Solomon shares two very different proverbs with us. What ties them together is the need for focus. One is focusing on raising an excellent child. The other, NOT good things.
These two proverbs don’t carry on a common theme. I’m not sure why bible scholars grouped them together. Give me a moment to see what my bible helps has to say about this passage. I’m back. They put this as the last bookend to our reading that started with disciplining a child. I suppose verse 16 is tacked on so it won’t be left alone before the transition in” section. Let’s take their content one at a time and see where the Spirit takes us.
Children enter this world with their own personality attached. Some babies are quiet while others are ALWAYS crying. Some are easy to soothe. Some require that you to keep trying until you find what works best for their little hearts. Some are resistant (stubborn/strong willed) to your directions. Some are fearful and others fearless. EACH is unique and special. But they ALL have one thing in common; the need for discipline/training/teaching.
They are a relatively blank slate. There are a few instincts that God incorporated into them that enhance their chances of survival. The “rooting” instinct, where they turn their face towards what stimulates their cheek in an effort to find food, is one of the earliest we see. Most come into this world knowing how to suck, which is their only method for receiving food at first. But they ALL have to be taught how to roll over, scoot, crawl, and walk. They also have to learn to talk. They start by learning that the sounds they make influence the reactions of others. They learn more sounds, then words, then phrases. After a while, whole conversations are possible.
Critical to the learning process is discipline. I’m not necessarily speaking of ‘punishment’ here. I’m saying that they need structure and boundaries where they feel safe. This ‘safety’ pays a crucial part in their ability to learn, and directs their focus. A child who feels secure/safe will venture out and explore their world. They will ‘touch base’ with their safe place while exploring and return to that ‘safe place’ when done. Children who haven’t established a consistent place of safety don’t venture out. They cling to the safest spot they can find.
Children don’t know how to handle the emotions that arise in them. They need us to help them learn to manage those emotions. How to soothe fear and anger. How to express frustration in a way that gets their needs met. Even how to capitalize on their happy feelings. Simply put, they need our help in ordering their world. This comes through structure, interaction, correction, and encouragement. THIS is discipline at its roots.
The ”rod” of discipline this world is so fearful of is a valuable tool. It isn’t what they think it is; a stick for beating the child into submission. It is a point of physical contact used in redirection. It can be as gentle as an turning of the shoulders towards a safe direction to applying just enough pain to help the child learn that their path was ‘dangerous’. The ‘pain’ can be physical and/or emotional. They NEED to form a clear association with their previous path and pain so they will avoid it in the future. Like sheep, they NEED the shepherd to touch them in some way to ensure their survival. Some sheep learn by a gentle touch of the staff while others need a strong whack before they will turn from danger.
The MOST IMPORTANT part of this correction/discipline/teaching is the heart of the ‘teacher’. If the ‘teacher’ takes this role on with a foundation of love, it is constructive and a positive process; even when pain is sometimes involved. When the ‘teachers’ heart only holds anger, it is a destructive and fearful existence. YOU are the key. When YOUR heart is positively invested in your children’s growth, you will find a proper balance of correction and ‘force’ needed in its application.
God is our teacher. He is our model for discipline/training/teaching. His intent is ALWAYS for our good, even when we require a bit of ‘pain’ to learn. He discipline is NOT abusive. It is always done in love. He may be angry at our behavior but He NEVER stops loving us. THAT is the key to our discipline; both in giving and receiving.
Let’s move onto the second portion of our reading. This one is one of promise. But it is not the promise that we may originally think it is. On face value, this proverb says that ALL those who oppress the poor to line their own pockets or give to the rich for some reason will wind up in poverty. We see this happening EVERY DAY around us. ‘Slum lords’ who charge excessive rent and will do nothing to repair what is falling down around the tenants. Slave owners were certainly in this category. People selling the bodies of others. Even corporations that exploit their workers in order to increase their profits. ALL of these are rampant in our world, and especially in my country.
Political lobbies who give to the already rich politicians in hopes of gaining favor or influence fit the second group mentioned. Giving to anyone in authority in order to increase your own standing is the same. Bribes to judges to get certain verdicts. Even paying someone to ‘dispose’ of a ‘problem’ fit this form. These individuals receiving the money honestly have no need of it. They have PLENTY. They crave it though and will entice those of lesser means to give them even more. Those who are giving the ‘incentive’ think they are coming out ahead, but they aren’t. This ‘giver’ group comes to poverty pretty quickly for there is no end to the appetite of a person craving more. The giver will more than likely have their actions turned against them and they will be forced to surrender everything they have left before this cycle ends.
Both these groups end in poverty according to Solomon, and God. But it is not necessarily ‘poverty’ in the strictest sense. It may become an empty bank account but it is certainly an empty ‘heart’ account. Jesus tells us to “store up your treasures in Heaven” where they are truly safe. That ‘treasure’ though isn’t gold, silver, precious gems, or any other kind of currency man usually trades in. It is words and works of kindness and the return they bring. It is the personal relationship that you build with God. It is all the intangibles that go along with a heart of service. It’s something that the groups described earlier DON’T have. Their Heavenly bank accounts are in the red! This is their true poverty. Yes, they may wind up poor on earth if God so chooses. But that is NOTHING compared to eternal ‘poverty’. THAT is eternal separation from God.
So if you see someone engaging in the actions described above, don’t worry. God’s got their number and HE knows how to handle them. Let God have His vengeance for their oppression of others. Don’t turn a blind eye to their behavior but also don’t take it into your hands alone to see that ‘justice’ is done.
Father God, thank You for teaching me how to discipline my children. Thank You for giving me parents who used Your model too. I pray for EVERY child, no matter their age, that has lived through an abusive childhood; one without loving rules, boundaries, and discipline.
Help me see clearly what my role is, even if it is just pointing it out, in dealing with the latter two groups. I have NO power in this world, and THAT is how I want to keep it. I don’t want to be the ruler of others. But I do want to help oppressed people however I can. Show me what You would have me do.