The wealth of teaching in a significant portion of the book of Proverbs testifies to the importance of the family in God’s purpose for human beings. Whether one person lives wisely or foolishly is largely determined by the well-being of his or her family and the quality of relationships they enjoy. This includes the relationship of husband and wife, and that of parents to their children.
As in all areas the book of Proverbs seeks to address, the underlying foundation for a family living in wisdom is the fear of the Lord (1:7; 9:10). Only in a right relationship with God can parents and children enjoy security in their family. God is the family’s refuge and confidence (14:26). The well-being of a family is not determined by its external appearance, physical health or material wealth but by the strength and richness of their relationship with God. Not only the wife but also the husband and the children who fear the Lord are praiseworthy (31:30). Each family member’s relationship with God affects how they relate to each other.
Wise Husbands and Wives
This is especially true for the relationship of the husband and wife in their marriage. Each of them must take their marriage seriously. They must be wise in preparing themselves even before they get married (30:23). Throughout their marriage journey, they must evaluate and develop their fitness to handle their God-ordained marital relationship.
The husband is exhorted to treat his marriage and his wife as a treasure, “far more precious than jewels” (31:10). His wife is God’s reward to him (18:22), a gracious gift “from the Lord” (19:14). Since she is God’s gift, he must treasure her and their marriage and be a good steward of their God-ordained relationship (18:22).
The wife is to be “excellent” in her character, speech, and behavior (31:10-31). By her life and her relationship with her family and other people, she is to seek bringing public honor to her husband (“crown” in 12:4) instead of causing him shame or disrepute. Therefore, she must avoid “quarelling” because like “a continual dripping of rain” it brings damage to their relationship little by little each day if her nagging attitude continues (19:13; 27:15). Her husband and her children will find that attitude repulsive and they would prefer staying outside the home than endure her belligerent attitude (21:9; 25:24). Her husband might prefer to be alone than be in her company (21:19) or seek to find satisfaction in another woman.
While the “excellent wife” described in 31:10-31 is an ideal and does not necessarily apply to all wives, her diligence, hard work, wisdom in managing her household, love for her husband, and compassion to others are virtues that all wives must strive for in their own capacities and life situation.
God desires that in marriage, both husbands and wives enjoy each other in sexual intimacy. In 5:18-19, the husband looks at his wife as lovely and graceful. There should be rejoicing and pleasure in the couples’ sexual life (“be intoxicated always in her love”). Because of God’s design for sex in marriage, both husbands and wives are to value faithfulness to each other in marriage. Their sexual fulfilment must be limited in their marital relationship. Outside of that is sinful and dangerous.
Proverbs has a lengthy discussion warning us of the destructive effects of adultery (2:16-19; 6:20-35; 7:1-27). At first one does not need to pay a high price for having an extramarital affair or paying for the services of a prostitute, but in the end it may cost him his life (6:26). As a fire is certain to get one burned when one touches it, so there will be serious repercussions for those who will touch the wife of another (6:28-29). Considering the tragic consequences of adultery, one who is an adulterer is considered foolish (6:32). Consequences include pain, shame, and disgrace and broken relationship with spouse and children and with other people also (6:33-35). So we must beware of the seductive lies of temptation before we are trapped and it’s too late to turn back (7:21-27).
Proverbs also gives married men and women counsel on how to fight the temptation to adultery. The Word of God keeps one from indulging in sexual pleasures outside of marriage. To fight against the deceits of lust, one must continually seek the wisdom of God’s Word (6:23-24; 7:1-5). One purpose of the Proverbs’ teaching is “to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress” (6:24; cf. 7:5). Both husband and wife must be vigilant against temptations which seek to destroy their marriage and their lives. They must work together to prevent this from happening. It is a daily battle that every couple must fight together.
In Proverbs, commitment to one’s marriage covenant is highlighted. It is also a source of wisdom for couples seeking to be wise in their communication, finances, and other matters. Although passages dealing with those daily life issues are treated in a more general way and are not directly related to marriage, couples can gain much insight if they will evaluate how those teachings apply to their relationship.
To be wise, children must listen to their parents’ teaching or instructions (1:8; 6:20; 13:1), even if they are rebuked for their wrongdoing (15:5). They must be attentive to their parents for their own benefit (4:1). Disregarding their parents’ discipline is considered foolishness (13:1; 15:5). Children need to see and be educated that properly administered discipline is from the Lord and is an evidence of God’s love and their parents’ love for them. If, by listening and obeying their parents, they become wise and righteous, their parents will be overjoyed. But if they will not listen and become foolish as a result it will bring sorrow, bitterness, and shame to their parents (10:1; 15:20; 17:21, 25; 19:26; 23:24; 28:7). More than that, “a foolish son is ruin to his father” (19:13).
Children are to honor their parents even in their old age (23:22), and not curse them lest they suffer the grave consequence for disrespecting (or mocking, scorning; 30:17) their parents (“his lamp will be put out in utter darkness,” 20:20; cf. Exod. 21:17, “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.”). They should give them joy (Prov. 23:25) by loving wisdom (29:3) and avoid the company of prostitutes (29:3), gluttons (28:7), and troublemakers (28:24). Parents, then, need to guard their children against bad influences. And as children need to have a shelter to protect them from physical dangers, so they need spiritual protection from spiritual dangers. Because of that, parents must not just lead them away from dangerous influences but also lead them to take refuge or put their trust in God who is their ultimate protector (14:26-27).
Understanding what God wants for every child helps parents understand the nature of their parental responsibility. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). This verse sums up very well that which the Lord called every parent to do for his/her child. Although it is not a guarantee or a promise, nevertheless one can expect and pray for it to happen that when a child is properly trained by his parents, he will continue in this way throughout his life. Note that this training involves both instruction and discipline: “Fathers, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Parents are to work together in teaching their children (Prov. 1:8; 6:20). Even while still young, children must be taught to treasure God’s Word in their hearts (4:3-4). They must be reminded of the benefits to life of heeding instructions and the grave consequences of rejecting counsel or reproof (4:13; 10:17). Benefits include life (10:17) and honor (13:18). Negative consequences include poverty and disgrace (13:18) and even death (15:10). Instructions must not be merely through words but also through the example of parents. The children are blessed when they see their parents living a life of integrity, their life conforming rather than contradicting what they are teaching (20:7). Parents must be bold enough to invite their children to observe their speech, actions, and lifestyle (23:26).
Parents can learn from the Teacher in Proverbs on how he teaches his student/s (“My son…”; “O sons…”) with encouragement to learn wisdom (3:21; 23:19; 24:13-14), invitation to listen to him or learn from him (1:8; 3:1, 11; 4:20; 5:1, 7; 6:20; 7:1, 24; 23:26), warning about the danger of the path of folly and wickedness (1:10, 15; 5:20; 6:1-3; 19:27), and motivation in pointing out the benefits of listening to and keeping his words (2:1-5; 4:10; 8:32; 23:15; 24:13-14).
They are to be instruments of God’s discipline for the children. This must be done in love and compassion for the child (3:12). When discipline is done in a proper way, the parents reflect God’s love to their children. Disciplining a child (“rod and reproof”) is necessary for one’s child to be wise (29:15). Failure to discipline a wayward child will eventually cause shame to the parents (29:15). On the other hand, a disciplined child brings rest and delight to his parents (29:17).
Of the nine (9) occurrences of the term “rod” in Proverbs, eight (8) of them relate to the instrument for disciplining a child. When the child is acting or speaking foolishly, as he is naturally (22:15), he needs the “rod” of correction and discipline to bring him back to his senses (10:13; 14:3) and drive out folly from him (22:15). Like a horse or donkey which needs guidance and direction, a child acting foolishly needs the “rod” (26:3). The “rod” reminds us that in discipline, the child must feel that sin and foolishness have painful consequences. It must be followed, though, by careful and gentle instruction.
Those who are hesitant to discipline their children must think of the consequences of lack of discipline and the benefits resulting from proper administration of loving discipline. Parents can save their children’s lives from both physical and spiritual danger if they discipline them (23:13-14; cf. 5:11-14). Neglecting discipline, on the other hand, endangers their children.
So even if we are not seeing the immediate effects of our discipline or it seems that our children is not turning back from the folly of their ways, we must not lose hope (19:18). If parents truly love their child and desire only what is good for them, they must be diligent in disciplining their child. To refuse to do so is tantamount to hating them (13:24) and even killing them in the process (19:18).
In raising up their children, parents need also to have a bigger vision. They must be aware that they are training not just children, but their children who will one day become parents and train their own children. The inheritance referred to in 13:22 may refer not only to material things but also to the wisdom (which begins with the fear of the Lord, 1:7) passed from generation to generation. That is why the wise can say, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers” (17:6).
If parents and children will take to heart the principles gleaned from Proverbs and apply them in their relationships and responsibilities, that family will be well-established (12:7), flourishing (14:11) and even enjoying God’s bountiful blessings which may also include material provisions (24:3-4). Even if they remain poor, as long as their home is characterized by peace and love, they consider it far better than having a materially rich family but with strife and hatred (15:17; 17:1; 21:9; 25:24). They can even consider themselves as richer and having “much treasure” (15:6; cf. v. 16), in contrast to the wicked’s troubled income.
In the building of one’s family, one must exercise great wisdom because foolishness can destroy many years of labor (14:1). As there needs to be much preparation in building a house, so one must prepare in raising a family who will live in that house (24:27). It is not easy, but God has given us his Word to guide us in the process.