PSALM 78, which portrays in such vivid fashion God’s goodness to Israel from the days of Egypt down to the time of David, indicates in its opening verses the object of the recital: the knowledge of past favours transmitted to the psalmist and his contemporaries must in its turn be handed on to their children so that they, too, may be able to enlighten those that follow. Only thus can the knowledge of God be kept alive and a succession of faithful generations be ensured, each setting its hope in God, not forgetting His works and keeping His commandments. The secondary purpose of the record (“that they might set their hope in God”) is concerned with the quality which Paul discerns in all Scripture: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom 15:4).

As he embarks on his narrative, the psalmist, as we can see from verse 5, has earlier instructions to Israel in mind: “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children”. Deuteronomy 6:5–7 is particularly worthy of mention and the progression of ideas should be noted:

  1. God must be loved with the whole being;
  2. His words must be laid up in the heart;
  3. The Israelites must teach these same words to their children.

It must be evident that if the first condition obtains, the other two requirements are likely to follow as a matter of course. Surely the desire nearest to the heart of every parent who loves God is to kindle a similar love in his children. Abraham, the father of us all, is commended for his diligence in this respect: “For I know him, that he will command his children … after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken” (Gen 18:19). David, too, we see from Solomon’s words in Proverbs 4:3,4, was faithful in this same matter: “For I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me: Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live”.

From Genesis 18:19, quoted above, we notice that the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham is associated with diligence in presenting God’s way to one’s family. In view of the faithfulness displayed by Abraham and David in this connection, we can understand why these two men figure so prominently in the genealogy of Christ. The reader will instantly recall Matthew 1:1: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”. A somewhat similar association of ideas emerges in Acts 13:22,23; Paul says of David that he was a man after God’s own heart, and adds: “Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a saviour, Jesus”.

Not only fathers receive prominence in Scripture because of their concern for the spiritual development of their children. There are some outstanding mothers as well. Hannah comes to mind. Her barrenness brought home to her the truth of the Psalm: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (127:3). If children are regarded in that light, Hannah’s example will be followed: “Therefore also I have returned him, whom I have obtained by petition, to the Lord” (1 Sam 1:27; see RV margin). Mary, the Lord’s mother, was no haphazard choice, and we can readily imagine what care she took of the physical and spiritual welfare of the child God gave her. We cannot hope to produce another Jesus, and men of Samuel’s stature are all too rare. Hannah’s case shows us, however, that God answers the prayers of faithful women and uses them to raise up leaders for His people. Lowliness of station is no impediment to God, as Hannah and Mary both recognize in their ascriptions of praise: “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them” (1 Sam 2:8); “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 2:48).

There is almost unfailingly sorrow mixed with joy for those who beget children destined to become great in God’s service. It was only during the ministry, and at the foot of the cross, that Mary would perceive the full import of Simeon’s words: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also” (Luke 2:35). Had the aged Zacharias and Elisabeth lived to witness the martyrdom of John, they would have known much grief. Those who play a great part for God encounter inevitable opposition, even persecution, sometimes resulting in death. The instinct of parents is to shield their children, even when they have reached maturity, and to secure for them a situation free from hazards. They tend, therefore, to put a brake upon their children’s enterprises and to dissuade from activities attended by any kind of peril. This is evidently often necessary, especially to check the rashness of youth. But parents should always remember that our children belong more to God than to ourselves. His intentions with them may be different from ours, calling for sacrifice. We must then make sure that we do not stand in God’s way.

While desiring to stress the influence of the parents’ faith upon the current of a child’s life, we cannot remain insensible to the fact that each person has his own individuality. Ezekiel recognizes (chapter 18) that a just man can beget a shedder of blood and that a son can revolt at the spectacle of his father’s sins. Life is complex and we cannot control every factor. True faith provides the impulse to pursue the right way, and to persist in it when circumstances appear to go wrong. So in this matter of training children, there is no absolute guarantee that our efforts to mould them will be successful. Isaac had two sons; God loved one but hated the other. Nevertheless, as we survey the biblical records and the lives of our contemporaries, the influence of wise training is plain; the havoc wrought by lack of right instruction is equally manifest. Each parent has a clear duty: to ensure that his or her children are nurtured in the ways of the Lord. The part they will be called upon to play for God will vary according to a number of factors; few will attain the prominence of a Timothy, for example, but what was true of him should be true of all our young, that from a tender age they have known the holy scriptures.

The points we have made will be amplified and supplemented in our next article. It will then be time, after giving due consideration to the parents’ duties, to examine what the ecclesia can do.[1]

 Reference

[1] Vol. 89: The Christadelphian: Volume 89. No 1059 pp272–273, 1952. Birmingham: CMPA.