As I am reading through Proverbs, it strikes me that I may aim my posts too narrowly. When I write I think of male and female, married and single, pastors and not. But usually I am writing to adults, folks who have established their own homes.
But surely not all our readers are adult. Surely some are single teens and twenties (--and thirties?), still under their parents' authority and/or roof. The Bible addresses such frequently. It occurs to me that I should do the same, at least from time to time. (And besides, the rest of you can use the material in your ministry to the "yoots.")
Here is the verse that put this thought to me:
A wise son makes a father glad,My own rewording of the verse's contrast is "Glad dad / glum mum." Let's see who makes who what, and how, and why.
But a foolish man despises his mother
(Proverbs 15:20 NKJ)
Exposition: Here's the DPUV: "A wise son makes his father rejoice,\But a stupid man belittles his mother." Proverbs, by nature, speaks in black and white generalities. So it is here: the wise son is contrasted with the stupid man (kesîl); the glad, happy, rejoicing father is contrasted with — well, with whom?
The glad dad is contrasted, the ESV says, with a despised mother. Now first, the presence of the mother is worth noting. Sometimes it is said that Proverbs focuses solely on males, and we see here that this is not entirely true. Also, it is said that the "father" and the "son" are simply teacher and student, respectively, in a school or courtly setting. If so, then, who is the "mother"? The secretary? Hardly. My revolutionary suggestion is that "mother" means "mother."
But what of despise? English translations use this word lazily and misleadingly, I think. We associate despise with strong negative emotions, such as those I feel towards any kind of squash, or loudmouth actors.
This isn't that. It is from the verb bāzâ, of which Bruce Waltke in TWOT says:
The basic meaning of the root is "to accord little worth to something." While this action may or may not include overt feelings of contempt or scorn, the biblical usage indicates that the very act of undervaluing something or someone implies contempt.So the stupid man looks down on his mother, sees her as of little worth or value, regards her disdainfully and contempt. My own little mnemonic device for the feel of bāzâ is "Buzz off!"
In this, the stupid child exhibits the opposite of the attitude Yahweh enjoins as the fifth commandment, which is the first horizontal commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12; cf. Ephesians 6:1-3). To honor (kabbēd) means to give weight to, to regard and treat with respectful deference, to show honor to. In some texts, the two words ("despise" and "honor") are semantic opposites (cf. Psalm 15:4; Malachi 1:6).
How does the wise child do that? Proverbs itself probably gives us a lot of guidance here. The wise child listens hard and closely to his father (Proverbs 2:1), and memorizes it (3:1; 6:21-23). He does not merely remain outwardly silent but inwardly inattentive; he gives his heart to his father (23:26). He gives his parents rest and delight (29:17).
Other texts grant still more light, which would take us beyond a simple essay. Leviticus 19:3 adds an imperative to revere; the Hebrew tîrā'û ("fear") introduces that element found so frequently in Scripture, and so seldom in our society, of a submissive respect that conditions a heart genuinely to shrink from giving offense. Malachi 1:6 treats this honor a son owes his father as a duty, something inherent in the relationship.
By contrast, in Proverbs the foolish child is neglectful during his years of instruction and learning (10:5), disregards what he has been taught (19:27), is abusive and insulting to his parents (19:26), is stupid (17:25; 19:13), ignores correction (13:1), and hangs around with the sorts of people his father warned him against (1:10; 24:21; 28:7).
If the stupid man embodies the opposite of the Fifth Commandment, the wise son embraces and embodies its values. We read that the wise son makes his father glad, rejoicing, merry. Doesn't this do what Proverbs so often does—give specificity to the Law's generality? A legalistic rebel could think that by hewing to the bare letter of the Law, by giving the bare minimum of compliance to orders when given, he is honors his father and mother. But God has more in mind than bare, grudging, occasional outward compliance to parental commands.
The wise son embraces his father's values, and seeks to please him, to make him happy—not just to avoid getting in trouble. His measuring line is not merely, "How much can I get away with?" It is "How can I please my parents?"
"Any parents?" one might ask. The focus of the proverb (and this essay) is on the child, but I'd feel amiss if I didn't re-state the obvious. This is a proverb. It is brief and pointed, and makes certain assumptions. Would a believing child be expected to make a Baal-worshiping dad happy in every way? Of course not. The assumption is a wise parent, operating within the bounds of his delegated sphere of authority.
This proverb, then, is a down-home picture of two children: one responds to the Fifth Commandment in the warmth and enthusiasm of a living faith. The other does not.
Questions for application: Do you really honor your father and your mother? What part does their upbringing and their teaching play in your major decisions? Do you even consult them, let alone give weight to their input?
Do you think, not just of not angering them, or what you can get away with—but actually of gladdening your parents, making them happy by your choices, attitude, behavior?
Can your friends bear witness to the respect and honor in which you hold your mother and father? Do you bring them around to show your parents off to your friends, and to show your parents how you've taken their counsel to heart in who you associate with (Proverbs 13:20)? Is it obvious to all your friends that you think God gave you pretty neat parents? Or do you clearly act embarrassed by them? Is your behavior anything like Solomon's very public honor shown his mother (1 Kings 2:19)? Do you treat your parents as optional, dispensable "extras" in the drama of your life?
Or let's just bring it home like this. What if I were to look at your father, your mother, as they think about you? What would I see?
Or glum Mum?
Confession: I wish I could say this post is about "how to be a godly kid...as I was!" The truth lies far more in the opposite direction. In my testimony, I asked and answered: "Had I dishonored my father and mother? Since I could talk." That wasn't much of an exaggeration. If I wasn't born with a disrespectful, backtalking mouth, I developed it soon enough.
And I wish I could say it changed from black to white instantly, on the day of my conversion. I can't. But I can say that it began to change, I came to see it had to change, and God started me working on that change for the rest of my parents' lives. It did take work.
Our culture is not conducive to respect of anyone, much less our parents, least of all our fathers. I used to fit in just fine with that culture, more's the shame.
But when God saves us, He changes our culture. He transfers our citizenship from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). We have different standards, and different values.
And home's where we need to show them first.
(BTW, my pastor preached an excellent sermon on just this theme, from Ephesians 6:1-4. Some of his on-target applications are woven into my essay.)