July 22, 2016
A Crisis in Parenting
By Skip Heitzig
Parenting is some serious stuff. Someone once said that a parent is a partner with God in disciplining their children. Great way to look at it. But what happens when parents are passive and not involved with their children, when they don't take the time to understand their kids' world? Here we come to the detached parenting of the patriarch Jacob.Now, in some respects, Jacob knew his children: he knew that outwardly, they were corrupt and violent, as you'll see. But in many respects, he didn't know them at all.
This seemed to be a habit throughout Jacob's life. In Genesis 34, his only daughter, Dinah, was raped by a young man named Shechem. We don't know what Jacob's reaction was to this, but we do know what some of her brothers did: "Two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city [of Shechem] and killed all the males" (v. 25). And what was dad's response to this? "Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, 'You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land…and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I'" (v. 30). His response showed a selfish, preoccupied father who, at most, rebuked his sons.
These same things were patterned out in his own children. When his ten sons were plotting how to get rid of Joseph in Genesis 37, Judah said, "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites" (vv. 26-27). In other words, "Why kill him when we can make money off the deal?" Like father, like son: Jacob was a deceiver and did things for financial gain most of his life. Then there was Reuben: "Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit…. And he returned to his brothers and said, 'The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?'" (vv. 29-30). He was concerned about himself—again, like father, like son.
So, what principles can we learn from Jacob's story? The first thing we can do is study our children. It is so easy to get out of touch with them, especially in our culture. And if that was a problem for Jacob in an agrarian society where he was supposedly home most of the time, how much more of a threat is it to us in our modern society? The Bible says that we are to train up a child in the way he should go (see Proverbs 22:6). To train is to mold a character, and to be able to mold a character, it takes studying that character.
The second thing we need to do is fight passivity and be involved. Passivity is one of the greatest enemies of parenting. If you are a passive parent, you are almost ensuring that your child will be insecure and angry. In the same way that faith without works is dead, parenting without involvement is dead. Fight passivity.
And finally, be a disciplined parent, and discipline your children. If you refuse to discipline your child, you will ruin them. There are parents who are petrified that if they discipline their child, the child will not love them, but there's nothing that could be further from the truth: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Proverbs 13:24; see also Proverbs 19:18; 22:15).
Jacob's sons turned out very much like he did. But his story doesn't have to be ours. I pray that God would make these principles real in our lives, that we would study our children, be involved with them, and discipline them as a gesture of our love. And remember: there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all learn, make mistakes, and get tired along the way. Like Jacob, you can make a lot of mistakes and still have kids turn out as great as Joseph did.
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