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IN THE WAY HE SHOULD GO

Many commentators believe that Solomon has the genetic differences of children in mind in the oft-quoted Proverbs 22:6. There is much truth to the application that children should receive as much spiritual training as possible while young so they will re-main faithful throughout life (cf. 1 Samuel 1:28; 2:26; 12:2, 3; Ephesians 6:4). They should always be in Bible classes and worship services. Teaching them to pray to God, sing God's praise, quote God's Word, and associate with God's people is immensely important (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7; Psalm 78:3-6; 2 Timothy 3:15). 

Adam Clarke's comments are golden on Proverbs 22:6: The Hebrew of this clause is curious: chanoch lannaar al pi darco, "Initiate the child at the opening (the mouth) of his path." When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and be-gin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunctionof the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.

Proverbs 22:6 also has a broader application. Solomon is giving parents a rich resource in child-rearing. He predated the psychiatrists by twenty-five centuries. What family researchers and counselors are just now learning, Solomon said seven centuries B.C. Let's analyze his remarkable statement.
"Train up..." In Solomon's time the word from which this phrase is translated was used in two contexts: horses and babies. It was used to describe the rope placed in a horse's mouth to give direction while the rider was breaking it. The metaphorical thought behind the word is: bringing a wild spirit into submission by using a rope in the mouth. Thus the KJV idea of "train."

It was also used of babies. The Hebrew term behind "train up"' is derived from the "palate" (roof of the mouth). Kell and Delitzsch . say that "it signifies to affect the taste...to put date syrup into the mouth of the suckling." It was also used of a practice of mid-wives with newborns. Shortly after helping in the birth process, the midwife held the infant in her arms, dipped her index finger in crushed or chewed grapes or dates, and placed it into the child's mouth. She massaged the gums, palate, and roof of the mouth to cleanse them of afterbirth and encourage a sucking response. Then she would place the child in its mother's arms to feed from her breast. So the word came to be a metaphor for "developing a thirst." 

"...a child... " We think of a child as a toddler, or an elementary age youngster, but this Hebrew word covered a wider range of ages. It was used in Scripture of a newborn infant (1 Samuel 4:21), a young boy just weaned (1 Samuel 1:27), Ishmael in his preteens (Genesis 21:16), Joseph at seventeen (Genesis 37:2), and a young man ready for marriage (Genesis 34:19). Thus the term covers all the years a child is in his parent's house.

"In the way..." The term "in" means "in keeping with" or "according to."  The Hebrew word for way (dereck) suggests "characteristic, manner, or mode." Proverbs 30:18-19 uses this word four times and gives valuable insight into its meaning.

The way of an eagle in the air. An eagle behaves a certain "way" by instinct. It is beautiful to watch an eagle in the air. He soars, dips, cuts, climbs, and glides. Its style is coordinated and beautiful. The eagle has unique mannerisms.

The way of a serpent upon a rock. There is no other animal that travels quite like the slithery, silent movements of a snake. It has its own set of characteristics.

The way of a ship in the midst of the sea. A well-made vessel will climb one wave and plunge into the trough of the next. It is beautiful to behold the small (by comparison) craft ride out the storm on the limitless aquatic expanse.

The way of a manwith a maid.  Someone might say of a young man, "He just has a way with girls." It is not that he has read a book of romance. It just comes naturally to him.

In each case, "way" is a set of characteristics instead of a specific, well-defined, narrow path. Just so, children come to us with "instincts," unique mannerisms, natural inclinations. Just like an eagle and a snake, each child has a prescribed set of traits. A child is bent a certain way. A verb form of dereck is used in Psalm 11:2 to describe the wicked bending a bow to send an arrow toward a target (cf. Psalm 7:12). The children God places in our arms are not just pliable pieces of clay. They have pre-set characteristics. Some are strong and determined (cf. Daniel 1:8); others are weak, easily influenced by peer pressure (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33). Some are stubborn and aggressive; others are co-operative and willing. Some are naturally humorous and happy-go-lucky; others are serious. One is a creative dreamer; another is aggressive, practical, nonacademic, and technical.

Matthew Henry notes this phrase can mean: "Train up a child according as he is capable." Albert Barnes is more forceful, and persuasive:  according to the tenor of his way, i.e., the path especially belonging to, especially fitted for, the individual's character. The proverb en-joins the closest possible study of each child's temperament and the adaptation of "his way of life" to that.

Solomon is saying, "Observe your child, be sensitive and alert so as to discover his personality, and then train him."

Allen Webster
Glad Tidings of Good Things
Volume 9/December 2, 2004
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