Train up a child in his path,
Even when he grows old, he will not depart from it.
The primary issue here is being diligent in raising our children appropriately. It focuses our mind upon the great (life-long) responsibility this entails, one of hard work and discipline.
“in his path”
Read within the context of the book, there is no way this could mean leaving our children to their own devices, according to their natural tendencies. According to Proverbs, there is one and only one “path” or “way” that should be trod, the way of wisdom.
“Even when he grows old…”
The second half of the verse has received the most scrutiny and misunderstanding. The question at hand is whether this is (1) a blanket promise, (2) a test of good parenting, or (3) a general principle of life.
If this were considered a blanket promise, then I believe we could all point to a friend, family, or experience that would contradict this principle. To be honest, as we read through Proverbs, I’m sure that each of us come across certain statements that don’t seem to be in our lives. What are we to make of this?
The basic answer to this type of dilemma is to remember the type of book we are reading. The genre of a proverb is such that it makes a general claim based upon observation of life. In other words, any individual proverb is not necessarily true in every circumstance, but all things being equal, the writer believes it to be true. His belief, however, is based upon the nature of God and the maturity that comes with observing his life and the lives of others. As Tremper Longman III states (Proverbs, 405): “The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in was that are most likely to lead them to desired consequences if all things are equal.”
Therefore, when approaching this verse, we must remember that we may be able to point to a real situation that contradicts this, but as a general principle of life, our children are more apt to follow a godly path if we have diligently instilled biblically wise principles into them. This presupposes that we parents possess the skill for living under the fear of the Lord that Proverbs teaches and that we diligently teach our children to be wise and discerning, not foolish and naive.
The hermeneutics of reading proverbs also informs the second option. That is, parents must remember that even if they persistently discipline and instruct their children, in reality children some times refuse to hear the counsel of their parents. Proverbs has a term for such a child, and it is “fool.” At some point, our children must choose of their own volition either to follow the path passed down to them by their parents or to seek a way of their own devising.
Thus, within the context of reality, parents may falter and fail in their obligations to their children and yet their children continue on the path of wisdom. There are enough individuals who came to know God out of a pagan background to prove this point. On the other hand, however, a parent may do everything in their power to instruct their children, but the child may fail to continue in such a life. There are many who have abandoned the community of faith who prove this point. Nevertheless, the point of the verse is true: Our children are more apt to follow the path of righteousness if we as parents have (1) demonstrated the blessing that comes with following wisdom and (2) trained them up in this path.