A New Look At An Old Proverb:Proverbs.22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.(Amplified Bible).

The book of Proverbs is a collection of sayings:Proverbs by which a person’s life can be directly directed.They are common sense principles for life.

The modern interpretation:Charles Swindoll writes, ” Proverbs 22:6 is probally the best-known passage on the issue of childbearing and, ironically,the most misunderstood.One classic interpretation of this proverb goes this way:Be sure your kids attend Sunday school and church regularly.Teach your children to know and obey the Ten Commandments;teach them to pray at mealtime,bedtime,and for emergencies.And be sure to feed them a steady diet of Bible verses.Do this early on because—–watch out!—teenage rebellion,where they will sow a lot of wild oats,will detour their spiritual journey.When their fling is over,they’ll come back to God.You can count on it because this verse has God’s promise on it.”

The classic interpretation has two major strikes against it.First,it fails to appreciate the very colorful,intricate word pictures used by the Hebrew poet.Second,it doesn’t hold true experientially.Some young people have rebelled and returned,but many others never returned,choosing instead to pursue their sin to the grave.

Begins with the words “Train up.” The Hebrew word hanakh (train) means “to dedicate” or “to consecrate”.”It’s used only four times in the Old Testament,three times in reference to dedicating a building and once of a child in Proverbs 22:6.In several Semitic languages,it stems from a term related to the roof or the lower part of the mouth.An Arabic verb,a very close cousin to hanakh (train),pictures the custom of a midwife dipping her finger into a pool of crushed dates in order to massage the palate and gums of a newborn.This encouraged the baby’s sucking instinct so that nursing could begin as soon as possible.In other words she stimulated the baby’s gums in order to encourage the kind of behavior that would benefit the child.She wisely and deftly utilized the baby’s natural  instinct to guide him toward what is best. (Charles Swindoll,Insight for Living).

Note the word child…from the Hebrew it is used several ways in the Old Testament.In 1.Samuel 1 for a new born infant.In 1.Samuel 4 for Samuel after he had been weaned.In Genesis 37 for Joseph who was a teenager,17 years old.In Genesis.21,for Ishmael in his pre-teen years.In Genesis.34, it is used for a young man of marriagable age.In Proverbs.22 it is referring to any child that is living under the roof of the parents,so long as the child is under my care.

Train…..in the way he should go.N.A.S.V. “Train up a child according to his way.” The preposition (to his way) means in keeping with or in accordance to his way.God says,”not your way,but his way.” When that child is deposited into your care at birth that child comes with a prescribed set of characteristics or bents. Those characteristics are what the scripture calls here,“his way.” The key Hebrew word in the phrase is derek,or “way.” It can refer to a literal way,such as a road,or it can be less literal and refer to the manner in which something acts,as it does in Proverbs 30:18-19.

There are three things which are too wonderful for me.Four which I do not understand:

The way of an eagle in the sky,

The way of a serpent on a rock,

The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,

The way of a man with a maid.

Note the use of the word translated way. The eagle does not follow a particular path..he soars. In other words,it is a characteristic,a method of flight that captures the attention of the writer.

Each child that has been deposited into your care comes with a unique set of bents:

One is creative.One is lazy.One is pragmatic.One is a perfectionist.One is more happy than the other.Another is more melancholy.One is athletic and coordinated.Another is inclined towards the arts.One is agressive and assertive.One is quiet.Another is loud.One is slower intellectually.Another is quick,catches it the first time.

Two mistakes we make often:

(1) We use identical approaches with all our children.

(2) We compare.

These are bad methods,but commonly used in christian homes.

And so you have a Susie in your home and you have a Sally in your home.And Sally is  bright and sharp and easy to love.She is responsive and loves Christ and is bent in all of those directions.But Susie is not like that.

So when you have Susie and Sally stand together,you say to Susie, “Why aren’t you like Sally?” And she says,”Because I’m Susie.” And you say,”Don’t talk back.”

She is telling you the truth.That’s not my way(bent). My concern is for the child who is bent in a certain way,and whose parents do not take time enough to find out how he is bent.So the child spends frustrating years wondering how do I get it together,when my dad doesn’t even know me?I don’t even know myself and I need him to help me,which is a basic assignment of parenting.

Proverbs.22:6.Train up a child….That is,create a thirst,cultivate a taste.Do it so there is the building of submission where there has once been wild strength according to his way.In keeping with is individual gift or bent:Adapt your training accordingly.

“When he is old he will not depart from it.”

When he is old comes from a Hebrew term that means “hair on the chin,bearded one.” In other words even when he reaches young adulthood,he will not depart from it.That is a promise.That makes sense.That helps me to know that there need not be a sowing of wild oats,that rebellion is not inevitable.

There are two questions we need to answer:

(1) How can I know the bents of my child? How can I know his characteristics or her manner?How can I know the way the child has been prescribed by God?

(2) What are the possible bents?

In Proverbs 20:11 we have the answer to the first question.Even a child is known by his doings,whether his work be pure,and whether it be right.

When your child is born he looks like many other newborn children.But soon you discover how different that little infant is from the other one you had years ago and you get kind of a curve thrown at you.In Proverbs 20:11 we are told “that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right.” “It is by his deeds that a lad makes himself known.”

Parents,look at that..Look closely….by the deeds of a child you will discover how he or she has been bent.Make a study of your child.WATCH,LISTEN.The next verse,Proverbs 20:12 says,”The hearing ear,and the seeing eye,the Lord hath made even both of them.”It is significant that God has given us two ears,two eyes,and one mouth.Look at your child.Listen to your child.He is a living display of bents and characteristics. In his own unique and childlike way he is announcing,”this is the way I am.” “This is the way I have been made.” It is your task to see how the child is making himself known.Parenting takes study.It takes effort.It takes discussion between the two of you.It takes prayer before God.

How can I discover my child’s bents? Watch him,study him,learn from him,listen to him,talk with him,hear him out.Take time.What are the bents?

In Psalm.139 :13,” For Thou hast possessed my reins:thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.” The Spirit of God takes us inside the Mother’s womb.It is not nature,but God who does this.The emphasis in the Hebrew is on God.Thou only.You only put me together.You fixed together my vital organs.Literally,it is kidneys.You put those organs together.You did weave me in my mother’s womb.That is a beautiful expression used for working with fine tapestry.It was used for the making of the veil in the Tabernacle.”You worked over my inward parts so that in variegated shape and size and color and a system that became my personality.You put me all together.”It is a fabulous expression of God’s sovereignity within the womb.God was at work laboring,spending time with,weaving together those little things that made me what I was to be.

Obviously David was aware of the biological process that God used to bring him into this world.He does not deny that.Rather he teaches us that God so superintends that biological process that He is directly involved in fashioning each one of us into the person He wants us to be.(Jerry Bridges,Trusting God Even When it Hurts,page161)

The first part of verse 13 says, “For you created my inmost being.” The Hebrew word for “inmost being” is literally kidneys,a word used by the Jews to express the seat of  longings and desires.The New International Version Study Bible says the word was used in Hebrew idiom for “the center of emotions and of moral sensitivity.” David,then,is essentially saying, ” You created my personality.” Not only did God create David’s  physical body,He also created his personality.David was the person he was because God created him that way,physically,mentally,and emotionally.And just as God was personally involved in the creation of David,so He was directly involved in creating your child and you and me.

Rev.James Hufstetler said it well when he said,

You are the result of the attentive,careful,thoughtful,intimate,detailed,creative work of God.Your personality,your sex,your height,your features,are what they are because God made them precisely that way.He made you the way he did because that is the way he wants you to be…..If God had wanted you to be basically and creatively different he would have made you differently.Your genes and chromosomes and creaturely distinctives——-even the shape of your nose and ears-are what they are by God’s design.(James Hufstetler,”On Knowing Oneself,” The Banner of Truth,Issue 280,January 1987,page 13) 

Finally,Swindoll gives excellent advice to parents:The best parental training is accomplished when we opt for inspiration instead of coercion.We do this by discovering the child’s natural desires and unique abilities and by encouraging the behaviour that will allow him or her to develop accordingly.

This is not to say that we merely allow children to do as they please or that we should avoid correction.A term similiar to hanakh (train) in closely related languages relates to the training of a horse.The image pictures a horse’s bridle,which subdues the horse for the purpose of directing its natural energies without breaking its spirit.Notice,however,that the bridle is not a yoke.Only a novice puts a bit in a horse’s mouth to dominate it.Experienced riders know that the horse’s bit is a point of contact in a relationship with the animal.Horses want to run because God gave them a desire to fulfill their created purpose.A wise,caring rider uses the bit and the reins to help the horse achieve its purpose safely and effectively.

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8 Comments on “A New Look At An Old Proverb:Proverbs.22:6”

  1. Rhonda Lester Says:

    Hey Bill,
    I just read this post and I remember you preaching this very verse at Good Hope. I still have the notes from that sermon. It is great to catch a good word from you from time to time. Although David and I are well plugged in a bible teaching church we still miss your preaching, your wisdom, and your friendship very much. We also miss your humor. They were a great foundation for new new believers like us and will not likely been forgotten any time soon. Your name and something you taught us comes up often here. I hope your family is doing well. Tell Patsy we said hello.

    Rhonda and David Lester


  2. Hi Rhonda,
    Good to hear from you.Patsy and I miss you folks and have fond memories of our time in WF.Patsy is doing well.We have Dixie Bella for a couple of weeks and keep busy playing “hide and seek”and many other activities.It’s hard to believe that you and David will be grand parents in a few years.Time flys by.
    Bill


  3. Hey Bill –

    It’s good to be back in the hotbub!

    Since we last communicated, I’ve moved to First Baptist Church of Sebring, Florida. Ministry here is going well. God has been good.

    Hope all is well for you and yours.

    David Richardson (Condy Richardson’s brother)
    FBC Sebring, Florida


  4. Good to hear from you David.IT’s good to know if I come that way,”I won’t have to cross Georgia alone.”We miss you in SC.

  5. Susan Says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this verse. I mostly read the Bible in the amplified version and ran across this a few years ago. It changed the entire way I look at children and education. I am also a teacher and dream about opening a school for children, being able to use this verse as one of the foundational philosophies for their education. My dream is to have a school that builds supportive and cooperative community between the students, parents, teachers and the entire educational process.

    It has been so helpful to ‘google upon’ your site and the expansion of explanation regarding this verse. Thank you.


  6. I translate 22:6 quite differently. Let me explain.

    A close, literal translation of the Hebrew text (from which the English translation was taken) is:

    Educate to the child according to the mouth of his way; yea, because he ages himself he will not turn away from it.

    or alternatively,

    Educate to the child according to the mouth of his way; yea, because he ages [according to] himself he will not turn away from it.

    Figuratively, the obvious meaning is something along the lines of:

    If you let a child have his own way [from the beginning], he will never depart from it.

    We should view this as a precautionary proverb, i.e., this tells parents what not to do and lends to them the authority to impart God’s word to their children. In other words, inculcate God’s word into your children from the beginning of their training. If you do not, they will choose their own way and correcting them will become harder and harder as the child ages.

    Blessings,

    Michael


  7. […] the Hebrew and all the ways the word for child is used. It doesn’t take into account the Hebrew for “train” and the cousin word for train as “to stimulate” a suckling child […]


  8. […] the Hebrew and all the ways the word for child is used. It doesn’t take into account the Hebrew for “train” and the cousin word for train as “to stimulate” a suckling child […]


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