Proverbs 4:1-9 by Robert Dean
Does it take a village to raise a child? This misguided notion insists that training children must be a joint effort of schools, families, and government organizations. Proverbs 4 places the teaching of good judgment and clear thinking solely on the shoulders of parents. Listen to this lesson to learn the role of the father in the generational transfer of wisdom and how fathers should develop a plan to instruct their children from infancy to adulthood. Learn what wrong thinking lies beneath the beliefs of Plato, Rousseau, and others who hold that children belong to the community. See how wisdom is not always a matter of right or wrong and common sense is not so common.

Who is Responsible for Teaching Wisdom? Proverbs 4:1-9


There are none who are perfect, the Scripture says, "No not one." We don't live perfect lives. We live in a world that is corrupted by sin, a world where the institutions that God established (referred to as the divine institutions) have all been corrupted in our experience by sin: whether it is circumstances related to individual responsibility, marriage or family; whether it refers to nation or human government; all these divine institutions have been impacted by sin. They are corrupt. Therefore when we look at a number of commands in Scripture related to how we are to function within these different spheres of authority we recognize that all human authorities have problems, because they too are corrupted by sin. And so we have to learn from the Scripture how to best function within those systems.


That immediately presents a problem for some of us. Some of us have an area of weakness that tends toward legalism and can only think in terms of absolute black and white, and it is impossible to see any grey area. And yet the Bible does talk about areas of what we might call greyness. There are those categories of absolute morality, absolute right and wrong, righteousness and unrighteousness, justice and injustice, that which is obedience to God, that which is disobedience to God.


In wisdom literature wisdom is not always a matter absolute right and wrong. There are some things that are wise and some things that are not wise, but this one is more in a spectrum. Some of us are in circumstances where we would like to apply what we know to be the wisest. And when we use that suffix on the word wise we know that there is a spread. There is that which is wise, wiser and wisest. Sometimes we are prevented by circumstances from doing what we would really like to do if we were in other circumstances. Every person is saved in a certain place in their life. Some are in very good circumstances due to things totally beyond their control—financial, parental, geographical, educational. Other people aren't as fortunate. Everybody starts at a certain place and has to move to the best of their ability through the application of doctrine toward spiritual maturity. We have to understand that, and that there are some areas in life where all things being equal, yes, X decision; a certain decision is better and should be implemented rather than another decision. But that doesn't mean that everybody is the same place where they can do that.


This is the warning as we get into this, because what we are going to deal with here is the wise course of action in terms of parental training for children. This lesson is titled: Who is responsible for teaching wisdom? The basic bottom line on this is, only the parent is responsible for the education of the children. Does that mean we shouldn't send our children to public school? Not necessarily. Does that mean that churches should not have Sunday school? Not necessarily. But these concepts that we have so deeply ingrained in our culture are new, relatively speaking, to history. They are not something that is embedded in the historical past. The concept of a Sunday school and of public education were completely unknown to the biblical writers and biblical culture. The only person who is going to be accountable to God for the education of children is going to be the parents. That refers not only to what we might refer to as secular subjects today but also in terms of spiritual subjects. And Proverbs 4:1-9 is one of those key passages in the Scripture related to the divine institution of the family and part of the responsibilities of parents to children in terms of passing on doctrine, passing on wisdom from one generation to the next.


Our children, spiritual or physical, have their own volition and we can only do so much. Beyond that point we can't do it.


But what this passage does is challenge us as parents the fact that we have to do your very best within our own set of circumstances in terms of passing on the Word to our children. We cannot slough it off and expect Sunday school teachers, Prep school teachers, school teachers in the public school, to do our job. If we expect them to do any percentage of our job for us we have already failed as a parent. The Word of God doesn't give us the option to shift these areas of responsibilities, these divine institutions, to someone else.


We may not have children yet, we may not have children, our children may already be grown, we may now have grandchildren, but there are ways in which we can all take principles from this in terms of application within our particular sphere.


In this section of Proverbs there are, as we have seen, ten basic lessons on wisdom that are given in these first nine chapters. We are now in the fifth lesson on the importance of following the path of wisdom, knowledge and understanding. This is stressed in vv. 1-9, but it is stressed in terms of following the instruction of the father. In just the first four verses we see something significant emphasized here. 


Proverbs 4:1 NASB "Hear, {O} sons …" This is unique here because everywhere else it is "Hear, my son." So here we see that it is addressed to a broader audience—children, not just his son. "… the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding, [2] For I give you sound teaching [doctrine]; Do not abandon my instruction."


Then in verse 3 and down through the end of verse 9 we see that it is a quote within the passage and it takes us to his training from his father. So we see here that this is where the generational concept goes on. He is teaching his son what his father taught him. And that is the idea. We are the custodians as a parent of biblical truth and wisdom to be passed on from the previous generation to the next generation. You are the vital link in that process of carrying doctrine forward from one generation to the next.


Proverbs 4:3 NASB "When I was a son to my father, Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, [4] Then he taught me and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live." So the writer here reflects upon the fact that when he was young he had listened carefully to his father. This is Solomon and he listened carefully to his father David. And for much of Solomon's early life he followed and exemplified the teaching of his father. But what happened to Solomon? We all know that Solomon eventually became influenced by the world, influenced by the idolatry of the many wives that he took in disobedience to God, and he ended up rejecting God and being influenced in disobedient directions. So even with the best instruction he had from his father David it did not guarantee that he would not go away from Bible doctrine.


So part of the caution here is that this is not the opportunity for us to go home and self-flagellate for the next three or four days as you are beating yourself up over some failure as a parent. This is not designed to do that; this is designed to challenge all of us to press on in a higher form. 


This passage really focuses on an emphasis on the third divine institution, the family. This and Deuteronomy 6:4-8 are passages that are the core passages for the family responsibility in passing on education. The divine institutions are designed to provide for the security, the safety, the perpetuation of the human race, and they are not culturally conditioned. They are for every culture, for every human being, believer or unbeliever. The first three were instituted before the fall. The second group, four and five, were instituted after the fall. The first two were to provide for prosperity even in the midst of a perfect environment. Numbers four and five were designed to curtail sin so that the first three divine institutions could be developed and could flourish in that environment. These are not conventions developed over the course of time, which is what the culture wants to say, but they are divinely mandated, built-in principles that when violated will ultimately lead to the destruction of a culture.


We see this today. This is what is lost in the current debate that we are gradually losing related to same-sex marriage. Marriage is not something just for believers. It is for believers and unbelievers. Marriage is a foundational element in all culture and it is what it is because God designed it that way, and once we get a culture based on human viewpoint paganism they then want to go in and change and modify these different foundational elements. Once you completely shift your foundational elements what happens to the house built on that foundation? It collapses. The problem we have in our culture is that when you reach a larger and larger majority that buys into these ideas then eventually you are going to see a complete self-destruction of the culture. It will implode. We are not going to fall because we are going to be defeated from the outside; we are going to fall because we are going to be defeated from the inside.


These divine institutions each carry and authority structure within them, and that authority relates to the fact that within that sphere of operation there is one primary person or entity in the place of responsibility. So that when another authority or entity comes in and supplants that authority that is when there is a conflict. For example, it is not the role of the government to come in and supplant the role of parents when it comes to what goes on inside of the home.


The second divine institution is marriage and the authority is the husband. That doesn't minimize the value and significance of the wife but it places the fact that there is one person who is going to have the authority in the home and be the one who is held accountable for it before God. 


Third, the parents are the ones in charge and the parents are responsible for the education and development of the children.


The fourth divine institution in human government, no matter what kind it is. Then we have the establishment of the nations after the tower of Babel, and the individual nation is the ultimate authority, not an international executive of judiciary such as the United Nations or the World Court; that is a complete violation of the fifth divine institution.


This last week a firestorm of reaction set in, ignited by a piece on MSNBC by Mellisa Harris-Perry, one of their hosts. She recorded a commercial for MSNBC in which she stated that children do not belong to their parents but are the responsibility of the members of their community. She is not the first to state this idea. Hillary Clinton stated this idea in her book It Takes a Village back in the 90s. But she didn't originate this idea. This is just a manifestation of a series of ideas that are a result of the most extreme form of thinking from the Enlightenment, which rejected all divine authority. Ever since the late 1700s there has been this aspect of Enlightenment thinking that the ultimate authority is not God, it is whatever we derive from empiricism or rationalism; in other words, the majority vote determines what is right, not God. As the elements within our society that have bought into that increase then the society comes under tremendous weakness. 


Harris-Perry said: "We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities." This is a communist idea, a statist idea, and it is a complete rejection of divine institution number three. But once we transform divine institution number one (which we have done) nobody is responsible for their actions anymore. It is somebody else's fault. Now we redefine responsibility; we redefine marriage; we can redefine the family. And it is not the responsibility of parents to train their children, it is the responsibility of the government to train the kids. This idea goes back in history to Plato, and probably earlier. In The Republic Plato said:


"All those in the city who happen to be older than ten they will send out to the country; and taking over their children, they will rear them—far away from those dispositions they now have from their parents—in their own manners and laws that are such as we described before. And, with the city and the regime of which we were speaking thus established most quickly and easily, it will itself be happy and most profit the nation in which it comes to be."


In other words, if you want to have the best citizens in your country the government has to raise your kids.


 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78):


"… the education of children should not be left to their father's capacities and prejudices, especially since it is more important to the state than to their fathers; for in the natural course of things the father's death often deprives him of the ultimate benefits of having educated his child, but his country will sooner or later feel the effects of what he has done: the state remains while the family is dissolved."


Rousseau's thinking was part of the Enlightenment thinking which began to take root and influence western civilizations in the late eighteenth century, and this grew and flourished throughout the nineteenth century. But at the heart of this understanding of the role of family and the role of education is a theological concept. And that is true for all of these people. It is expressed clearly in Emile where Rousseau stated: "There is no original perversity in the human heart." There is a rejection of what God said as being the basic nature of human beings, and that is that they are fallen. Scripture says: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."


So modern education philosophy is ultimately based upon a concept that can be traced back through John Dewey, back to Rousseau, back to Plato, that the nature of a child is basically good; not basically evil. That changes the perspective of what you are going to do with children in the classroom.


As Christians living in any culture—whether it is the Greco-Roman culture at the time of the New Testament or whether in France at the time of the French Revolution, In New England or California in early 21st century where the state wants to have more and more control over children—have a problem trying to implement their responsibilities before God. We are always faced with this challenge of living in the devil's world.


Education is to be family-centered and family based. It is the job of the parents to train and educate children in everything. Public school systems and public school curriculums are all shaped by different worldviews. Our job is to train our children as a Christian and pass on a Judeo-Christian biblically based worldview. Proverbs chapter four emphasizes the parental role. 


Proverbs 4:1 NASB "Hear, {O} sons, the instruction of a father, And give attention that you may gain understanding." He is talking to "sons" (children) which indicates he is talking to a broader range than just his own biological son. So it is pointing to a class or a kind of instruction that should characterize all fathers to sons, not just him addressing his own son. There are two parallel commands here: to hear and to give attention. Hearing in biblical language doesn't mean to just sit there and listen and take notes. It means to do what the Scripture says to do. You haven't heard if you are not doing it. This is the same idea in the parallel words "give attention," which means to be fully alert, to listen attentively. So the challenge is to pay close attention. This is repeated numerous times in the introduction and is stated again in this chapter in v. 20: "My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. [21] Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart." Wisdom is the priority.

The word for "instruction" is musar, which indicates the idea of disciplined instruction. The father should have in his mind and develop somehow a curriculum for developing his children for taking them from infancy to maturity, from being spiritually unsaved to being regenerate, and than maturing in the Lord until they are out of the home. We are to value, listen and apply the instruction of the Lord. 


Proverbs 4:2 NASB "For I give you sound teaching [doctrine]; Do not abandon my instruction." The word leqach, translated "teaching" or "doctrine" means instruction, teaching or guidance. That is what doctrine is. Instruction in Scripture includes not only understanding the more abstract ideas that are there but also how you implement them in your life. The word "instruction" [law] here is the word torah, but it doesn't always mean law in the sense of the Mosaic Law or law in the sense of a legal code. The word torah comes from the word yarah which means instruction. It is a form of instruction or teaching. So the Torah is really God's instruction to man and how he should live. So we are not to forsake the teaching or the instruction of the father. 


Proverbs 4:3 NASB "When I was a son to my father, Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother." The word here for "only [son]" is the Hebrew word echad. This is a significant word because it means uniquely as one. A word that describes Isaac to Abraham. Abraham had other sons but Isaac was his unique son. So it is emphasizing the uniqueness of each individual's child. "When I was a son to my father" emphasizes the fact that in Hebrew thought sonship was not just a matter of biology, it was a matter of following the teaching that has been handed down from the parent.


Proverbs 4:4 NASB "Then he taught me and said to me, 'Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live.'" The father taught, yarah. This is emphasizing basic instruction, the fact that the wise person gives insight to his children in all aspects of life so that they may know how to conduct themselves and how to live a long and blessed life.


The only thing that matters when all of life is over is how much doctrine anybody has in the soul. This is the priority for parents. It is to give that doctrinal framework to their children.