The Wartburg Project

January 30th, 2024

98. "Dedicate" a child to the way he should go - Proverbs 22:6

In Proverbs 22:6 why do you translate dedicate a child? Many translations have something simpler like train or teach a child.

6Dedicatea a child to the way he should go,b
and even when he becomes old, he will not turn away from it.

aOr consecrate.
bOr according to the way that is appropriate for him.

The Hebrew word hanak (חנך), which the EHV translates dedicate, is not one of the usual words for teaching or training, but it regularly refers to dedicating a temple to the service of God and beginning to use it in the service of the Lord. In Deuteronomy 20:5 the word hanak refers to dedicating a house. In 1 Kings 8:63 it refers to the dedication of the Temple of Solomon. In Ezra 6:16 it refers to rededicating the Temple after the return from the captivity in Babylon. In Nehemiah 12:27 it refers to the dedication of the restored walls of Jerusalem. The word does not refer to teaching in any of these examples. It refers to dedicating someone or something to serving the Lord and putting them to work serving the Lord. In addition to the scriptural uses, the root hanak also provides the name of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabees between the Old and New Testaments. If the word hanak means dedicate in all of its other uses, shouldn’t we expect it to mean the same here, unless there is compelling reason to depart from the regular meaning?

How do we dedicate a child to the service of the Lord? Certainly, it includes teaching and training, but it is much more. The main gift which the child receives at baptism is a life-long promise of forgiveness of sins, but at baptism the child becomes part of the priesthood of believers, which is dedicated to declaring the praises of God. We are dedicating our child to service of God when the infant at the supper table sees us folding our hands and speaking together in unity, and the child joins us in folding its hands too and thinks, “I am not quite sure what these guys are doing, but I want to be part of it.” It continues when the child learns to give part of its gifts and earnings to the Lord. It continues when we help the child choose its profession as a way in which he or she can serve the Lord. It continues when the child enters marriage with the intent of building a Christian home. The work of dedicating may continue into adulthood if the child has departed from the right way, and we call the child back to being rededicated to the service of the Lord, just as Israel had to rededicate the Temple to the Lord after it had been destroyed.

The second line of our text, “he will not turn away from it,” is not a promise or a prophecy that inevitably comes true for every child who receives Christian training and a good example, but it is a statement of a general truth and a principle we are to practice. It tells us what we are to do. The rest is up to the Lord.

Dedicating the child to the Lord includes entrusting the child to the Lord as Hannah did with Samuel.

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked for. 28So now I have also dedicated him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is dedicated to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:27-28)

The word translated dedicated (הִשְׁאִלְתִּיהוּ) in this passage is not the same Hebrew word (hanak) used in Proverbs 22. It is a different Hebrew word that has the connotation ask, give, or lend. Perhaps it would have been better if the EHV had kept the more literal translation used in the King James (lend), because it teaches us an important lesson. In the strict sense of the term, God does not give us children but lends them to us so we can dedicate them to his service. Hannah did not have much time to teach or train Samuel (though I am sure she taught him a lot in a few years). But she could dedicate him for a life-time of service. I am sure Hannah had tears in her eyes as she left young Samuel at the Dwelling and made the long walk home, but I am sure she had joy because although she was lending Samuel to the Lord for a life-time, the Lord would give him back to her for an eternity. Everything we give to the Lord is really a loan because we receive it back with interest.