Parenting in the Bible

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: ‘Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.” 

-Genesis 49.1 

If you want to feel better about yourself as a parent read the rest of chapter 49. I don’t know what Jacob was thinking. He precedes to tell his 12 sons their fate, and he doesn’t mince words. Jacob starts with his first born, Reuben. At first he offers his praise and promise, saying that Reuben excels in honor and strength and power. But then, a curse of turbulent waters, an assurance that he will no longer excel. Why? Reuben defiled his father’s bed. Likely through someone he had intimate relations with, though it’s debated. Whatever it was, his fate is now sealed in failure. Another son will be attacked by a band of raiders, another is simply “a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” Zebulun will live by the sea, and I’m not sure what Issachar did wrong, but he will be a rawboned donkey who submits to forced labor. 

What kind of father tells his sons these kinds of horrible fate? What kind of father knows this? What kind of father doesn’t try to help the one who will be attacked or the one destined to be a donkey?

It’s a prophetic poem, not meant to be taken literally, but I wonder if the sons believed that. Did they think, what did I do to get a raw deal? Or did they think, oh man, dad’s lost it again, who do you think gets to be the donkey this time around? The poem makes me laugh but it also makes me realize as parents how little control we have in how they turn out. All 12 sons of Jacob were raised with the same values, same household, same diet of goats and plants and whatever it is they ate. They all had wildly different fates. 

As a parent myself I try to mold the fates of my sons. I convince myself that if I can just teach them the right habits, give them the right opportunities, surround them in loving and challenging and boundaried environments that I will pave the way for them to have positive fates. But truly, there is a wild card factor that has nothing to do with how much or how little we do. People are complicated.Life is complicated. Even if they came from us, even if we raised them, we don’t get to do what Jacob did. Or at least we probably shouldn’t. We should probably make room for God to work in and through our children, whether they’re 1 or 21 or 41. When I hear the words of Jacob I want to tell my own children a more open-ended fate. Gather round, and let me tell you that I have no idea what will become of you in the days to come. I only know that I promise to love you in the best way I know how. 

But I have 8 year old boys. So this masterful parenting moment will likely be followed by: okay, can we go ride our bikes now? I’ll gather them and tell them still. I mean, it can’t go as poorly as Jacob’s attempt, right? 

Prayer: God help us to love our children and let go of the fallacy that we can control the outcomes. Help us love them as they are, and for who they may become. 

Author: Darcy Crain