Perhaps one of the greatest blessings of being a parent is to be able to influence the lives of our children with words of wisdom. To have the opportunity, the authority, to direct children in a way in which we know will benefit them is an immense blessing. Here in the Proverbs, the author refers to the leaving of a legacy through teaching and instruction of words of wisdom, and reminds us that while the parent is greatly blessed in guiding the child in wisdom, the child receives the greatest and most lasting blessing.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.”
I remember my grandfather once telling me about his father; a God-hating skeptic to his core. He told me his father assured him he should “bed as many women as possible, live it up and get all you can, because life is short”. My young ears were shocked. I had a difficult time understanding because I had grown up in a home where exactly the opposite was encouraged. Having lived many more years since that time, I realized his father’s advice was lies, and what I was taught was grounded in truth. I also realized that my great grandfather was not the kind of man this passage spoke about.
It can almost be assumed that a parent would desire to give his or her children the best possible life. Parental love is practically instinctive. And while many might not translate this as wisdom, at least they would agree that they desired their child to be successful, happy, and influential. Even the most selfish parents don’t wish harm to their children.
It is on this basic human assumption the author tells us to “hear” our father and mother. Hear is a vague English word indeed. In this passage, “hear” is the Hebrew word shama. Shama has many renderings, but the idea conveyed is that of listening closely, discerning, comprehending, and completely obeying. This is far more than picking up sound; it is the idea of absorbing the meaning of that sound.
We can hear a professor teach. She can fill our ears with instruction, with counsel, with knowledge. But if we only “hear” it in the audible sense, there is no real hearing. To make it meaningful, and have effect, we must “hear” the instruction and apply it.
And so it is in this passage. The author is instructing his readers very clearly: what you hear with your ears you must absorb into your life so that it becomes evident in your life. Only then will you have truly heard.
He tells us to hear (to listen) to the words of wisdom of our parents because there will be blessing as a result. Just as a parent would not ignore the danger of cars barreling down the street but she would instruct her son to watch and wait, so the author is reminding us not to forsake the instruction but to hear the instruction and save ourselves from the disaster that follows ignoring it.
This concept may seem quite fundamental to some; perhaps even laborious. How complicated is it? You just obey counsel and get rewards. OK. Got it. Now move on.
If this concept of hearing and following was so simple and self-evident, why is there so little evidence of it? Why is the world (our workplace, or neighborhood, our home) overflowing with calamitous illustrations of people refusing to heed basic, fundamental advice?
The reality is… it’s not simple. It’s actually quite difficult. And this is precisely why we need to read, and hear, and understand this truth again and again throughout life. We must be reminded again and again because in our self-constructed ivory towers we believe we have the final answer. We believe we can figure out our own way. We believe that others may have screwed it up, but not us. We are in control.
But how quickly we realize our folly. Whether we admit it or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is the disaster we bring on ourselves and others in ignoring counsel from people who love us (like our parents). But we likewise see that when advice is heeded, there are great rewards. And what are the rewards?
Blessing and honor and peace.
The author refers to a graceful wreath and ornaments about the neck. A little context here would be helpful. In ancient times, competitors in games and victors in battle were given wreaths or necklaces to celebrate their victories. It was society’s way of saying “look everyone… here is the winner. Honor him.” The prevailing competitors would wear these ornaments as a sign to show what they had accomplished.
The key thing to remember is that no one got his own wreath or necklace to wear. It was given to him, by others, as a result of his deeds. Thus, honor came from others who saw it, and NOT from the person’s own opinion of himself or herself. Honor and respect are never self-created. They are a natural and logical result of wise living.
The message is crystal clear: we all need counsel. We all need advice. We cannot get through life without it. And that advice, those words of wisdom, begin with our parents, or someone in their stead. A man or woman who desires a life of blessing and honor will begin heeding advice when they are under the authority of their guardians. And the need to receive counsel doesn’t end there, but continues on through all of life because there never comes a point where we have all the answers, and even if we did, we often would fail to heed our own advice.
Wise counsel and good advice are among the greatest gifts one can bestow, for there is no greater gift than blessing and honor, which is proof of victorious living.
RS Kniep is a strong believer in the power of wisdom to affect positive results in people’s lives. He believes all genuine wisdom, in its various forms, comes from God, as found in His Word, the Holy Bible.
As a seeker of wisdom from God, RS Kniep has studied both the Bible and competing views for nearly 25 years. His work focuses on the Biblical books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.