With chapter 4, we begin a new section of the book, extending through chapter 6. This new section is introduced by the first use of the address “my sons” and takes on the tone of a warning rather than a positive exhortation as in the first three chapters. In the first of these discourses, the seventh in the book so far, we are set in a home in which a father is speaking to his sons, rather than a teacher speaking to students. As I read through this chapter, I was struck by one thing that seems to ring clear above all else: The father is having a hard time persuading his sons to take his teaching seriously; in fact, the entire discourse is that of a father who is trying to persuade his sons to listen to him, to persuade them that the path of wisdom is the right path for them to take in their lives. As a father myself, I can relate!
I can remember many times when I found myself having to try to convince my kids that I knew as much about life in general and the ways of the world as their friends who were every bit as clueless as my kids, and the truth is that more often than not, they preferred the advice of their ignorant friends.
I can also relate as a teacher, for it is all too common to hear from a student that things the Bible teaches are simply so difficult and hard to put into practice that nobody can do it… so why bother? Again, this is amazingly clueless about the realities of life and what is possible; oh yes, I can relate with the father in this chapter.
For the ancient Israelites, the highest duty of a father was to teach his sons. They taught their sons how to live, how to earn a living, how to get along in the community and to follow the Law of Moses. They passed down the wisdom of the ages to their sons, wisdom from Scripture, and wisdom from experience, and I’m guessing that they had the same kinds of frustrations that we have today; their sons probably already knew everything. Look at the passage again, notice that the whole chapter is a father telling his sons that wisdom is better than wickedness; one might expect that the very definition of the words would take care of that, but alas, they don’t.
For us today, are we any different? The other day I was talking to a friend about my recent trip to Illinois; he was asking about the things I was teaching. I told him about the amazing things going on there, and how I had told the people that we need to put our spiritual gifts into action by showing up and getting out of His way. My friend laughed and said that sounds like my simplistic style of teaching, but that other people can’t just do that; it doesn’t really work that way because nobody else has that much faith.
“Really? Seriously? Nobody?”
“That’s right; there are too many questions that need answers.”
“Like having enough faith to let go of ego.”
That really didn’t seem to be a question to me; more like an objection. I could almost hear my eldest repeating her most common teenage objection: “But Dad, I don’t want to!”
Yep, I can relate to the father in this chapter. I can only imagine how hard it will be for him in the next chapter when he speaks to his sons about sex!