Can You Train A Child To Refuse Evil and Choose Good?
Updated: Jan 23
We all know the well-known verse of Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (For more on what this means, click here) Yet, a lingering question remains,
Can you train a child to refuse evil and choose Good? Yes, this can be done and this is the responsibility of the parent. Isaiah 7:14, is a well-known passage regarding the Messiah, Jesus. The following verse is less known but very important to address this question, "He will eat butter and honey that He may know to refuse evil and choose good." This speaks of the diet of Jesus, not the physical diet, but the spiritual and emotional diet of the Lord. That He ate only the best or the most excellent produce of the land, that when He grew He would know to refuse evil and choose good.
This is applicable to us parents and our children today, stick with me to see how.
I would first like to handle some objections, pointing out the white elephant in the room before others bring their opinions forward.
LOOK THERE IT IS!
Isn't it all cute and cuddly? It looks so innocent, doesn't it?
Now that we have seen the actual elephant let's look a comment that I have heard many times and in many ways and evaluate it.
"If you shelter your kids too much then when they are little they will go crazy when they leave the house, exploring all manners sin." I have heard this or many things like it over the years, and while my now six children are still on the younger side, I cannot speak from experience. Yet, there is no biblical support for this claim, but there is biblical support for the claim that "if we give our children a good healthy spiritual diet of the best of the land, that they will know to refuse evil and choose good."
Not only is there Scripture backing this but practical experience. Hear me out, most Americans don't know what it is like to eat a really healthy diet. I mean like 9-14 cups of veggies a day, clean protein, lots of water, little carbs, and no refined sugar. The thought of this doesn't even enter most of our minds.
I eat this way though, so I am able to speak from experience here. After eating this way for a while the thought of eating sugar or processed food or pasta makes me feel sick. I know what it will do to me, my body will reject it, and I will feel absolutely terrible. Some may be able to relate. Yet, most people can eat half a carton of ice cream and not even bat an eye.
What's the difference? The difference is, tolerance. Most of the world has developed a high sugar and high carbohydrate tolerance. Meaning their bodies are used to it, so they not only can consume it without consequences, but they can eat a lot of it with very few immediate consequences. I say immediate because the consequences of this diet develop over time.
Translate this to the spiritual realm, it does translate well. Those who are fed a diet of only what God declares is the best and most excellent will learn to develop a taste for it and in turn, refuse anything that is evil. Evil won't sit well with their spiritual taste buds but will make them feel terrible if they partake of it.
What is Butter and Honey?
Before we begin let's look at the verse again,
"He will eat butter and honey that He may know to refuse evil and choose good." Isaiah 7:15
This phrase of "butter and honey" or "curds and honey" as some other translations rend it, is not seen often in the Scriptures. We see something similar, "a land flowing with milk and honey" nearly twenty times in the Old Testament. Yet, butter or curds are different from milk.
So, why the variation, and what does it mean? Good question, I am glad you asked it. Let's look at Isaiah 7:22 for the answer,
"and because of the abundance of the milk produced he will eat butter (curds), for everyone that is left within the land will eat butter and honey."
Interestingly, where there is an abundance of milk there are other milk products: butter, curds, yogurt, etc. This is what the Scriptures declare here. Milk is good, God sent His people into a land flowing with milk. Milk is necessary for the survival of both man and most animals.
Where there is milk there is life. So if milk is good, then its product is also good, and arguably more excellent. Butter is a byproduct of milk, and butter is used in so many different ways that enhance the good things on this earth. Have you ever eaten warm homemade bread straight out of the oven? Ohhh it is delightful. This thought saddens me as I don't eat bread anymore.
Yet, it is very satisfying. But have you ever added butter to that bread? Wow, that is even more delightful to the tastebuds. But what about butter and honey? This is quite arguably one of my father-in-law's favorite tastes, warm bread covered with butter and honey.
Where there is a land flowing with milk there is life. But where there is a land flowing with an abundance of milk, producing butter and yogurt there is an abundance of life.
I must also note that butter and honey are simple. Meaning they aren't complex and full of ingredients. The simple things of the land are the best and most nutritious and necessary for life.
Litteral or Metaphorical?
Now that we have discovered that butter and honey represent the best of the best of the land the question must be asked, is Isaiah 7:15; 22 speaking of a literal physical diet of butter and honey, or is it metaphorical?
Well, let me ask you a question, "how does eating butter and honey make someone know to refuse evil and choose good?"
The quick answer is, it doesn't. Thus, this verse is not to be taken literally. Please don't feed your children's stomachs butter and honey and then expect that they will know to choose good and refuse evil. It won't work, because that's not what God is talking about here.
Butter and honey are metaphorical for the best and most simplistic things of God's land. Remember that the land of Caanan, the promised land, was given to Israel as their inheritance. They were God's people, dwelling in God's chosen land. A land flowing with milk and honey.
Consuming the best of the best and the most simplistic of things in God's land produces life, abundant life. The apostle Paul exhorts the church to the cultivation of good in Romans 16:19,
"But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent (ignorant) in what is evil."
This spiritual diet must be cultivated. It is cultivated in us by a diet of the best and most simplistic things of God, and it is cultivated in our children by us feeding them the best and most simplistic things of God.
Cultivating a Healthy Diet
Physically our bodies crave what we feed them. If we feed it sugar it craves sugar. If we feed it vegetables it craves vegetables (yes, this is true). What we partake of, matters.
Remember that well-known proverb?
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverb 22:6
The phrase "in the way he should go" comes from the Hebrew word peh. When this word is used in other places in the Old Testament it is translated as "mouth" or "eat." This is interesting, one must ask the question of why is Proverbs 22:6 so different than the other times this word is translated?
The answer is fairly simple, it's not so different. Remember what was already said, what we put in our mouth or eat we develop an appetite for. So, let's look at the phrase with this in mind, "Train up a child with the right appetite." This makes way for the modern translation, "in the way he should go" and the Hebrew meaning of the word is "mouth" or "eat."
So, what is it saying? It is saying that our children will follow the appetites that they develop a taste for. It is our responsibility as parents to cultivate the right appetites in the children so that they would know what is good and evil, right and wrong, the best and the most excellent.
The child that develops a taste for evil will constantly choose evil. But a child that develops a taste for good with constantly choose good.
"The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on folly." Proverbs 15:14
The appetite of the wise and intelligent feeds on knowledge but the appetite of the fool seeks folly. Do you see it, what we cultivate an appetite for is what we seek to feed on.
Call to Action
The question for us parents is, what appetite are we cultivating in our children? Are we cultivating in them an appetite for the things of the world, things that are evil. Or are we cultivating in them an appetite for butter and honey, an appetite for the best and most simplistic things of God?
What they cultivate an appetite for as children is what they will choose later in life when they leave your household. The problem lies in what you are feeding them now, too much of the things of the world and too little of the things of God.
Start today, cultivate the right appetite in your children and when they are old they will know to choose good and refuse evil. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it!