Today’s reading brought a proverb that many of us are familiar with; “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. So I would like to take a brief look at what Solomon was talking about here. First of all this speaks of the importance of parental instruction. From school subjects to things of the Lord, sports to the ways of life, parents are called to be teachers, leaders and examples for their children. For Israelite families learning came through conversation, example, and imitation. Their training was peaked by actual life situations…things like Passover, festivals, and family traditions. This points us right back to Deuteronomy 6:4-9; the admonishment to teach your children when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise. In the ancient Near East storytelling was used for teaching, often in the instruction of religious truths and matters of faith for children. It is important to remember that lessons learned in childhood will last a lifetime, whether they are good or bad.
When babies are born it is a joyous occasion. New life is a gift of great value. But new life is also a great responsibility, because the child needs to be taught as well as cared for. And for better or worse, the things that are important to the parents will be what is important to the child as well, especially in matters of faith. The word train in this proverb means to ‘dedicate’ and the word used for ‘way’ typically refers to living correctly in God’s sight. Solomon was advising parents to set their child aside for special use, to dedicate him or her to the Lord and His path for them. The verb train also includes the idea of encouraging a child to do good through words of guidance, discipline, and encouragement on the right path. Solomon is saying that a parent’s main task is to welcome a child as a charge from the Lord and then dedicate that child to God’s ways.
Some have taken the phrase “when he is old he will not depart from it” as a promise. They believe it to be a guarantee that proper parenting will always result in a child having a saving relationship with the Lord. But Proverbs presents general principles, not promises. This verse gives parents the assurance that the lessons learned will last a lifetime but whether or not the child learns to follow the Lord will, in part, depend on the child’s own choices. Lessons given at the crucial stages of childhood will not go away. This points to the need for solid parental discipline and guidance. Gods promises to enable parents for their task, but He does not promise to make decisions for any child. Each generation is responsible for their own relationship to and with God.
Some look at this proverb as a religious rabbit’s foot that parents and grandparents resort to when children stray from the Lord. The proverb is interpreted to mean they will stray for a time but then come back. But that isn’t what it says. This proverb says that if children are raised in the wisdom and way of the Lord, they won’t stray at all. Even in old age they will follow the wisdom of the Lord. Let me take this a step farther. Many of us are living the journey of having adult children who were raised in the church and now have walked away. But they can never escape the prayers of their parents and grandparents and others. Nor can they walk away from the seeds of faith that have been sown in their hearts. We are called to pray and pray and pray some more. We are called to trust that God will bring those who have strayed back to Him. We invite and encourage, model the behavior of a believer, and pray some more. It is not up to us to make people believe. We sow the seeds, live as examples, teach and encourage, but it is the Holy Spirit who moves in the hearts of each of us, drawing us closer to the Lord.
In today’s reading we see a shift in the proverbs. Verses 22:17-24:22 mark a new section of the Book of Proverbs. The content changes and we see three elements that distinguish this section. First of all the proverbs change from one verse units to multiple verse units. Second there are section headings that are embedded in the text, and third, this section of Proverbs has many similarities to ancient Egyptian wisdom texts, especially that of a wise man named Amenemopet…Amen-em-opet. This section is ascribed to a group called the wise. Exactly who they were is unknown. In 22:20 there is a reference to thirty sayings, and the wisdom that follows can be divided into thirty sections that are similar to what Amenemopet has written. His writing is divided intro thirty chapters. The introductory words of 22:17-21 call upon the reader to pay attention and prepare to learn about and worship God. The advice emphasizes strongly that a person’s trust must be in the Lord.
So a few thoughts here about this new section. Solomon changes his way of writing. His observations become more personal and are more closely linked to each other. The wise man here shows the power and the use of the Word of God. He calls for people to pay attention because he was not speaking about ordinary things. Now he is referring to the sayings of the wise. Wisdom is attractive. It is both pleasing and profitable. But people of the world don’t understand how anything that is associated with the Lord can be attractive or pleasurable. For these folks, anything to do with the Lord spoils all their pleasure. But as believers we know that our hearts are full when we are part of what the Lord is up to, both in our lives and the lives of others. The fruit here comes from the tree of life and it is sweeter than honey. There is a link here between the heart and the lips. Our words should be like a string of rich and precious pearls because the lips of the righteous feed many people. Proverbs 10:21. But we cannot speak wisdom until our hearts have been given over to meditation and understanding of the Word of the Lord. Psalm 49:3. Words of wisdom are powerless unless they are first applied to us personally.
Solomon reminds us that sin is contagious. And because we are all sinners who fall short it is easy for us to get caught up in things we shouldn’t. Sometimes friendship blinds us to what someone is doing that is not healthy for anyone. Being friends with a hot tempered person is like living in a house that is on fire. As kids we learn what we live. If we have a father who is proud we will soon be like him and turn into an overbearing person. It is easier to learn to be angry than it is learning to be meek. It is much more fun to take from people than it is to give. It is much easier to avoid conflict than its is to deal with issues that arise. Many of the proverbs in this book are addressed to young men who are learning at their father’s knee. But these proverbs aren’t just for sons. They are for daughters as well. And truth be told, they are good reminders for all of us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W