Like Father, Like Son? Often . . . but Not Always

1 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. . . . 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.

2 Kings 15:1, 3 (ESV)

19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. . . . 20 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as Manasseh his father had done. 21 He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. 22 He abandoned the LORD, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the LORD.

2 Kings 21:19-22 (ESV)

And Josiah did was right in the eyes of the LORD . . . and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

2 Kings 22:2 (ESV)

Charles I (1600-1649), the only British monarch to be executed, was not a very good model to copy. He repressed biblical Christianity within the Church of England and promoted a more ceremonial form of worship by appointing William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury. His religious policies were generally unpopular and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Yet, when his son Charles II (1630-1685) managed to regain the throne for the family line, he followed his father’s example of oppressing Anglican clergy. Over 1,000 ministers resisted and suffered expulsion from their churches under Charles II’s reign. Like father, like son.

The writer of the book of Kings evaluates Israel and Judah’s kings according to their faithfulness to the Law of Moses (1 Kings 2:3; 3:14, cf. Deut. 17:18-20). Each ruler receives the appropriate verdict: it is either “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (15:3), or “[H]e did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (21:20). But time and again the reader is more likely to find the following pattern: wicked fathers produced wicked sons (e.g., Abijam, 1 Kings 15:3; Nadab, 15:26; Ahaziah, 22:52-53; Jehoiachin, 2 Kings 24:9). For example, Manasseh executed a bloody and gruesome reign of terror, killing innocent persons and incurring the wrath of the Lord against the kingdom of Judah. His son, Amon, was a pathetic copy who carried forward his father’s godless reign (2 Kings 21). The lesson is clear: boys will most likely follow in the footsteps of their dad.

Thankfully, this pattern is not deterministic. Josiah, son of Amon, broke the cycle by restoring biblical fidelity to Judah after the dark reigns of his father and grandfather. He repaired the temple, rediscovered the law, made it known once again, and led the people in covenant renewal with God. Humanly speaking, Josiah should have been just as evil as his forbears. With God, however, all things are possible.

People in the Church can sometimes “write off” those who have a checkered family background. The assumption, as the old saying goes, is that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” But in God’s kingdom, all things can be made new. The boy whose father ran off and left the family might still be a champion for Christ. The street kid who seems to be “nothing but trouble” could become, when he is grown, a great agent of peace.

Fathers have the awesome responsibility of knowing that their sons will probably wind up being like them. For their part, God’s people have the weighty task of loving the child even when the parents are bad. By the grace of God, there just may be a few Josiahs left in the land.