“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” – Genesis 1:28
“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.” – Malachi 2:15
The first recorded words that God spoke to man and woman were “be fruitful and multiply”. So, as close to man’s beginning as you can get, God created the family. If God’s intention from the start was to build His kingdom, it needed people in it for Him to love. Malachi confirms: “what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring”. He wanted a family for Himself, and for each other.
After this early command, one might expect the Old Testament between Genesis (the first book) and Malachi (the last) to be an instruction manual on having a Godly family, and many are only familiar with the “hero” stories learned in Sunday School. In total though, it’s difficult to find examples of good parents in the Bible. There are plenty of examples of bad parents, but the most striking story is perhaps that of Judah in Genesis 38. (And here I feel I should provide a warning that this story has a lot of sexual content. The full Bible is not a PG movie)
The story starts with Judah taking a foreign (Adullamite) wife, named Shua, against God’s guidance to only marry Israelites so as not to be tempted by foreign gods and religious practices. Judah fathers three sons by Shua, named Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah takes Tamar to be Er’s wife, but Er died before having children. Preserving the family line through descendants was extremely important in ancient Israel, and a brother would marry his fallen brother’s widow to bear children in his place. Therefore, Judah told his second-born, Onan, to take Tamar, but Onan would “waste the semen on the ground” because he selfishly didn’t want the children to belong to his older brother. Onan also died before having children. Having lost two sons, Judah sent Tamar to live with her father instead of giving the last son, Shelah, to her. Judah claims that the reason was that Shelah was not old enough, but it’s implied in the story that Judah thinks Tamar is somehow responsible for the two son’s deaths. Judah had created his own narrative to explain his misfortune as Tamar’s fault, when it was really God’s judgment for the sins of Judah and his sons. Genesis makes it clear that God was displeased with Judah marrying a foreigner, that Er died for his own wickedness (verse 7), and that Onan died for avoiding his responsibility as a brother (verse 10).
When Judah’s wife died, he waited a while, but then decided to seek a prostitute. Tamar, having never been wed to Shelah even though he was now old enough, sought offspring by disguising herself as a prostitute and soliciting Judah. He did not recognize Tamar, and she conceived a son by him. Prostitution was common in the land then and was often associated with cult fertility rituals for local gods. Not only did Judah commit a sexual sin, but he was probably also worshiping other gods. Later, when Tamar is clearly pregnant, Judah accused her of immorality, but she was able to prove that Judah was the father by producing items he left with her when she was disguised. Ashamed of being discovered, he “did not know her again”.
In just one chapter, we have the command to produce Godly offspring violated by: foreign marriage, wickedness, refusal to conceive, refusal to offer the third brother, and prostitution. God must be frustrated with His struggling family, but He does not give up.
In the last chapter of Malachi, shortly after the “Godly offspring” reference and before going silent for 400 years, God ends the Old Testament with:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6
A restoration of proper family relations is the promise that ends the Old Testament. “Elijah the prophet” is later revealed as a reference to John the Baptist, also spoken of in Isaiah 40:3 as the one who would prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. The same Jesus who is announced in the genealogy that opens the New Testament in the gospel of Matthew:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.…and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram” – Matthew 1:1, 3
Here is the miracle of the grace of God: the children born of Judah and Tamar were twins named Perez and Zerah. Matthew could have chosen only those “heroes” of the Bible taught in Sunday School to show Jesus’ superior lineage, but instead chooses to highlight the story of Genesis 38. Why include these people? Because there is no other kind.
God’s purpose in creating His kingdom, populated by His family, will not be thwarted by sin because sinners are the only people available to join His family and to raise His family on earth. Isaiah 53:6 declares:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Through the death of His only begotten Son on the cross, God became Father of His people through adoption into His eternal family.
But if God’s purpose is inevitable, then why should we bother to be good parents and people?
In the movie Tenet, released last year during the pandemic, there is a scene where one character sacrifices himself for another. The movie revolves around a technology called “inversion” which allows objects and people to be reversed in time. Near the end of the story, two characters have a conversation “before” one character travels backward to sacrifice himself to save another character, but “after” the other character has been saved. They both realize the sacrifice was essential to victory, but also that in the “before” character’s timeline, it hasn’t happened yet. Can the sacrifice be avoided? Then comes one of the best quotes of the movie: “What’s happened, happened. Which is an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”
In God’s view from eternity, “what’s happened, happened”, but He has taken into account all the sins and successes of mankind. The choices we all make, including the mistakes, are part of the “mechanics of the world”. All the mistakes will be borne in judgment either by the sinner, or on the cross with Christ. But we also know “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Doing God’s work is His will, is our purpose, and will be rewarded in heaven. Doing nothing is not an option.
Steve’s Instruction Book for Dads
Some years ago, I was a new dad. I also had a full-time job with a 1 ½ hour each way commute and was getting an MBA. As you may guess, time was at a premium for me.
My Moral GPS was getting inputs from a couple of places. First was a coworker I’ll call “Steve”. He was a senior person at the non-profit where I was working at the time, had a book at his desk called “God’s Instruction Book for Dads”, and liked to speak his mind. He once told me his teenage daughter refused to ever talk to him, which he brushed off as “typical teenager”. What made that comment more interesting was that I later mentioned making sure to leave work in time to see my daughter before she went to sleep. She was only a few months old at the time. “Steve” asked me “what do you want to waste your time with that for? She won’t remember any of it!”
The other voice, and the one I listened to, was my wife. Any opportunity where I was home, and our daughter needed a bath or a book read, or anything, my wife often suggested I do it. “You’ll regret it if you don’t”. Of course, her voice aligned with “the right thing to do” and so I did my school or work at other times. I didn’t get fired, and I graduated in time. But, most importantly, I just told this story about Steve and mom to my now-teenage daughter a few days ago as we were talking and having pancakes together for dinner. Relationships take time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a perfect dad, but actions have consequences and don’t take anything for granted. Fathers and mothers matter, and they sometimes need encouragement and reminders to be good parents. I recently had a conversation with someone right before Father’s Day who said his kid was a teenager and he wasn’t needed any more. This was a lie. I told him that he mattered to his son.
Some quotes just stick with you even if you have no idea where they came from. During college, I heard a speaker at some event (don’t remember who or where) say that it’s wrong for parents to say they are “raising children”. They “have children”, but unless they change their focus to “raising adults”, they’re going to end up sending their kids out on their own as unprepared children, he said.
The Old Testament ends with the call to raise Godly offspring, followed by the prediction of restoring the family through Jesus. So, what are these Godly offspring who are the adults we seek to raise? If you’ve been following along on this blog, you can probably guess that Godly offspring:
- Have within themselves the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to choose the path of righteousness over the path of the wicked,
- Because they fear the Lord with a reverential awe, making them listen to, and act in, wisdom instead of going any which way,
- Which they learn from tasting and seeing for themselves that the Lord is good, by turning to Him in repentance and finding Him loving and faithful,
- Building on the cornerstone of Christ and measuring their actions with the tools of righteousness and justice
They can only find this by God’s grace, but these Godly offspring are the adults the world needs. Able to make strong decisions that impact the world in a positive way for Jesus. Able to identify and decide among the voices that confront them in the streets and the Spirit that speaks to them. They need to learn to fear God by first fearing, but then becoming independent of, their parents or guardians.
The Fatherless Aren’t
In my last post I wrote about different perspectives on truth. Truth of the way the world is. Truth of the way it should be. Gospel Truth. But I’ll add one to the list now:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27
God the Father has a special place for those who don’t have an earthly father. He will be Father to them. Therefore, be Jesus to the widows and orphans, showing them the Way to, and the love of, their Father. There is a reason the Lord’s Prayer starts with “Our Father” – because ultimately all depends on Him.
Many in the world reject God as Father because of the failure of fathers in the world. Genesis 38, with all its warts, shows us that Judah and many others were part of God’s plan to use sinners to reach sinners. To become the Father of His eternal people, despite the failure of His people to be good fathers. There are no Godly offspring without the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no human Jesus without a genealogy of sinners. There are none to inhabit heaven without the sacrifice of a human Jesus, God’s only Son, given for you.
Although Father’s Day recently passed, take every opportunity to be grateful for fathers, for parents, for those who take on parenthood in other ways, but also think about those who have no earthly provision. Those who see Jesus see the Father, so help people see Jesus. God’s purpose for Godly offspring will be fulfilled and praise Him that you have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to be a part of that work.
You matter. To God and to others. Whoever you are.