There was a time when the study of any subject was referred to as the “discipline” of it. When you learned Biology, you were studying the discipline of Biology, when it was English, it was the study of the discipline of English. Today’s proverb of the day tells us that those who love discipline love knowledge. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
There are several reasons why a love of knowledge requires a love of discipline as well. First of all we need to realize that without disciplining ourselves to spend adequate time studying, we will not learn anything. The word for discipline in this verse is the Hebrew word “musar.” This word means chastisement. The idea here is that of chastisement, reproof, and warning so that one would learn from them. Although this may seem strange to us at first, real knowledge always has an element of discipline to it. If we want knowledge it will come to us in two primary ways. First, we give ourselves to learning all we can to increase our knowledge. But the second aspect is to begin to “refine” knowledge. We take that first knowledge and use it to determine what is true and what is false. We test our knowledge in order to make sure it is right. Then we discern more knowledge as we take information and test it as well to add to what we know. In that process, we come to know what is true as well as what is false. We find good assumptions and poor ones. We come to know both truth as well as error - and how to distinguish between the two.
Imagine a child who is not open to discipline and correction in the learning process. He begins with the assumption that 2 + 2 = 5. If that assumption is not corrected, he would not have knowledge - he would be believing a falsehood. Because he is not open to correction, his collection of false statements and wrong conclusions will grow. In the end we will find that we do not have an educated child - but a self-confirmed ignoramus. Because he hates reproof - he will remain stupid. But there will be more than just mere stupidity - there will be arrogance and an unwillingness to learn from anyone other than himself.
This is where we run into the word “stupid” in this proverb. The King James Bible uses the word “brutish” instead. The actual word means both. The one who hates correction is stupid when it comes to factual learning. He will confidently assert a series of wrong statements when asked for information. But he is also brutish as well. The word “brutish” is not used much in our world so a definition is in order. Someone who is brutish is someone who resembles a brute or animal. They are coarse, stupid, and uncivilized. This is the way that someone who thinks that they have knowledge will react to being corrected or disciplined. They react badly. They become angry and tend to lash out at the one who offers them correction. Rather than receive the correction they bristle at it. They may even verbally attack the one who offers it - see them as ignorant and inferior because they don’t agree with their “facts.”
This proverb becomes even more interesting when we realize that Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, wrote it. His father and mother engaged in a very evil relationship when they got together. David committed adultery with Bathsheba when he gave in to his lust. But when he learned that she was pregnant from their sexual encounter, he went deep into depravity. He tried to cover up his sin by having her husband Uriah come from the battle - hoping that he would have relations with his wife and think the child was his own. When that did not work, David made Uriah drunk and hoped he would cover his sin in a drunken sexual encounter with his wife. Both times Uriah was more honorable than David because he refused to do such a thing while all of Israel (except David) were engaged in battle. Then David chose to send Uriah with orders that would eventually ensure that he would be killed in battle. David had truly done a foolish and stupid thing.
Was David a lover of knowledge? What would happen when God sent His prophet Nathan to David with full knowledge of his sin? What would happen when David was confronted with that knowledge? Would he receive it or would he reject it? Was he a lover of knowledge or was he stupid? David loved knowledge and responded wisely when reproved by Nathan. He broke and repented when faced with the ugliness and rebellion of his sin. Kings in general do not react this way when confronted with their shortcomings and sins. Many would either place the one who rebuked them in jail - or would have them beheaded. But then again, most kings were not lovers of knowledge as David was.
We are faced every day with multiple opportunities to be a lover of knowledge rather than a stupid and brutish man or woman. The difference is in how we respond to discipline. Do we submit ourselves to it and learn, or do we reject it and remain in a world constructed of our own ignorance and stupidity? I was taught early by the man who discipled me to embrace reproof, correction, and discipline. He had me memorize a verse that said, “Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness.” He had me learn that verse, not so that I could be physically abused - but so that I would recognize the kindness of someone who corrected me. That is true even if the one offering the correction is not exactly offering it in the wisest way. He taught me that such correction is a kindness from God - Who ultimately wants me to turn from my foolishness and embrace His blessed wisdom. If we embrace discipline - both verbal discipline from others as well as self-discipline of ourselves to embrace knowledge - we will be truly blessed. We will find knowledge - and - we will not be numbered among the stupid.