Sometimes my grown children mention a good memory from their childhood. Many things I have forgotten because they didn’t seem notable at the time. But one thing I recall very well—our family study of the book of Proverbs. I remember being driven by certain knowledge—a fear even—that the world was a gobbling machine with a thousand ways to take a bite out of my children and leave behind moral zombies. When we adults have traveled a long and dangerous path, barely surviving, incurring a few scars and enough horrid memories to provoke a lifetime of nightmares, and we know our children must travel the same path now made more treacherous by the moral decay of our society, it should cause us to fear and should stir us up to prepare them to overcome. Far better is wisdom learned through admonition than wisdom accumulated through failure and regret.
The book of Proverbs is written to impart wisdom, utilizing the word wisdom 54 times, knowledge 42 times, and understanding 64 times.
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her” (Proverbs 4:7, 8).
“For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are the holy trinity of human maturity. Thank God, he gave us a book entirely devoted to imparting this three-pronged shield of defense against the stupidity and deception of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Much of what I taught the kids from the book of Proverbs was with the intent to cause fear—not that they should be scared, but that they should possess a wholesome fear of the dangerous snares they would encounter in life. I wanted them to be fearful of falling for the folly of the sirens’ call, to know their weaknesses, and to be able to identify the pitfalls and lies so appealing to fallen human condition. Forewarned is forearmed because it creates a healthy fear.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
The phrase “fear of the LORD” is found 14 times (2x7) in the book of Proverbs.
Much of what I taught the kids from the book of Proverbs was with the design to cause healthy fear.
Everyone well remembers family Proverbs time. It was our shield and sword against the enemy. We were not religious about our family study times. We didn’t stop swimming early, or come home from hunting tired, and then try to squeeze in our “devotionals” before bedtime. There were times when we would go most of the summer without having our Proverbs time, but in the winter months when the evenings were long and the kids were bored, we might have a family study every evening for a while. We all enjoyed it, but it came in seasons like everything else. Be sure, when our children look back on their childhoods, they remember well our family Proverbs time.
Everyone got comfortable, little ones standing on their heads, the older ones lounging like only teenagers can, each with an open Bible—Authorized, Traditional Text of course; no pretend bibles like the NIV. I opened to the place where we had stopped the previous session and we read it verse by verse, word by word, considering every sentence in its context. It was not an academic approach. The kids chimed in and gave their ideas, offering examples, maybe recounting a story from their own experience that illustrated the point at hand. It was a fun time. We discussed and analyzed every passage, even the ones on sex and immorality.
We will continue with Proverbs 22, where we stopped in the last issue.
“He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail” (Proverbs 22:8).
Children can understand the law of sowing and reaping. You sow corn seeds, you reap cornbread and chicken feed. You sow thorns, you reap pain. Encourage them to talk about their experiences of sowing and reaping in the natural realm—garden plants and flowers. One notable experience the kids well remember is my failure to purge a stalk of Johnson grass from the edge of the garden. In the fall the seeds were carried by the wind and spread over my garden. The next summer, the kids had to fight the spreading grass to keep it from dominating my tomatoes and corn. They understood that you reap what you sow even if the sowing is unintentional.
If you sow iniquity when you are young, even if it is fun iniquity, secret iniquity, little-bitty iniquity, you will most certainly reap vanity. Vanity is emptiness, loneliness, sadness, meaninglessness, futility come to fruition. The thing about sowing and reaping is that you reap the same kind you sow, you reap much later, and you reap much more.
It is important to occasionally point out the ugly reaping process in the lives of people the children know, or even people that you may come across on the street or while shopping. Use your imagination to flesh out possible events that led up to a man’s homelessness, a girl’s debauchery, or a drug addict’s ruined life.
The text continues, “and the rod of his anger shall fail.” When one reaps what he has sown and experiences the vanity, he will become angry. Anger almost always springs from blaming the object of one’s anger. The rod of anger will fail to bring satisfaction. The “rod of his anger shall fail.”
I often see angry parents trying to herd their older children away from vanity. But the “rod of their anger shall fail.” Children cannot be steered by anger. They will flee to those sowing iniquity who have not yet reaped the certain vanity. And the cycle goes on.
Do not use your Bible study time as an occasion to rebuke or lecture your children.
This knowledge is designed to impart understanding and wisdom—the trinity of maturity.
Discuss these concepts with your children. Do not—do not—use this study time as an occasion to rebuke the kids. Do not lecture them. It is an educational experience. Discuss—that means dialogue, not monologue. If they are caused to feel this is your time to put them on the hot seat, they will fear it and resent it. Many preachers use the pulpit as their own safe bunker from which to launch missiles at people and ideas they find personally offensive. Do not fall into the same trap in your family time.
“He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).
God reserves special blessings—which I take to be an increase in one’s net income—for those who give their bread to the poor. Teach your children to give to those who need. The only effective teaching is example. My children have seen me give to the poor. One time I was shopping in Wal-Mart during the Christmas season. The greeter lady standing at the door was old and looked tired. The rubber mat on which she stood did not look thick enough to prevent the bones in her legs from aching. I spoke to her kindly upon entering. While in the store, I thought about her trying to make a minimum wage to support herself, so on the way out, I handed her a one hundred dollar bill. I didn’t tarry even a moment, not giving her time to protest or thank me. The kids looked back and smiled at the wonder on her face. At the time I was not thinking about producing an example of giving. It was just that at the moment I had a “bountiful eye” and I wanted to bless her. I have been blessed. My children were blessed. Even my dog is blessed.
When your children make any move toward giving to others, praise their actions and speak of the joy they are bringing to others.
If you are acquainted with a poor family, encourage your children to shop in secondhand stores for clothes that will fit the poor children, and then teach them how to give with grace, not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).
“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (Proverbs 22:10).
This is a great passage, very much needed in most families, especially for teenagers. Is there contention and strife between your children? Do you have a scorner in the family, a daughter, perhaps, who regularly reproaches her younger siblings? It seems to be a contagious disease; a girl goes through puberty and suddenly her younger sisters are nothing but an annoyance, so she scorns them, holds them in contempt. They are suddenly “stupid.” You hear, “Stay out of my room; don’t touch my stuff. Go away.” The passage says that if you cast the scorner out she will take contention and strife with her.
In a social circle you can cast out the scorner, but you can’t turn your thirteen-year-old out onto the streets. So how do we deal with the issue?
You start by shining the light on her scorning face and caustic words. The Word of God is light and it is powerful. When passages like this one and the other 21 verses that speak about scorning are discussed and analyzed in a family setting, it is powerful and efficacious.
Don’t make your daughter the object of an inquisition. Don’t say, “We are going to have a Bible study on scorning so we can see how bad Suzie is.” That is the beauty of having regular studies. You will come across passages like this one, and your daughter will not feel that it is a personal attack. But she will see the disgusting side of her behavior.
Further, when your daughter is aware that the entire family now has a name and description for her scorning, she is not going to want to drink from that well again, knowing that the younger children are not going to feel intimidated by her strange tirades. They are going to immediately identify her as a scorner and feel sorry for her pitiful state of mind. She will be forced to judge her condition as sin and ugliness.
The way to approach the study on scorning is to have the children act out scorning.
But what if the scorning continues after the teaching? Then it is time to publicly label her as a scorner that should be “cast out.” When she scorns, separate her from the social event in the name of casting out the scorner. If the family is otherwise happy and loving, having a great time doing lots of interesting things, getting along in fellowship, she is going to want back in, and the price she must pay is peace and respect for everyone in the clan.
The way to approach your study on scorning is to have the children act out scorning. There should be lots of laughs. It is a beautiful thing. When children dig down in their experiences and concoct scorning scenarios, they are examining their own attitudes and passing judgment on them. It is like a vaccination against scorning. It is like scrubbing their souls with a scouring pad.
“He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend” (Proverbs 22:11).
This passage well follows the one above about scorning. I see it as a continuation of the thought, offering a contrast to the dark heart of the scorner. If you love a pure heart—that is, you value living in a state of inner righteousness, with purity of thoughts as well as actions—your lips will be filled with gracious words rather than scorning, so much so that the king will want to befriend you. So rather than be a rejected scorner, you become a favored friend of the king. You can’t fake a pure heart to people who know you. As a man—or child—thinks in his heart, so is he.
Tell your children, “If you want righteous people to like you, you must exemplify what they love, and that is pureness of heart and gracious lips.”
Ask the children to share anecdotes of family or friends who exemplify grace in their speech. You might ask them to make an effort the next day to speak gracious words to every member of the family. Afterwards, in the next meeting, have them share the episodes and discuss how they perceived each.
“The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, and he overthroweth the words of the transgressor” (Proverbs 22:12).
Verses 10, 11, and now 12 all contain a reference to speaking. On the one hand are words of scorn, and on the other are gracious words; and now we read of “the words of the transgressor.”
“The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge.” Knowledge is one of our three key words—knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
“The eyes of the LORD” represent God’s oversight. The God who sees and knows all is actively preserving knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. You have God on your side when you speak with grace, but God will overthrow the boastful pronouncement of the transgressor. There is no prosperity in scorning, but there is divine support in words of grace.
Lead your children to understand that with every word and thought they are taking sides, either with God or against him. “Train up a child in the way he should go…”
“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets” (Proverbs 22:13).
This verse provides parents with a humorous retort when a child justifies his laziness by referencing hardships he will encounter in performing a chore. First explain what a sloth is—a slow-moving mammal that just hangs around doing nothing. A slothful man (child) will excuse himself from leaving his lounging spot by saying that if he goes outside he might be eaten by a lion. There is always a reason not to exert oneself in work. It is either too hot or too cold. It is raining or may rain very soon. The ground is muddy or one needs to wait for the snow to melt. A farmer who waits for everything to line up before he tends his crops or animals will end up receiving subsistence checks from the government, taking money away from working people who are out there dodging the lions and planting in the rain. So when a kid excuses himself from work, laugh and say, “There is a lion in the streets; I shall be slain.”
“The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein” (Proverbs 22:14).
Here is a verse that I appreciated as my boys were approaching puberty. But I didn’t wait until they started staring at the rose-red lips of strange women before I taught this passage. In our Proverbs time, I always brought up some public example of a boy or man becoming ensnared by a female. Many times I warned them, “When you go through puberty you will lose your mind. You will feel like that rooster taking care of 20 hens.” You would have to have owned a flock of chickens to appreciate that reference. I will just say the rooster keeps very busy making sure the eggs are fertilized and then crows about it every morning, waking the hens up early.
God abhors a man or boy who succumbs to his natural, fleshly drive, allured by the flattering words of a strange woman. To go there is to fall into a deep pit and be hated by God.
“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).
Here is a good one. Children are born devoid of understanding but with a body full of drives. That foolishness lodges in their hearts and expresses itself in nonsensical actions and giddy stupidity. I saw it in my own children—all of them—at some time or another. It is disgusting, making you question whether or not they actually bear your genetic lineage.
Read this verse as a family and ask your children what it means. Don’t be hasty. They will have greater understanding if you let them work it out. Ask for examples of foolishness in others. Have them share their own experiences of foolishness. Ask, “How did it make you feel? What do you think of others when they are foolish?”
Start your own Family Proverbs Time.
I cannot emphasize enough how powerful a tool is this family Proverbs time. This is proactive training that will prevent a multitude of sins.
“The rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” The modern child-behavior (so-called) experts fault us for using the divine enforcer, but look at their children and the fruit of their 50-year reign of permissiveness. Their schools have metal detectors, graffiti on the walls, thousands of teachers assaulted every year, drug-crazed students, sex in the classrooms, and a great percentage of the kids never graduate. They cultivate foolishness, but we Christian homeschoolers have a tool to purge our children of foolishness. We use it with reverence and joy, knowing we are working for the good of the child.
Start your own family Proverbs time, and then write me and share your experiences. If you like this study, we could address it again. Let me know.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4).