The Book of Proverbs on Training Children (Proverbs 6:20-21)
My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching. ²¹Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. —Proverbs 6:20-21
It is generally acknowledged that the original setting of Proverbs was in the home of the courtier where the parents who were responsible for the social, moral, and religious training of their children employed the material in this book (Proverbs 8:15-17; 31:2-3). Not only in Israel, but throughout the Ancient Near East, wisdom teaching was thought to be especially important to prepare young men to be able to function smoothly and rule well in spite of the many strained relationships involved in court life. In that regard, there is probably no better curriculum for leadership training than Proverbs. However, Solomon intended that his wisdom be transmitted beyond the court to all the youth of Israel by putting it in the mouths of godly parents, so that they might teach it to their children. As Moses disseminated the law to be taught in the homes of Israel, so Solomon disseminated wisdom to be passed on from parents to their children (Proverbs 1:8-9; 6:20-21).
In Proverbs, education in wisdom, or "the fear of the Lord" (1:7), involves different members of the family; even the grandfather and grandmother are mentioned in the exhortation in Proverbs 4:1-9. However, the father and mother share responsibility for the pedagogy of the child. It is implied that the mother’s teaching begins early, because twice the son is told not to “forsake” it (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20). She begins her instruction of the child from the moment she first takes him in her arms, and her influence continues until the child reaches maturity (Proverbs 10:1; 31:1, 26). Proverbs suggests that the father is the leader in the training of the child, because he is the only one who speaks in the first person to the child (Proverbs 2:1; 4:1-4), and he connects the mother’s teaching with his, never his with hers.
Furthermore, the father explains how his father taught him (Proverbs 4:3–4). Thus, in the godly home the father takes ultimate responsibility, under God, for the training of the children and works together with his wife to teach them the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.
The father’s commandment (singular) that the son is to keep is developed in the following context (see all of Proverbs 6:20–35); it is the commandment to be on guard against the adulteress. If the son will keep his father’s commandment, the commandment will keep him from the adulteress (6:22–24) and from the devastating consequences of a relationship with her, described in Proverbs 6:26–35.
In Proverbs 6:21 the wise man gives his son two strategies to employ in his fight against sexual immorality. First, the son needs to bind his parents’ teaching on his heart, always. In the Old Testament the word heart refers to the emotions, the mind, and foremost to the will. It could be described as the indivisible central unity of the person, which manifests itself in the whole of the person’s outward life (Proverbs 4:23). To bind the parents’ teachings on the heart involves memorizing, meditating on, and whole-heartedly embracing these teachings. If the teachings of the parents are not bound on his heart, the desire for the beauty of the adulteress will take root there and entice him into sin with her (Proverbs 6:25).
Second, the son needs to tie his parents’ teachings around his neck. In Israel one would hang something around the neck either because it was valuable or because one wanted others to see it. An important archaeological find illustrates this. Two circa 600 B.C. silver amulets found in Jerusalem contained the priestly benediction from Numbers 6:24–26. These would have been worn around the neck, a kind of early phylactery, advertising and making public the beliefs of the person wearing them. In the same way, if a child goes public in his or her submission to God-ordained authority, it serves like a wedding ring to be a defense against the seductress.
To go public with one’s commitment to the Lord and His will is one of the best defenses we have against temptation.
What is the connection between submitting to the authorities God has ordained in our lives and resisting temptation?
What do you treasure above all else in your heart?
Do you openly share with others your commitment to the Lord and His will? Do others realize from the way you live that you know and love the Lord?
Ed Glenny is Professor of New Testament Studies and Greek at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul, in St. Paul, MN.