Let’s deliberately deviate from Solomon’s direction of thought, still keeping it mind while we move on. He is obviously telling young people to listen to their fathers – or more particularly to him. He may have been directing his thoughts toward his own children, but the Holy Spirit directs it to all children. Just for this evening let’s not think so much about the children and the instruction, but to the father.
But first we need to ask, “When do we cease to be children?” In one sense of the word, we never do. We will be the children of our parents until the Lord calls those parents away. And we will always need the instruction of people more wise and experienced than we are. There are some commentators who apply the word “father” in this context to “God the Father. ” We fully understand what they are saying, but it is clear that Solomon is thinking about himself and other human fathers. (As an aside, why do so many Catholic and Protestant priests, insist their people call them “father?” Because it is their doctrine that only THEY can discern, distill and distribute divine knowledge. The Catholic priest wants no other spiritual fathers in the world.)
Again, when do we cease to be children? There is a sense in which there is a transition from childhood to adulthood when we become parents. “I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.” But now, “Hear, ye children (my instruction), the instruction of a father.”
Looking at these four verses just a little unusually, what instruction does Solomon have for the father?
The first lesson is to remember.
As Rehoboam was to Solomon, Solomon was to David – he was his father’s son. The debt we owe to our parents is incalculable. Even if our parents are heathen wretches, we owe them more than we can ever repay. Even if our parents are as poor as church mice, leaving us with nothing but debts, we are their debtors. If Rahab’s parents had not given her life and provided a home for her in Jericho, humanly speaking, she would never have been in a position to have been saved. We owe our parents our love even if we can’t give them the respect due to children of God.
“I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.” I hope your Bible indicates, with the use of italics, that “beloved” does not come from a specific Hebrew word. More literally the verse says, “I was my father’s son, tender, and the ONLY one in the sight of my mother.” Of course we know that preferring one child in a family over another is a recipe for disaster. And we know that polygamous families are a train wreck just looking for a bridge to be out. But isn’t there a way to show to each of our dozen children that we love that one child the most? Every child should be made to feel that he, or she, is the most precious member of the family. Solomon had certainly felt that way.
Another word he used to describe himself was “tender.” That word is used sixteen times in the Old Testament, and it means what it appears to mean. Sometimes it is translated “tenderhearted,” “faint,” “weak” and “weak-hearted.” Every powerful dad and husband should remember that he too was at some period weak and faint. Every father of today was at one point a child in need of a father. But what if our parents were or are not ideal? What if we came from an abusive, disfunctional home? Then, it is time to break that cycle of problems and begin a new tradition for the family name. Bad families relationships may be inherited, but by the grace of God, it is not necessarily in our DNA. Break the mold and be the kind of parent that you needed during your weakest days.
Solomon says, “he taught me.” How did my Father teach me? “Yarah” (yaw-raw’) is a wonderful word which is most often translated “teach” – but its second most common rendition is “shoot” and then “direct.” Jacob “sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to DIRECT his face unto Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.” Jonathan when trying to warn David about Saul’s wrath, “said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I SHOOT. And as the lad ran, he SHOT an arrow beyond him.” Doesn’t Jonathan and this little boy illustrate the art of education? I will shoot at a target, and you go get my arrow.
But what should father’s instruction include?
“Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.” Admittedly, most people, fathers included, think of themselves before others – even before their children. It is a part of our fallen nature. Last Friday, Judy and I attended a memorial service for a friend of ours. As we went in the door we ran into a mutual acquaintance. The first thing this woman said to me was, ‘Hi, how are you?” – not an unusual greeting. The next words out of her mouth were, “I have left my part time job and I am now working full time.” The second word out of her mouth, at a funeral service, was, “life is all about me.”
The instruction which father should have for his son, should first and foremost be for the highest benefit of the child. It should not be “Get me my slippers.” Nor should it be, “You need to learn how to make slippers.” It should be “Let me teach you about the Lord our God, and Jesus the Saviour.” “I give you good doctrine,” Solomon says in verse two.
Perhaps I am reading too much into the last phrase of verse 1; what do you think? “Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.” Does Solomon say that he wants his children to understand what he is saying? Or is it, “I want you to apply yourself in order to know understanding”? Shouldn’t we want our children to understand “understanding”?
“Forsake ye not my law.” Why do children forsake the instruction and laws of their fathers? First, because it is their fallen natures to do so, just as we have so often done to our fathers. That is not an excuse, but simply a statement of fact. We are all born rebels. But sadly, many self-centered parents, incite rebellion by their own sinfulness. It might be their unloving rigidity. Sometimes, it is the demand of for obedience without an explanation of the need for that obedience. Parents are sometimes poor examples, nullifying the exhortations and instructions. We need to give our children good reasons to hear what we have to say. That means not just good explanations and inducements. We need to set before them the highest ideals – the Lord, Heaven and eternity.
And that brings us to the last two words of our text. Our parental instruction should be designed to produce things which result in life. “”Let thine heart retain my words, keep my commandments and LIVE.” I know that we can interpret that to be, “live in my commandments.” But can’t it also mean, “If you keep my words, they will give you life”?
It is important to teach our children those principles which will make them productive citizens and perhaps even successful businessmen. But it is far more important to instill in them a love for the Word of the Lord and the Lord of the Word. Eternity is a lot longer than their three score and ten upon the earth. It is our commission to prepare our children for eternity, even more than it is to prepare them for a quality life on earth.