What Does "Wayward" Mean in the Bible?
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What Does “Wayward” Mean in the Bible?


The word “wayward” appears several times throughout the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. But what exactly does it mean for someone or something to be described as “wayward” in the biblical context?

In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the meaning, usage, and significance of the term “wayward” as it relates to Scripture. We will look at relevant verses and passages where the word is used to shed light on its intended meaning.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Wayward” means deviating from the right way, path, or direction, often morally or spiritually
  • It describes those who intentionally turn away from God’s laws and instructions
  • Wayward people or nations reject God’s guidance and wisdom, instead following their own flawed path
  • God repeatedly confronted wayward Israel for rejecting Him and worshipping idols
  • As Christians, we must guard our hearts against becoming wayward and turning from God’s perfect will

Old Testament Usage and Meaning

The vast majority of biblical references to being “wayward” come from the Old Testament. The Hebrew word translated as “wayward” in many English Bible versions is שׁוֹבֵב (shoved), which literally means “turning away” or “apostate.” Let’s look at some key verses that use this term:

“For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly wayward, deviating from the way I have commanded you. In the days to come, disaster will befall you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger through the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 31:29 NKJV)

Here, Moses is prophesying that the Israelites will turn away from God’s laws after his death. Their waywardness points to more than just physical wandering – it is a deliberate rejection of God’s righteous ways for their own flawed human thinking and immorality.

The book of Proverbs also describes wayward people:

“To deliver you from the wayward woman, From the seductress who flatters with her words, Who forsakes the companion of her youth, And forgets the covenant of her God.” (Proverbs 2:16-17 NKJV)

The “wayward woman” is contrasted against the virtuous woman who follows God’s ways. She represents the dangers of sexual immorality and folly that can tempt someone away from righteous living.

One of the most detailed depictions of Israel’s waywardness comes from the prophet Jeremiah:

“For My people are foolish, They have not known Me. They are silly children, And they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge.” (Jeremiah 4:22 NKJV)

“They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.” (Jeremiah 11:10 NKJV)

In these passages, Jeremiah explains how Israel’s waywardness is not simply making mistakes or occasional disobedience – they have utterly turned away from God to pursue evil and false gods. Other prophets like Hosea, Ezekiel, Amos, and Zephaniah echo these same themes.

So in summary, the Old Testament uses “wayward” to describe intentional, continued deviation from God’s clear commands and wisdom, often in favor of moral corruption and idolatrous betrayal of God. It is a stern warning against rejecting the Creator who knows and desires what is best for His people.

Causes and Results of Waywardness

Based on the Old Testament context, what leads people and nations to become wayward? And what are the typical results of forsaking God’s ways?


  • Pride – Thinking we know better than God (Isaiah 53:6)
  • Influences of secular culture (Jeremiah 10:2)
  • Love of sin and unrighteous living (Hosea 4:12)
  • Complacency about idolatry and false teachings (Amos 2:4)


  • Experiencing God’s discipline and judgment (Proverbs 14:14)
  • National destruction and exile (Jeremiah 15:6)
  • Harmful consequences of sinful choices (Proverbs 5:23)
  • Missing out on God’s blessings and favor (Psalm 95:10-11)

Israel’s cyclical waywardness beginning with the Exodus illustrates this pattern clearly. God would bless them and provide for them as long as they followed His ways. But blessing would give way to complacency, then idolatry and embracing sinful cultural practices. God would send prophets to warn them, then discipline would follow with oppression by enemies. Finally, after persistent, unrepentant waywardness, God would allow foreign powers like Assyria and Babylon to conquer and exile them.

Nevertheless, God’s desire was always to restore them when they repented and turned back to Him. For example, after the 70 year Babylonian exile, the remnant of Israel that returned to the land never again lapsed into widespread idolatry, showing that God’s discipline had helped circumcise their hearts back to purity.

significance for Christians today

While today’s believers are under the New Covenant rather than the Law of Moses, the Old Testament examples of waywardness contain vital warnings and lessons for us. Just like Israel, we are called to wholeheartedly follow the Lord and resist the influences in our culture that would pull us away from Him.

We can still become “wayward” by abandoning prayer, Scripture study, fellowship with other believers, and obedience to God’s commands. Some symptoms of a wayward heart condition include:

  • Apathy towards sin, even delighting in what God calls evil
  • Individualism – following our own wisdom rather than submitting to Christ’s headship
  • Materialism and valuing creature comforts over the Creator
  • Compromise with false religions and philosophies incompatible with biblical truth

But the good news is that through Jesus, we can receive forgiveness, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and new hearts inclined to obey God’s ways. Staying centered on the Gospel is the best guard against drifting into waywardness. As 1 John 1:9 (NKJV) promises:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And God remains patient and merciful towards His redeemed but imperfect people. When we do stumble, His grace is there to redirect our feet back to the right path if we humbly repent.


In summary, the verses and passages using the term “wayward” instruct us through the negative example of Israel’s apostasy. They reveal the tendency in human nature to arrogantly forsake God’s loving commands in order to pursue our own fleshly desires and worldly wisdom apart from Him. But God continually worked to correct their trajectory and bring them back to walking in His ways. Likewise, Christians today must maintain vigilance against drifting into waywardness, repenting and returning when we do stray to keep our relationship with Jesus Christ at the center of our lives.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.