Fathers’ Day: ‘Fathers’ in the Bible

The idea of ‘father’ is used nearly a thousand times in the Bible suggesting that it is a major biblical archetype. Yet there is no full-scale teaching about being a human father, or a well-developed picture of a father’s relationship to children. In fact we do not find many good fathers in the Bible. But this does not mean that Bible fails to give us enough guidelines for being a good father. So, the ‘idea’ of a model father comes not so much from an ‘ideal’ father portrayed in the Bible but from the instructions Bible gives to fathers.

The Bible portrays fathers as heads of families or clan leaders through whom genealogies are traced. Keeping to the general patriarchal culture of their times, fathers held positions of authority which is quite alien to our modern societies. As a principle religious and moral instructions to children rests on both the parents although it largely falls on the father as the one who keeps and transmits those traditions (Prov. 1: 8; 4: 1; 6: 20; 13: 1; 15: 5; 27: 10). The Torah (Old Testament) commands that fathers are to transmit the ‘past deeds’ of God to their children (Gen. 18: 19; Deut. 32: 7; Ps. 44: 1; 78:3). This is very important. The fact that we have our biblical traditions preserved and their faith transmitted from one generation to the next is a testimony to the significant role some fathers played.

Faithful fathers: We don’t have a detailed description, but only short statements about how some fathers passed on their faith commitments to their children. Job is an excellent example (1: 1-5). He is described as ‘blameless and upright’ which does not mean sinless perfection. As Spurgeon says, ‘We believe in no man’s infallibility, but it is restful to be sure of one man’s integrity’. We could apply to Job without qualification Ps. 1: 3, ‘He is like a tree planted by the waters….’ Job’s spiritual and moral stability led to establishing a secure family. The gift of children, extensive material possessions and domestic unity and rejoicing contributed to his happiness. But Job was never complacent nor took his spirituality for granted. His moral maturity was explained by his profound reverence for God. He was almost fussy about the faults his children committed secretly even in their hearts. His regular sacrifices provided against the bare possibility that his children had sinned against God. He is not just ritualistic. The words ‘that they might have sinned against God in their heart’ suggest that his spirituality did not skim on the surface. Which child will not remember such a father and his faith commitments? Christian heritage owes a great debt to fathers like this.

Then we have Joshua who made that historic statement, ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord’ (24: 15). Next to Moses Joshua was the greatest leader in Israel through whom the Lord led Israel to occupy the ‘promised land’. Unlike Moses, we know very little about his family. We might even think that with all the battles and strategies, where would Joshua have had time for his family? But if the overwhelming response of the people to follow suit is any indication, Joshua must have maintained a life of integrity and deep faith in God. But Joshua was also like a father to all the Israelites whom he not only taught how to trust in the Lord, but also allotted inheritance to each of the tribes. This is another important responsibility of a father to provide for the physical needs of children.

These two examples may be too much for most of us. We could only admire them standing afar. Let me say something about the ‘less perfect of the fathers’. Adam was the father of all fathers. The legacy he left his children is the ‘original sin’ (Rom. 5: 12-14). One result of that unhappy inheritance is that most fathers we know of, biblical or otherwise, are failures.

Fatherly failures: One of the most common failures that biblical fathers succumbed to was that of loving their children unwisely or preferentially. Abraham loved Isaac more than Ishmael. Then Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob for the sake of his own physical appetites. Jacob repeats the same mistake as he loved Joseph more than all his brothers. Such favouritism brings envy, hatred, treachery and bereavement to the family. Not just in favouritism, these fathers also failed in setting bad examples of practicing dishonesty and falsehood when they passed off their wives as sisters to save their skin (Gen. 12: 10-20; 20: 1-18; 26: 6-11), and made no efforts to reconcile their wrangling wives (Gen 29: 31-30: 224) or contain their murderous children (Gen 34: 25-31).

But worse than that is loving your children more than God. This was the case with Eli. It is said that he ‘loved his sons more than he loved God’, a sad remark of a father and a priest! He did not restrain them from stealing from the offerings and committing adultery with women who served ‘at the entrance of the tent of meeting’ (1 Sam. 2: 22-29). This led to God’s severe and tragic judgment on the family which was never to minister again in the house of God.

Some fathers in the Bible were great men of God in regard to faith, commitment, and leadership, but when it came to family they were not exemplary. David is known for many virtues: a great man of faith, great warrior, the greatest king in Israel whom God sought to appoint over his people, and was called ‘the man after God’s own heart’. But as a father he was a total failure. His spiritual decline began with his unrestrained lust for women that led him to commit adultery with Bathsheba and viciously murder her husband. Though he was forgiven, the consequences of his sin resulted in a dysfunctional family where he had no control over, whatsoever. His was a premier illustration of a father who failed to protect his daughter Tamar; he became incapable of disciplining his son Amnon, and refused to be completely reconciled to his other son, Absalom (2 Sam. 13). Towards the end of his life David was ruling a family that was broken by incest and fratricide. Did David love his children too much, or he simply did not have time for them?

God as the perfect Father: Bible portrays God not just as father but as perfect father. It’s not just because he created us but because he created us ‘in his own image’. In all the creation we humans are the only creatures that bear his spiritual and moral image. But humans sinned against God and that image of God in us became distorted and humans became increasingly sinful and distanced themselves from God. But once again God in his great mercy sent his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ to redeem and reconcile us to himself and ultimately restore his image in us. Thus God is doubly our Father by creation and redemption (Mal. 2: 10). In fact, the idea of ‘father’ did not go up from us but from above it came to us. This is what Paul meant when he said ‘For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named’. Paul is saying that the family is a divine institution which arises in God’s very being and from God’s essential nature. Every family in heaven and earth is named from him and derives its existence and its concept and experience of fatherhood. This is as far as theology goes.

But also practically, he is our parent. From his very being we derive our parental instincts. Bible uses many figures of speech to portray God’s fatherly love and compassion (Ps 103: 13), provision, protection (Deut 1: 31; Matt 6: 25-34), healing, discipline (Prov 3: 12) and so forth. The favourite word for God on Jesus’ lips was ‘father’. In fact it was even more intimate, ‘Abba’ (‘Daddy’ in Aramaic). And through Jesus we become adopted sons of God and we could call him ‘Abba’. So God is not remote to us nor is he distanced from our pains and sorrows as he himself went through the pain of his beloved Son’s savage murder on the cross. He bore the pain of a rebellious and disobedient child, Ephraim, that is, Israel (Hosea 11: 1-1-8). Yet he refused to be defeated by Israel’s disobedience, and unwilling to give him up. ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim? He says. There is much more. Our words are insufficient to explain the fatherly love of our God. But can we emulate him? Well, we are expected to follow his model though not with our own strength, but his grace will enable us to do so. If it were not so, the command ‘You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5: 48). I have taken a quote from John White’s Parents in Pain (pp. 209-210) that might serve as a guide to follow our heavenly Father:

‘As God is to me so must I be to my children. As he has dealt with me so must I deal with them. Such kindness as he has shown me, such patience and forbearing, such intolerance of sin—these must I in turn show for whom I stand in place of God. For in my children’s minds a concept is growing which is from my spouse and me, two powerful beings who gave them birth and who seem to rule over the cosmos of the home. Each time my children see a godlike attitude or action in their father or mother, the Holy Spirit will tell them, ‘Now you can understand a little better what your Father in heaven is like’. As someone said that the only thing we can take to heaven is our children! 

(Dr Augustine Pagolu)

Chapel Notes

Siew Kim Siang, the chapel speaker on 30th May 2007, presented the ministry of Nehemiah who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 56 days by miraculously mobilizing the returned and downcast exiles into a formidable force. He applied this message to the fundraising efforts of BGST suggesting that BGST's operational and building needs may be adequately met if we follow Nehemiah's strategy.

Chapel speakers for the next three weeks will be - Prayer Chapel (June 13), Cecil Peters & Peter Jamir (June 20), Dr Quek Swee Hwa (June 27).

NEWS BITS

  1. Courses commencing in June 2007

  • Biblical Basis for Tentmaking Mission (TENT module), starting Jun 12 (Tue), 7.20-10pm.

  • *Communication Skills for Speakers & Church Leaders (AT232, 1.5 credits), starting Jun 13 (Wed), 7.30-10pm. Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan

  • *Biblical Hebrew Exegesis II (BH211, 3 credits), starting Jun 25 (Mon), 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu

  • The Educational Ministry of the Church (CE101, 3 credits), starting Jun 26 (Tue), 7-10pm. Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng

  • The Christian Mind (AT361, 1.5 credits), starting Jun 28 (Thu), 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr David Wong.

  1. Intensive Courses by our Guest Lecturers

Prof  Alan Millard

  • OT Archaeology (OT160, 3 credits), starting Jun 25, 7.15-10.15pm

  • The Bible Fantasies or Facts – FAQs (OT/NT250, 1.5 credits); starting Jul 3, 7.15-10.15pm

    Dr David Ravinder
     

  • Lay Pastoral Counselling (CO355, 3 credits), starting Jul 9, 7.15-10.15pm

  • Integration of Theology & Psychology: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Pastoral Care Today (CO214, 1.5 credits), starting Jul 10, 7.15-10.15pm

    Dr Douglas Milne

  • Contemporary Theologians & Theologies (TS160, 3 credits), starting Jul 24, 7.15-10.15pm

  • Christian Ethics (TS252, 3 credits), starting Jul 25, 7.15-10.15pm

Registration is open for all courses. *Courses marked with an asterisk are not offered on audit basis. Visit our website for the course descriptions.
  1. Students’ News

  • Alvina Ng will be on a mission trip to East Timor with a 9-member team from 10 – 16 June. Subject to weather conditions, they will visit 2 villages (Edi & Maubissi) to do some profiling and needs assessment, build relationships as well as maintain a Christian presence. The team would appreciate prayer for safety and effective ministry.

  • Victor and Rachel Xu and Samuel Kim will be at Zion B-P Church camp in Malacca from 11-15 June.

A Blessed 
Birthday to ...

Ms Cindy Khaw  11/6
Dr Tan See Seng  12/6
Ms Janette Koh  13/6
Mr Ronald How  13/6
Ms Sandra Heng  13/6
Mr James Ong  14/6
Ms Rebecca Lee  14/6
Dr Quek Swee Hwa  15/6
Mdm Davida Muk  15/6
Ms Bernadette Jesu  15/6
Dr Cheng Ching Keng  17/6
Elder Steven Gan  17/6
Mr Loke Wai Leong  17/6
Mr Shaun Ong  17/6

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