Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Family in the Old Testament

The family is one of the most neglected pieces of modern society, even in much of modern Christianity. As much as people talk of “family values,” our families are a weak semblance of what they used to be. The civil sphere has progressively taken power and responsibility from the family, and the church has often taught theology and practice that promotes the individual to the detriment of the family and eventually to the church as well. While the New Testament gives many directions concerning the family (e.g. Eph. 5:22-6:9), many people miss the large foundation that the Old Testament lays for any discussion of the family. The family is woven throughout the fabric of the Old Testament, and to ignore the family is to miss an important part of how God works His redemption. 

“Much of the Bible’s teaching goes back to the way we are made; it goes back to creation itself” (Eerdmans’ Handbook, 61), and at the creation of the world we immediately see the importance of the family. “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). The only thing “not good” in Eden was that Adam was alone. So God created Eve as his wife and formed the first married couple. This laid the foundation for the family and the rest of human relationships. Adam and Eve, like all married couples to follow, became one flesh, reflecting the Triune God as several, but one. They were equal in importance and different in role, creating a balanced structure for society.

This marriage of Adam and Eve was not made as an end in itself, but as a “God-appointed means to a God-appointed end” (Morecraft, 621). This end was that of godly work, dominion, fruitfulness, and worship. God created them (man and woman) to be God’s image and to “have dominion...over all the earth,” to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:26, 28). Eve was made as a helper fit for Adam, Adam’s task which needed help being to work and keep the garden and to keep God’s law of not eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:15-18). These were responsibilities that came with God’s covenant relationship with Adam and Eve, Adam bearing the primary responsibility and Eve helping him in this task. Thus the family was designed as the basic economic, cultural, and religious unit, necessary for the well-being of these areas.

But this state of things did not continue. The breakdown of this covenant started with a breakdown of the family. Eve was approached by the serpent, which she was supposed to be subduing. Adam neglected His responsibility by not doing anything when Eve was being tempted, even though he “was with her” (Gen. 3:6), and was led by Eve into this sin. Thus they sinned against God in whose image they were made. All creational order was reversed and the family was at the heart of it. After Adam, families continued to fall into sin together. The family of Cain became wicked, rejecting redemption, leading to the judgment of the flood. The house of Eli had iniquity because of the sins of the sons (1 Sam. 3:13-14). Certain dynasties of the kings of Israel were specially noted for their sins, such as the house of Jereboam or of Omri.

Not only do we see families sin together in the Old Testament, but they are cursed together as well. Because of Adam’s sin, his family and descendants whom he represented covenantally also fell into sin together. The curse found in Genesis 3:16-19 curses the family and its dominion work. The woman shall have pain in bearing children, man and woman shall have marital strife, their work shall be much harder, and they will die. Immediately after this we see Adam and Eve’s family cursed with sin as Cain kills his brother Abel. Throughout the rest of Scripture we see not only Adam’s sin effect men, but each family suffers as a unit for it own sin also (e.g. Jer. 23:34, Daniel 6:24). Especially vivid is the episode of Achan, where first all Israel is punished with defeat for his great sin, and then he and his children and belongings are stoned and burned together by the order of God. The LORD declares that he is “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deut. 5:9).

This would be a depressing view of the family if this was all, but there is more. Not only is the family together in sin and judgement, but it is together in redemption as well. “God’s creational orderings for marriage and the family have continuing significance in the purposes of redemption...by a method in conformity with creation, God accomplishes his purposes of redemption” (Robertson, 79). Right amidst the curse following the fall into sin there is a covenantal promise that God will preserve a godly offspring with its representative (“he”) that will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). When that godly offspring begins to intermarry with the ungodly family of Cain (Hendriksen, 87), God makes His covenant with Noah and his family, saving them from the judgment of the flood, promising future protection and life, and re-giving the dominion mandate to them (Gen. 6-9). Later God makes His covenant with Abraham and his family, determining to save them and be their God, giving them the sign of circumcision as a sign and seal of the covenant (Gen. 17). Years later God reaffirms His covenant with the family of Israel, the households of Israel forming an important part (e.g. Deut 12:6-7). In the Passover, Israel is saved by families, a lamb for a household (Exod. 12:3). All of Israel’s children are included in the covenant (Deut 29:10-15). And when God makes His covenant with King David, He includes David’s offspring and house in the promise (2 Sam. 7:12, 29). In these covenants you can “see the family in God's plan and purpose. You see that with God, our children matter” (Scott, 3).

During the time of these covenants, the promise contained in them includes the restoration of the family from the curse. The man who fears the LORD shall be blessed by a wife like a fruitful vine and children like olive shoots (Ps. 128:3-4). His offspring will be mighty and will be his reward and blessing (Ps. 122:2; 127:3, 5). The womb will be blessed (Deut. 7:14, 28:4), and the work the family does will be blessed as well (Deut. 28:1-14). The family will rejoice, eat, teach, make clothing, in short, they will do culture together before the Lord (Deut 6:7, 14:26; Prov. 31:10-31). Throughout these covenants the family is being renewed back into its original economic, cultural, and religious tasks under the direction and blessing of God. The family has a calling of dominion to fulfill and the fall of man has not altered this calling, but it has made God’s regenerating work necessary (Rushdoony, 163). “From the very outset, God intends by the covenant of redemption to realize for man those blessings originally defaulted under the covenant of creation” (Robertson, 91).

This is in the Old Testament and some would restrict this importance of the family to it, thinking that somehow the New Testament is more individualistic. But the New Testament (i.e. the New Covenant) is the consummation of the Old Covenant(s). The family is being renewed in redemption and the New Covenant brings even greater renewal, not less. One of the last prophecies made in the Old Testament proclaims that with the coming of Elijah the hearts of the fathers and the children will be turned to each other (Mal. 4:6), being fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist (Luke 1:17). Thus,
“the duty of parental fidelity is equally prominent in both dispensations. The old terminates with it; the new opens with it. This is the connecting link between both; it is the hinge in which they meet and combine with each other. How plain it is that God regards it as prime practical importance for man’s salvation!” (Dabney, 677).
The promise to Abraham was that the families of the earth shall be blessed through Christ (Gen. 12:3, Gal. 3:16, 29). When God proclaims the news of the New Covenant which He will make with Israel in Jeremiah 31 he says that He “will be the God of all the clans of Israel” (vs. 1), and He will not cast off their offspring (vs. 37), Israel being Christians, and their offspring and families being Christian offspring and families (Gal. 3, Eph. 2:11-22). The promise of salvation is to believers and their children and households (Acts 2:38, 16:31). Thus in New Testament times families continue to be renewed into the image of Christ and take on their God-given roles, with even more power to do so than in the Old Testament.

And so we see that the family is not merely a nice thing to have around but is basic to the plan of creation, fall, and redemption. It has jobs to do, and although sins has corrupted and torn apart the family, God’s gracious redemption is restoring families back to their place under God doing His work. Let us each one look to our own place and station in our families and seek to live with new life in that capacity, walking according to Christ’s saving power and love. May our families be, as families, Christ’s disciples, baptized in the name of the Triune God, and observing all that Christ has commanded. Let us see our families taking again their rightful place in society as guardians of Christian economics, culture, and worship, teaching these things to their children when they sit in their houses, walk by the way, lie down, and rise (Deut. 6:7). And as the family is restored to godliness may we see the state and church also find their proper places. As we see the blessings of the godly family we will see the prosperity of Jerusalem. “Peace upon Israel!” (Ps. 128:6).


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Dabney, Robert L. Discussions Vol 1. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982.
Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973.
Hendriksen, William Survey of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.
The Holy Bible (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003.
Morecraft, Dr. Joseph C. Authentic Christianity. Powder Springs, GA: Minkoff Family; American Vision, 2009.
Robertson, O. Palmer The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980.
Rushdoony, Rousas John The Institutes of Biblical Law. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1973.
Scott, Dr. Jack B. “Lecture 3: Genesis 12-24” OTS105 Old Testament Survey. Lakeland, FL: Whitefield, 2008.

1 comment:

Savories of Life said...

You always have great posts.