11. Focus on Families (2)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 11. Command Five: Focus on Families (2)

Deut 5:16   Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Eph 6:1-3  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Recap: So honoring includes respecting, obeying, esteeming, caring for and protecting (these latter two apply more obviously in older age). Of course there are two sides to every relationship and we majored in the previous study on the role of the parents to create an environment that makes it easy to “Honor your father and mother,” at least as far as we are able! Perhaps we should remind ourselves of  Paul’s instruction to fathers is not to be overbearing in disciplining them: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4) In passing, it is interesting to note that in the past forty years, say, to roles of fathers appear to have changed dramatically, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. For the worse, many fathers abandon their children through separation and divorce. For better, many fathers take a much greater part in looking after and caring for their children. Where the father stays with the family, the picture of the distant Victorian father who has little emotional attachment to their children, is rare.

In the Land: Now we have already indicated how important this simple command was for the God, by the references to the death penalty for cursing parents and for ongoing outright disobedience and rebellion resulting in a dissolute life (that’s what the Law indicates), but the second part of the command further shows this. In the original impartation of this command on Sinai, it simply says, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul spoke of this as “the first commandment with a promise.” The promise is of ongoing blessing in their new land IF they followed this law. We have already referred to the family as the basic building block of civilization and it most certainly was, in God’s eyes, as they settled in the Land.

The Promise of Blessing: In repeating this on the plains before they entered the Land, Moses slightly changed it to, “so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 5:16) which separates the original, “so that you may live long in the land,” into “so that you may live long” AND “that it may go well with you in the land.” Length of life indicates God’s blessing generally and reference to going well in the land also implies His ongoing blessing on their life and security in the Land. However you look at it, God promises blessing on those who hold to this command and, by inference, curses those who don’t.

The apostle Paul expands this double promise to apply to us who don’t live in that Land to, “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” When he says, “that it may go well with you,” he is referring to the daily lives we live, under God’s blessing, and of course the latter part of the verse refers to length of life.

Struggling to Obey: So back to the original command: “Honor your father and your mother.”  The message is very clear:  when parents together work to enable this to happen, and children seek to work it out, family division that comes from parental breakup or children breaking away from their parents is NOT God’s will. The fact that we live in a world where it has been happening in recent years in numbers counted by hundreds of thousands, means that you may be one of those casualties of the modern approach to life that conflicts with God’s design. But the command is still there.

The cry of the defense by the child has always been, “You don’t know my parents!” True, but psychologists tell us that when children reach their teenage years they start to sense their uniqueness, i.e. that they are distinct from their parents, and they seek to show their independence. How they do that is all important and it is also important that parents give them space for them to become themselves. They can re-bond with us when they have done this, but they do need to do this, and this is the danger zone when it comes to this command which still applies today!  This just makes this period of life more difficult when it comes to applying this command. On our own it may be very difficult, but with God’s grace it is possible.

An Area of Heartache: Learning who you are as a young person, does not mean you have to demean or reject your parents, especially when you feel they have failed you.  Yes, they were less than perfect but so will you be if or when you become a parent. Nevertheless, they were there for you (hopefully). If they weren’t then you have much greater need of the Lord’s grace to cope with that. Something I have observed over the years, is that the revelation of what the parent was going through sometimes helps. It doesn’t excuse them leaving you, if that happened, but it may help in understanding and, if and when they seek your forgiveness, it makes giving it easier. Don’t ever say, “I will never forgive them,” for you step out beyond the Lord’s love at that point. With God’s grace you can, as and when they come seeking it. Honor them by seeking God’s grace to be able to say, “I do” if and when they should come asking for forgiveness.

This is a minefield in the present age, so don’t let the strategy and works of the enemy ruin your life, or at the very least limit the blessing He wants to bring into your life. (Remember the promises of blessing we referred to earlier.) God’s grace is there to enable you to comply with this law, as difficult as that sometimes seems. Confronting your parent with grace and talking through the past with grace, may bring a healing to your relationship and his life (it is usually in respect of the diserting father) and healing within the whole wider community.

Recap:  Let’s try and summarize the things we have considered in these two studies:

  1. Being a parent or a child is a life-long experience.
  2. God’s design is for a father and mother who stick together throughout life and who, when bringing children into the world, work to create an environment of love that is conducive to developing personality and character in the children to equip them to the rest of life ahead.
  3. Although the command appears to bear on children, there is, I have suggested, an equal requirement on parents to work to make obeying that command easy, by creating that environment of love.
  4. As parents we will always fall short but that should not stop us aiming for that goal with the enabling of God’s grace. Watching us doing that will help our children in their growth.
  5. The command came with promises of blessing from God, that if we do seek to obey this command we will receive His blessing, not only on length of life but also quality of life.
  6. If we have come to Christ after having suffered either marriage breakup, parental abuse or abandonment, the command does not lesson, but the need for grace will obviously be greater.
  7. Failure yesterday doesn’t mean hope is not possible for tomorrow. Although the Lord hates divorce, hates abuse (partner or child) and abandonment, and hates child-rebellion, that doesn’t mean He stops being a God of redemption and that can apply as much to these things as any other aspect of life. Yes, repentance and tears may be part of the package, followed by forgiveness, but His love and grace will always still be there for us.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study in a different way. May I pray for you: “Lord we have been touching on areas of life which, today especially it potentially seems, are areas fraught with pain and anguish and hurt, and for that reason I ask for your love and grace to reach out right now to any who have been using this study who are feeling casualties in this particular war zone today. May they know your love and grace, your healing and reconciliation, your peace and comfort, and above all give them the grace to address any areas in their past experiences and present life that you have put your finger upon. May they be able to become bringers of light and peace as your grace flows in and through them, that their joy may be full and you be honored and glorified. Amen.”

7. Families

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  7. Families

Ex 20:12   Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Deut 5:16  Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Eph 6:1-3  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

The fifth commandment moves from speaking about a right attitude towards God to having a right attitude towards people. Jesus summed up the Law with, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39, being a combination quote of Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18) The first four commands are about loving God and the latter 6 about loving everyone else (‘neighbour’ simply means everyone with whom you come in contact.)

But in starting to bring laws that protect humanity, this very first one is about the building block of civilization, which is under such attack today. If the Bible says Satan is a lair and a destroyer (and it does) then we should not be surprised that his strategy in the Last Days is to destroy the basic building block of civilization, families. How many families today in the West are missing a parent (mostly a father) and how many are torn by dissension as parents war against each other and children war against parents. We have ignored this command and we have ignored it at our peril.

The command is simple and straight forward: “Honour your father and your mother.” The big question is what does ‘honour’ mean? First of all it means to esteem or think highly of (see Prov 4:8). It is also in scripture linked with caring for or protecting (see Psa 91:15) and it certainly has a ‘respect’ element to it (Lev 19:3). Indeed the opposite of respecting and honouring might be considered to be cursing and the Law specified the death penalty for cursing your parents (Lev 20:9); that is how significant this is. Rank ongoing disobedience and rebellion also brought the death penalty (Deut 21:18-21), Those latter verses end with a significant, “You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” (Deut 21:21).

So honouring includes respecting, obeying, esteeming, caring for and protecting (these latter two apply more obviously in older age). Of course there are two sides to every relationship and parents are charged with loving and caring for their children and Paul’s instruction to fathers is not to be overbearing in disciplining them: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4) In passing, it is interesting to note that in the past forty years, say, the roles of fathers appear to have changed dramatically, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. For the worse, many fathers abandon their children through separation and divorce. For better, many fathers take a much greater part in looking after and caring for their children. Where the father stays with the family, the picture of the distant Victorian father who has little emotional attachment to their children, is rare.

Now we have already indicated how important this simple command is to God by the references to the death penalty for cursing parents and for ongoing outright disobedience and rebellion resulting in a dissolute life (that’s what the Law indicates) but the second part of the command further shows this. In the original impartation of this command on Sinai, it simply says, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul spoke of this as “the first commandment with a promise.”  The promise is of ongoing blessing in their new land IF they followed this law. We have already referred to the family as the basic building block of civilisation and it most certainly was, in God’s eyes, as they settled in the Land.

In repeating this on the plains before they entered the Land, Moses slightly changed it to, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 5:16) which separates the original, “so that you may live long in the land,” into “so that you may live long” AND “ that it may go well with you in the land.” Length of life indicates God’s blessing generally and reference to going well in the land also implies His ongoing blessing on their life and security in the Land. However you look at it, God promises blessing on those who hold to this command and, by inference, curses those who don’t.

The apostle Paul expands this double promise to apply to us who don’t live in the Land to, ““that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  When he says, “that it may go well with you,” he is referring to the daily lives we live, under God’s blessing, and of course the latter part of the verse refers to length of life.

The message is very clear: family division that comes from children breaking away from their parents is NOT God’s will. There is a message here that many modern children would do well to heed. The cry of the defence is always, “You don’t know my parents!” True, but psychologists tell us that when children reach their teenage years they start to sense their uniqueness, i.e. that they are distinct from their parents, and they seek to show their independence. How they do that is all important and it is also important that parents give them space for them to become themselves. They can rebond with us when they have done this, but they do need to do this, and this is the danger zone when it comes to this command which still applies today!

Learning who you are, young person, does not mean you have to demeans or reject your parents. Yes, they were less than perfect but so will you be this side of heaven. Nevertheless, they were there for you (hopefully). If they weren’t then you have much greater need of the Lord’s grace to cope with that. Something I have observed over the years, is that the revelation of what the parent was going through sometimes helps. It doesn’t excuse them leaving you, but it may help in understanding and if and when they seek your forgiveness, it makes giving it easier. Don’t ever say, “I will never forgive them,” for you step out beyond the Lord’s love at that point. With God’s grace you can, as and when they come seeking it. Honour them by seeking God’s grace to be able to say, “I do” if and when they should come asking for forgiveness. This is a minefield in the present age, so don’t let the strategy and works of the enemy ruin your life. God’s grace is there to enable you to comply with this law, as difficult as that sometimes seems. Confronting with grace and talking through the past with grace, may bring a healing to your relationship and his life (it is usually in respect of the disserting father) and healing within the whole wider community.

Thank the Lord that His grace is available to us today through Jesus to counter the lies and works of the enemy who seeks to destroy our lives and communities. May we receive that grace to do that.

12. History Rewarded

Meditations in Ruth : 12. History Rewarded

Ruth 2:10   At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

Boaz has shown great kindness in his approach to Ruth and this evokes the response in the verse above. There are times in our own histories where we go through life thinking it is not very significant and yet it is laying the ground for something that may happen even years later. That ‘groundwork’ can be either negative or positive. If we treat someone badly or have a bad break-up in a relationship,  that can so often come back to haunt us later in life. On the other hand, on a positive note, if we treat someone well and build a good relationship, that may come back to bless us in later years.

What is now happening to Ruth, we are about to see, is built on her behaviour in the years before now. But Ruth is amazed at how nice Boaz is being to her, especially as she is not part of the community of Israel, she is a foreigner. Perhaps back in her own country this would have been unusual behaviour. We do sometimes take for granted things that are culturally good in our own country assuming it is so worldwide, but it isn’t necessarily so; in fact it is often very different in other parts of the world. So Ruth wonders.

And so Boaz explains: Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (v.11) It is easy when casually reading a story to fail to realise the significance of things happening. We did note earlier on in these studies that common sense suggested that the two daughters-in-law returned to their own people, their own culture and their own familiar gods, but if they had done that it would have left now elderly Naomi entirely on her own and defenceless and prey to goodness knows what on the journey back.  Ruth had given up her past and committed herself to going with Naomi together with all that that might entail. That was no cheap commitment, and Boaz understands that. He recognizes that she had cared for Naomi – “what you have done for your mother-in-law” and that she had given up her old life to go with her – “you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.”   Those two things counted in his value system, and he appreciated her for it.

But he’s also a godly man and therefore he invokes a godly blessing over her: “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (v.12) i.e. may God do you good for the good you have done (to Naomi), and may coming to live in this land bring all of His goodness on you.

When invoking a blessing, it is always important that we  comply with the revealed will of God or spiritual principles that operate. Right from the outset in the Ten Commandments we find, “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul takes this command into New Testament Christianity: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:1-3) Note how he refers to it as the first command that comes with a promise which he reiterates in a wider world context. Honouring parents may include honouring parents-in-law and Ruth has certainly done that.

Thus Boaz emphasises the principle that if you honour, protect, and care for your parents, you will receive God’s blessing, God’s goodness. Note also in passing the strong emphasis that Boaz is making. This is not just a rule or principle of life, it is something that God Himself specifically does to reward or honour those who comply with and conform to His will. It points to the Lord and emphasises to Ruth that because she is now in Israel and has been acting righteously, she can expect the One True God to cover her with His blessings or His goodness. It is easy to miss this but living in God’s kingdom isn’t just about us conforming to His will and following His leading, it is also about Him specifically acting into our lives to bring goodness. It is not chance and it is not some mechanical rule, it is God expressing His love in practical ways to us. He delights to do good for us and when we are living in accordance with His will, then opens the way for Him to come with His goodness and do and bring good to us.

For Ruth this started back in Moab when she chose to go with Naomi. That was a good starting point, but it continues when she comes into the land and goes out into the field to find provision for Naomi and herself. These are righteous acts and they will be rewarded by the Lord. This ongoing story about Ruth, is not just random chance, it is built upon her righteous responses to the circumstances before her. we should remember that the same applies to us: whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, will we act righteously? Remember, those circumstances may appear quite negative, as they certainly were for Ruth, but the Lord looks to see if we will respond righteously in them whatever they are. As we look to Him and commit ourselves to Him, we will never be disappointed, for He will always bless us, He will always bring His goodness to our lives. Hallelujah!

7. Parents

Lessons from the Law: No.7 : Honour your Parents

Ex 20:12 Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you

The fifth commandment that we have here in our verse today, is a link between the first four that are all about the Lord, and the latter five that are all about relating to the rest of the world. Interestingly it isn’t about the marriage relationship – that comes later – but is about our fundamental attitudes towards our parents. It is almost as if the Lord is pointing out that the most fundamental attitude to be checked out, is that towards our parents. Every single one of us has parents. We may not get married  and we may not have children and so rules in respect of that would be irrelevant to us, but this is an all-encompassing law that applies to everyone one of us.

Now before we move on in this mediation and move on to consider the remaining of the Ten Commandments, I would suggest that if we ignore the first four commands, it is probable that we will ignore the remaining six. The reason I say that is the if you push God out of the equation of your life, you have no foundation upon which to determine what is right or wrong, and very soon selfishness will be the predominating characteristic observed in your life. No longer is it, what is right because it conforms to how we were designed to live best, but now it is simply what do I want, what gives me the most pleasure regardless of the outcome. It is not surprising therefore, that where in Western societies we see the rejection of God, we also find a complete abandoning of the remaining six commandments – and it starts in the family!

Again, before we really get in to focusing on this command, we would do well to note a grave danger that hinders obedience to it. It is the observance of our parents as failures. Tragically we now are in a downward spiral where this appears to get worse and worse. Fifty years ago most families stayed together. Divorce was relatively rare. That didn’t make marriages perfect or even always good, but it did mean at least that the parents were there for the child. Now I believe it true to say that most marriage failures came because of the husband. The wife is emotionally linked to the children but there is not such a strong link for the father.

Men also historically had greater freedom and so when we think back to characteristic ‘bad fathers’ they were those who drank too much or betted too much. Such ‘freedoms’ were not available to the mother who was historically linked to the home. It is probably true to say that infidelity mostly came as initiated by the husband and when there was abandonment of the family, it was by the husband. It is this latter thing which is mostly observed by the children, reinforcing their negative ideas about marriage. Even if it wasn’t something like this, we can all look back to remember the shortcomings of our parents. All of us who are parents fail to be perfect; our children will always have something to feel negative about. It is what living in a fallen world is about – and perhaps that is one of the reasons that Lord places this command before all other commands about relating to others.

The fact is that we cannot disregard this command because out parents were less than perfect. We must leave our parents’ failings for the Lord to deal with. Our call is to ‘honour’ our parents. What does honour mean?  It means to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. Why should a child do this of their parents? First of all, because God says so, and He makes it a condition of a good life! Yes, this command carries an outworking with it: so that you may live long in the land.” Failure to keep this command suggests that our lives will be impaired – the implication IS there! Long life normally comes in Scripture as a result of the blessing of God. If God’s blessing is withheld then life will be limited. Note again what we suggested honouring means: to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. It is a mind thing, an attitude thing first and foremost and then when the attitude is right, right actions will follow.

Now this is not to say that we should be blind to our parents’ shortcomings or even excuse them, but it does mean we put them aside and purpose, nevertheless, to adjust our attitude so that we exalt or esteem them for who they are apart from their sin. Now for some this is very difficult because they may have been abused throughout their childhood by their father. Now this raises lots of other issues, for example about blowing the whistle on their sin. If you have been abused, don’t keep quiet about it. You first of all confront your father with his wrong and if he fails to repent and seek your forgiveness, you share it with your mother or some other close adult. Can you ‘honour’ a father in such circumstances? With immense difficulty and only by the grace of God. If we are a Christian, we still want this man to turn to God and be saved. This is the ultimate of our desires for our parents if they are not Christians, and it may be this desire in particular that motivates you to view your parents through different eyes.

Often in counselling we have seen an individual be shown by the Lord what their parent was really like. One abused daughter in particular in my memory, wept for her father saying, “I didn’t know what he had been through to make him like that.” It did not excuse what he had done but it did explain it and the understanding helped her put aside the years of abuse and cry for his salvation.

Most of us fortunately were not abused physically, but it may have been abuse verbally or by neglect. We don’t excuse it ever, but with God’s help we can explain it, and that may help us be able to put aside the hurt of the past and cry for our parents. There is so much more that could be said but space prohibits it. In Ex 34:7 we find the Lord spoken of as one who punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:7) but the truth is that at any time we can turn to the Lord and find forgiveness, cleansing and a new life. We don’t have to take on the sins of our parents which do so often trickle down through the generations. A good sign, seen so often, is the decision of new young parents not to go the way of their parents. With God’s grace you can be different and in so being you can bring honour to your own parents and, if they are still alive, your life can eventually be used by the Lord to change theirs. Now there is a challenge, but make sure your attitude is right to start with.

47. Family Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.47

Eph  6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The context you may remember is of submission creating unity in the church, the body of Christ. Paul developed that concept through the picture of marriage and now extends it into the whole family. It is a subject – and through these verses especially – that often raises a number of questions. Paul starts off, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He is looking at the parent-child relationship and so starts with the child who is the one who is most likely to have difficulty with the submission concept. This especially comes so in teenage years when the young person is seeking to find their own identity, and part of that process involves temporarily drawing away from the parent. It is also difficult when the child is a Christian and the parent is not and the parent makes demands that conflict with the faith of the young person. It may also be difficult when the parent is a Christian and the young person has not made a decision for Christ themselves.

In the call to children there are two things that deserve particular attention. The first is the word obey’. The role of the parent in God’s design is to be there to provide for and protect the child and, if we follow Old Testament teaching, to train up the child (Prov 22:6). Part of those things will be to issue instructions which may vary from the mundane (e.g. please will you pick up that toy off the floor), to the more serious, (e.g. I really don’t want you mixing with those teenagers who are taking drugs). If we ever had a question of the reality of sin (rebellion), observe any child! The wilful refusal to do that which is asked (or required) leads us into discipline issues, which are beyond what we have space for here.

The second thing to consider is Paul’s use of the words, ‘in the Lord’. Now he obviously includes these for a reason and that, we suggest, is similar to our thinking when it comes to the requirements of the State. The Law, or the instructions of the parent, should never go contrary to God’s laws, instructions etc. Thus a non-Christian (although tragically this doesn’t exclude some Christian men), who brings instruction to a child that involves them submitting to abuse, is wrong and should not be heeded. Wisdom suggests that as the child gets older instructions give way to discussion, i.e. bald commands give way to explanation. It is always wise to put in some form of explanation with every instruction (e.g. …otherwise your toy might get broken if you leave it there) but in teenage years talking and discussing (in a family forum?) are much better and are an acceptance and recognition of the child’s growing responsibility.

Then Paul gives a reason for ‘obeying’ parents, and it is because it goes with the original Old Testament instruction as the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Honouring is slightly different from ‘obeying’ in that obeying can be an expression of honouring. Honouring is more about having an attitude of respect, a recognition of the role that God has given to this older person. It isn’t about how well they have performed it! So important did God consider this that He made it a condition of blessing, originally in the Promised Land, but now in life generally. I wonder how many young people DON’T realise this (or older ‘children’ too!) that God’s blessing on their life can be curtailed because of a bad attitude towards their parent?  Even when the parent has not been good, godly ‘honouring’ should produce a concern for (and prayer for?) that parent.

There is another side to this submitting which might be simply summarised as ‘don’t make it difficult to be submitted to’: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Why does Paul say this to fathers? First, because fathers, as the ones who have the responsibility before the Lord for the family, should be the ones taking the ultimate action to bring about the training in righteousness of the child and, second, fathers tend to be more heavy handed in these things than the mother. It is thus something that, for both reasons above, the father needs to give particular thought to.

A final comment: in all of these things pertaining to family relationships, legalistic demanding of them does no good. Whatever else is required of such parental leading, the primary thing is love and acceptance. Let those two things temper all you do with your child, and increasingly as they grow older. If there is a genuine loving relationship, there is more likely to be obedience that flows out in response to that love. You will also need to cry to the Lord for wisdom on more than a few occasions! May it be so!

Sins of the Past

WALKING WITH GOD. No.36

1 Kings 15:26 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD , walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.”

There is a saying, ‘like father, like son’ with the implication that a son will follow his father. There may have been something of that thought behind the Lord’s words at Sinai, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex 20:5). The reality was that there could be three or even four generations alive at any one time, and if that was so it implied two things. The first, was that the father (who became a grandfather or even great-great grandfather) was the patriarch who was the authority over the family and who was thus responsible for the family before God. The second thing was, that the likelihood would have been that children followed their father’s example and so went the same wrong way as their father, and thus incurred the Lord’s anger. The balance was the verse that followed, “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (v.6). Where the example was the love for God and that was passed from generation to generation, every generation could guarantee to know God’s love. That was the simple promise.

Now our verse above applies to Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, but it also applied to a number of other subsequent kings of Israel. In fact most of them! It tells us that Nadab followed in the footsteps of his father, doing the same wrong things, specifically allowing or encouraging Israel to worship idols and not the Lord. Now when we did the meditation on Jeroboam being given the ten tribes of the north, we noted the potential that was there for him, to live out a life of blessing as he followed the Lord having been given a throne at God’s instigation. It was a completely new chapter opening up before him that invited him to walk the walk with God and be blessed. Instead he walked his own walk and received censure. Now when it comes to his son, he doesn’t HAVE to walk the same walk. Every son has the potential to walk a fresh walk with God. He doesn’t HAVE to go the same way his father went. This is another aspect of the whole thing about free will. Because we have free will we do not HAVE to walk the same walk as our parents. There is a very important lesson here for many of us.

Now the truth is that we do have the same genes as our parents but all that means is that in a variety of ways we will have a tendency to be like them, but please note it is purely a tendency. You don’t HAVE to be the same. We each have the ability, and especially when we walk with the Lord, to walk a new path. We can learn from the weaknesses or failures of our parents, and with God’s help we can ensure we don’t go the same way as they went. Where there are good things to follow, then of course we will want to imitate them, but the bad or negative things we want to reject.

One of the things about parents, is that because we were so close to them (geographically if not emotionally) they are there as an object lesson for us and we can never say, “Well I never knew.” We did; they were there, right in front of us. Their weaknesses or failures were obvious to see and we should have learnt from them, so that we don’t go the same way. Where they were a good example to us, we have an even bigger responsibility to follow their example because we can see the goodness of the way they walked. We can never say to God, “I didn’t see,” because that only shows our foolishness that was blind to the goodness before us which we obviously took for granted!

That is what lies behind the verse above. It is a terrible indictment, upon Jeroboam but also upon Nadab. It says that Jeroboam was foolish but Nadab was doubly so because he had had the opportunity to watch his father and ponder on what he was doing. A son is, if you like, on the sidelines watching his father, and because he is on the sidelines, he has the opportunity to think about what his father is doing and come to a right assessment about it.

So how about our own situations? When we look at the lives of our parents, are we able to be grateful for the goodness of their lives and do we follow the example of their goodness, or do we take it for granted and even reject it? Or is the opposite true? Do we look at the lives of our parents and feel sad for the sort of people that they were, perhaps struggling with the pain they inflicted on us. It happens. But if it did happen, have we learnt from it, so that we avoid going down the same path? It is sometimes said that someone who has been abused in childhood finds an abuser partner. It doesn’t have to be! If we are Christians the power of God is there so that we are released from our past history and can live out new lives with Him – but we have to believe it! What is the lesson that is coming out of this verse? You don’t have to be bound by your past. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!(2 Cor 5:17). Believe it!