Children of God
6 Oct 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
CHILDREN OF GOD
All throughout history much has been written in both the secular and religious world about the development of children. This was particularly to do with their overall relationship to values and faith development. In a world that has been constantly changing it is important to understand those influences that will eventually determine what kind of adults children become.
It becomes even more important from a Christian standpoint, because of the eternal consequences involved.
Bestselling author Hugh Mackay, who wrote the book 'reinventing Australia' and the book 'Generations', makes the comment that while the most powerful influence on young people is the example of their own parents, their values are not always transmitted intact. (Repeat) It is possible for these important qualities to be utterly rejected for some years, and sometimes forever. However, he continues by saying that all those early years of living in a family run by parents with a particular way of looking at the world inevitably will affect the way their children will see it (Mackay, 1997: 2).
While society, with its various cultures, plays a very important part, the truth is that the parent's way of life is the reference point or the point of departure for a child's journey towards their independence (ibid).
The importance of childhood training in these early years can be seen in the following statement by an unknown author that says, 'It is better to build strong children than to try and repair adults.' (Water, 2000: 166) (Repeat)
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in showing the value placed on the human soul, once made the comment that: 'Jesus loved everyone, but He loved children most of all…' (Ibid: 167) (Repeat)
Unlike our first parents, Jesus knew what children experienced and was therefore able to relate to those that were brought to Him. Of such, He said, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Joseph L. Whitton tells us that: 'The heart of a child is the most precious of God's creation. Never break it. At all costs, never break it' (Ibid).
All the way through Biblical history we have testimony to the impact that children have had for good or for evil and, in turn, the impact that adults have had on the development of impressionable young minds.
Proverbs 20: 11 tells us that 'Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.'
Because children are more open than adults in their dealings with others, they are able to show more clearly their inner nature and, as such, they give some indication of the men or women they will become.
When Israel was first brought out of Egypt, God was to emphasize many times the need for all parents to be the primary teachers of their children. The Schools of the Prophets were only to take those children whose hearts had been firmly established in the word of God. In this sense, these places of learning were only supplementary to the work completed in the home. This has relevance to us today with the work of our own church schools.
We first read God's instructions to the Israelite families in Deut 6: 6-8 where He says:
'These commandments that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.'
This situation can only ever happen if parents spend adequate time with their children, particularly in those early and impressionable years.
A child first learns about God from his parents. They should also learn from their parents the place that God should hold in their life. They should catch the sincerity and reality of God from the relationship their parents have with Him. If children never see their parents pray, it is easy to conclude that God does not matter very much. This is what makes the practice of family worship so very important.
We also need to understand that true love in the home can only ever begin with God's love. It has no other source. Children are great imitators and so a right example shown in the home should be the first precept of Christian communication.
In the Biblical world, childhood was short and it was hard. If they managed to survive their first few years of life, children would often be seen working around the home. Girls would learn the arts of cooking, spinning wool and other household chores. While both boys and girls would tend animals and labour in the fields, boys were also taught the art of pottery, woodwork or whatever craft the family might practice.
It is also important to recognise that within biblical culture a boy was considered an adult at 13 while girls might already be married at that age.
With this background in mind, I would like to share with you today the lives of a number of children that are outlined for us in the Scriptures. Their life stories not only provide an understanding of God's plan for them and the impact their lives have had on others for good or for ill, but also the responsibilities that attend all parents in bringing about their eventual salvation and that of all mankind.
To do this, I would like to take you back to a time just prior to 1100 BC to a place that in 1 Samuel 1: 1 is called Ramathaim or Ramah - a place that in New Testament times became known as Arimathea. It was to be found in the hill country of Ephraim, a range of mountains west of the Jordan River.
It was here that the Scriptures record the miraculous story of a childless couple that were given a son by God in response to the prayers and faith of a desperate mother.
The husband was a Levite, a man of wealth and influence by the name of Elkanah. A name that means in the Hebrew, 'God has possessed, created or redeemed'.
We need to remember that the desire of every Hebrew home was to have a son who would perpetuate the name of that household to the next generations and, if this significant event occurred, it was also seen to be a sign of God's blessing on the family.
However, it would seem to have been a lack of faith that finally led Elkanah to contract a second marriage. Polygamy, which was widespread at that time, seemed to provide the answer for many couples in their community who were in the same childless situation. 1Samuel 1: 2 tells us that Elkanah '…had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
We understand from 1Samuel 1: 5-7 that this was not a happy home because her womb was closed and '…her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.' Verse 7 says that this went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her until she wept and would not eat. This emotional state would indicate that this lady was absolutely distraught.
Unable to share her grief with earthly friends, she shared it with her Heavenly Father. She sought consolation from Him alone who once said in Ps 50: 15, 'Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.'
God's sacred institution of marriage had been disfigured in this family and the peace of the home was being torn apart by the jealousy, pride and arrogance of Peninnah as sons and daughters were now being added to the household. Only those who could share Hannah's longing for a child would understand the bitterness of her soul.
We know from this story that Hannah was a woman of fervent piety. Gentle and unassuming, her character was marked with deep earnestness and a strong faith. It was because of these traits of character that she was able to meet the trials before her with uncomplaining meekness.
It was at the tabernacle at Shiloh, about twelve miles or 20 kms from their home that Hannah came before the Lord. As she wept and prayed alone, oblivious of the presence of the High Priest, she made a solemn pledge to God. Let's read what she said in 1 Samuel 1: 11.
'And she made a vow, saying, 'O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant, but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'
This solemn pledge in dedicating her child to the Lord was known as a Nazarite vow. As a token of this consecration 'no razor would come upon his head.'
Eli, the High Priest, while originally thinking she was drunk like many of the other worshippers who came to Shiloh during that period, later hastily responds, by endorsing her prayer. He says in 1 Samuel 1: 17, 'Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.'
We need to remember that during this time of Israel's history the priesthood had deteriorated so much and the spiritual conditions in the land had become so bad that it caused Eli to make this hasty judgement. Frequent fasting and drunkenness, even among the woman had all but supplanted true godliness among the people of Israel.
While we all need to learn Eli's lesson not to judge by appearances only, Hannah was to learn that the best counsel comes from heaven when the distressed are alone with God (Repeat). The Psalmist in Ps 34: 18 reinforces that belief when he says that 'The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.'(Repeat)
Prayer is a powerful weapon because Hannah, in the course of time bears a little boy who is named Samuel meaning 'asked of the Lord'.
According to 1 Samuel 1: 22 Hannah made it clear to Elkanna that the boy would eventually be brought to live at Shiloh where he would serve the Lord during the remainder of his life. However, this would only take place after he was weaned. According to Hebrew custom this would give Hannah 3-5 years to fulfil her trust to God as she faithfully directed this little boy's thoughts toward the God of Heaven.
Early training is not a form of predestination, but those years of babyhood were to be the most vital in providing the solid foundation of his character. It was during this extremely brief period that he learned to respect God and gave full obedience to his mother. What a priceless privilege this faithful mother was given and Hannah took full advantage of it. The world was going to be blessed by her influence on this developing child as we see her prayers and early training were to prove sufficient in sustaining Samuel's relationship with God's grace for the rest of his life. He was to become one of the greatest prophets and one of the greatest reformers in Israel's history.
1 Samuel 2: 12 and 1 Samuel 2: 26 now gives a study in contrast as we turn to the story of Eli, the High Priest and his two sons. Let's read 1 Samuel 2:12 and then 1 Samuel 2: 26.
'Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord.' This short verse shows the unfavourable environment that Samuel was now exposed to in the temple and yet we find in 1 Samuel 2: 26 that '…the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour with the Lord, and also with men.'
The Scriptures show that Eli was a deeply pious man whose service to the Lord was unblemished. However, he was a lax father who had no control over the scandalous behaviour of his two sons who were named Phinehas and Hophini. His disciplinary measures came way too late and had reached the stage where both boys neither feared God, nor honoured their father. It is interesting that we hear nothing about their mother.
These two young priests, controlled by greed and lust, were unworthy of the duties they were given and Eli made only half-hearted attempts to discipline them. They took meat from sacrificial animals before they were dedicated to God. We are also told in 1 Samuel 2: 13-16, 22 that they also 'lay with women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle.
We need to recognise that those people coming to the temple every day were being taught about the nature and character of God by the manner in which the priests carried out the services of the tabernacle. Every violation made by these priests weakened the message it conveyed, bringing contempt upon divine things. Even the neighbouring nations, knowing of the scandal, became bolder in their approach to idolatry and crime.
Eli showed real weakness in allowing these young men to continue serving as priests. As a consequence, their behaviour was to disgrace God's work for years to come. However, while Eli was held responsible and was to receive divine judgement, the father's failure does not excuse the sons.
We read that both boys were later killed as they inadvisably carried the ark into battle against the Philistines thinking it would protect them and give them victory. We also read in 1 Sam 4: 18 that Eli, now 98 years of age and nearly blind, on hearing that the ark had been captured, fell backwards and broke his neck.
Eli was to experience the difficult lesson that by overindulging his children, he was contributing not only to their destruction, but also to his own. In the prophecy given by Samuel against the household of Eli in 1 Sam 2: 29-36, God was to make clear that '…those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained'. This was no arbitrary judgement on God's part, but a great law of life. We reap what we sow.
However, in the biblical world, children were not just raised by parents, but were also the responsibility of the extended family and the whole community. If this was the case, there were many others involved who failed Eli's sons as well.
It is also important to note that God had given both Eli and his sons the time to make necessary changes, and they all understood, through Samuel's prophecy, what the eventual outcome would be if they refused. This is the way God has worked all through history where men and nations were given time to change their course of action before final retribution was to fall on them. We see this with Sodom and Gomorrah; we see this with Pharaoh, with Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar, Saul, and even Judas Iscariot. God is not desirous that any should perish, but that all have eternal life.
A further lesson learned from the lives of children in the Scriptures can be seen in the story found in 1 Samuel 17: 49 of David and the giant Philistine named Goliath of Gath. The Philistines who had originally come from the Aegean Islands were employing the Greek concept of warfare by having a champion settle the fight. While Saul and his officers were reluctant to accept Goliath's challenge, the king finally accepted David's offer. We need to remember that while we today would see David as a child because he was still in his teens, in the biblical world he was seen as a man since he was eligible to marry the king's daughter.
This story is not just one about faith but is all about the prejudging of those whom we might deem unsuitable for certain tasks. While human reason would seem to say he was unsuitable we need to remember that we serve a God whose wisdom, might and power extend far beyond these human limits. As such, we should never be surprised when people are able to perform tasks that reason would suggest are impossible.
Other important lessons from the lives of children in the Bible can be learned from an incident referred to in 2 Kings 2: 23-25 which would tend to horrify those today who do not understand life in the ancient biblical world. Let's read what it says in 2 Kings 2: 23- 25 (NIV):
'From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. 'Go up thou baldhead!' they said. 'Go on up you baldhead!' He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods, and mauled forty-two of the youths. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there to Samaria'.
These mocking taunts were in reference to a very solemn and sacred event that took place when the prophet Elijah was translated without seeing death. With Elijah now gone these young men, who had obviously learned from their parents to despise the man of God, taunted Elisha to make his ascent into heaven. Their behaviour, believed to be directed by Satan himself, was to threaten Elisha's influence during a time of crisis in Israel's history (Nichol, 1972: 856).
The awful judgement that came upon them from God was to make Elisha's remaining fifty years of ministry trouble free. As he moved in and out of Bethel's gates, passing through the rough and idle groups of youth who still congregated in these areas, no one ever mocked him again or made light of his qualifications as God's prophet. This one incident of terrible severity at the commencement of his career was sufficient to command respect through his whole life (White, 1943: 44).
We need to understand that in the biblical world one of the fundamental values in the maintenance of their society was the emphasis on respect for adults. For forty-two youths to be assembled in one place during the morning would suggest that the social order of the day had broken down. This grouping together was seen as an ancient counterpart to modern urban gangs. Normally they all would have been working at home as they did not have the free time that is given to children today.
However harsh their judgement might seem to us today and however we still might not understand, this story serves as a powerful warning against those who scorn holiness or who mock those called of God. This has lessons for us all today.
As life continues during the time of the prophet Elisha we discover another amazing story.
Throughout Old Testament times, Syria was often at war with Israel and taking captives became part of the spoils of victory. In one of these attacks a marauding band swooped down on a helpless outpost of Israel and, through no fault of her own, a little nameless girl became one of their victims. In one single day this little girl had been carried away into a strange land, not only robbing her of her home, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters, but of every outward possession that had previously enriched her life. To cap it off she had now lost her freedom, becoming the slave to the wife of one of Syria's great military leaders by the name of Namaan.
Although she had become a captive she did not forget her homeland or her God. What incredible confidence this child displayed when she could have doubted the God she served because of her misfortune. While robbed of every outward possession, she was to cling to those values that physical force and violence can never touch. Let's read 2 Kings 5: 2-6.
'Now bands from Aram had gone out and taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Namaan's wife. She said to her mistress, 'If only my master would see the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy. Namaan went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel has said. 'By all means, go,' the king of Aram replied. 'I will send a letter to the King of Israel.' So Namaan left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: 'With this letter I am sending my servant Namaan to you so you may cure him of his leprosy.
This little girl not only remained loyal to the God of Israel and His prophet, but she also witnessed to Namaan about them. Her witness was so great that Namaan was to turn to her God despite the fact that this God was the deity of a defeated nation.
Somehow, even amid diversity, this child who for whatever reason was not named in Scripture, adhered to the faith she was raised on. It was a faith that was to become an ever-widening circle going from person to person, and from land to land eventually encompassing the whole globe. Only eternity will measure the wonderful testimony to Israel's God that was found in the life of this little captive maid living far away in an alien land. Such was the power and influence of the early childhood training she received from her faithful Israelite parents.
All the stories we have looked at this morning were all found in a period of history that was typified by transition and change. They were times of political unrest and conflict, not only in Israel, but also in the surrounding nations. It was a time described in Judges 21: 25 when '…everyone did what was right in their own eyes.'
Many centuries later, these same challenges were to be met by Mary, the mother of Jesus. Just like Hannah, Mary, in her humble round of duties faithfully instructed the young child in such a way that he was to grow in favour with God and man.
Author Ellen White says that: 'No child of humanity will ever be called to live a holy life amid so fierce a conflict with temptation as was our Saviour.' (White, 1940: 71,72). She continues by saying that the fact that He lived among the wicked inhabitants of Nazareth '…is a rebuke to those who think themselves dependent upon place, fortune, or prosperity in order to live a blameless life' (Ibid).
If we accept Hugh McKay's assertion that the most powerful influence on young people is the example of their own parents, our challenge this morning is to guard well the avenues of the soul by providing for our children the opportunities or elements not usually found in the majority of home circles. This is where prayer, family worship, Scripture study and Christian service become an important part of childhood training. However, parents can only ever take their children from the cradle to the Cross and no further. At the Cross, each individual has to make his or her own choice.
We live in a world today that represents a kaleidoscope of people, impressions and experiences reflecting the results of sin that have built up through the ages of time. As we work faithfully with our own children and the youth of our church we need to be conscious of Paul's admonition in Romans 12: 2 not to be '…conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…' thereby becoming Children of God.
Nichol, F. D. (1972) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 2 Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
MacKay, H. (1997) Generations, Baby Boomers, their parents & their children. Sydney: Pan McMillan Australia Pty Ltd.
Water, M. (2000) The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. UK: John Hunt Publishing Ltd.
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1943) Testimonies for the Church Vol. 5. Mountain View California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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