“Clashes don’t solve Tensions” (Prov 30,17)

by John Wijngaards, GEMS OF WISDOM Series in the New Leader, 8 February 1976; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 25 December 1975.

“The eye that laughs at a father And refuses to obey a mother will be picked out by the crows of the valley and eaten by the vultures. (Prov.30, 17).

When people are proud, rebellion shines from their eyes. In this proverb the inspired author warns that such rebellion may sometimes lead to execution. The eye which was so pi-mid at first will then become the prey of crows and vultures, when the dead body of the executed person will hang on a gibbet, publicly exposed to shame and decay. What is the background and present-day teaching of this proverb?

In the most ancient times it was assumed that parents had the right to full obedience from their children, which they could even enforce on pain of death. The Old Testament makes it clear that this right over the life or death of the.children does not any longer belong to the parents. But if a son is very troublesome and inflicts much damage on his parents, he could be accused by his parents before the whole community. If the community was convinced that the son was guilty of disobedience to a major degree, they could condemn him to death. “Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones” (Dt. 21, 18-21). It was a terrible law which may not have been had recourse to very often. The existence of the law itself might have helped to maintain discipline within the families.

The proverb we are reflecting on today is meant as a warning to over-confident youngsters that their rebellion might lead to their death. Some other expressions in the Bible speak in a similar trend. A negligent father may be the cause that his son dies (Prov. 19,18). The laws reflect the stern discipline of a paternalistic age which thought that conflict could only be solved by severe punishment.

The infliction of punishment on the children is sometimes recommended in the Old Testament as a means of training. It is never held out as an ideal and certainly not proclaimed as the best solution to a conflict of interests. Many authoritarian parents use punishment as a means of imposing their own views, rather than as an extreme measure of correcting their children. The whole spirit of the Bible is against such an understanding of parental punishment.

God had to punish his people Israel. But He did it with a sorrowing heart. In Isaiah 1, 2-6 God complains as a loving father who is unhappy about having to chastise his son. With tenderness He recalls the love He spent on His child. “I bathed you with water and anointed you with oil. .. I clothed you and shod you with leather. . . I covered you with ornaments” (Ez. 16, 9-11). “It was I who taught . Ephraim to walk, I took him up in my arms” (Has. 11,.3). Tenderness and compassion, a true wish to understand and to heal, are characteristic of God’s paternal love.

In the New Testament Jesus added his own dirnension to it. The parable of the prodigal son presents us with Jesus’ own picture of the perfect father: A father who is worried about his child and not about his own pride; a father who is always ready to forgive and to welcome his son home; a father who greets a rebellious son not with a stern hand but with a loving embrace (Lk. 15, 11-32). This is the truly Christian response to teenagers who are seeking for their own personality and maturity. Empathy, dialogue, and persuasion belong to a Christian father’s care for his grown-up child. “Fathers, do not provoke your children. Otherwise they become discouraged” (Col. 3, 21). The look of defiance in the eye of a child should be countered with love.