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Proverbs 22:6 is NOT a Promise

Proverbs 22:6Once in a ladies’ Bible study group, a young mother of three small boys made a bold declaration. “If you raise your kids correctly and to follow God, they will never rebel.”

Her words hit the room like a wrecking ball. Most of us knew that two godly mothers in the group were dealing with rebellious teenagers. You could see the anguish on their faces. And the empathy on the faces of most of the rest of the group. “Young mother of three small boys” was clueless.

As the leader, I knew I had to do something. As graciously and kindly as possibly I attempted to minimize the damage she had done.

I have no doubt this young woman meant well, but she should never have made this statement. She was claiming something to be fact, but was not speaking from a place of knowledge or experience. Her boys were all five and under. I mean, seriously, what did she know about rebellious kids?

So if her statement didn’t come from knowledge or experience, where did she get the idea that if you raise your children “correctly” they won’t ever stray? More than likely, she got it from the Bible book of Proverbs. You may be familiar with the verse too:

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Yes, the verse – like all the others in Scripture – is the inspired, authoritative Word of God. But “young mother of three small boys,” and many of us too, have wrongly claimed this verse as a blanket promise from God. We may have even been taught that this is a promise from God.

Over the last couple of Thursdays, I’ve posted about verses that are often misunderstood because they are taken out of context. (See also, “Do you misuse Philippians 4:13” and “What’s the Good of Romans 8:28.”) Proverbs 22:6 is often misunderstood because we fail to consider the literature genre.

The book of Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature. “The Introduction to Biblical Interpretation” by Dr. William Klein and Dr. Craig Blomberg define a proverb like this:

“By nature proverbs are not absolute promises from God that guarantee the promised outcome if one follows them. Rather, they point out patterns of conduct that, if followed, give one the best chance of success. In other words, they offer general principles for successful living rather than a comprehensive “legal code for life'” (page 315).

Considering the nature of a proverb then, God does not promise us that if we diligently teach our children about God and His ways, and raise them to love Him they will grow into godly, responsible adults. Though it is far more likely to turn out that way if we do, then if we don’t.

The grief of many godly parents has been multiplied because they misunderstood Proverbs 22:6. Jen Wilken comments on this in her book “Women of the Word:”

“Reading a proverb as a promise can lead to heartache and doubt. Understanding it as a general rule for life can point us toward wise decision-making.”

Many godly parents have taken this verse as a promise. But then their teenager rebelled or their young adult walked away from the faith. The parents were shaken to the core. Where did we go wrong? Why did God allow this to happen? Why wasn’t God faithful?

So, what do we do with Proverbs 22:6? And all the other proverbs? We accept them as God’s inspired Word. We read and study them. We embrace them as the best principles to live lives that please and honor God. And we entrust our children to God who is indeed faithful!

Have you ever misunderstood Proverbs 22:6 as a promise? Have you been “disappointed” by Proverbs 22:6? How can we find comfort in the truth that this verse is not a promise?

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9 Responses to Proverbs 22:6 is NOT a Promise

  1. Toni August 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Soooo true Kathy. Wonderful words of wisdom. Wish someone would have told me this when my kids were young. I found out the hard way and yes, I was disappointed and discouraged.

  2. Kathy Heller August 13, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    Ok, having not studied as much as you have, this is more thoughts than statements.

    1st: If proverbs are simply guidelines than promises where does that leave us when it comes to Proverbs 3:5-10?

    2nd: Proverbs 22:6 does not ever say that your children will not rebel, walk away from the faith, or always follow God. The “promise” is that “when he is OLD he will not depart from it”
    Basically, we have to lay the foundation and pray and trust God that He will complete the work that He and we as parents started.

    I look forward to your response!

    • Kathy August 14, 2015 at 8:20 am #

      Hi Kathy, thanks for commenting. Good questions! I will do my best to answer thoughtfully and prayerfully. Proverbs 22:6 involves two human elements – the parents and the children. Yes, God is working, but the children have free will in the way they respond to godly parenting. I have seen families where siblings all have the same parents but one child chooses to go their own way and never returns to the faith. But the principle is still true: It is more likely that children will follow Christ when faith is modeled by their parents.

      The glorious thing about Proverbs 3:5-10 is that the outcome is based on the faithfulness and wisdom of God. Not another flawed human. And even then, the result is more heavily spiritual than physical. We must interpret Scripture with Scripture. For instance, Proverbs 3:7-8 says that those who seek the Lord’s wisdom, fear Him, and shun evil will have “health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Yet, how many godly people have you known that have had cancer or some other illness? When we consider this passage in light of its genre and the whole of Scripture, we know that we live in a fallen world, that Jesus said we would have trouble in this world, but that God walks with us through it. He gives us strength and comfort in the midst of trouble and uses it in our lives to bring about His purposes and to make us more like Jesus.

      I hope that helps. I do not have all the answers. But I do know that we can trust God and rely on His faithfulness no matter what our physical circumstances look like!

  3. Toni August 13, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

    Wonderful wirds of wisdom. Wish someone had shared this wisdom with me when my kids were young. I learned the hard way.

  4. Ms. V October 21, 2017 at 2:48 am #

    The scripture says, and when he is OLD he will not depart from it. NOWHERE in the bible or Proverbs 22:6 does it say, that your children are not going to cause you grief. What? Do we not ourselves cause God the Father grief? Do we forget that we were once young and that our dirty little lies catch back up to us, even if it’s through our children! 1 Cor 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. The bible doesn’t give us age, it depends on each person able to understand. Some children learn to read at the age three, but they don’t understand every word they can pronounce.

    Just as we are not perfect nor will our teens be perfect. But, yes, but when they allow wisdom to surface, all that reading the bible and remembering their parent wise words, a little will shine in them as it does us older women. The woman was correct to say what she believes to be true. A wise woman would have said, “Let turn to Luke 15 and read about the two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
    13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
    17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

    Sometimes we have to bump our heads a few times before we can smell the coffee. John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye MIGHT have PEACE. In the world ye shall have Tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. “Greater is he that is in you than he who is in the world.” 2 Cor 4-8 Part We have troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
    Proverbs 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
    Proverbs 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
    Proverbs 19:18 Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
    Proverbs 29:15,17 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

    Remember that God gives his Angels charge over us to protect us, but, yes, that but, Satan also has angles out here to try to get us to stumble, get us to blame God for not keeping our children on the path of rightousness. We all fall down, but as God’s children, we know how to bounce back up and try again. Just be there when they really need you. Not getting them out of every little thing.

    Keep being a Proverbs 31 Women 10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

  5. Azuwama sandrison February 11, 2018 at 7:23 am #

    A coding to the book of proverbs 22:6 what you understand about it is that a promise, statement, instruction or saying

  6. Ed April 12, 2018 at 11:54 pm #

    Does not the phrase “in the way he should go”, or more accurately “in his way” refer to a child’s vocational calling rather than to a moral way of life?

    In other words, if a child has certain talents or traits, the parents ought to steer that child in that direction because — as a general rule — the child will not depart from that way when the child gets older.

    If Proverbs 22 was referring to moral training then why dis the writer not say “Train up a child in the way of righteousness and when he is old, he will not depart from it”.

    • Kathy April 13, 2018 at 7:56 am #

      Hi Ed, thanks for sharing that. I have read that explanation as well, but I have also read commentaries that refute that understanding. In context of the book of Proverbs, there are two “roads” or “paths” one can choose to take – the way of evil (foolishness) or the way of righteousness (wisdom). Proverbs clearly encourages us to take the path of wisdom. Either way, a proverb by nature of the genre is a principle, not a promise. So we can “train” our children toward wisdom and righteousness but they will ultimately be the one to make the choice.

      • Ed April 13, 2018 at 9:58 am #

        Thank you, Kathy, for the prompt response. God bless you!

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