A Family Theology: What are Children for Anyway?

I hope to develop this into a series as time goes on but since baby Walters should be born within the next two weeks I think it best to begin with some thoughts on the Scripture and children.

Psalm 127

1Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Introduction

This psalm is part of a larger section known as the Songs of Ascents, or Ascent Psalms (Psalm 120-134), which would be sung as individuals journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The overarching theme of this particular song is God’s sovereignty and its relation to the family which is important as it would likely be memorized and sung by the family during their pilgrimage.

Explanation

v1. The first verse points us to the futility of human effort severed from God’s provision. As parents laboring to raise Christ-like children we must recognize that our efforts are vanity apart from divine enablement and blessing. Solomon likens this to a watchman who stays awake to guard a city from its enemies. This would have been a vivid reminder to the Jews who would sing this during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This would remind them of how the Lord’s hand was against them during the time of the judges as He caused foreign armies to invade and destroy Israel (Deuteronomy 28). All of their military efforts were vanity until the Lord provided a deliverer (Judges 2:11-23). In the same way parents must realize that it is the work of God, not their efforts, that saves and sanctifies their children (cf. Ezekiel 11:19-20).

v2. The second verse continues to illustrate the point of the first. The man who lives off of his own strength and diligence does so vainly and even robbing him of the joy of the fruits of his labor as the bread which he strives to provide become burdensome and fraught with anxiety. In contrast the one whose ultimate confidence is in the Lord rests with ease.

v3. Despite the ease of all our modern conveniences and technologies the prevailing view of children is that they are burdensome and we would be kidding ourselves if, in some romanticized vision of history, we think the ancients had it any easier. Scripture directly confronts this mindset with the reminder that children are a gracious gift of God. We do not deserve them and yet God, in His grace, blesses us with them.

v4. Solomon makes what seems to be an abrupt shift in analogy as he moves to describe children as implements of war; however, this is not the case. Children grow and are shaped and molded by their parents in a similar way that the finest craftsmen and blacksmiths would construct an arrow. From finding the straightest shafts, to tight and consistent feathers, to constructing razor sharp tips out of steel and stone this entire process could be likened to the training and raising of children; however, this is not the focus of this passage. He is actually comparing children born, while their parents are still young, to weaponry in the hand of a skilled warrior. The meaning of this becomes clearer as the text continues.

v5. The man with a quiver full of arrows, referring to his numerous offspring, will not be put to shame when called to the gate to meet with his enemies. The gate is where the elders and wise men of the city would sit and conduct business, it is where judgments were made, and it was often the place where armies would meet. The aging father can speak justly and boldly with his enemies as the children of his youth, whom he has carefully raised, are now grown and his sons are now mighty men who present a dangerous force, much like many arrows in the hands of a warrior, to those who would deal unjustly with their father.

Application

What are we supposed to take away from this text? Clearly we do not live during a time of tribal warfare where it is important for our children to be skilled warriors should a rival clan attack. There are certainly points of application to be made concerning the care for the elderly and the aging. However, I would like to offer three overarching thoughts on the purpose of children.

First, God is sovereign and not man. This has countless implications for the following points but it must be examined on its own first. Against the counter temptations of living through our children to realize our unattained dreams by ruling over them and allowing our children to be the final authority thus allowing them to rule over us Scripture boldly asserts that God is the final authority. As parents we must seek to parent in such a way that God’s will be done. Our aim in childrearing is the glory of God and children who seek to glorify God above all else. This is countercultural. With this we also recognize that while we are held accountable for parenting biblically it is God who controls the outcome. When our children do good it is fundamentally a work of God purchased on the cross. When our children repent and follow Christ it is solely the result of God’s sovereign grace and not our good parenting. We approach the task of parenting humbly because we will be required to give an account and yet our only boast is in Christ.

Second, children are an undeserved gift from God. There are certainly biological processes and countless decisions which lead to children nevertheless we must recognize the behind it all is the grace of God. Furthermore, our lives as families and as a church must demonstrate this reality. Our age is no different from ages past people have always viewed children as a burdensome and have sacrificed them to placate various gods or left them to die in the desert. Human history is plagued with accounts of infanticide and the glory of modernity is that such burdens, as many would view children, can be removed in ways which seem far more human and civilized than the brutality of ages past. I am thankful for Stanley Hauerwas’ reminder “that abortion is not a question about the law, but about what kind of people we are to be as the church and as Christians.” Our lives demonstrate this reality not when we protest those who do not value their unborn children and/or the children of others nor do we demonstrate this reality by merely voting for pro-life candidates. Our lives demonstrate this reality when we cherish our children for the grace-gift that they are, especially when they are burdensome. Even more we demonstrate this well when we as families and as a church gladly receive the children which the rest of society does not want. What clearer presentation of the gospel could we make than that of adoption? There are few metaphors which so clearly express our new reality in Christ than that of adoption and the church has an unprecedented opportunity to live this out.

Third, children are given for the expansion of the kingdom. Children are implements of war not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The hopes and dreams of our children must not be shaped surrounding culture but by the word of God and as parents we must cultivate children who think first and foremost about His kingdom. I think this requires us to put to death the idea that safety matters above all else. We must kill all of our dreams that place the safety of our children and our families above the glory of God. I have not heard it openly articulated, maybe you have, but there seems to be this unwritten rule within in the church that once you have children God’s will for your life is finding Mayberry because our kids need to be safe. I think this passage paints a far different reality, a reality where children are spent for the kingdom because that is what you do with arrows you release them. In the meantime we should be spending ourselves for the kingdom by living the gospel.

Reader Response

How else would you see this text being applied within the church and within our families?

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