Covenantal Parents

On January 31, 2006, more than 160 people were injured in clashes between Israeli settlers and Israeli police, ordered by interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to demolish an unauthorized West Bank outpost at Amona. Yisrael Yitzhaki, the officer in charge of the evacuation, told Israeli army radio: “In my many years in the Israeli police force, I have never seen such violence against police.” The violence led Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to exclaim, “Where are their parents, where are their rabbis? Is this the kind of society we want to live in?” Whether deliberately or not, Mofaz made a very appropriate connection between parents, education, and civilized behavior.

Fellow church member and Old Testament scholar Dan Block describes the family in the Old Testament as “patricentric.” Indeed, an extended family unit was designated as a bayith ’ab, or “father’s house.” The father functioned like the hub of a wheel, the family radiating from him. Thus,

Biblical genealogies trace descent through the male line; a married couple resided within the household of the groom; in references to a man and his wife or a man and his children, the man is generally named first (Gen. 7:7); children were born to the father (Gen. 21:1-7); fathers negotiated family disputes (Gen. 13:1-13; 31:1-55); God generally addressed heads of the household; when families worshiped, the head of the household took the initiative; and when men died without descendants their “name” died. In short, the community was built around the father; in every respect it bore his stamp.1

It would be a mistake, however, to understand the role of the father as one primarily of power. In fact, as Block points out, the Bible emphasizes the responsibility of the father, not his privilege or power. Among those enormous responsibilities, fathers were to teach their children the commands of God and the history of His redemption of His people (Deut. 6:1ff.)—“that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers has promised you in a land flowing with milk and honey.” And fathers were to teach by example as well. Recall the prohibition against idolatry in the Ten Commandments, where we learn that the father who practices it will be responsible for God’s judgment falling on the children to the third and fourth generations (i.e., upon his house, cf. Exod. 20:4-5; Deut. 5:8-9]). Or notice the fourth commandment where the head of a household is picked out as the one who is specifically prohibited from having those under his care (including his livestock) work on the Sabbath (Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14-15).

In ancient Israel, the female counterpart to the father was identified either as ’ishsha (“woman,” “wife”) or ’em (“mother”). Mothers, like fathers, had daunting responsibilities for their children. In addition to giving birth, the mother was responsible for “carefully cutting the cord, bathing the child in clean water, massaging it with a special saline solution and wrapping it tightly in bands of cloth”2 (cf. Ezek. 16:1-4). Additionally, mothers were often involved in naming their children. Finally, Proverbs 31:10-31 describes in some detail the responsibilities wives had in the daily care of their children. At the heart of her responsibilities was that of teaching her children; “she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26). In fact, Block maintains that “In laying the foundations for civilized behavior, excellent performance and responsible decision-making, the mother’s role was as important as the father’s.”3

From the beginning, God ordained that parents take the primary responsibility for their children’s education. Fathers and mothers both contribute.6 The lesson from ancient Israel is not necessarily that children must be home schooled, but that wherever children are educated, parents shoulder the burden of responsibility for rearing the next generation of civilized society.


1 Daniel I. Block, “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 42.

2 Ibid., 76.

3 Ibid.

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