We have been unpacking the spiritual truth found in the most well-known verse in the Bible on child training: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Part Twoxs was devoted to understanding the words “train up” and now we want to consider the remaining truths found in this marvelous verse of scripture.
- “ . . . a child”
Parents are to “Train up a child . . . ” This Hebrew word does not refer solely to an infant. The idea is that a parent is to begin to “train” a child when he or she is an infant and to continue to “train” a child until he or she leaves his or her parent’s home.
- “ . . . in the way”
Parents are to “Train up a child in the way . . . ” The Hebrew word translated as way in this verse pictures a bow that is bent to launch an arrow. This Hebrew word teaches that the goal of parenting is to train each child “in harmony with” or “in cooperation with” the “way” that their child’s “bow” has been “bent.”
Every bow hunter will tell you that a bow can be bent in only one way. If you try to bend the bow in the opposite direction in which it has already been bent, the bow will eventually break. The point is that when it comes to training our children, we do not have a pliable piece of clay to work with. But if you bend the bow (your child) in the direction in which he or she has already been bent by the Lord, you will train your child properly.
In fact, the Psalmist described children as arrows in the hand of his or her parents: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them . . . ” (Psalm 127:4,5).
David believed that he was uniquely “knit together” by the hand of God in his mother’s womb. The following is my literal translation of the Hebrew text of Psalm 139:
God is interested in me because He has been interested in me before I was ever conceived. God has formed me in a similar way that a builder erects a building. He formed my vital organs such as my kidneys, heart, and lungs, when He knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Lord, I will praise you because when you created me, I know for sure that it was something extraordinary—too wonderful for me to even begin to understand. 15 My skeleton was not hidden from the Lord when I was created in the womb, a protected place such as the depths of the earth, out of material already in existence supplied by my father and mother. I was made with great skill and care as in doing fine needlepoint or embroidery of different colors of fine thread. I was created individually, and I am different from everyone else. 16 God’s eyes did watch over my yet unfinished embryo with great care to see that I was made right. Lord, in your book you described me completely, all about me, even before the day I was conceived. (Psalm 139:13-16)
This passage powerfully declares that God creates every child and each one is unique.
The Hebrew word bent (translated as “way” in Prov. 22:6) speaks to a child’s unique aptitude, talents, abilities, interests, temperament, personality, spiritual gifts, emotional make-up, need of love, etc. In short, God has an individual plan for the life of every child, and it is the responsibility of parents to study their child to learn how God has “bent their bow” and train each child accordingly.
If your child is gifted in music, do not try and make him or her an athlete or a medical doctor. Help your child develop his or her musical gifts. If you do not, you will break the bow and frustrate your child.
The logical question at this point is, “How do I discover the bent of my child?” Let me suggest two things you can do:
(1) Pray for wisdom (James 1:5). Ask God to give you the skills you need to be a good parent, insight on how to deal with problems, etc.
(2) Observe your child (Proverbs 20:11,12)—what your child likes, does not like, what your child is good at, what your child struggles with, etc. Also, listen to the words a child speaks.
Study your child and get to “know” them.
- “ . . . he should go.”
Parents are to “Train up a child in the way he should go . . . ” (Proverbs 22:6). The phrase should go literally means “mouth.” It refers to the commandments of the Lord that are spoken from the mouth of God. The idea is that parents are to train a child in accordance with the spoken commandments of the Lord.
- “ . . . and when he is old.”
Parents are to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old . . . ” (Proverbs 22:6). The Hebrew word translated as old literally means, “bearded one.” The idea is that the child has grown to the place in life where he or she is old enough to make decisions independent and apart from his or her parents.
- “ . . . he will not depart from it.”
Parents are to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not departfrom it” (Proverbs 22:6). The Hebrew word translated in our text as depart literally means, “to turn aside from” or to “abandon.” On several occasions, this Hebrew word refers to spiritual issues (Judges 16:20; 1 Samuel 16:14; 2 Kings 18:6). So this verse is saying that when a child is mature enough to make his or her own decisions, he or she will not “abandon” the spiritual training received in the home.
Once again, I remind you that this is not a promise—only an observation about life. Even Solomon himself did not interpret this verse as a guarantee, for he realized that a son could forsake both the instruction of his father and mother (Prov. 1:8; 3:1; 4:1,2,10,20-22; 5:1,2,7-14; 6:20-24; 7:1-5,24-27; 8:32,33, etc.).
Bringing everything I have said together, this is my literal translation of Proverbs 22:6:
Dedicate, initiate, restrict, or discipline a child according to his or her particular bent, or with an understanding of how the bow has been bent by the predetermined actions on the part of God, and when a child is mature enough to make his or her own decisions, the child will not depart from his or her previous training.
I encourage you to listen to Focus on the Family, Family Talk, or Family Life Today. I encourage you to read books on the subject of the family by James Dobson, Dennis Rainey, Chuck Swindoll, Chip Ingram, and other popular Christian authors. But just remember that there is only one definitive book on child training—the Word of God which is why this study has been based on Scripture.
Several years ago, I received an email from a mother of one of the most faithful families in the church. In her email, she said that it appeared to her that most parents were having an easy time parenting—but parenting was difficult for her. Then, she asked, “What’s wrong with me?”
I replied by saying that there was nothing wrong with her. I told her that parenting is easy if you don’t care
what your children do
where they go
who they go with
what time they come home
what kind of attitude they have
what kind of language they use
what kind of clothing they wear
what type of movies or television shows they watch or music they listen to.
However, if these things that I mentioned are important to you (and they should be!)—then parenting will be difficult.
In short, I told this dear mother that it was because she was a good parent that she was having a difficult time. There are no shortcuts to raising godly children! Parenting is hard work!
Remember this principle—rules without relationships lead to rebellion. If your parenting style is to enforce a lot of rules—your child will at some level rebel. But if you develop a close relationship with your child centered upon your unconditional love for your child—they will not rebel.
Parenting is hard work, but children are worth it for a variety of wonderful reasons. By far the best reason is that if you do not kill them, they will give you life’s greatest gift—grandchildren, which will more than make-up for any trouble your children caused you.
Parenting truly is the toughest job that you will ever love.