Judges 11:30-35 and Sacrificing Children for Success

Jephthahs-Daughter-DM2Of all of the stories in the Old Testament, I have found this one the most disturbing.  As is typical in Judges, the Israelites fall away from the Lord and a judge is raised up to deliver the people.  In this case it is Jephthah, a man of questionable scruples and a tendency to try and make deals with others.  Before he goes to battle to deliver Israel he even makes a deal with God–one that does not end well:

Jephthah made a solemn promise to the Lord: “If you will decisively hand over the Ammonites to me,  then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites will be given over to the Lord. I will sacrifice it as an entirely burned offering.”  Jephthah crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord handed them over to him.   It was an exceptionally great defeat; he defeated twenty towns from Aroer to the area of Minnith, and on as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were brought down before the Israelites.   But when Jephthah came to his house in Mizpah, it was his daughter who came out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was an only child; he had no other son or daughter except her. n When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Oh no! My daughter! You have brought me to my knees! You are my agony! For I opened my mouth to the Lord, and I can’t take it back.”   But she replied to him, “My father, you’ve opened your mouth to the Lord, so you should do to me just what you’ve promised. After all, the Lord has carried out just punishment for you on your enemies the Ammonites.”

Yes, Jephthah had victory over the Ammonites, but at the cost of his own next generation who should have benefited from the deliverance.  He sacrificed the one for whom the deliverance would have meant the most.  He destroyed the future that he helped secure.

How often do leaders in the Church (let alone any other profession!) sacrifice their children for success.  I have heard numerous stories of the children of ministers who have left the faith, and some even want nothing to do with their parents, because the minister sacrificed his or her family for the sake of the ministry.  Meetings and programs took precedence over family obligations.  Their children were held to a much higher standard of life than other people.  Law was meted out to the preacher’s kids because they had to look perfect in front of the congregation, but grace was offered to everyone else because no one is perfect.  Busyness for the Church took the place of genuine parental interest in children.

What does it profit a minister to gain a large congregation and grand reputation, but lose his family in the process?  Why would anyone want to sacrifice their children on the altar of success?  It may not be as obvious as Jephthah’s action, but every time our children feel as if they are lower class priorities in our lives, a little bit of them is sacrificed.

As Christians the single most important relationship we can have on this earth is with our spouses and children.  Even extended family falls beneath this level.  Even Church family falls beneath this level.  If we cannot show those closest to us the love of God, do we have that love at all?

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Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Teaching Children Well

playing church at homeChildren are the future of any group or organization, and the Church is no different.  If we want the Church to survive into the next generation, we have to teach children well.  Sure, there are plenty of conversions of people who were not raised in the Church and were not taught the faith as children, but along with those adult converts the Church needs people who were raised in a Christian environment and have the Christian faith permeate their being.  A healthy Church needs the zeal of new converts and the foundation of those who were raised in the faith.

Deuteronomy shows how important it is for the training of children in the faith:

Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.  These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds.  Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.  Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol.  Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.

It is so important to pass on the faith to our children that we are to constantly talk to them about our faith.  We are to have representations of the faith visible in our everyday lives so the children see that it is important to us.  And we are to do this because we love God and want our children to experience that love of God that we have.

Parents and guardians of children are the first and most important example of faith that children have.  If they see that it is important to us, that our relationship with God is something wonderful and good and holy to us, then it will have a much higher likelihood of being important to them.  If they see us give lip service to our faith–showing it only when we are expected to do so and living like the rest of the world at all other times–we should not be surprised if they turn their backs on something that obviously was not important to us.

In the West, we have the mistaken idea that our congregations, Sunday School classes, and youth groups have the responsibility for teaching our children the faith.  This is not true.  That mentality leads to people who believe religion and faith are for official church events only, and that faith does not impact everyday life.  In countries around the world where the Church is persecuted, they know that the home is the first Church children will ever see and experience, and it is up to the family to disciple the children.  There is a wonderful, if challenging book, called The Insanity of God that shows this much more clearly than I ever could.

It needs to be pointed out, though, that how we teach our children will greatly shape their understanding of God as well.  If we are harsh and demanding, showing judgment and withholding love, they will understand God as a divine tyrant who will not tolerate disobedience.  This is not the God of grace in the Bible.  If we are open and permissive, allowing any and all action and activity, they will understand God as never making any boundaries in life and everything is acceptable.  This is not the God of covenant in the Bible.  If we do not allow our children to wrestle with tough questions and encourage them to explore how Christianity measures up to the other various religions, beliefs, and theories in the world we show an immature faith in a God who is not able to handle doubts or questions.  This is not the God who is Truth.

Teaching children well is important and difficult.  May God give us the grace, wisdom, and discernment to know how to do it.