Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go

I have six kids, ages seven to seventeen, and I believe that few callings are as high as shaping them to see and savor the beauties of Christ and to love the nations as he does.

In my years of pastoral ministry and parenting, I have regularly encountered confusion regarding the meaning of a well-known verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Let me offer some reflections on it, considering its lasting significance for the church.

How Do We “Dedicate” a Child?

First, note that the Hebrew verb translated “train” occurs three other times in the Bible. In each of these, it refers to “dedicating” houses, whether of a man (Deuteronomy 20:5) or of God (1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles 7:5).

This suggests that the initial imperative calls for parents to actively devote or commit their youth to a certain, perhaps even religious, course of action — continually pleading in the presence of God and others, “May what happens in the life of this young one ever magnify the greatness, worth, sufficiency, and saving power of our God.” “Train up” may, therefore, be too weak of a translation and miss the potential element of consecration to religious and moral direction (Waltke, 204).

Certainly “dedicating” a child would include the common ceremony of commitment that many parents engage in at the birth of their children. However, the overall context of Proverbs suggests the act of dedicating inProverbs 22:6 is focused more on an intentional, sustained, God-dependent shepherding of our children’s hearts as they grow into adulthood — one in which the children themselves are aware of the parents’ trajectory-setting intentions. This is not a passive calling for dads and moms.

Second, the ESV’s “in the way he should go” is a very idiomatic way of capturing the Hebrew “according to the dictates ofhis way.” So the command line of the proverb literally reads, “Dedicate a youth according to the dictates of his way,” or perhaps more commonly, “Dedicate a child according to what his way demands.”

The Way of the Child

So what does “according to the dictates of his way” most likely mean inProverbs 22:6? Significantly, in wisdom literature like Proverbs, we find only two “ways” — the way of wisdom and life, and the way of folly and death.

  • The previous verse declares, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them” (Proverbs 22:5).
  • Similarly, Proverbs 11:5 says, “The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.”
  • Consider also Proverbs 14:2, which reads, “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.”
  • And again, Proverbs 16:17 says, “The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.”

Within Proverbs, the moral content of one’s way depends on the doer — whether God (Proverbs 8:22), the wise (Proverbs 11:5; 14:8; 16:7), humans in general (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24), or fools (Proverbs 19:3; Waltke, 205). Significantly, a “youth’s way” is often negative.

First, when left to themselves, the “young” lack judgment and have hearts filled with foolishness. “I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense” (Proverbs 7:7). “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).

Written by Jason DeRouchie

Full article at Desiring God  

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