When my son was just an infant, I would hum the song “Father Abraham” to him. It’s a good song (even if I didn’t understand it as a kid—or what it had to do with my right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot). I often make up songs around the house, especially when I sing to my kids and “Father Abraham” lends itself to this, too, because all of my children have three-syllable names.
Just like Abraham.
The syllable thing was planned, but the Abraham portion was an added benefit. I do like singing that particular song over them because my most earnest prayer for all of my children is the “and so are you” portion of the song. I want nothing more than for my kids to know the joy of knowing Christ, to be children of faith—children of Abraham.
As a good Baptist, I don’t believe that raising them in the faith means they are of the faith yet. As much as I sometimes joke about wanting be a Presbyterian (some days it’s not a joke) I am a thoroughgoing and unapologetic credo-baptist.
But we’ll save the baptism argument for another day. Today I’m just trying to figure out how to be a better parent. And of course, as a theologian, my first step is to do a systematic study of what the Bible says about children.
(Maybe now is a good time to confess that my friends worry about me.)
I started with Genesis, which of course had a lot to say about children because the stories are about the children of Abraham, the children of Isaac, the children of Jacob, the children of Joseph, the children of Noah—the children of Adam. “These are the generations” is the phrase that structures the book. It’s about the promise of seed and the promise of a great nation from a barren womb, the promise of two wrestling infants. It’s about childlessness. It’s even (almost) about child sacrifice.
I say “of course” because I know that Genesis is about all these things. But to be honest, I never put it all together before. Genesis has a whole lot to say about children.
Unfortunately for me it doesn’t have as much to say about what to do with them.
But one passage in particular really struck me, something I never noticed in all the times I’ve read Genesis. It’s something God says in passing about Abraham as He’s preparing to judge Sodom:
Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:16-19 ESV; emphasis mine)
God had a purpose for Abraham, and that’s no surprise. God always has a plan. God never just does things. But whenever I considered Abraham’s calling, I thought of the children as a gift to Abraham, and Abraham’s purpose being to bless the nations—which is certainly true.
But this passage makes clear how these two things are related. The blessing of children who will become a great nation is not just for him, and the way he will bless the nations is by how he raises them.
Abraham was a man of faith, and God wanted him to pass that faith down to his children. He was to do this by commanding them “to keep the way of the LORD.”
Now, remember they don’t have Bibles, so Abraham has to pass on the way of the LORD to them himself. We can assume that God’s commands were passed down orally since we know that was normal in those days. But note that the expectation is that his children will be “doing righteousness and justice.” I have to imagine this means Abraham is doing more than just talking. In order to teach them to do righteousness and justice, he has to set an example.
Abraham’s story involves lots of travel and lots of interactions with different peoples across the Ancient Near East. It involves miracles and epic stories and drama. But it’s not the adventure or the human interest that makes Abraham a man worth studying. God intended for him to teach his children to walk in faith, in righteousness, and in justice.
I’ll bet if we looked at Abraham’s story with these things in mind, we would learn a lot from his example.
And while we might be tempted to trace the history of Israel with disapproval and shake our heads at Abraham’s progress, the truth is Abraham did it. He was successful. You can’t make any of your children believe, let alone all of them. The fact that there was always a faithful remnant in Israel shows that the work God did in Abraham bore fruit. And God has blessed the nations through him.
Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them. And so are you [I hope].
Praise the Lord!
Even though I’m not Abraham and God hasn’t appeared to me to give me a special mission, the fact remains that Abraham has a lot to teach me about being a parent. Since I, too, am a man of faith, it’s my responsibility to command my children to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.
And maybe if God is kind and gracious, they can also be a blessing to others.