Proverbs 29:21

A Servant Becomes a Son


1. This proverb is a bit problematic in its interpretation because of one Hebrew word, (ma·nôn) translated “son.”

2. This Hebrew word is used only once in the Bible, so there are no other passages to compare and see how it is used elsewhere.

3. And the problem concerns the meaning of the word.

4. The interpretation of the proverb hinges on the meaning of that one ancient and obscure Hebrew word, ma·nôn.

21a He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child…

1. The first part of the proverb is relatively easy to understand.

2. Solomon is speaking about bringing up a servant from a child.

a. In those days, many households had “servants.”

b. It was a form of slavery, but in Israel, more like domestic servants… and they were considered part of the household.

c. God never condoned or approved of slavery—contrary to many critics of the Bible.

d. What God did was take a social issue and regulate to avoid abuse.

e. Remember, the purpose of the Bible is spiritual. It was not written to promote one political, social structure, or economic system.

f. Hence, God regulated the prevalent practice of slavery in such a way that it was more like domestic servants in Israel… so they were treated humanely and with kindness.

g. Jas. 5:4 – “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.”

h. Eph. 6:9 – “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.”

i. Col. 4:1 – “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.”

3. The “servant” in this proverb is one who was evidently the son of a domestic servant, and thus was born into servanthood.

a. Thus, the lord of the household (in a sense) brought up this servant from a child.

b. The parents brought up the child as parents; they taught the child to be a good person.

c. But the lord of the household would be responsible to train up the child to be a good servant.

d. So keep in mind that Solomon is not talking about the responsibility of the parent here, but of the responsibility of the lord of the household.

4. The proverb speaks of a household lord who brings up his servant in a particular manner: “delicately.”

a. The expression, “delicately bring up” is one word in the Hebrew.

b. This Hebrew word also occurs only once in the Old Testament, but its meaning is not in question.

c. This word means to “pamper, to indulge, to treat delicately, treat another with extreme or excessive care and attention.”

5. Thus, the first part of the proverb speaks about a lord of a household who pampers his servants.

a. He indulges them. He doesn’t train them to be good servants.

b. He doesn’t train them to be diligent workers.

c. Instead, he pampers them… indulges them… spoils them…

d. If the lord of the household wanted good servants to work on his farm, he had to train them to do so—not indulge and pamper them.

e. If the lord of the household wanted good servants to help his wife with the household chores, then the servants had to be trained to do so… not pampered.

f. Pampering is the opposite of good training.

6. Solomon has warned AGAINST a lack of training for sons often in Proverbs.

a. Prov. 29:15 – (a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”
• There is shame to be had when good training was NOT provided. Even that doesn’t guarantee a good outcome.
• But note that good training involves BOTH a rod (spanking) and reproof (counseling).
• That is not pampering. That is just good discipline.

b. Prov. 29:17 – Correct thy son and he shall give thee rest.
• A son is not to be pampered, but corrected when he does wrong or is headed in a wrong direction.
• This principle of training the youth should have been applied to household servants as well. They were to be lovingly but firmly guided—not pampered.

c. Prov. 22:15 – Folly is bound in the heart of a child.
• The rod of correction drives folly out of a young child… whether the child is a son or a household servant.

d. This principle used to be incorporated in public schools in this country.
• Teachers and administrators used to discipline children under their care. That is no longer the case.
• Today, they are pampered—and the results are obvious.
• Today children are well versed in their rights, and in sexual issues, and are high tech savvy.
• But when it comes to being diligent and hardworking, being moral, and being self-controlled, not so much.

e. The particular example Solomon uses is that of the lord of a household.

f. The broader application of the principle found in our proverb speaks of those in charge of training children (in various settings) are not to pamper them, but are to train and discipline them for their own good. It will serve them well in life.

21b Shall have him become his son at the length.

1. The second part of the proverb is more difficult to understand because of the uncertainty of the meaning of the word translated “son.”

2. What the proverb SAYS is that “he that pampers his servant from a child shall have him become a (ma·nôn) in time.

3. There are a couple of different interpretations based upon using different definitions for the Hebrew word (ma·nôn).

a. Strong’s Concise Dictionary defines it only as “son or heir”

b. The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon defines it as “grief; thankless,” but notes that it is translated “son” once in the KJV.

c. Dictionary of Biblical Languages defines it as “unmanageable, hard to control, deficient to proper order.”

d. The Complete Word Study Dictionary lists both definitions (1) son, heir, and (2) grief.

e. There is not perfect clarity on meaning the term. This gives rise to two different interpretations:

4. The first view interprets the proverb to mean the following:

a. The master who takes good care of his servant from a child (bringing him up in love and care) will over time discover that the servant is like a son to him. They will have almost a father/son bond in the end.

b. The example of Abraham and Eliezer is used to illustrate this interpretation.

c. The problem with that view is that the word “delicately” does not mean lovingly and with compassion. It means “pamper or indulge.” It is clearly a negative meaning.

d. It does not fit with the context of the book of Proverbs to say that pampering and indulgence would have a good result… turning a servant into a son.

e. It does not fit the immediate context of training a son in the same chapter (vs.15, 17) and elsewhere in the book where the emphasis on child training is on diligence and discipline, not on pampering and indulgence. Those are opposites.

5. The second view (one that fits the context much better in my opinion) states that the master who indulges his servant from a child (by not disciplining and training him to be a good worker) will have him become a (ma·nôn) – namely, (according to several Hebrew dictionaries) “unmanageable, a moral character that is deficient to proper order, a grief and sorrow because of the pampering.”

a. This view fits better with immediate context of the importance of discipline in training children.

b. It also fits better with the greater context in the book of Proverbs on other passages teaching the same thing.

c. This view would likely understand the term “manon” to be understood as unmanageable or a grief because of a lack of training.

d. However, this view does not require that we understand “manon” to mean unmanageable. It could also be understood as “son.”
• If that is the case, then the meaning is this: The one who pampers his servant from a child will discover him to become like a son in this sense: he will not want to be treated like a servant but a son. He will grow up having expectations of a son—and hence, demand a more pampered lifestyle later on in life.
• In other words, it is a warning to the one training a servant NOT to pamper… because the result is that your servant may grow up unwilling to serve. He will become unmanageable and thus a grief to the master… just as a child who is pampered results in the grief of the parents.
• There would be good applications here to an employer today too. If you pamper your employees, you may discover that at length (over time) you are not helping them to be better workers… but lazy rather than diligent workers.
• There would be good application to teachers too. If you pamper and indulge your students, (and treat them as your old buddies) they will expect the pampering to continue. And when you want them to get down to diligent study, you may discover that you have actually corrupted their study habits. Many young teachers make this mistake early on—trying to be a friend of their student before they establish themselves as the authority figure in the classroom.
• We have a proverb in English that is not identical, but is similar: familiarity breeds contempt.