The opening verses of Proverbs 31 often go unnoticed because of the loud praises of the excellence of a godly wife that fill the rest of the chapter. The opening nine verses are a record of a set of instructions that a wise queen made her son (the future king) commit to memory. This ‘oracle’, as it is called, contains some foundational character-shaping instruction for young men. If you are a mother, make your sons, even if they are already adults, memorise these verses. If you are a man, don’t wait for your mother to read this before you commit it to your life.

The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son?
What are you doing, son of my womb?
What are you doing, son of my vows?

Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

There are three life lessons for young men in this oracle.

First, Learn the skill of self-reckoning.

Young men need at all times to open the triad of questions that start this motherly oracle. Be it the interested “What are you doing?”, or the more probing “What are you doing?”, or perhaps the disappointed “What are you doing?”, not to mention the rebuking “What are you doing?”, a young man must always learn to give an account of his every action and intention. Perceive the approach of temptation; mark the sinful influences; thrive on the right way and right time for everything.

Second, beware of sexual seduction.

No man knows better than King Solomon, and even he fell under the influence of sexually immoral women. Before every son reaches adulthood, this one verse must be memorised with the lingering “What are you doing?” question echoing throughout each temptation warning of all the various forms of sexual sin that will destroy a life.

Third, insist on your responsibility more than on your rights.

You might feel perfectly entitled to indulge in the pleasures of this life that you have access to. But don’t. Instead, use what you have to help those who are deprived of basic human rights. As the motherly oracle says, the use of substances are for the perishing, not the comfortable. Similarly, the use of influence is for the benefit of those who have no influence. Every able-bodied young man must use his gifts, circumstances, blessings, and means to fulfill his responsibilities. The only insistence on human rights must be on behalf of another more needy than himself.

Mothers, make your sons memorise this.

Young men, be like King Lemuel who himself publicly repeated this for his entire nation to keep him to it.