Proverbs 4:3

When I was a son with my father,

    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,

Proverbs 4:3 ESV

Here, the writer indicates that the timing of his father’s instruction was early in his life, when the son was still “tender.” Tender can mean tender of flesh or soft of heart. In either case, in this context it seems to mean that the boy was quite young. An additional consideration is that the boy was the only one in the sight of his mother.

If this be the case, what are the implications upon fathers today? How does this verse guide a wise father in terms of teaching his son (or daughter)? In so many ways the modern culture has spun this proverb on its ear, allowing young children to teach their parents. A common thread in so many movies and television shows is that the parents are wrong and the kids are right. And given enough time and circumstances, the parents will realize their own foolishness and their children’s wisdom. Today, young boys (3, 4, and 5 year olds!) are telling their parents they are girls and the culture says the parents should listen to the child. And some parents actually accept that instruction. Think about it, a child that usually doesn’t even know how to tie his shoes is smart enough and wise enough to discern the depths of his own sexual identity. Interestingly, most parents, even those open to transgendering their boys, would not believe it if their 4 year old son told them he is a horse. They might play along with the child’s fantasy in some ways, but they certainly wouldn’t begin feeding him oats and hay or building a barn to provide him a place to sleep.

In this proverb the writer provides the order of instruction and the timing of the instruction. First, the parents teach the children. Second, they should begin that instruction early in life.

Proverbs 4:1-2

“Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,

    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,

for I give you good precepts;

    do not forsake my teaching.”

Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV

The goal here is to gain insight. Thus, the father implores the son to hear his father’s instructions and not forsake his teaching. The reason he can plead with his son in this way is the father’s commitment. Note the commitment: “for I give you good precepts.”

As parents we have certain expectations of our children, one of which is that they listen to us. By listen, I mean to actually listen to what we are saying, but also to do what we ask them to do. In the normal family “power structure” that is the expected flow. But that is not what the father is saying here. He’s not saying, “I’m your dad, so listen to me.” He’s saying, “Listen to me because I give you good precepts.”

How often do we think through the precepts we give our kids? Do we simply expect our kids to listen because we are the parents? Or, are we expecting them to listen because we have good precepts for them? There is a difference.

Proverbs 4:7

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,

and whatever you get, get insight.”

Proverbs 4:7 ESV

This verse provokes an obvious, yet critical question. Where can I get wisdom? Can I order some online? Do you enjoy the mystery that awaits you in a fortune cookie? I do. But I don’t look to fortune cookies for wisdom. Neither do I look to aged alcoholics for wisdom. That’s not to say that I could never gain wisdom from an aged alcoholic or a fortune cookie. That is to say, whatever apparent wisdom I may gain from the Internet or fortune cookies or an alcoholic must be measured against an unwavering standard.

Beware, everything that sounds wise isn’t necessarily wise. For example, when I was in college a friend and I shared an apartment not too far from campus. Other than the sense of freedom it provided us, the best feature of the apartment was the community hot tub. We enjoyed going to the hot tub late at night to kinda relax away the day. On occasion, an aged alcoholic would be there. He was easy to talk with and he enjoyed regaling us with the wisdom he had gained from a lifetime spent on the end of a bottle. I was enraptured with the nuggets of wisdom that he so effortlessly spilled our way. So much so that I even wrote one of these treasures in my Bible. The problem was I was a fool and had no ability to discern between gold and fool’s gold. To this young fool everything he said appeared to be gold. Only much later in life did I realize that so much of what he said was nonsense, and that the nugget that I wrote in my Bible was only fool’s gold.

What is a young man, or any man to do when the promise of wisdom is so high and the risk of foolishness is so great? As wisdom says, “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death” (8:35-36).

Here’s the answer from Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (9:10). God is the only infallible source of wisdom. Go straight to the source. Regularly spending time in Proverbs is a step in the right direction.

Proverbs 4:3-4

“When I was a son with my father,

  tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,

he taught me and said to me,

“Let your heart hold fast my words;

  keep my commandments, and live.”

Proverbs 4:3-4

Proverbs is filled with repetition, which indicates the importance of the subject that is being repeated. In this case, Proverbs 7:1 repeats vs. 4 above: “My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you.”

In this comparison, we see the writer’s emphasis on keeping “words” and “commandments,” which results in living. Once recognizing the principle of repetition regarding this subject, the wise reader should sense an urgency to ask and answer this question: “What are those words and commandments?”

Enjoy the journey of discovery as you mine the life-giving riches of Proverbs.

Wisdom: A matter of the heart

“Hear, my son, and accept my words,

    that the years of your life may be many.”

Proverbs 4:10 ESV

Once again, the writer makes the connection between gaining wisdom and gaining years. Note that here, as in 3:1, the heart is involved. To accept wisdom’s words is a matter of the heart. What is your heart health in relation to wisdom?

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