Heart of the Story: A mother gave advice to her son Lemuel, a future king. King Lemuel honored her advice so highly that he put it in writing.
Story Line: These nine verses are the only reference to Lemuel in the Bible. In Hebrew, Lemuel means “devoted to God.” The proverbs (or oracle) were uttered by Lemuel’s mother, who in ancient times was called the queen mother. Often the queen mother was the most influential woman in a monarch’s court.
Some scholars believe that these proverbs were recorded by Solomon; therefore, the advice came from his mother, Bathsheba. Most associate the verses with King Lemuel of Massa. Massa was a country in northern Arabia. Given this country, King Lemuel would have been a non-Israelite. Perhaps, the King’s origin isn’t as important as the proverbs’ advice, and the way they described the mother-son relationship.
The queen mother begins by identifying Lemuel as the son of her womb, who she dedicated to God. Her words indicate genuine love and concern for him. Lemuel’s mother ponders what advice she should give her son so he will reign well. This verse reminds us that it is not only fathers and teachers who have a responsibility to instruct children about God’s precepts. Mothers play a key role in explaining and clarifying God’s laws to children.
The queen mother’s subsequent words of advice are written in the imperative mood. We hear insistence in the warnings to Lemuel that he avoid promiscuity and drunkenness. Possibly, avoiding promiscuity was related to not keeping a large harem, a common practice in the Middle East. Explicitly, the queen mother advises Lemuel to avoid drunkenness, lest he pervert the rights of the afflicted.
The final two proverbs are a call to action. The queen mother wants Lemuel to be an advocate for the rights of individuals who have no voice of their own, i.e., the destitute. She advises Lemuel to open his mouth—as opposed to remaining silent—and to judge rightly! Lemuel must be a responsible spokesman for the poor and needy.
Pondering Relationships: The queen mother is definite in her advice to Lemuel. Unhesitatingly, she asserted her beliefs, confident that Lemuel wouldn’t retaliate against her outspokenness. This kind of familiarity suggested that she was part of Lemuel’s life since childhood. She didn’t start giving advice when he ascended to the throne.
Likely, Lemuel’s mother didn’t speak all the proverbs at the same time. She gave discrete advice as Lemuel developed and was ready to apply the knowledge, e.g., don’t give your strength to women whose ways will destroy kings. Whatever the time frame of his mother’s advice, Lemuel treasured it. Only an individual, who wanted to remember and follow his mother’s advice, would record it. The queen mother’s advice was deemed so important to kingly rule, that it became a part of Holy Scriptures in a country far from Massa.
The renowned Christian family psychologist and author, Kevin Leman (2012), asserted that a mother is the most important figure in a boy’s life. The proverbs of King Lemuel support Leman’s assertion. King Lemuel didn’t record any of his father’s teachings; but, he lived by his mother’s words.
Reflection: What advice from you do you want your son to remember and follow? Write it down; consider when to give each piece to your son.
Copyright: August 22, 2015, Carolyn A. Roth