שְׁמַ֣ע בְּ֭נִי מוּסַ֣ר אָבִ֑יךָ וְאַל־תִּ֝טֹּ֗שׁ תּוֹרַ֥ת אִמֶּֽךָ
“Hear, my child, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother.”
This is a simple verse. The theology is very simple. What is said is what it means. Each of us, at some point has to take the first step of our physical walk on earth, similarly we will also take the first step of wisdom. There can’t be a second step without the first step. Just like the first physical step is for our physical growth, our first step of wisdom is for our spiritual growth. There are two very important parts in the first step of wisdom that we all need to be aware of. The first is “hearing” and the second is “not forsaking” (or in a more positive term: keeping).
Hearing is extremely important. The apostle Paul points out that:
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17, NIV)
Our spiritual growth depends greatly on hearing. We are created in
an amazing design. One design in particular captures my attention, which is the fact that God gives us two ears and only one mouth. The question is: Why? The answer is “so that we can hear more than we speak.” A child learns the most through words of instruction. And hearing is the number one media for receiving words of instruction. Proverbs 1:8 calls the child to pay attention to the father’s discipline or instruction, by way of hearing. The word “Hear” here is a simple command. And this is the command from God so a child would listen to the father’s words. Not only the father’s instruction, but also the mother’s that the child should hear. This is to interpret this verse correctly, in which the play of the poetry shows inclusion of the mother. And this understanding also applies to the second clause, in which not only the Torah of the mother that the child should not forsake, but also the Torah of the father. Moreover, the father and the mother are actually one. But we will discuss about the second part later.
Some people, however, might ask: “How about those who can hear but naturally can’t understand, like a little kid for example?” Giving instruction to the one or two year old feels like salting the ocean. We don’t see the immediate result. We tend to want immediate result in our teaching. But let me remind us that teaching many times is like planting a seed. We cannot see immediate result. It takes plenty of years and a lot of hard work for a mustard seed to grow to become a strong and big tree. The same principle applies here that giving instructions to a very young child is like watering a seed. The child might not reply or respond right away to our assessment method satisfactorily for us to consider an indication of understanding. But the child is observing, and more importantly absorbing every word of instruction given to him/her. Furthermore, the establishment of the hearing habit on the part of the child also requires the establishment of the instruction-giving habit by the parents. The parents also need to enter into the habit of giving the right and good instruction to the child, for the purpose of the child to hear the right and good instruction. In relation to the second clause, “not forsaking the Torah”, the instruction here cannot be any instruction, but a certain kind of instruction, that is the Torah of God. If the parents don’t give the right and good instruction, then the child will not hear them. Therefore, in order for the child to hear, there must be an instruction given by the parents. Then, and only then the child will share the responsibility of learning by hearing.
But, hearing alone is not enough. Not forsaking what is heard is also very important. If a child only hears but then forsaking the instruction, the hearing activity becomes useless. Hearing must be followed by keeping what is heard. Proverbs 1:8 points that out clearly. Hear and not forsake. What is not to be forsaken? The teaching of the mother (and the father). The actual word used for the word “teaching” is “Torat”. Theologically, the word Torat or Torah means the law of God, or in a better theological understanding it means the way of life according to God’s will. The entire book of Proverbs talks about choosing the right way of life and not the wrong way of life. Just like the first part that the child is to listen to the instruction, not only of the father but also the mother, here the child must not forsake the Torat of not only the mother but also the father. Even if the child cannot understand yet, the parents bear the responsibility to make sure that only the truth comes in to the child. The child must learn how to not forsake the Torah. Not forsaking the Torah can be achieved by keeping the Torah in the heart. The parents must help the child to sort out instruction that is readily available to be absorbed by the child. Next time, the parents will have to teach the child on how to seek out only the right and good instruction. This can only be done through establishing the habit of hearing and keeping the good and right teaching. The two parts, hearing and keeping, work together seamlessly. Parents must make sure that the truth only that comes into their child’s mind and heart, not lies.
For example, one day the parents are teaching the child that after receiving kindness, the right response is to say “thank you.” The child might do it the first time (this is good for it means the child is hearing the instruction), but not the second and third time (this is not good because it means the child is not keeping the instruction). The parents’ duty is to keep teaching the child to do the right thing. As we all know, repetition helps us understand and remember. So the parents must not give up and say: “It is useless, our child will soon forget, so what’s the point of teaching her to say thank you?!” Continuing to teach the child to say thank you is not useless, for first it gets her to hear again her parents’ teaching, and second it helps her to keep what she hears. I must add the third, in which in relation to the second, it helps the child getting rid of the undesirable behavior, namely “not saying thank you as a response to an act of kindness.” The fourth, which is very important, is to help both parties, which are the parents and the child, to solidify the habit of instructing-hearing-keeping the truth or the wisdom of God. Getting the entire family to be involved in the instructing-hearing-keeping of the words of God is the way of life that God desires all his children to go through. Through such establishment, the child may learn and walk in the way of life that God orders since eternity. In the future, when the child has matured, he/she will follow the footsteps of his/her parents to instruct their children in the Torah of God, so they will hear and not forsake the Torah. This is the cycle of living education, through which the entire world may be filled with God’s people who would obey his words.
The child’s responsibility is to hear and keep the Torah. This teaching is given to us because as sinful human we tend not to hear God’s word, and for sure we do not delight in keeping his Torah. We are prone to create our own way of life and get rid of everything that might threaten its establishment. We love to dismiss God’s word, and replace them with our own. Once we set up our own way of life, we feel it difficult to turn away from it. Since the Fall, humans have established their own way of life. The next generation will always rebel against the older generation because they refuse to stop creating their own rule. We have seen holes in each philosophy. So we learn that no philosophy of life is perfect, and thus we ask the question: Why should we follow the imperfect philosophy of my parents? Thus they create their own, believing that they can create a better one. Proverbs 1:8 instructs us in the eternal word of God, not on the temporal word of man. The word of God is flawless. But still humans refuse to obey. On the other hand, humans can’t find a better philosophy of life than the one in the Scripture. Not even in a million years we can invent a philosophy that will come close to the one written in the Bible. Thus, a simple instruction is given to all of us as God’s children. We are to hear and keep God’s Torah. Our parents are God’s agents to deliver his message to us. And we will be God’s agents to deliver his instruction to our children, and so on. After all, only God’s Torah leads us truly to the true life in eternity.