Parenting Wisdom

A high school graduate was asked, “What are your future plans?” His response was telling: “I don’t know, but I guess I’ll go to college.”

“What will your major be?” His response: “I don’t know.”

God’s specific direction upon the lives of His children varies, but His call is present in every life. How can parents help their children determine God’s call?

Effective parenting, or the lack of thereof, is evident in many homes—both now and in the past. In looking at Scripture, particularly the Hebrew culture and traditions, we see many negative and positive examples of parenting. Though negative examples often take precedence, there are numerous positive ones, such as Mary and Joseph (Luke 2), Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1), Joseph and Asenath (Genesis 41), and the sons of kings who followed their fathers’ godly examples, such as Jehoshaphat, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham.

Parental responsibility for the Hebrews was assigned to three areas: Parents were to (1) teach their children the Law, (2) teach them a skill, and (3) direct them into marriage. According to classical Jewish literature, “A father is enjoined to educate his children in Judaism, to teach them right from wrong… He is instructed to teach his children to swim and to teach his son a trade.”[1]

Let’s briefly consider each parental responsibility.

Teaching the Law

Teaching children the Word of God is the beginning of a journey, first for the parents and then for the child. Scripture urges us to commit His truth in our heart and lives. Some examples in Scripture that make reference to teaching children the Word of God are Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 78, Psalm 119, and the book of Proverbs. The goal was to train youth to love, know and serve God (Deut. 6:7). This began by gradually teaching to each child’s level of understanding. For the Hebrews, education was a parental responsibility. It was the mother’s responsibility to teach the children for the first three years. Girls were taught domestic duties. Fathers taught their boys the law from age three.[2] At age five, children were taught ritual purity from Leviticus and how to approach God through sacrifices. Psalms were used to teach the nature of God. At age ten children were taught words from the oral law. Jesus would have gone to a “house of the book” (Jewish schools were thus called) when he was six. The teaching of the Word of God was the centerpiece of education.

Teaching a Skill

A rabbi once said: “He who does not teach his son a useful trade is bringing him up to be a thief.”[3] At the age of thirteen males began apprenticeships to learn a trade. Jesus learned to be a carpenter; Peter, James, and John were fishermen. No matter how much education boys received, they were also expected to learn a trade as we see in the example of Paul who was a tentmaker. A father’s skill was commonly passed to his son, though he might not want to do that trade. This is no longer the case. Often abilities in sports and arts are encouraged rather than learning practical life skills, which takes intention and planning. Skills may vary from landscaping to technology, all rooted in the knowledge and experience of being able to do something that others need, but cannot do themselves. Skilled carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and others are basic to our daily lives; many focus on serving others. Knowing how to do something well fulfills basic human needs—security, belonging, identity, purpose, and competence. A child who learns a skill, whether sewing or designing websites, has the potential of feeling needed, possessing a sense of belonging in helping others, and having a future income.

Teaching about Relationships

Relationships are fulfilling—and challenging, making life difficult at times. Scripture has a lot to say about relationships, giving numerous examples, both positive and negative. During the years of growing at home, children learn daily lessons, often without parental rationale or explanations, unless they intentionally discuss conflicts, hurt feelings, etc. Children learning how to relate and treat others is crucial to healthy communities. The Israelites went beyond teaching their children common courtesies of everyday relationships to directing them into marriages. 0Though our present culture may have a low view of parental involvement in this important life decision, it is critical to discuss, beyond just the modeling of relationships and making life choices.

What if a young man or woman who is asked what plans are after high school were to say, “Lord willing, my plans are ____; however, since I know how to ____, I’m equipped to live life to the glory of God no matter what the future holds.”

Dennis Fledderjohann is professor of applied theology and church ministries at Moody Bible Institute.

[1]George Robinson, Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs, and Rituals (New York, Pocket Books, 2000), 153.]

[2] Ralph Gower, Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Publishing, 2001), 79.

[3] Ibid.