Train Up a Child Reinterpreted
How many times have we heard the scripture from Proverbs 22:6 that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”? We can quote it from memory. It’s probably one of the most familiar scriptures to parents and church leaders about our children. It brings great comfort to our hearts. But here is how the modern day Christian mentally interprets this verse:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he becomes a teenager he may backslide, and go out into the world for a while. But when he is old he will come back to the Lord and serve Him.”
I’m telling the truth, aren’t I? We don’t say it in so many words, but this is the scripture we use to console parents who have wayward youth, right? It’s like the last thing we feel we can hold on to when our kids go astray. And in many cases, I’ve heard Christians imply that this is the norm—that we should just expect our teens to go out and sow their wild oats, because that’s what young people do. So this is our verse to reassure us that’s ok, and we can look for them to return sooner or later.
Don’t Lose Your Hope
I don’t want to rob you of your hope. If you have a young person who has strayed from his childhood faith, by all means hold on to this promise. I truly believe the seeds we plant in the hearts of young children will bear fruit. The Bible promises us his Word “will not return void, but it will accomplish what he sent it to do.”(Isaiah 55:11)
But the statistics of youth-straying-and-coming-back-when-old just don’t bear this interpretation out of this scripture out, at least not in huge numbers. Of course, we all know stories where this has happened. And we rejoice with those families whose prodigals have returned! But in truth, the longer a person stays away from God, normally the deeper in sin they go, the more rooted in ungodly habits they become, the more life’s tragedy they endure. Then like someone hooked on drugs, it takes a miracle for them to get set free. Those are the stories we do not like to hear about.
The reasons kids leave their childhood faith are a list as long as your arm. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Families can be complicated! Relationships can be crazy complicated! And discussing them is not just a different article, but it’s a book! It is not the purpose of this particular post.
What we need to know for now is the way we have interpreted this verse as modern Christians is not the way the Hebrew people did back in the day it was written. Let’s look at the verse again, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” I want you to notice the word “old.” In the Strong’s Concordance, the word in Hebrew is “zaqen.” It means “to be old, become old, to grow old, show age.”
To the culture of the day when they heard this verse, they heard, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old enough to grow a beard [i.e. goes through puberty] he will not depart from it.” In other words when this child is old enough to grow hair on his face, if you have trained him right, he will not depart from his training! What a vastly different interpretation they had! Their expectation was that if they did their job training the child he would never depart from his faith at all!
What the Hebrews Were Expecting
I don’t know about you, but like this interpretation a whole lot better than what we have assumed it said! And if you know anything about faith at all, you know that it carries “expectation” with it. Our expectations of something can many times be self-fulfilling prophecies! The question then becomes what did the Hebrew people know about raising children that we don’t because they got the results they were expecting.
Please forgive me, all parents who have been struggling with wayward children. By no means am I implying you were expecting this, and if you would have just had a positive mental attitude this would have never happened. Honestly, that is not what I’m saying. I’m using the word expectation more as a Christian culture than for individual parents.
But the Jewish people did in fact know many things about raising children to follow the faith of their fathers better than 21st century Christians do. We are going to explore many of those things in our conference “Revolutionary Parenting,” October 3-5. We all are looking for answers of how to keep our children serving God throughout their whole lives.
If it is not possible for you to physically attend this conference, remember it will be streamed LIVE, but you do need to register in advance.
Kids in Ministry International
PO Box 549 * 111 Collins Avenue
Mandan, ND 58554