One of the most well-known and beloved proverbs in the Bible would probably have to be that of Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (ESV). Many a parent has held to this verse as a precious promise that if they do their job right in raising their children that they then have no need to fear them ever going astray from what they were taught. However, a number of parents can also testify to them seeking to do their very best at this training to have the heartbreak of watching their son or daughter walk away from it, leaving it all behind. In such a case, what went wrong? How could the child grow up to depart from it when it says here that they will not? I think part of the problem lies in us having the wrong view of what this verse actually is saying. In fact, the more that I study it, the more I am convinced that rather than being a precious promise for parents to hold fast to, it instead serves as a sober warning of what can happen if we prove negligent in our duty to discipline our children.
The misunderstanding of this verse begins with a mistranslation of the Hebrew that it was originally written in. The phrase should go is absent in the Hebrew. Literally, it reads, Train a child according to his way, even when he grows old, he will not turn aside from it. The training spoken of here then is not according to the way that the child ought to go but rather to his way. Furthermore, the word for “train” actually means to “start” or “begin.” (You will notice that the NIV captures this with their translation.) If you start a child out according to his own way, then you can expect him never to depart from it when he grows up. This changes everything, doesn’t it? What we have here is no encouragement as to what we are to do with our kids but what we must be careful not to do with them.
Now, why is it that hardly any English translation actually carries this meaning? We don’t know for sure but it may have something to do with the fact that the King James Version added the should go, perhaps giving their interpretation of the according to his way, and it has become so familiar of a translation that other modern versions have been hesitant to veer from translating it any other way. In fact, it is hard to find a translation that doesn’t include these two words or some variation of them. (The New American Standard Bible, NASB, at least contains a footnote to indicate the literal translation of it.) However, one of the newest of the English translations currently available, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), does provide the closest reading of the text that I have found. It translates it as follows: Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it.
So, what does it mean for a parent to start a youth out on his way? What kind of way is it? According to the book of Proverbs, there is only two ways in which you can walk; the way of wisdom or the way of foolishness. The author seems to imply that the way of foolishness is the natural way for us to walk. He tells us that the way that appears right to a man has at its end the way of death (14:12; 16:25) and that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, which is why discipline is necessary to remove it from him (22:15). This would mean that the way that the child would want to go would be the way of foolishness. And to allow him to go his way without any correction would be enable him to get to the place where he will not, apart from the supernatural work of God, depart from such foolishness.
When it comes to child rearing, the emphasis throughout the book of Proverbs is on discipline. We see this with every other proverb that addresses the issue (13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:17). In light of that, we should realize that this proverb isn’t an exception. It also deals with the issue of discipline. In this case, what happens should the parent fail to discipline their son or daughter. Should they do so, their children will get to the point where the parents will not be able to do anything with him or her. The child will become so ingrained in their foolish disobedience that there is no way to break them of it.
And is this not what we are witnessing today? A generation of those who, by and at large, have not been disciplined and taught to go the way of wisdom, but rather who had parents who basically let them do whatever they wanted, allowing them to call the shots. Such has resulted in them desiring to have their way and not being able to be bridled. How many of a parent has wound up with a teenager who they can do nothing with who they failed to discipline at a young age? We see this warning left unheeded played out again and again.
For those of us with children still in our home, let’s be careful not to cave into their demands and allow them to get their way but to discipline them as God has prescribed, in hopes that their foolish bent will be curbed and they will learn to walk wisely. Of course, as with everything that God has called us to, this is not something that we can do on our own effectively without Him. We must rely on Him and seek to be faithful. Remember that “discipline” is related to “discipling.”
Love in Christ,Pastor Lee