The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
— Proverbs 1:7-9
While many read the proverbs literally, as if coming from a parent to their offspring, others read them more metaphorically. Shlomo Yitzchaki the medieval French rabbi suggested that thy father here means God and thy mother, the nation of Israel, with the law being the Mosaic commandments, i.e. the law of Israel.1 There are certainly other times in the Bible where familial relationships are used as metaphors for nations, for example in the Gospel of John the five husbands of the woman at the well refers to the five conquering/settled nations in Samaria. It is a practice we continue today with terms like ‘the motherland’. Of course, the terms as used in Proverbs could mean both, or could fluctuate proverb by proverb. It’s wise to keep the possibilities open as we read these short, pithy advices, each one offering a wide range of possible interpretations and understandings, many as relevant today as always.
The laws we live by can be considered as agreements, which is really how most rules and laws begin. Eventually many become imposed, and may seem (many actually are!) illogical nuisances. Here it is said the law shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck, making the law, the chains that bind us into decorations of beauty to enhance us. It’s a lovely reframe. Looking at the laws of today in this way may have us question their origin, to ask what problem/s they were originally attempting to resolve, deepening our understanding and creating a new respect for those that keep and uphold these laws. There are always multiple ways to look at things, new perspectives. Proverbs—these ones and others—help us in that endeavour.
1Proverbs 1-9, Wikipedia
2 The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, John Selby Spong, 2013; see also
The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well: Who Were Those Five Husbands?, Mark Langley, Lion & Ox, 2017