Saturday, June 09, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (10)

One in three American children is currently growing up without a father in the home.

Fatherless children are four times more likely to live in poverty as those with a dad at home, twice as likely to die in infancy, twice as likely to struggle with their weight and twice as likely to drop out of high school. Fatherless girls are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen. And while the actual numbers are hotly debated, it is evident having an absent father also correlates statistically with higher levels of criminality, incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, behavioral problems and the likelihood of having been beaten up at home.

This is going on in a country with one of the best social safety nets in the world and with more money being directed toward the social problems exacerbated by fatherlessness than at any time in human history. Despite its deep pockets, the State is no substitute for a loving, involved father.

In the first three chapters of Proverbs, Solomon has taken great pains establishing the necessity of becoming wise and identifying the source of wisdom, God himself. He now turns to the mechanism by which wisdom is transmitted in the family: through the father.

The Father? Really?

That’s a controversial statement, so let’s consider it for a moment. Mothers also pass on wisdom, and thank the Lord for that, otherwise a third of American kids would have precisely zero. Chapter 31 of Proverbs is entirely devoted to preserving one wise mom’s advice, so Solomon is not being anti-woman here. But it’s fairly obvious that at least on average, children of a mother who is fully occupied with feeding, managing and financially providing for them are going to get less advice — and certainly less calm, measured, sound advice — than children in a home where these labors are halved and time is devoted to cultivating relationships rather than merely getting through the next 24 hours.

And of course there are certain subjects about which even the most loving mother cannot possibly school her son, just as there are areas of a teen girl’s life experience to which a father is functionally blind.

Further, consider Paul’s instruction to Ephesian fathers: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Undoubtedly a child’s life will be better if his mother also avoids provoking him to anger and disciplines and instructs him in her own maternal way. Notwithstanding that, the responsibility is squarely assigned to Christian fathers.

5. A Father’s Endorsement of Wisdom (Proverbs 4:1-27)

Wise people are people with life skills, able to cope in hard times, productive, properly functioning, capable of blessing others and avoiding the sorts of moral disasters that the unwise bring upon themselves with remarkable regularity. And just as the Christian faith is preserved through a long series of faithful, godly men willing and able to teach others, wisdom is preserved through the counsel of wise fathers and the obedience of their godly children.

Get Wisdom; Get Insight

Solomon got the life skills he possessed at least in part from his father David, and our next section of Proverbs appears to record more or less verbatim his recollection of his father’s instruction: “Keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight,” and so on. However, commentators do not agree where the words of David stop and the instruction of Solomon to his own sons resumes. Gill comments:
“Some think they end with Proverbs 4:5; others with Proverbs 4:6, others with the Proverbs 4:9, and the words of Solomon begin at Proverbs 4:10, some will have it that they take in the whole chapter, which is not probable; nay, others say that the whole of the book following is his, which can by no means be agreed to.”
My own take is that the ESV takes the safest and most logical route in ending the quote with verse 9. The apparent thought-flow takes us at least that far. Still, because of the change of address from “sons” (plural) in 4:1 (which is inarguably Solomonic) to “son” (singular) in 4:3, 10, 20 and 5:1, I’m reluctant to rule out the possibility that David’s instruction to Solomon may actually continue all the way to the end of 5:6. David was, after all, addressing his one-and-only son destined to take the throne after him on the basis of his solemn oath to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba. By 5:7, it’s clear we’re back to Solomon addressing his “sons”, and it should not surprise us if Solomon had a great deal more to say to his offspring about the dangers of pursuing the wrong sort of woman than David might have had, and felt compelled to expand on his father’s advice. David surely made his share of mistakes, but Solomon had orders of magnitude more experience in that department.

The Only One

In any case, whether the advice that follows is Solomonic or Davidic, it remains worth studying. Solomon prefaces David’s words with these:
“When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother …”
We’re back in historical territory here. Bathsheba’s son feels his mom rates a mention, and it’s not entirely clear what he is saying about her. A survey of the various English translations shows the most literal reading is something like the ESV’s: “the only one in the sight of my mother”. Thus some take it to make the point that Solomon was Bathsheba’s only child, which is probably true but not likely all that important. (The argument that “King Lemuel” referred to in chapter 31 was Solomon’s younger brother by Bathsheba seems difficult to support from scripture.) In any case, it’s hard to see why Solomon would feel it necessary to point out to his own sons that he was the only child of a specific Davidic marriage.

Rather, it seems to me more likely he is telling his children that his mother was especially fond of him. The Jubilee Bible calls him “unique” and the ASV says “tender and only beloved” with respect to Bathsheba’s affections, which I think gets the sense of it. If you read the history, Solomon’s mother had good reason to put all her hopes in him from the very beginning, not least because her own status rose or fell with his.

Mother’s Love, Father’s Love

But there’s no need to view Bathsheba’s affection for Solomon as merely self-preservation or social climbing. The untimely loss of her first son (sired by David out of wedlock) to God’s judgment cannot have been far from her mind, and the comfort that came with the arrival of Solomon (also called Jedidiah, or “beloved of the Lord”) would surely have created a lifelong attachment of great intensity between mother and son.

I suspect this is what Solomon is referring to, and perhaps there is a very natural contrast here: his mother showed his love emotionally, while his father showed his love by taking time out from running a kingdom to teach his son and heir everything he needed to know.

That’s not the worst possible division of labor in a godly family.

More to come on this …

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