"An Ancient and Inspired but Unknown Guide to Parents for Education Children"
Cast as a manual for the instruction of a young man, the book of Proverbs offers a clear window into the ancient Israelite disposition toward youth. It is especially instructive to note the specific words used to refer to and characterize the person addressed. (1) Ben is an expression capable of a wide range of meanings, one of which was equivalent to “student,” under the tutelage of a “teacher,” referred to as his ab, “father.” In Proverbs the word denotes a young man dependent on and accountable to mother and father. (2) Na’ar is a late adolescent in need of training as he prepares for adulthood. (3) Peti (plural petauim / peta yim), is from a root pata, “to be simple, open (minded),” hence a simpleton, a gullible person, one easily seduced or taken in by ideas of any kind, whose mind is untrained to discern truth from falsehood, hence in need of guidance. (4) lis/les is a fundamentally flawed scoffer, mocker, who arrogantly displays his corruption by holding wisdom and instruction in derision and is in need of humbling. (5) Kesil is a shameless, stupid and insolent person, disinterested in wisdom and incorrigible in his ways. (6) Haser leb is a mindless and heartless person, one who lacks sense and needs discipline. (7) Ewil is an idiot, a morally stupid and thick-brained person, virtually indistinguishable from the kesil. Both are characterized by ‘iwellet, “moral corruption, folly,” and both respond to discipline and correction with contempt. (8) Siklut/sakal means stupidity/ and obtuse and stupid person, without any necessary moral connotations.(2)
This vocabulary and the manner in which the words are used demonstrate that from an intellectual, moral and spiritual standpoint, Israelites believed persons in their youth were fundamentally flawed. According to the opening thesis statement of Proverbs (1:2-7), the answer to this problem is reflected in a rich vocabulary of learning: hokma, “wisdom”; musar, “discipline, training”; bina (cognate to tebuna found elsewhere), “understanding”; da at, “knowledge”; orma, “cleverness, smarts:’ mezimma, “discretion, prudence”; leqah, “perception, insight:’ and tahbulot, “fundamentally “the art of steering a boat” but idiomatic for “leadership skill.” Elsewhere one encounters the noun sekel, “insight, prudence,” and a series of verbs for learning sama’, “to listen,” especially to fathers and instructors, and hitteth ‘ozni, “to incline the ear” to teachers (Prov 5:13); lamad, “to learn” (Prov 30:3); hanak, “to initiate,” that is, “bestow the status and responsibilities of adulthood.”(3)
From the preamble and the book as a whole, it is evident that the goal of learning is not merely to produce an informed and intelligent adult but to prepare the young person for life. The dimensions of this learning are encompassed by the single word hokma, which at base means skill in a craft (Ex 35:30-35) but by extension refers to intellectual acumen (1 Kings 4:9-14 [Eng. 29-34]), shrewdness (Ex 1:10), literary appreciation (Prov 1:6), ethical and moral integrity (Prov 1:3), and an understanding of the mysteries of life (Prov 30:11-33). Accordingly, the book of Proverbs covers a wide range of practical and pragmatic subjects, including personal etiquette, discipline and self-control in the face of inevitable sexual temptation, the importance of hard work, the importance of right speech, and other social skills, needed not only to get along with the rest of the household (Prov 6:16-19) but also to accept the responsibilities of adulthood in the broader community. To achieve these goals, stubborn wills needed to be broken, gullible minds needed to be given a framework for evaluating ideas, hard hearts needed to be softened, and self-centeredness needed to be replaced by a sense of membership in and obligation to the community. But underneath it all is a profound theological conviction that “The fear of Yahweh is the first principle of wisdom.” [Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Eccles 12:13]. If a young person does not learn this, he or she remains a fool, and a society of fools cannot stand, let alone prosper. Accordingly, the task of training children and preparing them for mature adulthood fell not only to the child’s parents but was deemed to be the responsibility of the community as a whole.(4)
*Some years ago I promised returned missionaries from the CRM, that I would occasionally write some editions of our mission publication “Continuing to Reap Success.” Here is a new installment.