I have been reading through 1 Samuel in our church Bible reading program, and I was struck by the challenge that fathers face in passing on their faith to their sons.
In 1 Sam. 2:12-17 we read that Eli’s sons were “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord.” They would demand meat from the sacrifices of the people that went beyond what the law allowed them to take. They even slept with the women who served at the door of the tent of meeting (1 Sam. 2:22-25), and even though Eli rebuked them it didn’t do any good. His rebuke must have been half-hearted, because God rebuked him for honoring his sons above the Lord. As a result, God decided to remove the priesthood from his family and give it to another. In His call of Samuel, God declared,
“12In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.” (1 Sam. 3:12-13)
Apparently Eli’s half-hearted rebuke of his sons was too little, too late.
Samuel was well aware of the problem with Eli’s sons, but when he ended up having a similar problem. When he was old, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. But his sons “did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Sam. 8:3) They sound a lot like Eli’s sons. How sad.
As I read about Samuel’s sons, I thought “Wait a minute. Here are two godly spiritual leaders, both of whom failed to pass on their faith to their sons. What happened?” Were they too busy with “ministry” to attend to their families? Did they favor their sons so much that they were willing to overlook their faults instead of rebuking them? These two examples provide a sobering wake up call for any Christian leader raising children.
What about good examples? Here are a few things that I came up with:
- Deut. 6:6-9 tells us how it is supposed to work
- Proverbs 1-9 summarizes the instruction that a godly father gives to his son
- Joseph showed great faith in Egypt, so maybe Jacob did something right in instilling faith in his favorite son
- Timothy shared the faith of his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5). This is not about fathers and sons, but it is an example of passing on the faith to the next generation.
I won’t take time to expand on these now. Can you think of any other good examples in Scripture?
When we turn to more recent times, compare Dwight L. Moody and Billy Graham. Each was the leading mass evangelist of his time. Moody’s son became an athiest, while Graham’s son eventually came to join his father in the ministry. We can’t take the faith of our children for granted.