God has made the world such that wisdom and understanding (and therefore power and influence) are to increase over the course of generations under His blessing. But when cultures rebel, God gives them over to a kind of drunken stupor, and this is where dark ages come from.
God’s blessing is on those who fear Him, and the center of all human rebellion is a refusal to fear the Lord. But we must be mindful of the fact that there is always a temptation among religious types to try to manufacture the fear of the Lord, which only prolongs the judgment. So our central task in parenting is to fear the Lord, and raise our children in the fear of the Lord so that God’s blessing may be upon them, and upon our children’s children.
“Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men…” (Is. 29:13-29)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Just before our text, we are told that God’s people are drunk with a spirit of illiteracy (29:9-12). This is because God’s people are drawing near to Him with words but not in their hearts, and the only kind of fear they have of the Lord is the kind that is taught by the precepts of men (29:13). Therefore, God has determined to do this marvelous work of striking them drunk, such that even their wisest men will be incompetent (29:14). And even though they squirm and pontificate, all of it will be used by God the Potter to turn everything upside down (Is. 29:15-17). He will cause the deaf to hear and the blind to see; He will lift up the humble and poor and put down the scorners and plotters (29:18-21). God’s people will not be ashamed, and when they see how God saves their own children, they will fear God rightly and fools will learn understanding (29:22-24).
COVENANT SUCCESSION & THE FEAR OF THE LORD
The particular thing this text zeros in on is a contrast between a faux fear of the Lord, the kind that is manufactured by men, and the real fear of the Lord, the kind that only the Lord can give (compare 29:13 and 29:23). This authentic fear of the Lord is taught through the earth-shaking, sovereign works of the Lord (23:14-21), but it is manifest particularly in the marvelous gift of believing children (29:23).
This sets up the goal of the increasing momentum of covenant succession: your job is to fear the Lord so that you might teach your children (Dt. 4:10, 5:29, 6:2), and this text says that the gift of believing children increases a right fear of the Lord (Is. 29:23). The goal is for this to snowball, to pick up steam, to turn into an avalanche of God’s blessing. This is not something that we can manufacture, and that is why the central thing is the fear of the Lord.
What is the fear of the Lord? Abraham did not withhold his only son from the Lord because he feared the Lord (Gen. 22:12). The midwives feared the Lord and disobeyed the king of Egypt and saved the Hebrew baby boys alive (Ex. 1:17). The fear of the Lord sings praises and glorifies God (Ps. 22:23). The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, pride, arrogance, and a perverse mouth (Prov. 8:13). The fear of the Lord is conscientious, joyful, believing obedience to God no matter what (Dt. 31:12).
SOME SCATTERSHOT PRINCIPLES
There are a number of temptations that face a community like ours where God has been in the process of blessing our families over generations. One of them is to take that blessing for granted, another is for new believers or new folks joining us to latch on to certain external forms without understanding or embracing the substance. Both of these temptations are variations on thinking that the fear of the Lord can be taught by the precept of men (Is. 29:13). But none of us should want that kind of cheap knock off. So, what we want to do is fear the Lord honestly and apply these principles, without getting wound tight about the exact method. “The fear of man is a snare, but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord will be safe” (Prov. 29:25).
- Christian parenting is like the rest of your Christian life: it proceeds from faith in the promises of God. So what are those promises? “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jer. 32:38-40, cf. Is. 59:21, Ez. 37:24-26). And faith in the promises means being calm and confident and no panicking.
- This faith in the promises goes together with the joy of the Lord: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For He knows our frame; he remembereth that we are dust… But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children” (Ps. 103: 13-14, 17). This mercy is not begrudging: God rejoices over His people (Is. 62:5, Zeph. 3:17). Our joy is fundamentally in God’s covenant mercy. Christian parenting is sharing this kindness and joy with our children.
- The central command that God gives children is to obey their parents, and the central command that God gives parents is to teach their children to obey them (Dt. 6, Eph. 6). Obedience is right away, all the way, and cheerfully. This is the task of discipleship, and discipleship consists of both positive and negative discipline. Think of obedience like a skill, and parenting like coaching. Good coaches teach and practice a lot, before the game. Practice obedience regularly. Negative discipline must be used when a child refuses to obey. The rod of correction is love (Prov. 13:24, Heb. 12:6). And some children need lots of love. Remember also that we become like our friends (Prov. 13:20). Seek out godly covenant community.
CONCLUSION: THE WORK OF HIS HANDS
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it… Children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward (Ps. 127:1). Believing children are a gift from the Lord, the work of His hands (Is. 29:23). And it is a gift that God loves to give. So ask Him for it.
“Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thy house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord” (Ps. 128:3-4). Fear the Lord, believe His promises, rejoice in His goodness, and love your kids and grandkids.