Let’s Go “Old Testament” on Fatherhood!
Have you ever heard someone say, “They went Old Testament on (fill in the blank)!”? Usually, what they mean is that the person was a bit angry, judgemental and intense about something. Well, seeing as it’s almost Father’s Day, I thought I’d go Old Testament on fatherhood! But don’t be so quick to assume that means fatherhood is going to get a Bible bashing. That would be to misunderstand the character of the Old Testament. Below I offer some reflections on God as a Father in the Old Testament in the hope that all dads can become more godly fathers.
A Godly Father Creates Belonging
There are eight references to God as Father in the Old Testament (using the normal Hebrew word for father, ‘av’).1 The first reference comes in Deuteronomy 32:6, where it says, “…Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?”. God as Israel’s father is linked to the idea that he created them and made them. They, therefore, belong to him. You get the same idea in Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God’s people call God, “Father”, because he formed them. In other words, they belong to Him because He created them. How might this help us as earthly and imperfect fathers to understand the purpose of fatherhood?
Let me suggest that one way to apply this to our lives is to think about how to create belonging for our children. It’s possible for a child to have been biologically ‘created’ by a parent and yet feel unknown, unloved, even unrelated to them. So, how can you intentionally create belonging in your own family? This can be as practical as warmly embracing a little child when they come running to greet you. It can look like regularly reminding your children they are your son, or your daughter, and that you’re proud of that. It could involve stepping back and thinking more intentionally about the culture and values of your household and how to create unity and belonging through spiritual rhythms. A godly father creates belonging for his children.
A Godly Father Faithfully Cares
Another reference to God as Father in the Old Testament comes from Jeremiah 31:9, which says, “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” These verses talk about Israel returning from their terrible exile, and the way God faithfully leads them home by brooks of water and straight paths. Notice the care in this verse. God says the reason he lovingly leads them and protects their journey is because, “I am a father to Israel”. To be a father is not to be a tyrant. To be a father is to faithfully care for one’s children, especially when they don’t deserve it.
Think about this for a moment. Israel had been spurning and rejecting God’s love for hundreds and hundreds of years. That would hurt! This is what led to their eventual judgement and exile. Yet, God’s faithfulness remained. He never gave up His care for His children. He was ready to restore those who came to Him with “pleas for mercy”. If it wasn’t for His faithful care, none of us would be able to call God, “Our Father”. Let this be an encouragement to you if you are dealing with the pain of an estranged child, or a wayward child. Keep praying for them and loving them. Your heavenly Father will never give up on you despite your own sins and shortcomings. Let His faithful care for you help you to extend the same to your own children. A godly father faithfully cares.
There’s more that could be gleaned from the Old Testament, but for now let me finish by saying to all of the fathers in our church, thank you. I honour you for what you do for your children and for serving them and helping them to know Jesus. None of us are perfect, but thankfully, we belong to a Father who is, and who faithfully cares for us even when we get it wrong.
God is for you,