“Consecrating Our Children”

Train up a child in the way he should go;

even when he is old he will not depart from it.

(Proverbs 22:6)


This is a great text for instruction on the issue of parenting. The way I have heard this text presented (and have presented it this way myself) is that, generally – this being a proverb – if you train your children to love and obey God when they are young they will love and obey God as adults. Presented this way from the pulpit the pain on parents’ faces whose children have grown up only to leave the faith is evident. They blame themselves for not training their children right or, worse, they blame God for not keeping His promise. Is this fair?


What is a “proverb”?


It is important to remember what a “proverb” is. The word comes from a root which means “likeness.” The related verb means “to be like, be comparable with.” For example, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12). A proverb is an object lesson based on a comparison or an analogy (Psa. 78:2-6), a short, pithy statement (Ezek. 16:44) or a general saying (Deut. 28:37). Proverbs are memorable sayings that, if heeded, generally turn out true in life.

So let’s revisit Proverbs 22:6. God is not making a hard-and-fast promise, “If you do A, God will always do B as a result.” Proverbs is not computer code for life. God’s wisdom in the book of Proverbs is given in short statements that capture a general truth about wise and godly living in poetic form. It is beyond the scope of any one proverb to exhaust the subject it addresses. You might say a proverb is the rule and not the exception (for the exceptions, see Ecclesiastes). So as a rule, if parents follow the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6a, verse 6b will probably result.


What does it mean to “train up” a child?


Wisdom teaches us to “train up” our children. This conjures images, at least in my mind, of training an animal like a dog or a horse to do tricks. This gives the impression that parenting isn’t too far different than potty training a beagle. This (mis)conception is furthered by newlyweds thinking that getting a dog somehow prepares them for parenthood. Believe, me, IT DOES NOT! Your dog is nothing like your child and to compare the two is equally humorous and dehumanizing.


Here’s what I mean. The verb translated “train up” can also mean “to dedicate” or “to consecrate.” The same word used in reference to children in Proverbs 22:6 is used to refer to dedicating a house (Deut. 20:5), the temple (1 Kgs. 8:63; Psa. 30:1), altars (Num. 7:10; 2 Chron. 7:9) and the town walls (Neh. 12:27). A related adjective describes men who have been trained, tried and experienced (Gen. 14:14).

So how does this all fit in with parenting our children? The proverb pictures a child who is dedicated to the Lord. This certainly involves morally training him but that training and guidance is motivated by a deeper desire to consecrate this precious gift of human life to the Creator’s service. This reminds me of Hannah’s attitude in 1 Sam. 1:11, “And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Hannah had the right mental picture of parenthood. Her inability to bear children like other women left her in humility and disgrace in the community but it also gave her a deeper appreciation for children and a higher perspective on parenting. To Hannah, the life of a child was a gift from God meant to be given back to Him in faithful service.


In what “way” are children trained?


The “way” talked about in the proverb is a path, a road, a metaphor for the journey of life. We dedicate our children to the Lord by starting our children on a path headed in a certain direction at a young age.


The writer isn’t necessarily saying we should set our child on a path toward God like Hannah (which we obviously should!). The proverb remains true no matter how you train your child. It means that when we are set on a path as a child, whether that pathway is righteous (Prov. 13:6) or wicked (Prov. 12:26), we will seldom deviate from that path later in life.


This proverb is a warning about the character forming habits we instill in our children at an early age. They are “soaking up” how to live life based on what they see in mom and dad. Our children are being set on a trajectory, a heading, whether they or their parents know it or not. As the Lord says through Ezekiel, “like mother, like daughter” (Ezek. 16:44).


Now, the “way he should go” is stated elsewhere in the book. There is a “way that seems right” to a person (Prov. 14:12) which, to the child, is often the way of “foolishness” (Prov. 22:15). It is the godly parent’s duty to dedicate their children to the Lord at the earliest moments of parenthood. Continuing that act of consecration requires parental “discipline” (Prov. 22:15) along the “way.” The NEB translates Proverbs 22:6a as, “Start a boy on the right road.” Sound wisdom and a dire warning. A true proverb!