Most of us who regularly attend church can recite this verse by heart and understand the value of good parental discipline on behalf of our children. But with so many recent news stories where children have been horribly abused because of fanatical interpretations of this verse, I thought it would be a good idea to drill down into the ancient Hebrew understanding of the word “train” to see what it meant to the people thousands of years ago. (And just to let you know, it does not refer to anything remotely connected to heavy discipline like navy seal training).
The Hebrew word for train in this verse is pronounced “chanak” which in our modern bibles is interpreted as “Dedicate” It is interpreted as dedicate three times in the Old Testament and used only once as “train”. If we substitute this word “dedicate” in place of “train” the verse would say “dedicate a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That places this passage into a new context. But is this what was really meant by Solomon when he wrote this proverb?
So I drilled down to another level and went into the ancient Hebrew meaning. I was very surprised how this word came about which really cleared up the confusion I had about this verse. As many know, Hebrew words relate to actions. “chanak/dedicate is explained in the ancient Hebrew Lexicon: “An infant is trained to suck by placing a sour substance on the roof of the mouth.” So in our modern minds, dedicating refers to something ceremonial, but in the true biblical context it means to “induce”. Imagine a newborn child who has no compulsion to suckle. If the child refuses, he will die. It is up to the parent to compel the child to suckle by employing a rather ingenious solution; placing something sour upon the roof of the mouth.
Our heavenly Father applies the “sour” circumstances of life to induce us into suckling on the milk that brings eternal life. He resorts to this because our sinful nature does not naturally exercise the seeking and suckling actions on its own. “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you… when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13)