The wise man Solomon wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Pro. 22:6). Parents have heard this verse and bestowed it upon their children for generations. However, the more I have studied and contemplated this passage of Scripture, the more I believe that we do not really understand the wisdom Solomon was presenting. Let us examine each section of this verse and understand the implications of it.
Train up a child…
Most parents consider the word “train” to mean teach or prepare, but that is not the meaning of the word used here. The Hebrew word is chanak and it means, “to initiate, dedicate, discipline, or train up” (Strong). Of the five times it is used in the Old Testament, every other occurrence is translated “dedicate” or “dedication.” The emphasis of “train” is far more than simple teaching, it is a dedicated regimen that directs, regulates, and impresses upon the child, in every manner of life, the path to be taken.
The word for “child” in this verse is the Hebrew word na’ar and it defines a child as a boy or girl from infancy through adolescence. This training is not intended to start at age 5, 10, or 13, but instead from the moment the child leaves the womb. It is the same form of reference to a child that Paul makes concerning Timothy in Second Timothy 3:15. Therefore, this dedication is to begin at birth and continue to adulthood.
In the way he should go:
The term, “the way” is defined as a road or the path of a journey. It is not a simple direction toward which to be pointed, but a specific path to be chosen. This goes against the grain of many parents’ philosophy whereby they point their children in the general direction and then allow them to “choose their own path.” The manner of direction Solomon dictates is a singular devotion to a particular path of life, thereby removing all others.
Additionally, the phrase “he should go” is an interesting one. Of the more than 500 times the Hebrew word peh is used in the Old Testament, this is the only time it is translated with this phrase. The word carries with it the basic meaning of “the mouth” or “the instruction of the mouth.” In other words, Solomon is not stating that parents are to point their children in the direction they want them to go and let them be on their way; rather, they are to take them down the path instruction dictates they must go.
And when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Parents have often argued from examples of children who were raised in “Christian” homes and did not follow the path of their parents that this is not a one-size-fits-all statement, and that it would be more proper to state “and when he is old, he SHOULD not depart from it.” The only problem with that is, the statement is emphatic in the Hebrew, without exception or exemption. Also remember the statement is given by the inspiration of God; therefore, man should not be trying to change the validity or intention of the statement as given. Solomon’s statement is absolute; thus, if a child does not turn out as he should, the problem lies not with the truthfulness of the statement of Solomon, but with the application of the parents in enacting the instructions. God is emphatic that if we enact this principle, our children will follow the path dictated.
Applying the Proverb
What is Solomon, by inspiration, telling us? Let us put all the facts together. Parents need to dedicate their children to the path instructed from the time they are infants. This dedication means to focus on this singular path above all else, and if any part of life leaves that path, that part of life is left behind. Dedication requires full devotion to the path selected.
Is this what we do with our children? Unfortunately, for most parents, it is not. They take their children, point them in a direction and hope they do not get distracted, meanwhile they bombard them with every distraction and side-track imaginable that could veer them off the pointed direction. Parents state they want their children to be Christians, but then constantly place before them athletics, school activities, entertainment, worldly fashion, peer-pressure, and all other forms of distraction that pull them away from the stated goal; then the parents wonder what went wrong when the child follows those things instead of following God.
As parents, our responsibility is not to “point them in the right direction,” but from their earliest moments on this earth to place them on the proper path, by means of example, instruction, and guidance, and to ensure that there is never any deviation from that path as they are growing up. This does not mean no accessory activities can be a part of life; but from the beginning it must be understood that when those activities leave the path of service to God, those activities are left behind.
The instruction must be absolute, unwavering, and unapologetic. The parent’s responsibility is not, as most in today’s society believe, to allow the child to try everything and see what they like; instead it is to give them constant doses of the right thing so that everything else is in perspective. It also means the parents must live a life of example before their children. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can be allowed to stand between the parent and God. God must come first in all things. For the parent cannot direct the child down a path the parent is not walking. When the parent veers off the path, he gives the child cause to do so as well. For this dedication to be complete, it must be absolute both in the parents and the children.
This method of child-rearing is not popular, nor is it fashionable, but it is godly, authorized, and acceptable. God has told us that if we fully and completely dedicate our children to the path of service to him, without deviation or dilution, the outcome will be faithful servants of God. Are we willing to take God at his word?