Proverbs 3:1-12 is a poem composed of six two-couplet (four-line) stanzas (Proverbs 3:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12). It is the fourth section in Proverbs that adds the tender address of a parent instructing a child (Proverbs 1:8-9, 10-19, 2:1-22, 3:1-12). In fact, the unit is framed by paternal allusions (Proverbs 3:1, 11)
The passage progresses from general exhortations to the challenge of facing life’s struggles. After connecting righteousness with prosperity (Proverbs 3:9-10), the sage anticipates the natural question of suffering and answers it with the poem’s final instructions (Proverbs 3:11-12).
My son, do not reject the discipline of the LordIt is an appropriate ending as Proverbs 3:11-12 is an exemplar of a concluding proverb. Structurally, both the verse’s command and reason are expressed artistically as a chiasm.
Or loathe His reproof,
For whom the Lord loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12, NASB)
The aphorism draws upon its own analogy of fatherly advice when it instructs that one should not reject discipline; it is evidence of paternal love. Proverbs 3:12 is the only proverb to envision God as a father figure. The author of Hebrews will later quote Proverbs 3:11-12 to demonstrate that suffering is no less than a sign of sonship (Hebrews 12:5-6). In invoking this parental imagery, the verse conveys a counter-intuitive truth: Suffering does not necessarily imply divine disfavor.
Instead, Proverbs argues that suffering may be divine chastening. Affliction might convey discipline, not punishment. The Hebrew yakach is translated “reprove” (ASV, ESV, NASB, NRSV, RSV), “correct” (CEV, KJV, NKJV, NLT) and “discipline” (HCSB, MSG, NIV). This word conveys instruction that may not only be verbal but also corporal (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13).
Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) defines:
While the idea of punishment is certainly present (cf. Job 5:17-18 and II Samuel 7:14), “discipline” primarily involves teaching or training rather than punishment for wrongdoing. It is analogous to military training, in which, although the threat of punishment is present, even stern discipline is not necessarily retribution for offenses. Hardship and correction are involved, however, which are always hard to accept. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary),81)Harold S. Kushner (b. 1935) paraphrases:
We are told...God treats us the way a wise and caring parent treats a naive child, keeping us from hurting ourselves, withholding something we may think we want, punishing us occasionally to make sure we understand that we have done something seriously wrong, and patiently enduring our temper tantrums at His “unfairness” in the confidence that we will one day mature and understand that it was all for our own good. “For whom the Lord loves, He chastises, even as a father does to the son he loves.” (Proverbs 3:12) (Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 29-30)The theme of growth through discipline in not unique in Proverbs (Proverbs 3:11-12, 10:17, 12:1, 13:18, 24, 14:9, 15:5, 10, 12, 32, 19:18, 20:30, 22:6, 15, 23:13-14, 28:4, 7, 9, 12, 29:15, 17-19, 21). This concept is also seen in Deuteronomy 8:5 (which uses the same root word for discipline), Eliphaz’s rebuke of Job (Job 5:17-20) and Hosea 11:1-4. It also parallels Egyptian wisdom found in the Insinger Papyrus: “Whatever hardship comes, place yourself in the hand of God in it” (Insinger Papyrus 20.12).
While this ideology is common in Proverbs, tackling suffering is not and when it does the book often takes the more traditional approach of connecting suffering and sin. Roland Murphy (1917-2002) notes:
Only here in Proverbs is the problem of suffering directly touched upon. The application of human discipline (as the sages understood, quite physical) to the Lord is a bold move..The book of Proverbs remains resolute in its assurance of material well-being for the wise and virtuous, despite the fact that adversity and suffering bore witness to the contrary. (Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary))Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (1954) add:
Ths is the idea of yisurim shel ahavah (chastisements of love), which became an element of traditional theodicy. Undeserved suffering was viewed as a test of the sufferer. By embracing the suffering without questioning, the sufferers demonstrate their love for God. Just as children mature, they might come to understand past acts of parental discipline as manifestations of parental love—however unpleasant and unwelcome at the time such acts were administered—so a mature person would ultimately realize that suffering brings such insight is a manifestation of divine love. (Kravitz and Otlizky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 30)Interpreting every tragedy as divine correction, however, is dangerous. This is not the Bible’s only explanation of suffering and Bart D. Ehrman (b. 1955) expresses concerns in viewing it as a universal rationale:
One of the most common explanations [for suffering]...is that we have to understand that God is like a good parent, a heavenly father, and that he allows suffering into ours lives as a way of building our character or teaching us lessons on how we should live...I don’t think it’s one of the most common explanations found in the Bible, but it is there on occasion...In the book of Amos, for example, when God punishes the people for their sin, it is precisely as a kind of discipline, to teach them a lesson: they need to return to him and his ways. That is why, according to Amos, the nation has experienced famine, drought, pestilence, war, and death: God was trying to get his people to “return to me” (Amos 4:6-11)...This view would make sense to me if the punishment were not so severe, the discipline so harsh. Are we really to believe that God starves people to death in order to teach them a lesson? That he sends epidemics that destroy the body, mental diseases that destroy the mind, wars that destroy the nation, in order to teach people a lesson in theology? What kind of father is he if he maims, wounds, dismembers, tortures, torments, and kills his children—all in the interest of keeping discipline? What would we think of a human father who starved a child to death because she did something wrong, or who flogged a child nearly to death to help him see the error of his ways? Is the heavenly father that much worse than the worst human father we can imagine? I don’t find this view very convincing. (Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer, 264)While chastening is not the Bible’s only explanation for suffering, Proverbs 3:11-12 reminds that the problem of pain goes far deeper than simple divine wrath.
Can you think of any examples where suffering led to personal growth? Are there any instances from your own life? What does Proverbs 3:11-12 say about God? Who does God discipline? Why does God discipline? How does the Lord reprove people? What does this say about God’s educational policies? Have you ever felt you were being chastened by God? Who has corrected you? Who do you correct? Is correction always evidence of caring?
Though every instance of suffering may not be chastening, suffering does not mean that God has ceased to care. The proverb asserts just the opposite: suffering is indicative of love. Though we do not tend to like correction, it is a hallmark of affection. Only someone who did not care would allow another to continue to live in error. Given this rationale, our suffering might be purposeful.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) compares:
Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble; he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great pictures of his life...he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scrapped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less. (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 42-43)Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) explains:
The argument introduced by because (kî) to accept the strict discipline can be summarized in the oxymoron that discipline is “a severe mercy”. Although the reproof may be harsh, it is actually a sign of the LORD’s love, not his wrath, for it concerns those whom the LORD loves...This is “one of the deepest sayings in the Bible,” says Claude Goldsmid Montefiore [1858-1938]...When we complain of our sufferings we are not asking for more love, but for less. We are asking God not to take us so seriously (cf. Job 7:17-19, 10:20). (Waltke, The Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 249-50)Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. (b. 1949) encourages:
When we suffer, it isn’t God angrily taking from us; it is God lovingly reinvesting in us. Suffering feels like anger. It feels like loss. It feels like God has abandoned us. But the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 suffered. Theirs was no country club religion. They trusted God with all their hearts, and some were tortured, killed, mistreated. Was God mad at them? No; he commended them (Hebrews 11:2, 6, 39). That is why it says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). He was proud of them. To use the language of Proverbs 3:12, he delighted in them. When you are suffering, here is what you must remember. Your sufferings are not evidence against you, nor are they evidence against God. It is the opposite. Your sufferings are proof that God your Father cherishes you. As Hebrews 12:7 says, quoting these verses, “God is treating you as sons.” Or as William Cowper [1731-1800] wrote, “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” (Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that Works (Preaching the Word), 71)When things go wrong, do you immediately infer that someone up there hates you? When you suffer do you realize that God still loves you? Do you perceive discipline as a sign of love? What are the dangers in viewing every setback as a sign from God? How do you discern between discipline and punishment? Is suffering necessary for growth?
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” - C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Problem of Pain, p. 91