Thoughts on Proverbs 19:13
“A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.” (Proverbs 19:13, ESV)
Graeme Goldsworthy says of this proverb, “Those relationships that are closest and most rewarding have the potential for greater destructiveness.” Goldsworthy gets at the heart of the literal meaning of today's proverb. But while it is helpful to look at the horizontal relationships that a literal reading focuses on in our verse, my goal is to read the proverbs Christologically, in the light of the New Testament. Thus, I agree with Andrew Steinmann when he says we need to “read these sayings in the light of the gospel.” The individual proverbs “find their ultimate meaning only when read with the gospel in view, as indeed is true of all the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:44-47).”
So we will certainly touch on the literal meaning of Proverbs 19:13, but the question I am more interested in is this: How do we see Christ in this proverb? For until we can answer that question, we have fallen short of the intended and ultimate meaning for us as our heavenly Father's children and our Lord's bride.
Leland Ryken writes: “The Bible is more than a book of ideas: it is also a book of images and motifs…We will miss a lot of what the Bible contains if we do not see and understand the literal and symbolic meanings of the Bible's images…The Bible is a book that images the truth as well as stating it in abstract propositions.” This means that in order to be good Bible readers, we must become competent at interpreting symbols. Ryken goes on to define a symbol this way: “A symbol is an image that stands for something in addition to its literal meaning.”
But here is where the human race in its sinful state has become quite obtuse! In our fallen state, we often miss the symbolism, and the spiritual meaning latent in those symbols. How often in the Gospels we see this inability to see symbolism. Just in the opening chapters of John's Gospel, Jesus speaks of the temple being raised in three days, but His disciples are thinking of the literal temple. Jesus says you must be born from above, but Nicodemus wonders how a man can be born from his mother's womb again. Jesus speaks of living water, but the Samaritan woman is fixated on drawing water from the well in front of her. Jesus says that He has bread his disciples don't know about, and they wonder if someone gave Him some bread. And on and on it goes. We are not the best at seeing spiritual meaning, and seeing Him in symbols. We are masters at the literal, but bumblers at the spiritual.
Today's proverb presents us with three persons that function as symbols: a son, a father, and a wife. Earthly fathers are meant to point to the heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Earthly sons are meant to point to the eternally begotten and beloved Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. A wise wife points to Woman Wisdom, who points to Jesus Christ who is wisdom incarnate (Proverbs 9:1-12). But foolish wives point to Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18). The wise wife in Proverbs 31:10-31 is a type (a symbol designed to foreshadow Christ or spiritual things) of Woman Wisdom, who is a type of Christ. Akin writes, “Proverbs begins with a dad telling his son to make Woman Wisdom his wife, and it ends with a husband praising a wise wife. Woman Wisdom points to Jesus, who is the embodiment of God's Wisdom. The wise wife is, therefore, a type of Woman Wisdom, and one can only be that kind of wife if she is in a relationship with the Wisdom of God who is Jesus Christ…She is a saved woman, a godly woman, a Bible woman, a Jesus woman.”
One further point about, not just wives as symbols, but women as symbols. Women, because of the God-given design of their bodies, are often used as symbols of discipleship throughout the Bible. The receptivity of their bodies makes them wonderful pictures of what it means to live as disciples, for the key to discipleship is receptivity (Matthew 5:3). Christopher West writes, “Receptivity is the fundamental posture of every creature before the Creator. We have nothing that we have not first received, beginning with our very existence. Love does not originate in us. It originates in God, who is love. Hence, if we are to give love, we must first open up to receive it. We cannot give what we do not have.”
Putting this together, our verse is getting at the heart of our purpose in life. The goal of our lives as God's born from above sons (I'm using “sons” to include both sexes) is to honor our heavenly Father. The goal of our lives as our Lord's bride (including both sexes) is to love Him and to be receptive to Him.
But sin has greatly disordered our lives. Instead of wise sons, our fallen nature sires foolish sons, who do not love the heavenly Father and are filled with an inward enmity toward Him, which only the new birth can change. Instead of disciples that love Jesus Christ their Husband and seek to do all they can to help and advance His cause on the earth, the earth is filled with unbelievers who have no love for Jesus, though He loved the world and gave Himself for it.
In our couplet we see enmity against earthly fathers and earthly husbands that symbolizes the enmity the human race has toward the heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ, our true husband who has betrothed His bride at the cross. The aim in life is to honor our heavenly Father, and love His Son, our Husband and Lord. May it be, Lord.
 Goldsworthy, Proverbs, 136.
 Steinmann, Proverbs, 407.
 Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, xiii.
 Ibid., xiv.
 Akin, Proverbs, 180.
 Christopher West, The Love That Satisfies: reflections on eros and agape, 79.