“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; for they will be a graceful wreath on your head, and pendants about your neck,” Proverbs 1:8 – 9.
Many of the words of Proverbs are the words of a father to a son (2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1) – the “voice” of the book is the voice of parental instruction from a father, sometimes from a mother (31:1). As we read and meditate devotionally on Proverbs can we “hear” the voice of our Father speaking to us as His sons and daughters? Even as the father of Proverbs speaks to his son, he speaks not only of his (the father’s) instruction, but also of the mother’s teaching – the voice is parental.
However, unlike what passes for parental voices in our culture, the parental voice of Proverbs is straightforward with both affirmation and warning – it is anything but indulgent; it cannot be indulgent because its goal is the welfare of children, and young men and women; its goal is a life lived in the shalom of God, the peace and wholeness of God – a life of wisdom and righteousness and equity. There are stark warnings in Proverbs and vivid portrayals of the outcome of disobedience and sin; there are also beautiful images of lives lived in righteousness.
While I realize that the mother of Proverbs 1:8 is a natural mother of a natural child, just as the father of Proverbs 1:8 is the natural father of a natural child, I like to think of the father as my heavenly Father and the mother as the Church of Jesus Christ (the people of God from Genesis to Revelation). Since I acknowledge that the original reference was to a natural father and mother I don’t think I’m doing violence to the text by transposing upward the original historical meaning. As Paul points out in Galatians 4:26, the Jerusalem above is the mother of those who live in Jesus.
In Proverbs we have what can (mostly) be read as a letter from a father to a son or daughter in which the father reminds the reader of the mother’s teaching and influence. Its thirty-one chapters naturally lend themselves to being read one chapter a day each month. I think reading one chapter a day can be fruitful in the context of reading and knowing the entire Bible, just as I think reading the Psalms every day can be an anchor in our communion with the Trinity. In Proverbs we can discern the voice of our Father giving us insight into the world in which live, its dangers and pitfalls, how to relate to others, how to think about life, how to communicate, how to make decisions, and how to build a life on the foundation of wisdom and the fear of the Lord. The more familiar we are with Proverbs the more we will see it as a tightly woven tapestry and the more naturally its words and images – for it is a book of images, rich in portraiture – will become a picture book in our hearts and minds.
In 1:5 we see that a wise man will “hear”; and verse 8 begins with “hear”. Proverbs invites us, and commands us, to “hear”. The Scriptures are ever commanding us to “hear” – from “Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God is one…” to “Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit says…” Reading is of no profit unless we hear what we read, granted, there may be times we read simply to sow a seed, but if the seed sown is never watered with prayer and reflection so that it sprouts and grows and matures then our reading is of no avail. The Pharisees apparently read and read and read – but most of them did not “hear” – in fact they rejected and Word when He was living and speaking in their midst. The Pharisees killed the very Word they read – a not uncommon occurrence.
The Great Commandment begins with “Hear” (Shema) – but do we hear?
Are we listening as we read the Scriptures? We are all deaf without the enabling of the Holy Spirit, we cannot hear without Him. Isaiah writes, “The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning, he awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear; and I was not disobedient nor did I turn back,” (Isa. 50:4-5).
We live in an increasingly noisy world in which it is increasingly difficult to hear. By God’s grace we must tune our ears to hear the instruction of our Father and Lord Jesus, we must learn to cultivate a sensitivity to their voice, a voice that speaks through and in harmony with the written Word, a seamless harmony. This active listening not only hears what God says but it also responds in obedience to what God says – sometimes the response begins internally and is then manifested externally through action, somethings it begins in action and the heart follows, sometimes the inner and the outer move in beautiful synchronization. Who can know the intricacies of who we are? I think only God. To be sure hearing the Word commands a response from us, a decision, an action of the “will” enabled by the grace of God. This is too mysterious for me to comprehend – the interplay of grace and will – and will and grace…but I know that it is so…it cannot be otherwise for without God we can do nothing.
So we are called to “hear” and then called to “not forsake”. I will pick this back up in the next post in this series.