Education and Upbringing in the Old Testament - H. J. SCHILDER

Taken from the"almond-branch" [Later known as "The Interleague Publication Board" ]
Vol. 1 Sept 1970 No. 1 and Vol. 1 Nov. 1970 No. 2


Translation of an article by Prof. H. J. Schilder of Kampen, published in "De Reformatie" of July 13, 1968. The article was the text of a speech which the author held at the general annual meeting of the Ver. voor Geref. Voorbereidend Hoger en Middelbaar Onderwijs in Nederland, (The Association for Reformed Secondary Education in the Netherlands) on June 11, 1968, at Amersfoort, the Netherlands. (The footnotes appearing in the original article are omitted from this this translation.)

'When concentrating upon this subject, we notice something remarkable. Everyone will say: the Old Testament is filled with it. How many times especially since the Liberation - has reference not been made to the stress the Old Testament places on an education and upbringing that are in accordance with the covenant. This has happened especially in the propaganda - this word is being used in a favourable sense - for our own schools. You know the texts: the fifth commandment, but also Deuteronomy 6:7, Psalm 78:4 ff., the book of Proverbs. How clear is the admonition to instruct the youth and cause them to be instructed particularly in God's Word, and to let them know His great works.

Indeed, that is clear enough. The texts literally jump out at you. But this fact shows, at the same time, that the Old Testament is not quite full of the subject in question. It does not really speak that often about such an education. Yet this does not make the case a weak one. On the contrary, from these given texts it appears that reference is made to an education that is presupposed throughout the whole of the Old Testament. Let the following serve as a comparison. You will find in our newspapers all kinds of articles about education and education renewal. But you will not find any summons to provide education. After all, compulsory education is a common starting point.

In a certain sense this is also true of the Old Testament. There certainly willl have been more than is expressly mentioned. In an article entitled: "Opvoeding en Onderwijs in Israel", ("Nurture and Education in Israel") Prof. Dr. Th. C. Vriezen pointed to, what I will call, indirect data. A boy from Sukkoth can write down for Gideon seventy-seven names (Judges 8:14). The people in Isaiah's days appear to be able to read without trouble what is written on a sort of blackboard (Isaiah 8:1). Instruction, at least in writing and reading, must therefore have existed quite early already. However, we do not find much information about it in the Old Testament. In any case, Vriezen's article deals with education and upbringing in ISRAEL, and therefore he can also take data from later Jewish literature, which is of minor importance for my subject.

Moreover, in this connection we have to remember the nature of the education of which the Old Testament - and this with great emphasis - does speak. It is, first of all, education at home. The texts known to us (see above), touch primarily upon the upbringing at home. Not directly that at school, although they will have consequences for that as well. And concerning the "subject matter", they relate directly to the instruction in the fear of God, the knowledge of His word and work - not to the many skills essential for life. This is especially noticeable in the book which more than any other has a "pedagogic" character: the Book of Proverbs. In it the "fear of the Lord" clearly comes first, 1:7. A matter of instruction at home, here also a matter of instruction outside the home. The "son" is at the same time pupil - even though the family relation is maintained in the background, and is even included in the instruction (e.g. 6:20, 10:1). As concerns the development of this form of instruction, here there is clearly a case of a sort of (!) "school of wisdom."

The newer Old Testament theology sometimes speaks, especially when referring to Solomon's times, of a so-called "Enlightenment", an "Aufklarung". In that period scholars allegedly would have busied themselves especially with ancient history, and put their stamp on it. Because of the name "Aufklarung" - also within the framework of those conceptions - you should not confuse this movement with the "Enlightenment" of the European cultural history, humanism, rationalism, and the French Revolution. Yet, within the scope of these observations about the Old Testament - wherein matters have been distinguished more carefully than I can now render them - it has something to do with what for us has become "scholarship" and "academy".

And as regards the wisdom of the Proverbs, this has (not just, and not only, but) especially, had its place at the court. This book is connected especially with the names of Solomon and Hezekiah. There it was studied intensely. It has also found there a practical application for the training, the "forming", the "schooling" of officials and governors. In short, the book of Proverbs has much to do with education and school.

Nevertheless, when considering all this, as well as the data not given here, the results remain quite meagre, when we look for a source of information about "education and upbringing", "upbringing and education" in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking the Bible does not say too much about this, at least not in so many words. Therefore you would be looking in vain for something like a handbook on didactics - which does not mean, incidentally, that modern didacticians do not get important directives here. Even a typical "teaching'' Psalm as Psalm 119 does not bring us any further. From the data given in this psalm it also appears that reference is made to the fear of God: "Come ye children, harken unto me (Me): I (referring to God) will teach you the fear of the Lord, the fear of Jahwe." (Ps. 34:12).

Thus the harvest is small? Yes - in a certain sense. But I emphasized already: something that is familiar, that speaks for itself, does not have to be stressed separately. Not in our newspapers, which all base their articles on this subject upon the fact of compulsory education; not in the Old Testament, where probably a lot of education was presupposed. Besides, the Bible does not want to be a source of information about cultural matters. Such data as those concerning the boys of Sukkoth come up "in passing". The history of salvation, the recorded revelation of God, does need them in such instances, but it is not directly concerned with information about culture and pedagogy.

But now the other side. In so far as repeatedly the emphasis is laid on the necessity of education - and then in the fear of God - the harvest is richer than we sometimes think. It often strikes me how little known is an important piece of information from the history of king Jehoshaphat. He establishes an organization to ensure that the people will again be taught the Word, the law of God. When that "law" is mentioned in this connection you should at the same time think of His deeds in history - 2 Chronicles 17:7-9. ,Such information shows us how fast that Word of God and that education had been neglected, and how unknown the subject matter was. To make it known once more, there really was needed in Judah an "organization", a sort of "Volksuniversiteit" (a "Community University"), but then for education in the law; we might say a sort of adult catechism class or even an evangelization action. "Adults" - but the children shall through and with the parents have been involved in it.

For that matter, the children were also present when the same Jehoshaphat, in an hour of great danger, publicly called upon the Lord (2 Chron. 20:13). They were present when, years later, after the exile, Ezra made public confession of the people's sins (Ezra 10: 1 ) ; when Ezra decided to introduce drastic decrees in regard to the mixed marriages. With their mothers they will have been there when the law was publicly read to the people (Nehemia 8:3 and following verses).

In stories as these, it seems that for the first time we get a more concrete "hold" on intentional "education" in Judah/Israel in so far as the biblical "historical" information is concerned. Just as the story of Jehoshaphat, so these reports contain a warning to us. So necessary was it. And so soon was it again needed. So quickly had the most necessary knowledge been forgotten and the "basic education" neglected (in all probability also by the priests). There is here, therefore, a warning. But at the same time an encouragement. People like Jehoshaphat and Ezra, while certainly men of stature, were not "men of violence-. They were people who in their situation, in their calling, did what "their hands found to do" - and that had results. Time and again we see it: if only a real beginning is made, then it will succeed. Then there is no need to wait for a ready made methodology (however important such a methodology may be, especially today), before Jahwe gives His blessing.

Now you can say: all this is true, but in speaking about education the Old Testament limits itself to the education in the fear of God, His Word, His Law, His Work; in other words, to the terrain of preaching and Catechism. It does not include the broad subject matter taught in our schools. But do not forget, that especially on account of this a greater emphasis is put on the entire education, in so many subjects. And that in such a fashion that everything is to be penetrated by that fear of God, by that wisdom of the Proverbs.

In this context, the somewhat risky expression of the Old Testament scholars to whom I referred earlier regarding an "Enlightenment" in the days of Solomon, can perhaps help us a little. I am going to make some use now of this concept, insofar as it helps us in understanding our subject. For this becomes clear when we study the biblical history, that in that time windows were opened upon the world "Outside Israel". Furthermore, people began to reflect more about life, the ordering of life, prosperity and adversity, and similar matters. I do not say that all this began only then, but it remains true that such "thinking" and "reflecting broadened at that time, and much "material" was assembled about it. In this connection it is particularly important to pay attention to the strength of a "proverb". Through the word of wisdom one learned to exercise power over life and its relations. A proverb is a mighty thing. Even when it looks as if it does nothing more than "establish" how things are in life. At college I used to speak in such cases of "inferential proverbs" ("constaterings'spreuken") . The term is too meagre, but that meagreness is somewhat intentional here, to point out that even in that observing and indicating the treasure of wisdom is distributed. Not nearly all the proverbs give clear indications as to "how you must act", and "how not". They often say "this is how things are in life". They indicate things, point out the good (or had) reality.

I compare this briefly to what is happening today in regard to "sex education". The younger generation and the older people, are given an overwhelming amount of such education, - at least if we can give it that name. (This was written in 1968! JJK). The right information consists often already herein that reliable older people say to a youngster, if necessary also to an older one - this is how things are, that's what happens. Pointers, guidelines, admonitions can be added or included in this. But to tell them what the situation is, is quite something already. As long as it comes from someone who knows the relationship between this and other aspects of life - and not from a film director who is out for profit and by his films often separates this aspect from life as a whole (precisely that which the outspoken Old Testament never does). It is in this spirit that the Old Testament often informs us; in regard to the strange woman, but also in regard to so many other things. And always in such a manner that you feel: that teacher-through the Spirit of God-stands above it all. Also when he deals with drunkenness, laziness or other matters.

This is also to be noted in the healthy, sharp and yet merciful humour which characterizes many proverbs; in spite of all their seriousness, the education is often playful. Consider, e.g., that deadly-serious description of the man who through the nice talk of a woman is led as an ox to the slaughter, Proverbs 7:22, that of the sluggard who is attacked while still twiddling his thumbs, 6: 10, 11, that of the drunkard who sways back and forth like a sailor in the mast, 23:34.

These are examples where the wisdom teacher makes use of illustrations. But in the short proverbs a similar method is sometimes used, e.g. in the "inferential proverbs". In upbringing and education according to the Old Testament instructions are not always given by means of a complete lesson, but often already in the illustration, the characterization, the realization: know that it happens thus, and that here the principle of the fear of Jawhe must be applied! Often this has to be worked out by formulating what is and what is not the will of Jawhe!

But in this manner a great many things come to the fore. Allow me to mention a few points.

1. That which applies to the entire Old Testament concept of "thora", "law", is confirmed in the lessons of wisdom: "thora" is "pointing the way". Not without obligation, but definitely as the announcement of the will of God, Who says, "take this way and no other"; but then in such a manner that one learns to make the right decisions. And then it is a great advantage that Proverbs does not have a precise systematic body of separate subjects, such as a chapter on laziness with all the proverbs on laziness and diligence, a periscope on wealth with all the possibilities and the dangers thereof, etc. It looks more like what, in a derogatory sense, one might call a "patchwork quilt", but what an expert (Prof. Dr. A. van Selms of Pretoria) once called: an ordering according to the bead-stringing and association method. It is so endlessly varied and therein complete. And so life becomes enlightened, and light is shown upon our path.

2. In the context of the book of Proverbs (not there alone, although most often) we must also reap the profits of the fact that the biblical proverbs often closely resemble nonbiblical - and especially Egyptian - ones. Reformed exegesis has sometimes been too anxious in attempting to show that both can have originated separately from each other. This can he true - especially with proverbs. However, the similarities are much too conspicuous to make this a probable conclusion. Moreover, there is a great educational wisdom to be seen in this that the Spirit of God, Who inspired Solomon and others in their proverb-game, caused them to use what they knew from elsewhere, just as in other places people used what they knew from Israel, (the queen of Sheba!). Herein is a great deal of comfort for our teachers who often have to work with non-reformed material, and for our parents who see their children come into contact with non-reformed cultural expressions. I do not say: be unsuspecting. On the contrary: the antithesis is everywhere. Even if the two proverbs are literally or just about literally the same in Egypt and in Israel, the antithesis is still absolute. For the one sees as judge the Egyptian god-who is-no-God, the other Jahwe, Who as the only One really judges and really punishes. And also the direction of the two is antithetical: the one works (e.g. with his business and trade, measures and weights, etc.) for a future where worshipping of the dead has to put matters right (Egyptian mummies and mausoleums) , the other for the future of the Messiah and His Empire of Peace (PS. 72). There is of course more that could he mentioned. I point out only a few things, but I believe that this is of importance for our upbringing and our education which has to test the spirits, but which cannot take the boys and girls out of this world, now that the Lord Jesus did not do this (John 17:15).

3. Another point: It is known how much the Bible - I think of Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and first of all the Fifth Commandment - combines authority and discipline, and where necessary punishment, sanctions, with the upbringing. Well known are the texts that speak about the "rod". This is very much against the modern inclination to put away the rod, an idea supported by some psychologists. Perhaps these texts also will be put away with all that which has become obsolete with the "ceremonial laws", the maintaining of which has been done away with in Christ. Contrary to this, I believe that already the humorous style in which several of these proverbs are given, proves that in this sinful world they remain in force until the last day; in fact, that by the increase of iniquity - foresaid by Christ - they actually become more relevant. e.g. Prov. 13:24:

He that spareth the rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

In the second line the demand of love is put in so many words, and those who call that typically new testamentic, should notice this.

But look also at the humorous statement: he that spareth his rod, hateth his son. You have to be harsh with the stick, otherwise you are too hard towards your child!

Or another example: Prov. 23:13-14, once translated by me as: Onthoud aan de knaap niet de tucht Slaat ge hem met de stok; hij gaat er heus niet van dood! Geef hem gerust een pak slaag! Daarmee redt ge ziin leven van 't graf!

(Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Go ahead and spank him! By doing so you deliver his soul from hell!)

This charitable humour is again found in the New Testament, and endures throughout the centuries! Also those countries wherein the students of Europe everywhere rebel and principals and teachers of the schools, together with the parents, are at their wit's end how to cope with these fellows.

Without wanting to write Pres. De Gaulle's paternalism and grandeur on the banners of education, I do confess that his bold radio speech wherein he says: "I do not resign, I do not yield to revolution," seemed to me like an unpremeditated application of such wisdom in politics. What a breath of relief for the world if today it can hear for once a powerful word of authority. And

if there is someone who thinks that the citation I gave from Proverbs gives the impression of one-sidedness, I would like to reassure him by right away pointing to the immediately following verses of Proverbs (23:15-16):

My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine Yea my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.

Whoever reads Proverbs will notice how much the young people who are being educated receive their due. No, not as in the too often much too commercially arranged youths forums. But simply in the harmonious development of life which is being drawn for them as their perspective, and in the fellowship which they have therein with their teachers, who can then he joyful.

4. But I yet feel the objection that all this seems to by-pass a great deal of the education, if perhaps not of the upbringing, of the young people. May I in this connection, now that I am talking about the "wisdom books" of the Bible, quote something out of the book of Job, which is so closely connected with the Proverbs? Perhaps you think that now I am straying from my subject, since the book of Job is not a book concerned especially with upbringing or education. Nevertheless, we will stay with our theme. Already because of the relation to the typically educational book of Proverbs. In the latter, the eighth chapter is of special importance. That is as much as the key to the entire book. There Wisdom presents herself. She points to her divine origin, her eternity. And that language is related to that other wisdom book, Job. For there also the listener, the pupil, is taken to the beginning and the origins (e.g. Job 28), in order that he may now find the way, and the answer to questions of life and death.

Job is a difficult book, but a book wherein much and richly is spoken about "nature" - forgive me for using a word that contains too little. It is a book through which not only every sufferer, but also every leader in the classroom, finds the hand clasped to his mouth, when he realizes the reverence due to God's mysteries, which are revealed there: "Were you there, Mr. Job, my servant job, when I opened the water wells? Were you there, sir, MY servant, the theologian, the biologist, the geologist, when I made the stars sing and brought the springs of the sea in motion?" No, it is not concerned with scientific "information", but it does put us in our place by our interpretation and applications of all sorts of "information", also with respect to fossils and space research. It gives us directions when we make practical application of everything that God gives to know, of what He gives us to experience (job), and of that wherewith He makes us work (school).

5. Much more can be said about this, but we were not going to be exhaustive in our treatment. Thus I point to another item. The expression "the simple ones appears often in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs these are not necessarily the same as the "fool". A "simple one", I might say, is still neutral, is still uncommitted, he can still go into either of two directions. In this time of "nozems" and "hippies" I think of the boys and girls in our families and schools - without saying that the book of Proverbs limits itself to that generation. The qualification is not necessarily unfavourable. But the question does arise: what do they get, and what do they do with it. If they do not choose in favour of the wise teachings, then they choose folly and become fools. And that means - you know it yourself - something else than a low mark on the report-card, it means that they become estranged from the wisdom of Jahwe. They do not fear him and make the wrong choice in life.

That is why I emphasized that our concern is not only with preaching and catechism and - I add to this - hours of religious instruction, however you want to specify this. These subjects are of the greatest importance in your school. But precisely the Old Testament teaches us that "wisdom" includes everything. The knowledge and vision of natural science belong to it, as well as the household duties (Prov. 31-last part). The banter in Proverbs (e.g. 7:22; 23:33,34) regarding the man who becomes a slave to the strange woman and drunkenness, points the way in this world of literature and mass media. It does not put a special ruler to every book or phonograph record, for the Bible does not know those special rulers. The Bible does teach "wisdom" - and that encloses our whole life, including the practical aspects of it.

We are struggling with problems of "educational renewal", also in order to escape from a burden of revolutionary rationalistic "enlightenment". Then we run the danger of swinging over to the other side: no memorization, no strictness, no intellectual forming, no discipline. The Old Testament does not know this one-sidedness - and here also the New Testament has only "fulfilled" the Old, which also means: showed it in a much richer sense. In the Old Testament wisdom is, for example, also: the skilfulness of a tradesman, the efficiency of an artist, even the "cleverness" of a baby to come into this world (Hos. 13:13). Thus Calvin was wise when he annexed the art of poetry and music of his day - a thing which is more and more -admired in various circles for the purpose of scriptural, dignified, solemn and gay songs of praise, whereby he gave thought to the families as much as to the church services.

This theme could be worked out in more detail for the fields of culture and politics. I limit myself now to these notations. And this also in order to say, by way of conclusion:

6. Make an attempt now to see, within this framework, also those texts of the Old Testament which speak more specifically about upbringing and education. And then see the great antithetical-pedagogic meaning of those texts - which fortunately have again become known to us - also of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Chronicles, and Ezra/Nehemia, where upbringing and education are centred upon the fear of God, the knowledge of His deeds in history, the practising of His will so as not to become "like the fathers". As far as "those fathers" are concerned - the psalm which among us is most often used as foundation for our own education, does not do what the youth often thinks we do - and what in reality maybe does happen too often - i.e. "brag" about "the past" as something like the "good old days". On the contrary, Psalm 78 puts two things beside each other -

1. we relate the history of Gods deeds, which our fathers told us, to the next generation (in other words - the concern is not with those fathers, but with Jahwe's "wonderful works", v. 4) and:

2. this is done in order that the little ones do not become like "their fathers", a "stubborn and rebellious generation" v. 8; the rest of the Psalm deals then with this rebelliousness against the God-of-the-wonderful-works. And it does not end with some "father", not even with David of whom the last verses speak, but with Jahwe Who chose David to lead Israel. Thus the election of David becomes the solution to the "riddle" in this psalm (see verse 2). And under that heading this "lesson" for according to verse 1 that is what the psalm is can conclude with saying that David - that is a strongly messianic name here led his people with the "skilfulness of his hand". In fact, it says something like: with a wise hand, a hand ruled by pedagogic insight. Thus we have here a history psalm which is a psalm of instruction, not only because in the beginning it is said: that which we have heard from the fathers, we relate to the children, but especially because the first word was "thora" - doctrine, law, instruction, a pointing to the way - and the last "insight of his hand": the ruling of God's people in a wise pedagogic manner. That contained everything: the antithesis of Israel and the contacts with the surrounding world, severity and flexibility, righteousness and mercy, religion, culture, technology and science, church and world history.