Andy Peck believes some of the most powerful parenting lessons come from the Bible’s toughest stories
The Bible provides wonderful wisdom for every Christian parent. There is no better resource for us to live life and care for children. It gives us wisdom by command and exhortation but also through stories, including ones that either warn us, or give us pause for thought when we reflect on our own parenting journey. So here’s five Bible passages and the lessons from each.
1. When sibling rivalry leads to murder
It is hardly a distinguished start is it? The very first family has sibling rivalry that is off the charts, with Cain’s murder of Abel - the kind of story that would shock even the tabloids of today. We don’t know enough detail about Adam and Eve’s parenting style to know how things went wrong. The Bible focuses on God’s interaction with Cain (Genesis 4:6,7) and his need to deal with the sinful impulses that made him angry that his offering to God was not acceptable while his brothers was.
Parenting tip. The sin virus is ever real within our children and within us. We need God’s grace to be operating. Hopefully we won’t have a murder on our hands, but jealousy envy, falsehood can all be factors puling us apart
2. How favourtism plays out
If ever a verse tells a story it is Gen 25:28: ‘Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob’. It is not uncommon for family members to ‘click’. A shared characteristic or temperament or interest can create a bond, and equally ‘differences’ can make for a bond. But anytime this leads to favourtism, you have a problem. As a parent you won’t always treat your children ‘the same’ because love seeks their good and what may be ‘good’ for one child may not be ‘good’ for another. But when you face the situation of a mother siding with a son over a husband, it is no surprise that there is a family civil war and the estrangement between Esau and Jacob.
Isaac is tricked into giving his blessing to his younger son Jacob (albeit seconds younger) rather than Esau, by a wife keen that her favourite wins and doesn’t care that she is undermining her husband, and Isaac is unable to take the blessing back. Esau seeks to kill his brother and it is many decades before they are reunited.
Maybe such behaviour led in part to Jacob’s deceitful behaviour throughout his story? But what a wonderful grace that the one who behaved this way, and is the fruit of poor parenting, should be named ‘Israel’ (struggles with God) and be the head of a nation and give his new name to the people of God!
Parenting tip: Be honest about how you feel about your children and work especially hard not to favour one over the other.
3. When your children reject God’s ways
1 Samuel begins with the lovely tale of God’s provision of Samuel to Hannah, who was the barren wife of Elkanah, who longed for a child. This story is in sharp contrast to the failures of Eli, the priest who becomes mentor to Samuel who is dedicated to God through temple service by Hannah. Eli has two sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were sleeping with women at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and taking meat offerings when they shouldn’t. Eli remonstrates with them, but later we learn of God’s anger towards Eli for not restraining them and that, ’it was the Lord’s will to put them to death’ (1 Sam.2:25). Their death comes when they later lose their lives in a battle.
We read these texts through New Covenant eyes of course and a Saviour who’s death and resurrection covers sin. But even so, Paul teaches that one of the qualifications of an elder is that he/she should have children who respect them. It’s not mandatory that offspring believe of course, but it seems that lack of respect for a parent ‘may’ indicate a character flaw that might disqualify someone from leadership in a local church – emphasising its seriousness. Boundaries matter. When we were preparing for adoption we were reminded that our children need a safe place to be. Our parenting is like the walls and ceilngs of a house. Children will push the boundaries (walls of the house) but they need to know that they are firm and secure.
Parenting tip: We don’t do our children, or ourselves any favours if we are a soft touch. Make sure you have boundaries and remind yourself that you are being loving when you stick to them.
4. When you wish you could take words back
Anyone wishing they could ‘take back’ things they have said, sympathises with Jephthah whose desperately sad story is related in Judges 11. The back story is that Jephthah himself is the son of a prostitute who was hounded from his home. He becomes a warrior and is sort after as a ‘judge’ (leader) of Israel. Keen for rehabilitation and knowing that securing victory over the Ammonites would make him leader he vows to God that if he wins the battle, he would sacrifice whatever greets him when he returns home. Here’s a man who would do literally anything to gain dignity. But imagine the pain when he discovers that his only daughter greets him?
Now although the text says ‘he fulfils the vow’ there is enough in the passage to suggest that fulfilling the vow may not have meant that the daughter was literally sacrificed but instead is left a virgin. (Note how she goes to the hills with friends who lament her ‘virginity’ not that she would die. (A more detailed treatment of this can be found here)
But whether she dies or not, the outcome is grim: in those days (and sometimes today) childlessness was seen as a curse and Jephthah would have no offspring to continue his own line. Hence the verse that every year her friends visited her to lament the situation.
Parenting tip: Words matter. Make them encouraging and upbuilding. If you speak rashly, have the humility to apologise and don’t make bargains with God. He’s a loving Father, not a mafia boss.
5. Remember God’s on your side
Many who go through times of suffering find comfort in the book of Job - a man who loses everything and never fully discovers why, but is taught to trust God. Some see it as a made up story teaching biblical wisdom arguing that the doubling of everything at the end including sons and daughters was a literary device?
But regardless of whether you see Job as real or fiction, he has a horrendous time. The story peels back the heavenlies to show us how God allows Satan to ‘do his worst’ and show Job as faithful, and Job’s seven sons and three daughters are wiped out early in the drama, part of a number of relational struggles and physical challenges Job faces.
But the end of the first chapter includes the words: ’In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing’ (1:22).
Job is commended for not sinning in ‘blaming God’, which suggests that even if God has ‘allowed’ it (and indeed given Satan freedom) he is not to blame. Herein lies the centuries old dilemma all Christians face. God is sovereign and yet, we have the ‘world the flesh and the devil’ who play a real role in life and especially family life.
It is altogether possible that you read these words going through it as a parent. I have certainly had days and indeed weeks of real despair with my boys. But the message of Job is that God is good and is at work for good with those who love him. You may not understand exactly what’s going on and especially why, but Job would urge us to know that God is on our side and however great the pain (and the loss of a child, let alone ten is right up there) you can draw comfort from him and look to him, even through tears, for the ‘joy that comes in the morning’.
Parenting tip: Stuff happens that is awful. Don’t blame God. Express your anger and sadness to him, but trust him to bring you and your children through it. Perhaps of all the lessons, this is the most important to remember?