Proverbs 3:1 "My son, forget not my law; but LET thine heart keep my commandments."
In each of the first seven chapters of his book of proverbs, Solomon directly addressed his son and urged him specifically to value paternal counsel.
1:8 - “My son, hear the instruction of thy father.”
2:1 - “My son, if thou wilt receive my words.”
4:20 - “My son, attend to my words.”
5:1 - “My son, attend unto my wisdom.”
6:20 - “My son, keep thy father's commandment.”
7:1 - “My son, keep my words.”
Although repetitive, the words in chapter three slightly stand out from the previously referenced verses. He used a word in 3:1 that he didn’t use in any of the other previously referenced verses and this word offers insight into Solomon’s understanding of children. He wrote, “My son, forget not my law; but LET thine heart keep my commandments.” The word, LET implies permission and allowance. Parents use this word when intervening on behalf of their children who are in the strong grip of an older sibling – “LET go of your sister!” Spouses use this word when confronting their partner’s impeccable memory – “You need to LET go of the past.” We use this word when trying to get through a congested hallway or a congested highway – “LET me by, please.” The word can be used in a variety of contexts but it almost always implies some level of permission or allowance.
For Solomon to use the word LET within the context of Rehoboam’s response to parental instruction, he was implying that his son needed to give his own heart permission to obey his father. In other words, he said, “allow your heart to keep my commandments” or “permit your heart to keep my commandments.” Such an expression would indicate that a son’s heart is naturally inclined to keep his parent’s commandments. By choosing the wording of 3:1, Solomon seemed to be suggesting that Rehoboam needed to grant his own heart permission to do what it wants to do – obey his father. If this is the case, and I believe it is, then Scripture reveals an incredibly powerful truth for all parents.
What is that truth?
It is the truth that the heart of a child is naturally inclined to please his or her parent.
If you’re a parent, then you’re probably raising an eyebrow and silently objecting to that statement with conviction. “If children are naturally inclined to please their parents, then why don’t my children listen to me? Why does my son seem so uninterested in doing the chores I’ve given him? Why does my daughter seem so callous, so disrespectful even when I tell her to do something? Why does it seem so hard to get my children to do what I tell them to do?” These are valid questions. These are valid objections. Indeed, it is true that children are not great listeners. It is true that children are not obedient by nature. It is true that children are inherently selfish. But that doesn’t mean that the heart of a child is not naturally inclined to please his or her parent. In fact, these valid objections are precisely why Solomon said what he said to his son at the start of this chapter. For a son or daughter, it takes work to “LET” the natural desire to please a parent prevail over the natural tendency to be selfish, lazy and disobedient.
God has designed human nature with a strong emotional connection to mothers and fathers. Affection toward a parent, especially toward a mother is not a learned behavior – it is a natural instinct. From infancy, children look instinctively for their mothers when her voice is spoken. From infancy, children long to be held by mothers and hate to be put down by those same special individuals. At a very early age, children look up to their fathers and mothers. It’s perfectly natural for a young child to long to be held by his parent and love to hold that same parent. This desire to have and to hold father and mother is not taught nor is it learned – it comes natural because God has designed mankind in this special way. It is because of this natural desire that a child quickly grows to want to please father and mother. Children are always working for their parent’s attention so they can receive their parent’s affirmation. Children are constantly looking to make parents happy because children have a natural desire and affection for them. This is why homes full of children ring with statements like, “Mom, look at me!” and “Dad, watch this!” This is why homes with kids echo with questions such as, “Dad, how did I do?” and “Mom, did you like that?”
The heart of a child is naturally inclined to please his or her parent.
Consider what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 17:6, “the glory of children are their fathers.” To children, fathers and mothers are special. They are unlike all other adults in the world. They are unlike all other adults in their lives. Children naturally glory in their parents, especially in their fathers. This natural desire to please parents and receive parental affirmation never goes away. In Genesis 27, Esau is Biblical proof of this truth. He waited for the day when his patriarch would pronounce his blessing on Esau. Isaac told Esau that he would bless him after eating some of his fresh venison. However, while Esau was hunting, his younger twin brother pretended to be Esau and stole his blessing. When Esau found out about the stolen blessing, he wept and tearfully said, “bless me, even me also, O my father.” A grown man weeping and begging for his father’s blessing proves that a child’s heart is permanently naturally inclined to please his parent and receive parental affirmation.
You may be asking yourself, “If this is true, then why does my child seem so cold towards me? Why is my adult child so distant? Why don’t my children seem to be that inclined to make me happy?” While your specific situation may be full of complicated factors, the simple answer is that something has prevented them from “LETTING” their heart keep your commandment or keep your relationship. Your child’s natural selfishness may be prevailing over your child’s natural desire to please you. Your child’s natural rebellion or natural laziness may be prevailing over your child’s natural desire to please you.
The lesson for children of all ages in Proverbs 3:1 is to protect that natural affection for parents and “let” it lead to respect, obedience and love for mother and father. The heart is deceitful by nature – it is desperately wicked by nature (Jeremiah 17:9). But just because the human heart is evil doesn’t mean it lacks a natural desire to please father and mother. Children need to “LET” their heart keep their parent’s commandment when young and they need to “LET” their heart keep their parent’s relationship when old. This requires character and inner discipline. By Divine Design, God has embedded the hearts of children with a desire to please their parents so as to give them the greatest chances at spiritual success. Because of the powerful biological bond between parent and child, a child is more likely to succeed when given godly parents because he is inclined to please them by following their wise counsel.
The lesson for parents of all ages in Proverbs 3:1 is to also protect this natural affection a child has for father and mother. Why do children seem so cold towards parents if they’re given a natural desire to please their parents? In many cases, it’s simply and tragically because a parent has given that child a reason not to please them. Sadly, parents are the ones who put a wet blanket on a child’s burning desire to please them. Parental hypocrisy, injustice, disinterest, cruelty, being too busy, being too harsh, a lack of care and love are all reasons children stop paying attention to the natural desire within their hearts to please parents. Adult children who are distant and cold towards their parents are never content with the status of that relationship – they’re never happy with these broken relationships because children always have a desire to please their parents, no matter the age.
Parents, we must capitalize on this God-given desire within our children for their well-being. We must protect, cherish and feed this natural desire to please parents by not giving them a reason to feel otherwise. LET us treat our children with equity and fairness. LET us shower our children with love and understanding. LET us give our children our ears and our time. LET us be honest and humble with our children. LET us be sensitive to the God-given natural desire our children have to make us happy. LET us give our children many reasons to follow us as we follow God. They will be much better for it and we will be much happier for it.