Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
by Gini Crawford, MSW
I have a grandson named Ezekiel Daniel(Zeke). Both names were taken from the Old Testament. As you can imagine, with those names he has a lot to live up too. (The prophet Ezekiel bought a message from God of judgment, because of appalling sins, to a people who did not want to hear. Daniel was taken captive to Babylon, at probably seventeen, and stood firm for God for many decades.)
Zeke is now about a year and a half, and is full of life and curiosity, as most kids are at that age. One of the many things he loves to do is, get knives from the dishwasher and run with them. As you can guess, he gets disciplined for this dangerous maneuver. One of the main ways his parents discipline him is to put him in "Time Out". I must say, he looks pretty cute sitting in the corner with a dejected face. When he is around other kids, even much older ones, he will scream, "No! Time out!" when he sees something he thinks is wrong. As you can imagine his sense of what's right and wrong isn't very defined from God's perspective yet, but he is being trained in the way he should go. And he is determined to train others too, it seems.
In this devotion I am going to explain Proverbs 22:6 in detail. This verse is the best known passage in Proverbs on training a child. It says,
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (NIV)
It is very important to put this verse (or any verse) in the context of where it sits in the Bible to interpret it. The context of Proverbs 22:6 is of course the book of Proverbs. So why did King Solomon, who wrote Proverbs, write it? You do not need to look hard for the purpose of Proverbs because Solomon starts the book with why he wrote it.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young-- let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance-- for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge... Proverbs 1:1-7a (NIV)
The purpose of Proverbs was to first develop, especially in the young, a right relationship with the Lord. Then that relationship allows the person to acquire God's understanding, wisdom, justice, discernment and discipline so the person can live a godly life. We need to keep in mind the purpose of Proverbs, when interpreting this verse.
To interpret Proverbs 22:6 we need to understand what each important word or phrase in the Hebrew language means. The first word we will look at is "train". Walvoord and Zuck say (in their Bible Knowledge Commentary) train means to dedicate. It is used of dedicating a house (Deuteronomy 20:5), the temple (1 Kings 8:63), and an image (Daniel 3:2). Only in Proverbs 22:6 is the verb translated train. This word seems to include the idea of setting aside, narrowing, or hedging in. It also has the idea of what you would expect - teaching. The word is sometimes used in the sense of starting. The Hebrew verb train is similar to an Egyptian word (h-n-k) that meant, to give to the gods or to set up something for divine service. From the Hebrew definition of the word train, we could simply say, child-training involves setting up or dedicating your child to God and His service.
Israel was instructed to carefully set up God's tabernacle or temporary temple for divine service, so He could dwell with them. If you read Exodus, you will hear many specific instructions - on how to set up the tabernacle in a holy manner, and on how each person was to be holy. (Most of you know, God is completely holy and can have nothing to do with sin, which is the opposite from holiness. Frankly, from the Old Testament, if anyone got near God's holiness with any sin, even a sin we might think is just an itsy bitsy one, that person in most cases would die.) God didn't leave them guessing but specifically outlines how they were to make the tabernacle and themselves holy, so He could dwell there with them. As parents we need to be consciously and consistently training (or setting up) our kids for God. This is so someday they will be open to the Holy Spirit wooing them to God through Jesus Christ, and will then believe in Jesus to save them from their sins.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)
You need to also keep training them in God, so that after they are saved, He can empower them to live for Him through the same Spirit.
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. ... Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:16, 20 (NLT)
Just like God didn't leave the Israelites guessing as to how to set up the tabernacle just right, God has not left us guessing. He has left us with the perfect instruction manual to train our kids, His Word.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)
Let's now look at the phrase "in the way he should go". Walvoord and Zuck state this phrase literally means "upon the mouth of his way". I am sure that makes no sense to those of us who don't know Hebrew. However, what it means in modern thought is, "according to".
So what does the word "way" mean in Hebrew? Scholars have interpreted the word "way" in different ways such as according to his personality or stage in life and so on. However the word "way" in its context which is Proverbs, is generally used to mean, God's wise way of living. So we could say that "way" means, according to the way the child ought to go - which is living for God.
However, there is nothing wrong with looking at a kid's personality or stage of life to train them. Frankly as a counselor I would recommend it! I have had several friends throughout the years that have plainly expected too much from their child at a certain age. These too high expectations tend to make for a frustrating situation – with the parents constantly disciplining and the child seemingly never getting it. If you are going to be a new parent, I would highly recommend for your wisdom and sanity - to buy a guide on what your child is capable of, at each stage in life. I would also advise you not to try too hard in changing your child's personality, such as, she naturally likes physics, and he is just naturally commanding. God created each child with a unique personality to live for Him. Yes, it is important to broaden your child's horizons but don't try to make her (or him) into someone you want instead of someone who God created. As a parent, prayerfully ask God for wisdom in how to train your child according to how God created them.
As parents, to be able to train your child in the way he should go (God's way), you need to first have a close relationship with God yourself. How do you achieve this type of relationship with God? First and foremost - you need to believe in Jesus Christ.
But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God ... For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 1:12-13 & 3:16 NASB®
Next, God wants you to live in a close and loving relationship with Him. You do this like you would any close relationship, which is spending time with, listening, and talking to the person you love. As with any strong relationship, if there is something between the two of you, you deal with it. When there is something between God and you (sin), you acknowledge (confess) it and God will forgive you.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 NASB®
If you have your own close relationship with God, then you will personally know how to impart God and His ways to your child, and keep him or her on a godly path.
What if you raised your children to follow the path of godly living and as adults they aren't? I know parents that are devastated over how ungodly their adult kids are living. They wonder what they have done wrong. To be frank, all of us parents do things that are not very helpful or maybe even harmful in promoting godly behavior in our children. Yet, if you predominately made living for God your goal in life, and prayerfully nurtured your kids that way, you have probably done your best before God.
Unfortunately Proverbs 22:6 isn't a guarantee. This is because proverbs are general truths that give us God's understanding and wisdom. They can be affected by people's bad choices. Remember, each person has a choice whether to live for God or not, no matter what type of training he or she had as a child.
Let's end by summarizing up Proverbs 22:6 from what we have learned about the words "train" and "way". Training a child involves starting at birth and consistently dedicating that child by teaching him or her according to the way they ought to go, which is God's way. This training involves progressively narrowing that child's conduct away from evil and towards God, so when that child is grown she or he will not turn from Him.
Life Application: As a Christian parent, you need to make sure you are dedicating your child to the Lord in everything you are doing towards that child, so someday that grown-up will be a sanctified temple for the Holy Spirit.
... For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE" ...says the Lord... "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN." And I will welcome you. "And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:16b-18 (NASB)
As a new or even an experienced parent you need to ask yourself daily, "Are you working on your relationship with God? Are you asking God to train you, so you can train your child?" Read 1 Corinthians 13. If you love your child the way 1 Corinthian 13:4-7 instructs you to love you'll be dedicating your child towards God. Write out each characteristic of love and ask God to empower you to love your child and others that way.
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