Prov 22:6 (ESV)
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it
This proverb is widely misunderstood. The misunderstanding arises from the English phrase “in the way he should go” as translated from the Hebrew words, AKr>d: yPi-l[; (al-pi darko) – literally “according to the way of his mouth“. Idiomatically the phrase means “according to his own values“. In other words, a child who is allowed to adopt his own values is unlikely to change them when he’s older
What do we learn from this?
This proverb teaches us two important points: First, we are to teach values, i.e., the why, not how, we choose the way we go. Second, the proverb warns us that a child can not be allowed to “pick and choose” according to his will because, if he adopts bad values, changing those values will be very difficult. Parents are to teach their values.
This second point is the main point of the proverb, but it can not be fully understood unless we understand the first. To this end, consider that, in the Holy Scriptures (and no less in the secular world) the word ‘love’ describes what one values most. Thus, to love chocolate is to value chocolate over and above, say, vanilla. In accord with this particular proverb, the parent who teaches his child to love chocolate will motivate the child in later life to choose chocolate over other flavors. In the calculus of flavor preferences, a person behaves according to the values he was taught to adopt in his youth.
The proverb assumes, correctly, that we behave according to what we value. In other words, we order our lives to maximize that which we love. So, what values are we to teach? Easy – just read Deut 6:5, then Lev 19:18, 19:34, followed by Matt 7:12. Then, for the slow learners among us, Jesus summarizes and prioritizes these values in Matt 22:37.
Now that we understand that the proverb is centered on values, not rules, we can easily understand the second point: that a child who is allowed to adopt values of his own choosing (“al-pi darko“) will not, in later life, be easily be persuaded to change those values. We know from other texts (e.g., Deut 6:7) that we are to imbue our children with God’s moral values — not our own. Thus, we learn that unless a child is taught to adopt God’s moral values from the very beginning, all rules and regulations (even the ten commandments) are emptied of their power to order one’s life according to what God loves.
I close this lesson with a related proverb, 29:15, that raises an important issue to be dealt in a later post.
Authority and correction are the source of a child’s wisdom. A child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
What does the Bible have to say about the role of corporal punishment when raising children. To this end, read and reflect on the following verses: Prov 13:24, 19:18, 23:13, 23:14, and 29:15 – Like this lesson, these scriptures are also widely misunderstood — especially when taken literally.
Now, go and study