Interestingly, what began as fatherly advice Solomon passed on to his son, in the Book of Proverbs (1:1, 8), closes with motherly advice given to her son who happened to be a king. As her son recalls,
31 The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him:
2 What, O my son?
And what, O son of my womb?
And what, O son of my vows?
3 Do not give your strength to women,
Or your ways to that which destroys kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Or for rulers to desire strong drink,
5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed,
And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to him whose life is bitter.
7 Let him drink and forget his poverty
And remember his trouble no more.
8 Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
(New American Standard Bible, 1995, NASB’95)
The true identity of King Lemuel is not certain. His name only appears two times, in verses 1 and 4. He is not listed among other kings of Israel or Judah in the Bible although he is referred to as “king.” Furthermore, we don’t even know for sure if there was ever a king by that name in any other province or nation.
There is a lot of speculation on King Lemuel’s identification, however. It all ranges from his name being fictitious, to being King Hezekiah, to being a king of Massa, and to being a symbolic name for Solomon himself as proposed by Jewish legend. (see Wikipedia)
Some are intrigued by that last theory since it fits the Rabbinical narrative that Solomon had several names, according to The Babylonian Talmud, one of which was Lemuel meaning, “towards [lemo] God [el].” (A. Cohen, Proverbs [Hindhead, Surrey: The Soncino Press, 1945, p. 209] as cited in a blog post by Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament). Moreover, if this king is King Solomon, then Bathsheba would have been the mother to whom he was referring.
In his book Solomon and Solomonic Literature (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2008, p. 67), Moncure Daniel Conway tells a rabbinical story that relates Proverbs 31 to Solomon and Bathsheba. He wrote:
“As the Rabbinical story is told, on the day the temple was dedicated, Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, drank too much at the wedding feast, and slept until the fourth hour of the next day, with the keys of the temple under his pillow. thus bringing on Bathsheba’s oracle.”
Whether or not this legend is true, it does illustrate the love of a mother who wants her son, a king no less, to make wise choices not only for his good but for the good of those under his leadership. Going back to Solomon, for example, rather than following his own wisdom and understanding, even he gave in to his own lusts, leading not only to his demise but the fate of his own nation (1 Kings 11).
It says that King Lemuel’s mother taught him an “oracle.” The Hebrew word for “oracle” is massa which is rendered, “utterance (prophetic), burden, tribute, uplifting,” (Brown-Driver-Briggs). It’s because of this word some scholars speculate that Lemuel was actually a king of Massa, a North Arabian nation. Some translations (e.g., The New Jerusalem Bible) put Lemuel as “king of Massa.” Massa was a descendant of Ishmael and one of the tribal leaders of his clan that settled in the Arabian territory (Genesis 25:12-16). (Mariottini).
As for the oracle, itself, King Lemuel’s mother gives wise advice for anyone to follow. You don’t have to be a king (or queen, for that matter) to understand the inspired warnings which weigh on our consciences for wisely serving the Lord.
All too often, when we see those considered successful or famous we’d like to think they are good role models to emulate. But that’s not always the case as we all-too-often see with so many personalities and leaders we might admire. When we’re shocked to discover that their personal lives have involved drugs and alcohol, sexual exploitation, abuse of the less fortunate, or social injustice of some kind, we shake our heads in disappointment, and sometimes disbelief. With regret we say to ourselves, “If only these people would not have done such things!”
This is the kind of warning the mother of King Lemuel was giving him. She wanted him to know, “You must be careful not to fall into the trap of these immoral people.” In summary, I believe she was telling him,
“Worldly people do not have the self-discipline you must have, especially since you have the highest position of anyone. Sexual sin and and indulgence in alcohol—these are two of the worst temptations you could fall into. The world—they can have these pleasures but you cannot afford to get entangled in them lest they cloud your ability to exercise sound justice and mercy for all, especially to the poor and downtrodden. Rise above reproach. Set a holy example. Be the kind of leader who reflects the wisdom that will truly make you and your people prosperous and happy. Do that, and you won’t go wrong!”
Interestingly, Lemuel’s mother herself must have also set a good example so as to know what, indeed, makes a virtuous woman for him to choose. The remainder of Psalm 31 presents an excellent portrayal of a good wife and mother worthy of honor and praise.
Just think of it: If everyone followed that mother’s wise advice, how better off we’d all be. This is not just for leaders of nations, but persons like you and me who desire to live the kind of life that pleases God, and therefore, give us peace, joy, and love in our daily lives.
Whoever King Lemuel was, and whoever his mother was, we cannot discount the wisdom in the oracle she shared. We can certainly learn from mothers like her, and pursue their wisdom for our own good.
Good News to YOU!
And, Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!
P.S. One can truly appreciate a wise mother—someone devoted to the Lord and lovingly sees to it that her children are raised to follow him. Whether or not one’s mother is still living, each son and daughter can still be moved by her example of faith. Here’s the Blythe Family presenting, “Mama’s Knees,” https://youtu.be/cuTWUGRtvdg (Warning: You might need some tissues while listening to this song! Lol!)