Decoding Proverbs 22:6: A Deeper Look into Biblical Parenting

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“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” Proverbs 22:6.

Decoding Proverbs 22:6. It’s a straightforward verse. Right? Wrong! This isn’t an easy verse to interpret.

Let’s begin with the genre. The term “proverb” comes from the Hebrew root word meaning “to be like.” Proverbs are comparisons that illustrate truths about life.

One of the best-known Welsh proverbs is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Does it mean we’ll never get sick if we eat an apple daily? No. The “apple a day” proverb teaches us that eating nutritious food helps us stay healthy.

Considerations.

Biblical proverbs are not promises or prophecies. Proverbs 22:6 does not assure you that if you teach your children about God, they won’t stray from Him when they leave your home. And it’s not a prediction of what’s to come. There are no guarantees you’ll have good children if you’re a good parent. Good parents can have bad children, and bad parents can have good children.

There are no guarantees you'll have good children if you’re a good parent. Good parents can have bad children, and bad parents can have good children. Share on X

Proverbs 22:6 also isn’t an instruction to train your children according to their unique giftedness, temperament, character, or God-given abilities. God doesn’t ask us to do things we can’t do. Parents don’t know how God has sovereignly wired their children, what work they’ll be doing as adults, or what His plans and purposes are for their lives. So how can they train their children to these ends?

Nor is this proverb a warning about what happens when a child isn’t parented according to God’s Word. Yes, one of the themes in the book of Proverbs is the gravity of depravity. And yes, the book of Proverbs reminds us that to be a fool, you must simply do nothing. But this verse isn’t saying that if children get their own way, they’ll grow up to be self-willed, self-absorbed, entitled, or incapable of change.

Exegesis.

How do we set about decoding Proverbs 22:6? A careful examination of the words and phrases provides some guidance.

The Hebrew verb commonly translated as “start off,” “train up,” “direct,” or “teach,” is chanak. This verb only occurs five times in the Bible. Chanak is used twice to refer to the dedication of a newly built house (Deuteronomy 20:5), twice to the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:63, 2 Chronicles 7:5), and once in Proverbs 22:6.

Hanukah, or Chanukah (formed from the word chanak), is the Jewish festival celebrating the cleansing and rededication of the Temple. In the four uses of this verb, the object chanaked is either the house of an Israelite or the house of God. To chanak a house is to say, “This place belongs to this person and no one else.” In other words, to chanak a house is to say that the house is set aside, dedicated, claimed, owned, and occupied by someone.

Dedicate a child to be orientated to the Lord, and they will rarely deviate from that path. Share on X

Now look at the phrase “on the way they should go.” The literal translation from Hebrew is “according to his way.” It carries the idea that a child should go in a specific direction. The British Methodist theologian Adam Clarke says in his commentary that it means to “initiate the child at the opening of his path.”

The final phrase in the proverb is, “… even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This isn’t an ironclad guarantee. It simply means that when children are set on a path, they rarely deviate from that path. We should, therefore, understand the final phrase as a statement of probability – not a definite outcome.

Putting this together with chanak, the literal Hebrew rendering of the proverb is “Dedicate a child according to his way: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

My paraphrase is, “Dedicate a child to be orientated to the Lord, and they will rarely deviate from that path.”

Interpretation.

By decoding Proverbs 22:6, we can deduce that God wants parents to set aside their children.

Biologically, our children share our DNA (unless they’re adopted). But shared DNA, while it legally ties your children to you and you to your children, doesn’t give you spiritual ownership of your children. Yes, your children are yours on one level, but on another level, they belong to God.

When our children lived in our home, and one of my sons or my daughter misbehaved, my wife would say, “Speak to your child.” Isn’t it strange how our children are ours when they’re good and our spouses when they’re bad?! But the truth is, whether our children are good or bad, they’re God’s children.

The point is this – God claims your children. You love them, but He loves them more! Share on X

The proverb’s main thrust is about handing your children over to God. From conception, in their formative years, and when they’re youth, we should repeatedly chanak our children to the Lord. The point is this – God claims your children. You love them, but He loves them more! He loves them so much that He sent His Son to die for them so they could find forgiveness of sin and be reconciled to Him. It’s remarkable. Jesus formed your children in the womb, and He claimed your children on the cross.

Because God claims your children, He wants them to be temples for His Spirit. He wants to reside in your children’s bodies, minds, and souls. More than anything else, Jesus wants the hearts of your children to be occupied by Him.

Application.

Just as a Jew would chanak his house, and Solomon chanaked God’s temple, parents should chanak their children. Have you done this? Do your children know they belong to the Lord? Does God know your intentions? Have you said, “This is God’s child and no one else’s. The world and the devil have no claim on this child. In our family, this is the way things stand!”

Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to the Lord (1 Samuel 1:28). Dedicate your children to God. You could say, “Lord, my daughter/son (name of child) belongs to you. I give her/him totally into your care for her/his whole life. Occupy her/him Lord, and help her/him to live only and always for you. Amen”

Maybe you’ve done this before, or perhaps you haven’t. Decoding Proverbs 22:6 is something you do in the here and now. Even if you’ve done it before, there’s no harm in doing it repeatedly. So, chanak your son/daughter to God.

Related Article

Parenting Advice from Proverbs

Raising Children of Faith: The Significance of Child Dedication

© Scripture Union, 2024

2 Corinthians 4:5

One Response

  1. Absolutely Love That Wonderful Teaching about Proverbs 22:6
    God started First Sunday School within the Home by Instructing Moses Deut 6:4
    May God Bless you more and More

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