What about Proverbs as the context for child discipline?

Proverbs in Hebrew @www.Relavate.org

What about Proverbs as the context for child discipline?

Who Wrote Proverbs? (1:1)

1.  How many authors are there?

(See Proverbs 1:1ff; 30:1, and 31:1, 4)

 Argur, King Lemuel, Solomon, and others. Many believe that King Hezekiah’s men may have contributed some of the Proverbs.  They most certainly were responsible for collecting and organizing them (as indicated in Proverbs 25:1-29:27 of the Hebrew text).

 2.  So why does Proverbs 1 say that Solomon is THE author?  

•   He contributed most of the Proverbs.

•   He is the premier example of a godly king and wise man of God at that time.

•   He was in the messianic line of David.

•   Proverbs was written primarily to first born, young royal men who were in training, preparing to lead their nation according to Deuteronomy 17. Daniel and his peers would have been an example of such. They were to be skilled in the art of life according to God’s Word. They then had the function of teaching all other men in the same manner. To read a bit more about this, see this post or this one.

•   In a sense, then, the first audience for Proverbs is Israel’s royal family of God.

•  Deuteronomy 17 says that true godly leaders had to study God’s Word and be wise in order to serve God and lead God’s people in holy righteousness.


To and for whom is Proverbs written?

1.   Who was the immediate and first audience for whom Proverbs was written?

The initial and immediate audience for Proverbs was Jewish fathers and sons.   

The ancient Hebrew had certain words for children of various ages. For example, yanaq ‘ul was a newborn. ‘Olal was an infant and tap was a child between the ages of seven and twelve. These words are not found in Proverbs.                  

The term used for “son” (ben) refers to progeny (almost exclusively male). The context determines whether it refers to male progeny or male and female progeny. The majority of the English translation for “son” in Proverbs is ben. Sometimes the English translators will translate the Hebrew “ben” as “child.” Here’s an infographic that might help:

Hebrew terms for ages

The other word for “son” is na’ar. This is a word that almost always refers to sons who were in puberty to marital age (12-20 or 16-24, depending on the context). In the Old Testament, na’ar is used about 220 times and translated young man, youth, boy, lad, servant. and 16 times as child. 

In Heartfelt Discipline, Clay Clarkson points out that na’ar type sons were teenage males not boys or little children, in other parts of the Old Testament. For example:

  •   Joseph was a na’ar at age seventeen when he was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:27-28);

  •  Joshua was a na’ar probably in his late teens at Sinai and when he spied out the Promised Land (Exodus 33:11); 

  •  David, the young shepherd able to slay a lion but not yet able to wear Saul’s armor, was a na’ar when he killed Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:42);

  •  Solomon was a na’ar in his late teens prior to taking the throne at around age twenty-one (1 Chronicles 22:5); 

  •  Absalom was a na’ar when he killed his brother Amnon (see 2 Samuel 14:21); Josiah was a naar at age sixteen when he began to seek God as king of Judah (see 2 Chronicles 34:3); and the naar mentioned in Psalms 119:9 is surely a young adult wrestling with temptation and moral and sexual purity.

Heartfelt Discipline, Clay Clarkson (Whole Heart Press, 2014)

Dr. Longman III also tells us that, “The naʿar is immature and needs the knowledge and discretion that will be provided by the book of Proverbs” (Proverbs Baker Commentary, 2006; loc. 1901).

2.  Who were the main teachers?  

Proverbs uses “father” for the one who is to teach the son. This could mean the immediate father of the son in training. However, as Dr. Tremper Longman III brings up in his book, How to Read Proverbs and in his commentary on Proverbs, “father” can refer to a grandfather, clan patriarch, elder, or the king. A synonym is “sage.” Check out Deuteronomy 6:1ff; 29:29; Psalm 78:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:14-16.

In How to Read Proverbs, Dr. T. Longman notes, “The father/son dynamic is very common in wisdom texts, not just in Israel (see Eccles 12:12) but also in the literature of the surrounding nations. For this reason, we can find a number of scholars who believe that in the book of Proverbs we have an older wise man speaking to his student, preparing him for his future career as a wisdom teacher in Israel” (2009, loc. 145, 149).

On the other hand, Deuteronomy makes it rather clear that for Israel, the immediate father was responsible for training his family but mainly his older son. Hess and Carroll bring this out in their book,

The book [Deuteronomy] speaks about the law, but not from a juridical point of view.  It is not a book written for judges and priests.  It was written with all of the people of Israel in mind—not for usage in a court of law, but in the home.  That is why we find, alongside the commands to obey the law, the insistence upon its teaching and instruction (4:1, 5, 9, 10, 14, 39; 5:1, 31; 6:1, 7-10; 11:18-20). In fact, this didactic use of the book does justice to the basic meaning of the term torah: the law is not simply a corpus of regulations; it is, in a special way, faith being taught; it is instruction.  The subjects of this teaching are the parents.  They must teach their children in the ways and word of the Lord.  There is no other book in the Bible that makes instruction to children and youth so central to the message as does Deuteronomy (4:9; 6:7, 20-25; 11:19; 31:13, etc.)                                                                                                                                                        (Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R, Family in the Bible, 2003; pp. 42-43)

3.   Who were the main learners?

The primary learners were na’ar sons. The immediate purpose was for Israel’s fathers (elders and sages) to train their older sons in the ways of God’s covenant life according to God’s Law-Word.  Dr. Tremper Longman III writes,

The addressees of the proverbs that follow in chaps. 10–31 are only rarely made explicit, but when they are, the text again refers to the “son” (as in 19:27; 23:15, 19, 26; 24:13; etc.). Also, the observations are geared toward the son and not the daughter or children in general (as in 10:1, 5; 13:1; 15:20; 17:2, 25; 19:13)…In essence, 1:8–31:31 is addressed to young men   (Proverbs Baker Commentary, 2006; loc. 1370-1374).

4.   Who is the secondary audience for whom Proverbs is written?

 Various Hebrew and biblical scholars demonstrate that Proverbs was not written for us, at least from their perspective and purposes. It was not even written for the main purpose of instructing all parents how to train their children. The secondary audience would have been to parents who desired to train their sons and perhaps daughters about God’s way of life. It had been used to instruct whole families,, slaves, and potential converts to Judaism.

5.   The third audience?

 By God’s Spirit, inserting Proverbs in God’s written Word, the message is also for all of God’s covenant people in the Old and New Covenants.

Dr. Longmans’ How to Read Proverbs is an excellent resource to understand this book of wise sayings.

We need to understand that Proverbs is an important part of God’s Word and fits in the context of the Bible’s storyline. That storyline is redemptive history, which is about how God redeems and saves his people. It is crucial we see its message intimately connected with this redemptive work of God that was accomplished through the one and only Savior, Jesus. It is also critical for us to realize that the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and is the best interpreter of the Old Testament. Therefore, it is a mistake to take the book in isolation, separating it from the overall message God has for us.


The Twofold Purpose for Proverbs

Read Proverbs 1:2. Proverbs 1 and 2 can be viewed as a prologue to the entire collection of wisdom sayings. Proverbs starts right off by telling us what its purpose is:

  • 1:2a - to know wisdom (expounded in 1:3-4)

  • 1:2b - to discern (expounded in 1:5-6)

Proverbs is about making right choices: verbs is all about making good choices: wisdom or foolishness,                                             righteousness or wickedness, self-control or laziness, right or wrong, good or evil (see Clarkson).


The first purpose is to know wisdom and instruction (2a)

 1. What is the difference between wisdom and instruction

a. Wisdom is a term given from the learner’s point of view. Wisdom is covenant insight. 

 b.  Instruction or discernment is a term given from teacher’s viewpoint.

2.  How does the student know wisdom?

According to Proverbs 1:3ff, it is by receiving instruction in:

                                    wise behavior




Wisdom is thinking the thoughts of God about all issues of life and being skilled with life. One who is wise can do this and is therefore considered mature.

Wisdom has to do first and foremost with relationships: loving God and loving others.

Words closely connected to wisdom “describe actions that are right (sedeq), just (mispat), and fair (mesarim)” (How to Read the Proverbs, loc. 79). “Wisdom is closely associated with righteousness (Prov 8:6), truth (Prov 8:7), wholesome behavior (Prov 8:8) and good judgment (Prov 8:12); with common sense, success, insight and strength (Prov 8:14-15). On the other hand, she tells us that she stays as far away as possible from deception, evil, pride and arrogance (Prov 8:7-8, 13). Wisdom, then, is not just an intellectual category but is closely entwined with ethical behavior” (Ibid., loc. 207).

3.  Before you get to the short pithy statements, which make Proverbs famous found in chapters 10-31, you have the wisdom discourse in chapters 1-9.

a. Chapters 1-9 demonstrate the way to know wisdom and instruction!

b.  Here’s broad brush overview:

(1) Chapter 1 is the overview of Proverbs itself

(2) Chapters 2-7 is the core of Wisdom-Instruction. It was originally seven poems of 22 lines each addressed to the son by the father-teacher. The father-teacher was viewed as building the perfect house of seven pillars, based upon a foundation of  truth.

(3) Chapter 8 is a portrait of true wisdom.

(a) The author has painted a picture of wisdom personified. In the Old Covenant, they looked earnestly for the perfect  royal son who would fulfill Wisdom; someone greater than Solomon!

 (b) Who will be like this woman, Wisdom? Who will be the ultimate wise one? “The location of her house makes clear that Woman Wisdom stands for God. She is a poetic personification of God's wisdom and represents God, as a part for the whole (synecdoche)” (Ibid., loc. 237).

While this is not an explicit reference to Jesus, it does describe the God-Man who epitomizes and is the embodiment of Wisdom:

  • Matthew 12:19 – a fulfillment of Proverbs 8

  • Colossians 1:15-16  he is the creator, as in Proverbs 8.

  • Luke 2:41-50 – Jesus was a boy filled with wisdom.

  • I Cor. 1:30 – in Christ is wisdom, and in him we have wisdom.

(4) Chapter 9 - The teaching in chapters 1-8 climaxes in this chapter.

Here the son-learner has encounters two women. The covenant son has a choice to make: Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly. Who will it be?

You reader-learner of wisdom, have a decision to make! Follow after the God of your Covenant people and learn Wisdom or follow after gods of the world and their folly! In the Ancient Near East, gods and goddesses resided in the idols and little temples on the highest hills. Those high hills were reserved for gods and goddesses. Lady Folly sits on one hill and the God of Israel sits on another hill, Mount Zion.

The simple one is neither completely wise nor fully foolish. Simple sons are still teachable, whereas fools hate wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).

The fool is one who takes the path to the false gods, represented by Lady Folly. The realm of the false gods is darkness, chaos, void. It is a place of immorality, hate, and death. The wise one will stay on the path that leads to the God of wisdom, knowledge, success, life and love.

“According to Proverbs 9, Wisdom and Folly have the same audience: young men on the path of life. In other words, they address the same audience that the father does in his earlier speeches. But whereas Wisdom supports the message of the father, Folly seeks to undermine it. Indeed, throughout the speeches the father stresses that Wisdom is desirable” (How to Read Proverbs, loc. 217).

Proverbs is about that choice.  The choice is clear:  it is God or nothing, Wisdom or foolishness! Embrace the  Lord or embrace a false gods. CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE! True covenant sons will learn the way of life and follow that path of righteousness. The false sons will reject God and his ways. 

 Chapter 9 is the climax of that choice!

            So, first you have wisdom. But you also have instruction


This is a term that reflects the teacher’s perspective.  Instruction (musar) or “discipline” is following God’s path of life.  It happens while walking with the father in the path of life.

Instruction literally means chastisement. Depending on the context, it can also mean reproof, correction, discipline or rebuke. Most of the contexts (30x) give the sense of instruction. Depending on the context, musar is translated as correction (8x), chasten( 4x), or chastisement (3x).

“Discipline’s instruction is all about cultivating “good soil” that will receive the truth of the gospel” (Clay Clarkson).

a. Who are the teachers?

 (1) Deut. 4 – God, who teaches through his Word-Law and through God’s leaders.

(2) Deut. 6:4-7 – parents teach.

When parents instruct their children in the way of wisdom, they are instructing                                                                            them in the way of the covenant! And when they are instructing them in the  way of the covenant, they are instructing them in the way of wisdom!

(3) Deut. 6 cp Deut. 11:18-21.  Both passages command parents and covenant leaders to train  God’s people to respond to God with covenant faithfulness and obedience in everyday situations.

b. Proverbs then translates God’s covenant law, stipulations, blessings, and curses from  Deuteronomy into wisdom sayings in order to guide your thought and your behavior in all areas of life, under all situations and through all decisions. Proverbs is like a kind of catechism of the Law, a practical explanation for how to put the Law into practice.

Key: you cannot separate Proverbs from God’s Law in Deut., Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers.

For example compare Deuteronomy 5 with:

  •  Prov. 19:26 - honor your parents

  • Prov. 1:10ff - don’t murder

  •  Prov. 2:16-29  say no to adultery

  • Prov. 30:7-9 - don’t steal

  •  Prov. 12:19 - a warning against falsehood

  • Prov. 15:27 - do not covet.


 The Pentateuch-Law has as its focus the community of God’s people and how  the community as a group must relate to God and to individuals!

The Proverbs, on the other hand, has as its focus the individual and how the  individual is to relate to God and the community!

c. While Proverbs teaches how to apply God’s Law, it is not a book of commands.

“Proverbs are not universally valid. Their validity depends on the right time and the right circumstance…A wise person is one who is sensitive to the right time and place. The fool applies a proverb heedless of its fitness for the situation. The two quoted proverbs are pointed in their imagery. A paralyzed leg does not help a person walk, so a proverb does not help a fool act wisely. According to the second saying, a fool's use of a proverb may be worse than ineffective, it may even be dangerous” (How to Read Proverbs, loc. 405, 417).

d. Proverbs is a collection of observational generalities about life.

“Proverbs is a collection of observational generalities about life, especially from the perspective of how life will probably turn out if you are wise or if you are foolish.  As Dr. Sam Storms points out, Proverbs gives us pithy statements or concepts of compressed experience. ‘Its principles are timeless and therefore applicable and relevant to all people in every age.’  He also says, ‘Proverbs give expression to general maxims concerning life. The exceptional, unusual and unprecedented are beyond the range of proverbial wisdom.

Dr. Tremper Longman in the Baker Commentary (2006) on Proverbs states that this book ‘Does not teach a universally valid truth…Proverbs is only true if stated at the right time and in the right circumstance.’  He gives examples, such as Proverbs 15:23 compared with 27:14; and Proverbs 26:4-7 compared with 26:9.  Further, as he shows from the research, Proverbs 10:1 to 31:31 is an assortment of advice, observations, and warnings. “

(The above is taken from the post, Why Isn’t Proverbs a How-to Book on Parenting?)

Hess and Carroll’s book Family in the Bible states, “A proverb is a poetical form that expresses an insight, an observation, or advice that has been popularly accepted as a general truth.  Indeed, a proverb has been so universally accepted as expressing something true that all it takes to end a discussion is to cite it at the appropriate time” (Family in the Bible ; pp. 81-82).

They also point out that “The book of Proverbs is life from the royal point of view.    When all things are equal, the principles in Proverbs work on the basis of cause and effect” (Ibid., p. 145).

So, the first purpose is to know wisdom and instruction. The second purpose of Proverbs is:

B. To Discern the Word of Understanding (1:2b cp 1:5-6)

1.  Proverbs 1:5 -

The point? To discern by learning the ropes of life!

 To become skilled in the art of life in God’s covenant way.

 To think God’s thoughts after Him so as to perform God’s will.

To have a right response to God and others!

2.  Proverbs 1:6 -

This verse gives us a clue to the fact that the arrangement of the second half of the  book (chapters 10-31) are in riddle form, where insight and interpretation is needed!  Like the parables of Jesus.

                        Note:  Jesus is the true enigma-riddle (I Corinthians 2)

3. Chapters 10-31tell us in short phrases what happens if you have shown by your behavior or practice that you have embraced wisdom and committed yourself to the  Lord - you bring great joy to your parents! BUT - if you bring grief by your behavior, it is because you have demonstrated your allegiance and your embrace of  foolishness, which is the way to total separation from God!

PROVERBS is not a book which merely tells you how to get along in life, but how to live life into eternity with God, or conversely, how as a consequence to avoid eternal death. They point to the necessity of following God in life and death.  

Take note: all the main passages in Proverbs used to support discipline and spanking are in this section (chapters 10-31).  


C.  What is the Predominant Theme in Proverbs?

1.   To fear the Lord, which is

      to know

                  to trust

                              to obey

                                          the Lord of the Covenant!

2.   What is this fear?

It is the proper covenantal response to knowing God and His Law!

Godly fear is reverential terror and awe-filled dread.

“The Old Testament Hebraic root words denote terror, dread, dismay, fear, anguish,  trembling, horror, tremble, shake, and quake. Again, the context in which the term is found determines the meaning. For example, context can distinguish between “dread” from “dismay.”  Yet both are fear at some level.

 What is the meaning of “fear”?

a.  Many times it means “terror”

(1)  God’s revelation and theophanies inspired terror (Exodus 3:6)

(2)   Terror as in “fear and trembling”

(a)   God’s people were rebuked for not trembling (Jer. 5:22).

 (b) A pious response in reverence is trembling (Ezra 9:4; 10:3; Isa. 66:2,5).

(3)  It is often used in the context of judgment  (Isa. 2:10, 19, 21; 24:17; Lam. 3:47)

(4)     God alone is worthy of terror, His people were not to fear anything or anyone since the Terror of the Nations is with them. (Lev. 26:6; Jer. 30:10; 46:27; Ex. 34:28; 39:26; Mic. 4:4; Zeph. 3:13; Deut. 1:21; 20:3; 31:8; Josh. 8:1; 10:25; 2 Chron. 20:15, 17; 32:7)

b. “Fear” is synonymous with the true religion as distinguished from false religions.

The characteristic expression in the Old Testament for true believers is “God fearers” or   “those who fear the Lord.” Such true religion is connected with God’s laws and ways:                                    

(1)  To fear God is to keep His commandments

Deut. 5:29; 6:2,24; 31:12; 28:58; Eccl. 12:13

 (2)  To fear God is to obey His voice

1 Sam. 12:14; Hag. 1:12

(3)  To fear God is to walk after Him or walk in His ways

Deut. 10:12; 8:6; 2 Chron. 6:31

(4)  To fear God is to serve Him

           Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Josh. 24:14

(5) To fear God is to know Him

1 Kings 8:43; 2 Chron. 6:33; Prov. 1:29; Isa. 11:2

(6)  To fear God is to be faithful to and believe in Him

Ex. 14:31; 2 Chron. 19:9; Prov. 16

(7) To fear God is to avoid or shun evil

Job 1:1, 8; 2:3; 28:28; Prov. 3:7; 8:13

(8)  To fear God is to rule justly

2 Sam. 23:3; 2 Chron. 19:7

  (9) To fear God is to love Him

Deut. 10:12; 13:3; 11:22; 19:9; 30:16,20

c.  The term “fear” in the Bible can also mean, “reverence”

(1)  All the earth is called upon to revere-fear God

Psa. 22:3; 33:8; 119:161

(2)  God rebukes His own for having no revere or fear of Him as a holy God

Deut. 32:51

(3)   Fear-revere is often linked with obedience

 2 Chron. 19:9; Jonah 1:9; Psa. 119:48, 63

[The above is taken from How to Deal with Fear Biblically by Dr. D. Thomas Owsley.]

Isa. 8:13 - The Lord Almighty is the One you are to regard as holy. He is the one you  are to fear, he is the one you are to dread! Why?  Because He can permit your life to carry its natural course to success and blessing or to destruction, to the depths of your own misery.

In the Ancient Near Eastern cultures, including the ancient Jewish culture, one way to instill fear is on a practical level was to use very painful punishment.

d.    Godly fear is  loving obedience to the Lord motivated by consternation.

Deuteronomy 10:12 - the Lord asks you to fear Him, walk in His ways, to love Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all  of your soul!  His love motivates you to love in return!

e.   Godly fear is wisdom, life, and right-living!

Job 28:28 - The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.


How does the royal son learn about and learn how to fear God? By taking to himself God’s Law-Word. How does he do that? By learning wisdom and instruction through Proverbs.