What’s More Important – a Dog or a Child?
Pass It On: Pearls from Proverbs for Every Generation (Introduction)
This month, I am beginning a series of articles on important Biblical principles that are taught in Proverbs. This will be a topical study, covering the pervasive truths found in the thirty-one rich chapters of this practical, yet profound Book of wisdom. We will see what God’s Word teaches us regarding a variety of subjects that relate to our everyday Christian walk. These monthly lessons may be helpful for you in your personal study and development. You may also want to use them in your Sunday school class, family devotions, or other arenas of teaching and training.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” – Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America
Pass it on. Have you ever played the “telephone game”? You know, the game where someone whispers a phrase, such as “If you love to eat cookies, you should taste my mom’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip creations. They are to die for.” Then, that person whispers what he thought he heard to the next person, who passes it on to the one next to him. This pattern is repeated several times, and the person at the end of the line has to repeat the phrase he was told, which usually comes out something like, “If you want to die, then all you need to do is eat one of my mom’s cookies. They are infamous creations.” The final phrase has vague resemblances to the original, however, the true meaning has been contorted, confused, and turned upside down. How did this happen? The message was watered down a little at a time, without anyone noticing, until that which was “passed on” was completely contrary to the original intent. This game illustrates the very danger against which our nation’s fortieth president warned us. A generational “watering down” of the freedoms which we hold so dear that will lead to a nation which our forefathers would not even recognize. As Americans, we must valiantly guard against this very real and deadly poison.
In that same vein, I believe the principle that President Reagan so eloquently spoke of with regard to the freedoms in America is just as true with regard to our spiritual heritage as Christians. You and I have a God-given responsibility to teach our children, and the next generation, what it means to be Spirit-led, Christ-honoring children of God. If we do not, that which we hold most dear will be quickly lost. The Christian heritage, which our spiritual forefathers sacrificed to give us, will be impossible to identify in our homes, our churches, and our great nation. Moses’ charge to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy chapter six is distinctly applicable to us today. He commands the adults not only to live right (vs. 1-2), but also to diligently teach their children Scriptural principles when “thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (vs. 7).” I think he covered all the bases of when and where the oracles of God should be transferred to the next generation – all the time and in every phase of our daily lives!
I’m afraid that many Americans have been deceived regarding the purpose of parents and the purpose of those entrusted with the spiritual education of our young people. We have failed to “pass it on” when it comes to Scriptural truths and godly living. Too often, we, as parents, believe that we have succeeded if our children have simply been fed, given clothes, and had “fun” while they spent eighteen years cohabitating with us. The home must be a place of more than just physical protection and provision. While it is true that parents have a responsibility to supply these basic needs, if you have simply provided food and raiment to your children, you have not fulfilled your whole duty as a Christian parent. We must renew our vision and desire to hand down the spiritual freedoms for which previous generations fought and died! We are commanded to “diligently” teach the next generation. This communicates to us the zeal, fervor, and focus with which we must strive to instill these truths to those coming behind us. Friend, we must spend large amounts of time training our children.
It seems that our society understands this priority of training when it comes to our animals. Our family welcomed a pet beagle, Travis, into our home this year. As we began making monthly…weekly…daily trips to the pet store, our eyes were opened to a whole new world. We were offered training courses, training books, training tools, individual training sessions in the home, pet psychologists, pet hotels, pet beauticians, and so much more. All of these products, services, and resources exist to facilitate the healthy and, in many cases, pampered existence of our beloved canine friends. Many dog owners do not feel as though they are giving their dog everything he needs by simply providing a yard to run in and daily food and water. They recognize a need (overemphasized in too many instances) for training, reinforcement, reward, and relationship with their pet. Unfortunately, I think that, too often, we fail to recognize the greater need for these same ingredients in the lives of our children – eternal souls that will never die.
Proverbs 1:8 commands the child, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.” How can our children be expected to hear and heed our instruction and our law if we have never taken the time to systematically teach them these truths, while living these truths before them? We expect something out of our young people that they are ill-equipped to give us because of our failure as authorities in their lives. If we expect them to know and live the truths of God’s Word, then we must pass them on! In the coming months, we will take a look at what Proverbs has to say about a variety of topics which must be passed on including:
- Word of God
- Wee ones (rearing children)
- Wrong & right relationships
- Will of God
- Walk with God
However, before we begin studying these important subjects, we must understand some background relating to our textbook, Proverbs. In studying any book of the Bible and the truths found therein, it is always helpful to have an overall knowledge and understanding of that book.
1. The Definition of Proverbs
What is a proverb? A simple definition is “a collection of moral sayings and counsels.”
The proverb was a familiar literary form in most ancient cultures. It was very often used for collecting and summarizing the wisdom of the centuries to be given to the next generation. An example of this literary form, the proverb, on the lighter side is “He who eats crackers in bed gets crummy sleep.” This format of writing has been used by varied cultures throughout history to impart everything from spiritual truth to humorous anecdotes.
The book of Proverbs, along with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, are known as books of Poetry, or the Poetic Books. Each book has a varied format and message. Proverbs is a book of godly wisdom for daily living. It is practical wisdom, which allows us to apply Scriptural knowledge to the common situations in which we find ourselves.
A common saying in our churches is, “A Proverb a day keeps the Devil away.” The truth in this statement comes from the fact that Proverbs is so rich in practical wisdom, which we can apply to our personal walk, which will in turn draw us closer to our Lord and Savior.
2. The “Author” of Proverbs
Who wrote Proverbs? Of course, the Bible is God’s Word. So, when we ask this question, we are asking which human instrument did He use to pen this book? We may say that Solomon “wrote” Proverbs, however, we must use the word “wrote” loosely. In Proverbs 1:1, the proverbs are attributed to Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel. While it is true that Solomon wrote at least 3,000 proverbs (I Kings 4:32), and many of the proverbs found in this book may be his, it is more accurate to say that Solomon compiled, or arranged, the book of Proverbs. Under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Solomon penned the book of Proverbs, which contained wisdom from other contributors, and undoubtedly present-day and ancient wisdom that was commonly taught in that day. More than eighty percent of the Proverbs are attributed to Solomon. Other contributors that are mentioned are Agur, King Lemuel, men of Hezekiah, and “wise men.”
3. The Recipient of Proverbs
To whom was Proverbs written? I believe that Solomon compiled this book of wisdom for his son, Rehoboam. We find the words “my son” twenty-three times in these thirty-one chapters. We find these words four times in the first thirty-four verses of the book. It is obvious that Solomon is warning, encouraging, teaching, guiding, and explaining these timeless, invaluable principles to his son. Solomon, the wisest man who ever walked the face of the earth, had a burning passion to see his son become a man of wisdom. We would be wise to follow in Solomon’s example in this endeavor.
4. The Purpose of Proverbs
What is the purpose of Proverbs? To pass it on! The purpose of Proverbs is to pass on spiritual wisdom to the next generation. This purpose is outlined in the first few verses of the book:
“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:2-4).
The purpose of Proverbs is clearly explained in these verses. The purpose is to give the next generation the knowledge, wisdom, instruction, judgment, discretion, and understanding that they will need to live lives that are pleasing to God.
Postscript: As a dog owner, I did not properly “pass on” the importance of staying in the yard to our pet beagle, Travis. He could not resist his hunting instinct, and constantly found a way to escape the confines of our safe yard. I did everything I could to keep this from happening. I nailed plywood to the top of our six-foot fence to stop him from jumping out. I added chicken wire to the bottom of our fence to keep him from digging out. I created barriers to keep him from breaking the weak boards in our fence (No, my wife was not exactly ecstatic with the rapidly-changing look of our backyard). I lovingly “disciplined” his wandering behavior, and I rewarded him when he chose to stay in the yard. However, one evening, while we were away, Travis once again escaped and began one of his neighborhood journeys. However, this journey would end differently. As he ran along the busy road on which our church is located, about four blocks from our house, he was hit by a car and killed. That was a sad day for our family, and especially for our five-year-old daughter, Ashlyn. We had enjoyed playing with this dog, taking him for walks, petting him, chasing him, and all that goes along with a pet. There was an empty feeling that night and in the days to follow to know that we had lost an enjoyable part of our daily lives.
However, as I thought about how we were sad to lose our pet dog, I could not help but consider the infinitely greater sorrow that we will face if we lose our next generation because we do not properly train them in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). Far more important than any animal is the great treasure of children that God has entrusted to our care. We must teach them to stay in the safe “yard” of Biblical living. We must equip them with the godly wisdom that is found in Proverbs so that they do not find themselves wandering away from the Master’s house and facing certain spiritual death. We must diligently teach them from morning until night with our words and with our actions. This is not an option, or something that we should consider doing at some point. This is a God-given mandate and responsibility for which we will give an account at the judgment seat of Christ!
Parent, pastor, teacher, Sunday school worker, youth leader, bus worker, and anyone else with authority or influence over the next generation: We must pass it on!