The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.
"Left to himself" means "left alone, with nobody to mind him and take notice of what he does." This, however, does not seem to have been the meaning of the author of the proverb. Hebrew writers, in their poetry, would sometimes bring two thoughts together, meaning nearly the same, only expressed in different words. Sometimes they would bring two thoughts together, the meaning of which is exactly opposite. This is the thing we have in the text before us. The words "rod and reproof" are intended to be opposite to the words "a child left to himself." A mother may have her child almost always with her and yet be "leaving him to himself." A child is "left to himself" whenever he is allowed to do as he likes, whenever his character is not watched over, and his evil inclinations checked. It is the spoilt child who brings his mother to shame. The mother is specially mentioned because she has the first and the most direct and constant influence on the child. And when children are allowed to do as they like it is usually from a weak fondness and over-indulgence on the mother's part rather than on the father's. In all reproof of the faults of children the object aimed at is not merely to guide them aright at the present time, but also to make them able to guide themselves aright when they shall have become older, correct their own faults, and restrain their own inclination to what is evil. A self-willed child "brings his mother to shame," because the remarks of her acquaintance on his character and conduct never fail to reach her ears. In nine cases out of ten, shameful conduct on the part of a man signifies shameful carelessness on the part of that man's mother when he was a child and subject to her authority and influence. The children who are sure to honour their mother when they grow up are those who in childhood were kept in their proper place, whose waywardness and inclination to what is evil were kept in check with the greatest kindness indeed, but still with the greatest firmness. Children thus trained have something to be grateful for. One cannot but believe that the grace of God often reclaims in after-years, and restores to what they should have been, many of those whose character seemed deeply injured and likely to be ruined by the mistaken treatment of a parent in childhood. But must it not sometimes be the case that the grace of God does not reclaim them? For our wills are free. It should be borne in mind that a father and a mother constantly differ much from each other in character and in their ideas of their duty towards their children, and so the one may in part correct the mischievous influence of the other. And the evil influence of home is, happily, often corrected by the beneficial influence of school discipline.
(W. H. Nauben, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.