Train Up a Child
Train up a child in the way he should go:
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
1. This is one of the best known proverbs.
2. The general gist of it seems simple enough to understand: a simple “if…then” statement. (If you train him right, then he will not depart.)
3. However, it raises several significant questions.
a. Is this a promise? Does it promise every parent that if he does his job right, then the child will turn out right?
b. If it is a promise, then is it true? There seems to be so many exceptions!
c. What does “train” mean in this verse?
d. What is “the way he should go”?
4. Thus, a proverb that at first glance seems quite simple to understand, is not so simple.
1. Train defined: (?anukkâ)
a. The term is used of a Jewish holiday today: Hanukkah.
b. Strong’s: To train; dedicate; inaugurate.
c. Dictionary of Bible Languages: Dedicate, consecrate, i.e., a ritual and commitment to devote a structure to deity or special purpose
d. Theological Workbook of the Old Testament: Begin; initiate; inaugurate.
2. Its usage:
a. Its derivatives are used in connection with the dedication of structures:
• A Temple (I Kings 8:63)
• A house (Deut. 20:5)
• Wall (Neh. 12:27)
• An altar (Num. 7:10)
• An image (Dan. 3:2)
b. The main emphasis of the Hebrew word translated “train” does not seem to be on training in the sense of teaching and instructing.
c. The emphasis is on dedication… or initiation… a consecration or a setting apart something for a sacred use, in honor of God.
3. This may be why some churches have baby dedication ceremonies.
a. It is seen as an act of dedicating the child to the Lord.
b. I am not convinced that a “baby dedication ceremony” is the kind of dedication that Solomon had in mind.
c. You can have a ceremony to dedicate a building, and consider that building dedicated to God’s service.
d. But children are not like buildings. Holding a dedication service for a baby does NOT mean that the child is therefore dedicated to the Lord.
e. I don’t dedicate babies because I don’t want to give any false impressions. If anything, it’s the PARENTS who need to be dedicated to the Lord at the baby’s birth!
f. Besides the only baby who was dedicated to the Lord like that was Hannah’s baby Samuel. And she left him at the Temple. We don’t encourage that here?
4. In what sense are parents to dedicate/consecrate their children?
a. There are quite a number of passages in Proverbs that speak directly to child rearing. All of them speak of the training as either correction or chastening. (for example: Prov. 22:15)
b. This term is different. This term is much more positive.
c. When a priest is consecrated to the priesthood, it means that his course of life has been restricted to the priesthood. Other career opportunities are out.
d. When a Temple is dedicated to the Lord, it means that it this building is greatly restricted in its use. It is not to be used for other activities. It was not to become a place of retail sales or entertainment. It was dedicated to God’s service… and nothing else.
e. Thus, this term for dedication or consecration speaks of narrowing his way… setting him apart from other “ways” and setting him UNTO the way he should go.
f. Some have illustrated this process by noting that if you bend a young, tender sapling, you can affect the course of its growth.
g. That young sapling has been dedicated to a particular course right from the BEGINNING… right from the start of life.
h. But it is not a ceremony that dedicates that child to a particular course of life. It is the parents training and example.
i. The items dedicated (house; temple; idol; wall; altar) were dedicated right at the very beginning… BEFORE the temple or the altar were up and running as “adult” structures. That’s the time for a dedication.
j. The parents have to be dedicated to dedicating the child to the right way… the way that he should go.
1. The way (Derek) – this term we have seen dozens of times in Proverbs.
a. Literally, it speaks of a road, a journey, or a way.
b. Figuratively, it means “a way of life,” a course of life, a manner of life… conduct of life. (it almost always is used figuratively.)
c. Solomon is speaking of the course of life for this child.
2. He should go
a. This term is also difficult to translate.
b. Literally, its main definition is that of a mouth or opening.
c. It is used of the mouth of a person or animal.
d. It is also used of the opening of a well (Gen.29:2), a hole or opening in a garment (Ps.133:2),
e. The “way he should go” is literally translated “upon the mouth of his way.”
f. Children are to be trained “according to” the way he should go… according to the opening of his way.
g. A question arises at this point: does “the way he should go” mean:
• The way he OUGHT to go? (The right way; the way of wisdom; the straight and narrow way.)
• Or according to the way HE (as an individual; with certain personality traits; with particular skills and interests) should go?
» In other words, if Tommy shows skill and aptitude in carpentry, or music, or athletics, then he should be channeled in that direction.
» There is certainly truth in that.
» And the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
» For Tommy, that IS the way that he should go. That is what he will excel in.
» It may not be the way his parents had expected… but it may be the way he should go.
» His father may have wanted him to be lawyer or a missionary… but he may be cut out to be a carpenter.
» Training should be in accordance with the way that particular child should go.
h. In light of the way the Hebrew word “derek” (way) is used throughout Proverbs, it is best to understand the term to mean “the right way of conduct”… the way of righteousness and godliness.
• This is the most natural and obvious way to read the text.
i. The exhortation to “train up a child” here is quite similar in meaning to what Paul wrote in Eph. 6:4: “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
j. That is the way they should go. Separate them from all other ways… and point them… direct them… set them apart to the “mouth of that way.”
k. Get them started down the right pathway. Initiate them in that way.
3. Thus, Solomon is stating that children (from the very beginning) are to be dedicated to a certain course of behavior… a particular way of living… godliness… the way of wisdom.
a. They are to be consecrated towards the MOUTH of that way.
b. They start off at the opening of that way… the beginning of the long road ahead…
c. And don’t expect them to immediately demonstrate the maturity expected at the END of that road… when they are just beginning at the mouth of that road.
4. The way the child SHOULD go is not always the same as the way as the child WOULD (wants to) go.
a. Because each child is born as a little heathen… with a sin nature that is bent in the wrong direction, it takes effort to bend him in the right direction.
b. They don’t WANT to do what is right… they do not naturally desire the straight and narrow road.
c. But it is the way that they SHOULD go.
d. It is the responsibility of the parent to bend that little plant away from the wrong direction it WANTS to go in… and direct it towards the way it SHOULD go.
e. My wife bought some stakes for her flowers.
• They are metal stakes with a circle attached. When the flower is small and before it matures and blossoms, she gently bends the young, tender stem away from the way it would grow on its own, and she inserts the stem through the circle.
• Once it goes through the mouth of that circle, it will continue to grow up through the circle… and the circle supports it and holds it up when it is full grown and a bit top heavy from the bloom.
• On its own, it would grow up and flop over… and its blossom would not be seen. It would fall into the dirt.
• But if it is directed early on through the mouth of that support… the way it should go… it will be supported for the entire season.
• Once the stem is put through the mouth of that ring, it is then dedicated to growing upright.
• But of course, you have to be very gentle in bending those tender plants. If treated too roughly, it could break… and have permanent damage.
f. The fact that there is such a huge difference between the way he WOULD go and the way he SHOULD explains why virtually all of the other passages in Proverbs dealing with child rearing deal with correcting or chastening.
1. This part of the proverb is clear and easy to understand. None of the terms is ambiguous or confusing.
2. This raises a question in the minds of many: Is this proverb true?
a. If Solomon is saying that if you train your children in the way that they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it… what about the millions of exceptions? What about the millions of young people who DID go astray in later years? There are many examples in the Bible of this… not to mention life today.
b. How do we harmonize the statement with the reality we see around us every day?
3. The answer (as we have seen many times in this book) is in the definition and purpose of a PROVERB.
a. Proverbs are little nuggets of truth… truth crystallized into a catchy little phrase.
b. Proverbs were designed to arrest the attention and make a point… usually just one main point.
c. But they do NOT hold true in each and every case… or were they intended to be absolute promises.
d. There are many exceptions to the proverbs.
• Not everybody who digs a hole falls into it. (Prov. 26:27)
• Not every young person who curses his parents has his eyeballs clawed out and eaten by birds.
• Not every hard worker stands before kings. (Prov. 22:29)
• The proverbs are catchy phrases that summarize truth… but were not designed to cover all the bases. Of course there are many exceptions to the proverbs.
e. So, is this proverb true?
• Of course it is true… but not in every case. It is true that this is the GENERAL rule… a general principle.
• Don’t forget, Solomon himself (the one who wrote this proverb) also departed from the straight and narrow way when he was older.
4. There is a good word of encouragement in this proverb to every parent of a prodigal child.
a. Good training in his early years always gives the hope that one day… perhaps when down and out… he will recall that training, and it will kick in… and he will repent and return to the way that he should go.
b. It might even be after the parents are gone to glory.
c. Good training early on at the very least provides them with a MEANS to return.
• They may not presently LIKE the way they should go, but at least they know where it is… how to find it.
• Many young people are wandering about without a clue as to where the way they should go is to be found! Even if they wanted to get on the right path, they wouldn’t know where to find it.
• But the one who received good training early on, WILL know where to find it.
d. There is no need for shame in the heart of the parent who trained them in the way they ought to go.
e. But there IS shame to be had when the training was NOT provided! (Prov. 29:15 – A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”
f. But the parents of children who have wandered away always have the God-given hope from this passage that their good training in those early years will pay off one day. The prodigal will return.