“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
I thought that I would end our short look at the use of the fig tree in the Bible, by looking at a verse in the Old Testament that you would not ordinarily associate with the fig tree, but when you understand its growth pattern, use and some Hebrew, the meaning of the above text becomes far richer and plainer to understand.
Join me as we look at this well-known verse often associated with parenting to see how it truly applies today.
The Gnarled, yet Useful Fig Tree
The first thing to consider here is the growth of a fig tree. Unlike most trees, the fig’s branches do not typically grow in an orderly fashion, but rather bend up and around in different directions, often turning back on themselves. Sometimes their growth is so gnarled that there seem to be branches growing in every possible open space on the branches they shoot out from. This also makes the fig tree a difficult one to climb.
The second thing to consider is one of the uses of the figs themselves. If you have ever raised children you will be aware that sometimes babies struggle when it comes to nursing. Some babies do not naturally want to be breastfed and take a lot of encouraging to do so, sometimes to the extent that mothers give up trying. However, in Biblical times, and even today in some cultures, when this happened, the wet-nurse would take a green fig, pinch the end, and then by squeezing the fig, squirt the white juice into the mouth of the baby. Because the juice would be rather bitter, this would cause the baby to pucker up, and then the baby would be put in the right position and would begin to feed. This was done every time that the mother struggled to get the baby to feed until eventually the baby would feed naturally.
So what does this have to do with our verse in question?
First of all, like the fig tree, all children grow according to their own bend – according to the way that God has created them – each with their own unique characters and personalities. Sometimes those bends look good, sometimes rather gnarled like the tree.
But there is something else of significance here that we miss until we look at the Hebrew. The word translated as “train” in our verse is the Hebrew word for “squeeze”, so the phrase would be “Squeeze up a child”. But would you ever squeeze your child in order to make them take the right path? Well certainly not physically, I hope. However, when you apply the picture of the mother squeezing the fig, the verse takes on a richer meaning.
In the same way that the squeezing of the fig in order to encourage the child to feed – so that the action and position becomes natural to the child – so too should parents train their children so that they would naturally follow the right path. Because each child is different, as a parent it is your responsibility to make sure that you do not impose the same regimen on each child, but train them according to their learning styles and thinking. Therefore if you want your child to grow up in the Lord, present Him to them according to their own natural bend and develop an intrinsic hunger in them for Christ. Applying laws and trying to impose strict behavioural patterns will not work, unless the child has an inner desire for God.
Therefore we could paraphrase this verse to read as: “Make intrinsic a hunger in a child according to the bend of the child and when he is old he will not depart from it”. Do you want your child to have a thirst for God? Do you want him or her to be secure in their faith so that when they leave home they will remain true? Then apply the principle of the fig tree to your child, and develop the inner desire for God in them. Faith is not an external force that causes change, but an internal desire, given and strengthened by God, yet often nurtured by man.
Just a Thought!
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