Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” - Proverbs 22:6 HCSB

“Ch’anak na’ar derek peh zaquen cuwr” literally reads “dedicate a child to a way of mouth, elder not depart”. There are three critical elements to understanding this verse. The first is the word “ch’anak. This verb is primarily used in the sense of “to dedicate” and is the source of the term Hanukkah, which is the feast celebrating the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees in 165 BC.[1] Elsewhere in the Bible, it speaks of the dedication of a house,[2] and the dedication of the original Solomonic Temple.[3]

“Na’ar” can indicate everything from a new born child[4] all the way up to a person of about twenty[5] which seems to be the generally accepted age of accountability in the Old Covenant.

“Derek peh” is an odd phrase I have found a total of nine times in the Old Covenant, including this one. Together the two words seem to indicate “a way of life or habitual thought pattern indicated or revealed by one’s speech” which makes sense when we take into consideration Jesus’ explanation that “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”[6]

“Zaquen” clearly means “to be, to become, or to grow old” but does not have the negative connotation that English holds, because it is used for vigorous old age.[7]

Finally, the troublesome “cuwr” means “to turn aside, to go away, to depart e.g from a way.” However, here’s the interesting part – to which word does “cuwr” point? We find parallel sentence structures in many other passages which give us the clue. In Genesis 40:10, it was the scepter that would not leave Judah. In Exodus 8:11, It was the frogs that would depart from Egypt. It Exodus 8:20, the flies would depart from Pharaoh. In Leviticus 13:58, the plague departed from the children of Israel. In Numbers 12:10, the cloud departed from the tabernacle. We could go on with quite a few other passages but for space’ sake we won’t.

Apparently, the intent of the passage may thus be taken as “If you dedicate your child to a way of life or habitual thought pattern, as he ages it (the thought pattern) will never leave him.” This fits nicely with the idea described elsewhere that even a murderer goes to his grave with his conscience bothering him.[8]

We may be sure that our influence will remain with our children for the rest of their lives. However, though we may do our best to raise our children, free will remains. Those whose parents were godly may stubbornly refuse the Way and take the broad path that leads to destruction. Those whose parents were wicked can yet rise above their upbringing and become godly people. If there is one thing of which I am confident, it is that the Bible teaches personal responsibility.[9]

[1] 1 Maccabees 4:52 ff.

[2] Deuteronomy 20:5

[3] 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles 7:5

[4] Exodus 2:6; Judges 13:5,7; 1 Samuel 4:21

[5] Genesis 34:19; 41:12 cp 37:2,41:2; 1 Kings 3:7; Jeremiah 1:6-7

[6] Matthew 12:34-37; Luke 6:45

[7] Genesis 18:12-13; 19:31; 24:1; 27:1; 1 Samuel 2:22

[8] Proverbs 28:17

[9] 2 Kings 14:6; Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:2-20