As we drill into 7 different sins from parents in the Bible, I hope that these will serve as guard rails for us as we raise our children not to make us feel weighed down, but rather to free us to do what is right without caring what others think about our decisions because we are seeking to follow God’s leading in the way we raise our children.
Jacob is seen as one of the three great patriarchs of the Old Testament. The Lord allows himself to be described as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. While Abraham was only entrusted with one promised son and Issac had twins, Jacob had 12 sons to take care of, each of which became leaders of the tribes of Israel.
You would have thought that Jacob would be smashing the parenting thing – an example of the perfect father whom we should all look to and follow. Yet looking at his life I see two specific errors that he makes with his parenting that we are going to look at over the next two blogs. But first a quick look at one of the explicit parenting verses of the New Testament. Ephesians 6:4 says Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.1 says fathers do not exasperate your children For many of us as parents we feel we need to read this verse carefully. Is it a mistake? Parents of toddlers or teens may think this verse should actually read children to not exasperate your parents. Yet this is not the way it is. Parents can exasperate their children. The implication of this verse is that firstly fathers are in danger of doing so and secondly that doing so would be damaging to your children.
And so we come to Jacob’s family. Jacob’s family would perhaps be described as a blended family today with half-brothers living under the same roof. Jacob is carrying his own baggage with him from his childhood and from his young adult years. (See our article on the sin of Samuel for more on this challenge for us as parents). He had a turbulent relationship with his brother Esau and his parents were divided with his mother taking his side and his father siding more with Esau. Jacob then left home and went to work with his uncle Laban. Working 7 years to marry Rachel he was tricked into marrying Leah. It took another 7 years of work before he could marry the one he truly loved. Leah was definitely not his love or his desire, but she was the one who could have children. Suffice to say his relationship status could definitely be described as, ‘it’s complicated.’ When Rachel finally had her first child, Joseph, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who would be the favourite of the family. Joseph was greatly favoured. He was given a special coat of many colours that meant he could not do the farm work. He was let off the farm chores while his brothers worked hard day and night. He received special treatment (as did his mum) and it is understandable that his brothers were exasperated by this situation.
Each of our children should be treated equally but that can be easier said then done. One parent was asking us how one of her children had been complaining that he was always punished more than his brother. On reflection the mother realised that this was true. But was it unfair? We had the same situation in our home when one of our boys would get himself in far more trouble with us than another. He complained about how unfair this was, especially as they were often up to the same mischief but he was always the one who was punished. We took the time to explain this to him patiently. Both boys would play up and we would tell them both to stop. His brother would stop but he would continue or answer back (or both) and then he would get into trouble. In other words he was getting into trouble for not listening to the warnings we were given, whereas his brother would listen immediately. He was not convinced that this was the case so we agreed that we would point it out to him. We did not have to wait long before we had the opportunity. We gave him the warning (and then highlighted to him that this was the warning). He carried on and received punishment (together with a reminder that he had had the same warning as his brother but he had chosen to continue while his brother stopped). It did not take long for him to realise this was what was happening and modify his behaviour. This is not exasperating our children. This is good godly discipline. But it requires us to keep a consistent standard, for all of our children on all days, regardless of how tired we are. That is easier said that done yet when we aim for this we reduce the need for discipline as our children soon learn how to behave and that the standard is always applied consistently.
The fruit of exasperation
If the above example is not exasperation, but rather consistent discipline, we are left with the question of what it? We see the fruit of exasperation in the life of Joseph’s brothers who ultimately rose up against him and sold him into slavery, whilst feeding their father the lie that he had been killed by a wild animal. Indeed, we see something of the reason why there is a warning in Ephesians about exasperating your children as Joseph’s brothers become bitter and angry. Genesis 37:11 tells us that his brothers were jealous of him. Instead of treating every member of his family equally, Jacob exacerbated the division in his family by having favourites. Colossians 3:21 points out that the fruit of exasperating our children is that they will be discouraged. Here’s a few ways we can exasperate our children:
By disciplining them harshly, unfairly or reactively (based on our emotions which vary with our levels of tiredness).
By changing our mind, breaking promises or failing to speak encouragement to them.
By having favourites, ignoring them or not listening to what is on their heart.
By withholding love, truth or apologies that they deserve.
To put it another way – if we want to avoid exasperating our children we must discipline them fairly and equally, consistently keep our word with our children, listen and be attentive to what is on their heart and lavish them with love and truth. To simplify it even more discipline fairly, show love continually.
A silver lining
If Jacob had been able to overcome his personal struggles and treat everyone in his family equally it would have transformed his family. His brothers would not have felt threatened or jealous or their younger brother and Jospeh would never have been sold as a slave.
Yet even in this we find encouragement. Jacob messed up but God was able to use it for his glory. In this one area Jacob failed his family (in many other ways he did not fail them) yet his mistake ended up for good.
As Joseph was able to philosophically state to his brothers, after his family had been restored and his father had died: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:20-21.
God’s mercy is great enough to not only cover over our weaknesses but also to use them for his glory. He gives us guidance as to how we should do things but we can also trust him to help us when we fail. Evaluate how you are parenting your children, admit when you get it wrong but trust God to guide you and help you fill in the gaps. Ultimately as parents our trust is not in our own skills and ability but our trust is in God to work through us to raise the next generation of children.
After all God treats us all fairly as his children.