The title of this article is an expression that many have used as children when playing the game of “Hide and Seek.” If we were the one who had the task of counting while our friends went to hide, this is what we called out loud and clear when the time came to find them. I have to wonder that if unborn children could speak, would this be their call moments before being born?
I assume that some who read this article are couples who excitedly await, or have already experienced, the birth of a first child. As those months of expecting pass, we come to the awful realization that we have no experience for what lies ahead. Like Samson’s father, Manoah, we ask the question, “How should the child be raised and what should he do?” (Judges 13:12, NET Bible). A quick mind may proudly respond, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). The advice is good but is it just that easy?
The book of Proverbs is largely devoted to imparting God-given wisdom to parents who are then to instill it in the minds of the following generations. Those of us who have gone through those child-rearing years recognize that much was missed. However, many can still gain from these wise teachings. It begins with a father’s advice, David, recorded by his son, Solomon, in the early chapters, and concludes with a mother, likely Bathsheba, speaking to the same son (some suggest that Lemuel in Proverbs 31:1 is Solomon). Solomon, in chapter 4:3-4 and 1:8, recognized the immeasurable benefit of having both a father and a mother who devoted themselves to his upbringing. Couples need to understand that some of the instructions in Proverbs are primarily principles, not promises. Let’s consider two main parenting principles; training and discipline.
Training the child in chapter 22:6 is a principle that generally yields good results. But it is not a promise that the child will be saved. Our society today has been shaped with the idea that children are born morally good and that only their environment will influence them for good or evil (contrast 22:15a). No one can deny that the reckless and abusive behavior of parents commonly produces dreadful results. But we can’t ignore the sad fact that some have been raised in godly homes and turned away and lived immoral lives. The Open Bible study notes give three elements in this training: Dedication, Instruction, and Motivation. In Solomon’s case they are quite evident. The name “Lemuel” was likely a “pet” name given by his mother that means devoted or given to God. This mother, like Hannah with Samuel (1 Sam 1:11, 27-28), had been given a son to raise for the Lord. Likewise our child is not our possession but is to be regarded as a stewardship from God.
The second element, Instruction, was the substance of David’s and Bathsheba’s communication to their son. Today we have the tremendous opportunity to teach the life-changing wisdom in God’s Word to our children as we seek to love them even as we are loved of God.
Third, and perhaps most difficult, is Motivating the child. Often the Proverbs speak concerning the heart. “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.” Proverbs 23:26 tells us that the father knows that without winning the affectionate will of the child he can’t prompt him to walk in “the way that he should go.” Training children with these three elements doesn’t ensure their salvation. That’s their choice. But generally “when he is old,” at an age of independence, they will recall the wisdom in their parents’ values.
The subject of discipline is distinct from the term “training” that we just considered. There is no doubt that God’s Word, and in particular Proverbs, teaches parents to use physical punishment of some form. Evidently, this concept involves loving the child: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov 13:24). A proverb that initially appears puzzling is, “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Prov 23:13-14). Sadly, some might think that this is a basis for excessive, and thus abusive, spanking of a child in view of their salvation. But, again, this is principle, not promise.
Using “the rod” teaches the child that there are consequences for disobedience. If children don’t learn this, they may face an untimely death and even lose their soul. The rod doesn’t save them from their sins but they learn that sin will be punished.
This is the foundation for repentance. We do Satan’s work by sheltering our children from the consequence of misbehavior. For that enemy said to Eve, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen 3:4). We also read, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov 29:15). Children are naturally curious; they need ample time to play and learn on their own. In contrast “a child left to himself” refers to one whose inappropriate actions are ignored, he does as he pleases and is left undisciplined. This child’s life is most likely going to bring grief and shame to his mother.
It is notable that the chapter in Proverbs that tells us to use “the rod” to deliver the child from hell is the one where the father asks the son to give him his heart. In this very context we read, “Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice” (Prov 23:25).
As parents we must strive, with God’s help, to apply the wisdom of His principles in our homes and then pray that each child will personally receive the supreme promise of our God.