If every word of scripture is true and inspired, why does Proverbs say this when this didn't work out for even God himself?

Pro 22:6 ESV

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

And yet...

Isa 1:2-4 NLT

2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the LORD says: "The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. 3 Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master's care--but Israel doesn't know its master. My people don't recognize my care for them." 4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are--loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

This isn't even an isolated incident, it was a recurring theme throughout the Bible:

Eze 20:17-18, 21 NLT

17 Nevertheless, I took pity on them and held back from destroying them in the wilderness. 18 "Then I warned their children not to follow in their parents' footsteps, defiling themselves with their idols.

21 "But their children, too, rebelled against me. They refused to keep my decrees and follow my regulations, even though obedience would have given them life. And they also violated my Sabbath days. So again I threatened to pour out my fury on them in the wilderness.

Are parents really expected to experience this promise from Proverbs with their own children, when God couldn't even keep his own children on the straight and narrow?

EDIT: being new to this forum, I am greatly disappointed with the cold, unfriendly treatment from alleged "Christians" downvoting me for simply asking a detailed and legitimate question, rather than providing any scholarly response to it.

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    Hi Nate, welcome to the site - hermeneutics is all about interpreting the text faithfully in its own context. I would suggest that this Q at its core this is a common misunderstanding of the intent of Proverbs. There are sayings in there which are exact opposites, for example Proverbs 26:4-5. The sayings are not immutable promises from God, but rather general truths. The book assumes that the recipient understands they need wisdom to know which saying to apply and when, and for what purpose.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 16:03
  • Thanks for the welcome, but your rebuke is ungrounded. I came looking for an exegetical explanation, not an insult to my intelligence and understanding. I do understand the simple differences in Prov 26:4,5, where we are not permitted to act like a fool, yet we are permitted to gracefully rebuke foolish arguments. (also. knowing "the time to keep silence, and a time to speak" - Eccl 3:7) HOWEVER... that is not at all analogous to Prov. 22:6, for there is no contra-indicated verse I found that dictates that raising a child diligently will inevitably produce a un-disciplined child. Is there?
    – user53351
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 17:25
  • 1
    Why does it need a competing verse? The principle is the same in both cases - these are proverbs, not promises. Truisms, not inevitabilities. They all apply sometimes, and the wisdom lies in applying them correctly. Apologies, I certainly did not mean to insult you - that's more or less the same phraseology I'd use to explain Proverbs and its genre to anybody. You've got to build your conceptual understanding of the text from the ground up.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 23:20
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    I agree, the treatment is well below the standard to be expected. I have opened a Meta question regarding this hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4027/…
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 11:06
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Biblical Hermeneutics Meta, or in Biblical Hermeneutics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 11:40

2 Answers 2


[Pro 22:6 ESV] 6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

This is an important question, perhaps not perfectly in accord with site rules, but important and worth saving/answering. What is to be noted in the quote is 'when he is old'. This allows for some considerable waywardness in the meantime. The time between 'a child' and 'when he is old' is a lifetime!

No parent has the right or the privilege to call their own kids. That is God's job alone - to call them to Jesus for the salvation process to begin. Of course, no person can initiate this as God is the one giving us to Jesus so Jesus can in turn, reconcile us with God.

If one is able to understand the salvation process correctly, they will need to put aside many doctrines that are not biblical but anti-biblical first. God is a God who saves. He is not a God who destroys out of anger or frustration or fiat.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Everyone will get their chance - one chance only, to 'believes in him'. This may happen in this or the next life according to Rev 20.

God has chosen the people he did because he wanted to as a part of his plan of salvation. No one will miss out on this at some point. He made us all, he can choose when to call someone to Jesus. A parent may be instrumental in laying the groundwork of conversion/repentance but this is not crucial to what god is doing. The thief of the cross needed no special upbringing to enable salvation. Unfortunately, the teaching of parents may not always align with what God holds true, especially if they impart non biblical concepts.

God will restore his children to their intended place - their names are written on the Holy City gates!

The 'recurring theme' you point to is a reality. It is a result of this being the devil's world - the god of this age. 2 Cor 4:4

All are deceived and will remain so until one of two things happen.,

  1. Jesus returns
  2. they are called into truth. This is quite different to becoming a member of a church. Suffice to say, they are all so different, they cannot be all of God or all possessing his truth.

Until deception is removed (satan is removed at Jesus' return for a while Rev 20:1-2), there can be no actual or authentic 'believers in Jesus'. It is impossible to believe in Jesus while deceived.

So to train up a child is a responsibility and opportunity where parents can instill some Godly traits in their children - this help a lot when they have to decide often between good and bad, right and wrong. But it does not guarantee salvation or lack of rebellion (as you point out). That is Jesus' job.

There is another matter that is equally important.

Unless the parents are 'keeping the law' and being responsible and obedient children themselves, Worshiping the Father in 'spirit and truth', we cannot expect God to honor any perceived promise regarding future generations of those parents. What you point out are conditional promises to those who would do as God expected, according to his laws of the time. They had their chance - many chances, but this still is not detrimental to their spiritual salvation. in another age yet future.

  • Thanks Finster, I appreciate the time you took to answer in a kind manner, as it does help clarify things better. So, I wasnt talking about a childs eternal salvation, but simply the disciplinary and behavioral aspect or parenting expectations. "If God couldnt why should I expect to be able to?" right? But, I liked your point of God's conditional promises, and it makes good sense— so IF we please/obey God, THEN he fulfils promises like this to us. Makes sense and is fair. I notice that too in scripture (Lev 26; Deut 4 etc.). Anyways, cheers and thnx again for the info!
    – user53351
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 13:54
  • Hey Finster, I have another thought, and Id appreciate your input. I get that God is only obligated to uphold promises made to us IF we do not forsake him or break his covenant. 2Ch 15:2 .."The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you." However, God is not like us, and is always faithful to His side of the covenant (Ps89:34), so why do you think His "children/people" Israel constantly wandered and rejected Him, seeing that He is not prone to making mistakes? Why did that proverb not apply to Him, at least?
    – user53351
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 13:03

Some things in Scripture need to be set in their immediate context and others require the whole backdrop of God's revelation in order to unpack them fully.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.  - Isaiah 1:2-4

The reason that this is astonishing, the reason that it indicates the iniquity of the people and incurs the Lord's anger is precisely that it goes against what is intended in child-rearing. The parent should carefully direct the child along right paths of thought and behavior and the child should honor father and mother by an attitude of 'trainability'.

The Proverb 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." is a succinct description of the how the child-rearing process is supposed to work. It is not so much a specific, individual promise as it is the path tending toward blessing and success in this particular endeavor.

While the Proverb in question does not contain a clear contraindication such as "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished." it does set itself against a very common biblical rebuke toward those who will not discipline their children:

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. - Proverbs 13:24

And, indeed, the training up of a child in the way that he should go must include such chastening, such sparing not of the rod of discipline. The reason this process is necessary is because of the child's sinful nature, that human disposition tending toward rebellion.

I believe that, if one looks at the biblical history of the nation of Israel one may quite clearly discern the chastening of the Lord as He trains up His children in the way that they should go. Later, as the New Covenant unfolds, we begin to see that not every individual person is a child of God by nature. We begin to see that:

they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:  Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.  That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. - Romans 9:6-8

In this way, the repeated and deepening rebellion not only of Israel but of all humanity and the resultant chastening from God should not be seen as a failure of Proverbs 22:6 but as a demonstration of the process laid out in that Proverb.

Those who are truly God's children, who are of the faith of Abraham and have been 'begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead', and who are 'elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ' these will not depart from the way they should go when they are old. Indeed, they are told that He who has begun a good work in them will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. For God, the process of the Proverb does not fail.

And if the Proverb is to be looked at from a merely human point of view, certainly common sense tells us that to leave a child completely untrained is a recipe for disaster and certainly experience has taught us that poor or inconsistent training brings similarly poor results ... in general.

  • Note: Young's Literal Translation renders the verse like this: "Give instruction to a youth about his way, Even when he is old he turneth not from it." Read like this it seems to say less about the content of the training and to be more of a declaration that child training produces results that are not turned away from regardless of whether the training is good or bad. Read like this it could be an explanation of how the sins of the fathers are passed along to the succeeding generations: No human parent is perfect, therefore no child will be trained perfectly.
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    Thanks Mike, good answer!
    – user53351
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 16:04

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