Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Key to a Father’s Happiness according to the Book of Proverbs

Every Father’s Day children wish their father “Happy Father’s Day.” But what really makes a father happy? The book of Proverbs has a fair bit to say about the role of fathers, and what makes for a happy father.

The book of Proverbs presupposes that fathers should love and take delight in their children (Prov 3:12). Parents obviously have a responsibility to provide for their children’s physical and emotional needs, but the primary role of fathers according to the book of Proverbs lies in education. Proverbs presupposes that fathers will be instructing (Prov 1:8; 4:1), commanding (Prov 6:20), and disciplining their children (Prov 3:12). Discipline actually stems from a father’s delight in his child (Prov 3:12). Just as God seeks to instruct his people by speaking his word to them, human fathers are to pass God’s instruction (i.e., torah) and wisdom on to their children, and particularly to their sons.

Proverbs 1:8–9:18 functions as a model for how fathers should instruct their children. Fathers can instruct their children about many things, but moral instruction is most important. Fathers should encourage their children to pursue wisdom, motivating them to do so by helping them to consider the supreme value of wisdom, and the desirability of the benefits that flow from it.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction; and forsake not your mother’s teaching; for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Prov 1:8–9).
“Hear, O sons, a father's instruction; and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts. Do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he ktaught me, and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight. Do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom; and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown’” (Prov 4:1–9).
If the father’s primary role is educating his children, then it makes sense that a father will experience happiness to the extent that his children receive and follow his instruction. It is significant that the main section of the proverbs of Solomon in the book commences with the following proverb: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Prov 10:1). The idea that a wise son makes a glad father is repeated in Prov 15:20. Wisdom in the Old Testament is defined as hearing and doing torah. Children who follow God’s instruction bring joy to godly fathers. As Prov 23:24–25 states: “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice.”

The opposite of wisdom is foolishness. Accordingly, the foolish child brings the opposite of joy to his or her parents: “He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy” (Prov 17:21); “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him” (Prov 17:25). Foolish children cause trouble and shame for their fathers: “A foolish son is ruin to his father,” on par with a quarrelsome wife (Prov 19:13); a child who is “a companion of gluttons shames his father” (Prov 28:7); “He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth” (Prov 29:3).

Children should listen to their father’s instruction (Prov 1:8), and keep their father’s commandments (Prov 6:20). Listening to a father’s instruction allows a child to “gain insight” (Prov 4:1). “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Prov 13:1). “The one who keeps the law [i.e., instruction, torah] is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father” (Prov 28:7). “A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent” (Prov 15:5). As a means of learning wisdom, the book of Proverbs calls upon us to listen to our parents: “Listen to your father who gave you life,and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Prov 23:22). An unwillingness to listen to our parents goes together with an unwillingness to listen to God. Therefore, respect for one’s parents is important. Whoever thinks that stealing from one’s parents is okay “is a companion of a destructive man” (Prov 28:24). Cursing one’s parents leads to eternal death (Prov 20:20). “The eye that mocks a father, and scorns to obey a mother, will be picked out by the ravens of the valley, and eaten by the vultures” (Prov 30:17). Using violence against one’s parents “brings shame and reproach” (Prov 19:26).

Wise and godly children are the key to a father’s happiness. This means that fathers can promote their own happiness by teaching their children well.

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