbs contains a combination of instructions, poems, questions, and wise sayings. Family relationships are directly addressed, and other words of wisdom can be applied to the home. Proverbs is, in fact, cast as a family document, in which keys to a godly life are handed down from parent to child. Just as parents might write a letter of advice to a son or daughter going to college, setting up their separate dwelling, or taking a job away from home, so Proverbs is addressed from father to son: “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8, NKJV). Deuteronomy directed parents to share their convictions with the next generation. This is what Proverbs does. In the father’s summons, we hear the voice of our heavenly Father calling us to learn.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 4.
The godly person reserves (if not married) and preserves (if married) his or her deepest affections and sexual intimacy for marriage. Men are specifically addressed in Proverbs, but the same idea as it relates to women is expressed in the Song of Solomon (compare Song of Sol. 4:12–15). The powerful attraction of illicit love must be weighed against the horrific consequences of this sin. Casual sexual liaisons lack commitment and, therefore, fall far short of true intimacy. Material, physical, and emotional resources are squandered. Most important, one must answer to God for the choices made in life.
Sexual intimacy, one of God’s greatest gifts to humans, is a privilege of marriage only (Matt. 19:5; 1 Cor. 7:3, 4; Heb. 13:4). In Proverbs, the imagery of nourishing, plentiful water is used as a delicate symbol of the pleasure and satisfaction a married couple ought to obtain in their love together. This is contrasted with the waste that results when there is unfaithfulness. The expression “the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18, NKJV) indicates that even when the two grow older, their commitment is to continue. A husband is still ravished (“intoxicated” [Prov. 5:19, NIV]) by his wife’s charms.
In the human fallen condition, sexual instincts can lure individuals away from the divine design for sexuality. However, God also has given humanity the power to reason and to choose. These temptations, if not continually suppressed, can become overwhelming. A firm commitment to the divine design for sexuality in marriage can prevent the development of illicit sexual relationships. The choice of lifelong faithfulness to God’s design for sexuality in marriage not only is prudent but carries its own bountiful rewards.
Prov. 13:22; 27:23, 24
Prov. 15:1, 18; 16:32
The characters of fathers have a direct impact on their children and the legacy they pass on to them. Children look to their fathers for support, devoted affection, guidance, and modeling. Proverbs lauds those fathers who are reliable providers and wise managers of family resources. Many are the ways in which “the greedy bring ruin to their household” (Prov. 15:27, NIV); fathers must be mindful to give priority to family over work. Godly fathers seek to be patient and in command of their emotions. They respect their children’s dependence upon them. They discipline their children but are careful not to abuse their position of authority. Most important, dedicated fathers want to follow God, to be controlled by His love and by the teaching of His Word, that they might guide the feet of their children in the right way.
In the end, the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. His faithfulness and continuing affection for her, or the lack of these, have a telling effect upon children’s well-being even into adulthood.
In Proverbs, loyalty to God, commitment to marriage and family, and integrity in one’s personal and community life are key themes. Success in everything depends upon the condition of the individual heart. The attractions of sin—whether sex, sloth, wealth, or power—abound, but the wise husband and father looks to God for help to make right choices continually.
Parents sometimes discipline their children to impress upon them what is socially unacceptable behavior, to punish for disobedience, or even to express their displeasure when embarrassed. But what is God’s intention regarding discipline for these young members of His family? Proverbs sets discipline in the context of hope for the future (Prov. 19:18). Godly parents know that children have a sinful nature. Only one power can help them with this, and this power is Christ (see Ellen G. White, Education, p. 29). The mission of Christian parenting, including discipline, is to lead children to God.
Supporting a tender plant. Through Christ discipline is seen not as punishment, nor as an expression of authority, but as redemptive correction. God’s plan is that loving parents, knowing the strength of sin, guide their children’s footsteps to Christ. Caring parents correct kindly and firmly, restraining and guiding children through the early years much as a horticulturalist provides support to a newly planted tree, until self-control emerges and a youth comes to trust in God and cooperates with the divine plan for salvation, growth, and maturity.
All told, just a few verses mention the “rod” (Heb. shebet) in the context of disciplining children. Popular within Christian parenting literature is the notion that parental use of the rod should be like that of the heavenly Shepherd who uses it to guide His flock (Ps. 23:4). Elsewhere, Scripture points to patient teaching, consistent modeling, good communication, and close relationships for influencing change in children (Deut. 11:18, 19). The child’s feeling of being loved by his or her parents is vital if discipline is to have its desired effect of being corrective and redemptive (Prov. 13:24).
A number of the proverbs consider the ways we treat each other in close relationships. They make their point with a light touch and a flash of wit, like the ones about the insensitive friend who “sings songs to a heavy heart” (Prov. 25:20, NKJV) and the early-rising family member who “blesses” sleepers “with a loud voice” (Prov. 27:14, NKJV). Wives reading these verses about contentious women may want to add some “proverbs” about men! They may retort that such sayings perpetuate the very problem of these proverbs by targeting only women when husbands, who share responsibility for the home atmosphere, are equally capable of contentious behavior. (Imagine what it must have been like living in the home of Caiaphas or Annas!)
A merry heart helps. Having a sense of humor in family living is a good thing. Humor lubricates the machinery of living, helping to reduce stresses and strains. “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Prov. 17:22, NKJV). Proverbs takes some of its own medicine throughout the book and gives us permission to chuckle at a few of the behaviors that annoy and irritate. Perhaps when we have smiled (or smarted a bit if the joke is on us), we are in a better place to talk about habits or behaviors that irritate or annoy us. On the other hand, humor should not be used to minimize or bypass issues that need serious attention.
A low-grade fever may be symptomatic of a chronic infection. Quarreling, nagging, and complaining may signal that there is suppressed anger in one or more family members, perhaps related to difficulties with mutuality or communication in the relationship. The complaining partner tries to offset the perceived power, control, and unwillingness to communicate of another. If the infection is cleared up, the symptoms will go away. In families, rather than avoiding the problem or one another, members build on their love for the Lord and their commitment to one another by communicating their needs and feelings, getting to the root of their anger, and clearing it up.
The woman described is special, and so is the poetry. Each of the verses starting from Proverbs 31:10 begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. One senses from this tribute to a worthy wife that even the whole national alphabet barely provides a sufficient framework to extol her properly!
Proverbs’ emphasis on marrying a good partner is reflected in a dictum of the rabbis: “A man’s home is his wife.” “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones” (Prov. 12:4, NIV). Here, at the end of the proverbs, rolled idealistically into a portrait of one, are many varied skills: clothing manufacture, buying real estate, agriculture, home and financial management. Meanwhile, she cares well for her family. They love her and praise her.
These extensive talents are not to be expected in every woman, nor are they a blueprint whereby husbands should measure their wives. Rather, through describing these capabilities and qualities, Proverbs conveys what is most important and universally relevant for women, as well as for men: the traits of trustworthiness, compassion, reliability, faithfulness, kindness, and industry. The secret of such a life, according to Proverbs 31:30, is that she “fears the Lord” (NKJV).
In Proverbs 31:10 the word for “virtuous,” or “of noble character” (NIV), means “strength,” “might,” or “wealth.” It is translated as “riches” in Psalm 62:10 and describes Joshua’s “men of valour” (Josh. 1:14; emphasis added). Boaz commends Ruth with the word virtuous (Ruth 3:11). In Proverbs 31:10 there is a play on the concept of “wealth.” True wealth lies in character, integrity, and the fear of the Lord. This vastly exceeds the worth to be found in precious stones.
Further Thought: Keeping the heart in heaven. “Christians should be careful that they keep the heart with all diligence. They should cultivate a love for meditation, and cherish a spirit of devotion. Many seem to begrudge moments spent in meditation, and the searching of the Scriptures, and prayer, as though the time thus occupied was lost. I wish you could all view these things in the light God would have you; for you would then make the kingdom of heaven of the first importance. To keep your heart in heaven, will give vigor to all your graces, and put life into all your duties. To discipline the mind to dwell upon heavenly things, will put life and earnestness into all our endeavors. . . . We are dwarfs in spiritual attainments. . . . [Eph. 4:13].”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1157.