Why do so many children of Godly parents depart from God's Way of Life, even though Proverbs 22:6 says that they will not depart from it when they are old?


Proverbs 22:6 has caused many righteous parents, over the years, to
question their righteousness, or even their conversion, when their
children who had been trained in the way of righteousness and truth
later departed from it. They concluded that it must have been their
fault that their children did not stay loyal to God.

However, a
close look at Proverbs 22:6 might reveal that the righteous parents
caused unnecessary grief for themselves in this matter (Of course, we
must also realize that many parents who thought that they were
converted Christians might not have been converted at all, which might
be evidenced by the fact that they later left the Way of Truth, compare
1 John 2:19).

First of all, let us briefly rehearse a few
examples from the Biblical record of righteous parents and
less-than-righteous children. For instance, we know that David was a
righteous man who will be in the kingdom of God. But his son Absalom
rebelled against his father and God. David’s son Amnon violated his own
sister. And even David’s son Solomon departed from God’s way of
life–at least temporarily.

Samuel was a righteous prophet of God. But his sons did not walk in God’s ways (1 Samuel 8:3).

was God’s friend. God said of him that He knew that his descendants
would walk in the way of truth (Genesis 18:19). But in the case of
Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, his conversion came rather late in his
life–apparently when he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32).

was a righteous man, but the Bible does not say that his sons were
righteous. In fact, we read that his grandson Canaan, the son of Ham,
violated and sexually abused his own grandfather.

Lot was a righteous man, but this cannot be said about his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).

is even strong evidence to conclude that Moses’ grandson, Jonathan, was
deeply involved in idolatry (compare Q&A, “Moses’ Cushite Wife,” in
Update #136).

This is not to imply that those parents (or
grandparents) did everything right in their childrearing duties. They
certainly made mistakes, to be sure. But it cannot be assumed that they
did not at all train up their children in the path of righteousness.
Still, their children did not uphold that way in their later lives. Why?

read in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of a married couple are
“holy,” as long as at least one parent is a true Christian. This means
that they have been set aside for a holy purpose–that is, they CAN
come to and develop a relationship with God, if they want to. They are
not cut off from God, as the rest of the world is. But it is still
their responsibility to take hold of this opportunity (compare Q&A,
“1 Corinthians 7:14,” in Update #61).

The Bible makes it very
clear that in the end, every person is individually responsible for
what he or she is doing. To blame shortcomings on others is not going
to impress God in the slightest. In Ezekiel 18:4, God explains that the
soul which sins will die. He then describes a righteous father who
begets an unrighteous son, and explains that the unrighteous son will
die because of his unrighteousness, while the father will live because
of his righteousness (Ezekiel 18:5-13). Please note that even though
the father was righteous, his son turned out to be unrighteous. We also
read in Ezekiel 14:20:

“‘… even though Noah, Daniel, and Job
were in it, as I live,’ says the LORD God, ‘they would deliver neither
son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their

How, then, are we to understand Proverbs 22:6?
It reads: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old
he will not depart from it.”

Some claim, this passage implies
that the child might depart for a while from God’s Way of Life, but
later return to what he has been trained in. Some go a step further and
claim that the correct rendering should be, “Train up a child in the
way he should go, EVEN when he is old he will not depart from it.” They
teach that this passage conveys the thought that the child will never
depart from his way, throughout his life, including or even when he is
old. Most, though, reject this rendering and interpretation.

commentaries feel, however, that this passage does not address the
concept of training a child in the way of God’s righteousness.

Soncino Commentary writes: “The intention is not ‘the way of
uprightness and good living,’ but ‘for the way in which he is to spend
his life.’ Whatever occupation he is later to follow, it is necessary
to prepare him for it in his early years, because then are habits
formed which influence his conduct in manhood.”‘

The Broadman
Bible Commentary disagrees slightly, pointing out: “The ‘way he should
go’ of v. 6 is not defined specifically, but in the context there can
be little doubt that it includes the way reflected in the positive
elements of vv. 1, 3, 4, 5, i.e., pious and properly prepared for life.
However, this may well include vocational training as well. The
training needed for life should be given in the early years, when
habits and patterns of behavior and work are set.”

In light of
the fact that the Bible emphasizes individual responsibility, it must
be concluded that Proverbs 22:6 does not intend to impress the idea
that the righteous teaching of parents will automatically lead to the
conversion of a child. It is true, of course, that parents are to teach
their children about God and His Way of Life (Deuteronomy 11:18-19).
But this does not mean that converted parents can bring about the
conversion of their children. God must do the calling and lead one to
conversion, and He calls whom HE chooses. He called Jacob and refused
to call Esau before they were born (Romans 9:9-13)–regardless of how
Isaac and Rebecca would raise them. In addition, the children
themselves have their own responsibility in the matter. We read that
King Josiah was about 16 years old when he “began to seek the God of
his father David…” (2 Chronicles 34:3).

In conclusion, Proverbs
22:6 does not contain an unconditional promise that the training of a
righteous parent will bring about the conversion of his or her
children. The chances may be greatly increased, but the actual calling
to conversion and salvation is still subject to God’s Will and the
child’s reaction in the matter. But what an unspeakable joy and
blessing it is when righteous parents see their children follow them in
their paths of righteousness.

For more information on proper
child-rearing and the mystery of God’s Calling in this day and age,
please read our free booklets, “The Keys to Happy Marriages and
and “Are You Predestined to be Saved?”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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