We discuss three biblical examples to illustrate that God may send message to a child as a clear instruction to the parent on behalf of the child. One example is drawn from God’s instruction to Abraham regarding circumcision of male offspring, the second from his instruction to Rebekah regarding Jacob-Esau relationship, and the third from his instruction to Joseph (earthly father of Jesus) regarding the flight to Egypt and back to Israel to protect baby Jesus from King Herod’s massacre of male children.
We continue our bible study series on parent-child relationships, focusing initially on the understanding that God sends messages to children through their parents. The study purpose is to increase awareness of the potential significance of parent-child interactions as among the mechanisms through which a parent passes critical guidance to a child. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Call of Samuel Example, God’s message to a child through the parent could be in the form of a clear instruction to the parent or a hidden instruction. In the case of a hidden instruction, God prompts a parent with information the parent passes to the child with neither parent nor child knowing at the time that the information is indeed a message from God. The current study focuses on messages delivered as clear instruction to a parent.
The example regarding Call of Samuel appears to be a mixture of the two forms. We will discuss hidden-instruction examples in subsequent bible studies.
In the current study, we discuss three examples of God’s message to a child delivered as a clear instruction to the parent. A characteristic of such message is the parent has responsibility to implement the instruction either directly for the child or by guiding the child through the implementation. The first example is drawn from God’s instruction to Abraham regarding circumcision of male offspring, the second from his instruction to Rebekah regarding Jacob-Esau relationship, and the third from God’s instruction to Joseph (earthly father of Jesus) regarding the flight to Egypt and back to Israel. Each of the examples discusses a clear instruction to a parent on behalf of a child.
God’s Covenant with Abraham
God gave a specific instruction to Abraham on behalf of his descendants as part of his conditional promise or covenant. Recall that he sent Abraham to Canaan to establish the ancestry and homeland for the Messiah: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you” [Genesis 12:1]. Through several interactions, he explained the mission to Abraham as a promise to him and his descendants. In one interaction described in Genesis 17, God explained his promise is conditional on Abraham and his descendants fulfilling one requirement: “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless…” [Genesis 17:1]. “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you” [Genesis 17:7]. That is, God will be your God if you worship and serve him, you and your descendants. This is God’s covenant with Abraham.
COVENANT OF CIRCUMCISION God instructed Abraham that every male in his household and of his descendants be circumcised at eight days old, as a symbol of Abraham’s promise that he and his descendants will worship and serve God.
He demanded male circumcision as a symbol of the covenant. He made the demand through an instruction to Abraham on behalf of himself and his descendants (at times described as the “covenant of circumcision”): “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.” [Genesis 17:12]. Abraham was responsible to implement the instruction on himself and immediate children and pass it to the children. In turn, the children will implement the instruction on their children and pass it to them, on through future generations of descendants. Therefore, God’s demand for circumcision was an instruction to Abraham for himself and future children: a message to every male child through his parent.
Revelation to Rebekah
Regarding Jacob-Esau Relationship
Rebekah, wife of Isaac, was troubled by unusual activity in her womb while she was pregnant. The fact that her pregnancy was long in coming appears to have contributed to her concern. She did not conceive for a long time after marriage and, thus, likely feared for safety of the pregnancy. She took her concern to God in prayer: “But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord” [Genesis 25:22]. God explained to her that she was pregnant with two children that will become two different nations and informed her about relationships between the children: “And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger’” [Genesis 25:23].
The message that “the older shall serve the younger” implies family inheritance will be passed to the younger son, in a reversal of customary practice that favored the firstborn son for inheritance. Through the message, God informed Rebekah about his choice in the matter and, thus, instructed her to ensure implementation of the choice. A person could ask why God did not set the birth order of the twins so that the one he chose for the family inheritance would be born first. We don’t know and don’t ask. Instead, we focus on understanding the events as they happened and learning the message they convey. The events of the birth and early childhood of Jacob and Esau convey several messages regarding family interactions that we need to study carefully. For example, in this bible study, we focus on the understanding that God entrusted Rebekah with his choice and, thus, gave her responsibility to ensure its implementation: that the younger child will receive family inheritance.
In this case, we learn that God may give instructions to a parent regarding a future event in the life of a child. Furthermore, the instruction may need to be implemented by the parent, such as circumcision of a male child as discussed previously in this study. Also, an instruction may need to be implemented by the child under the parent’s guidance. Therefore, such instruction is a message to the child through the parent but requires parental intervention to ensure its implementation. Rebekah received the message on behalf of her hitherto unborn children and later guided them through the implementation as we discuss presently.
A key family inheritance was God’s promise to Abraham, which was passed to Isaac: “Then God said: ‘No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him’” [Genesis 17:19]. In accordance with custom, Isaac intended to pass the blessing to Esau and one day requested Esau to go and hunt game for him “And make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die” [Genesis 27:4].
As we discuss in a previous bible study under Jacob and Esau Early Years Interactions, Rebekah overheard Isaac’s request to Esau and devised a plan based on taking advantage of her husband’s failing sight to redirect him into passing the blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. She planned to guide Jacob to disguise himself as Esau and present a savory meal of domestic goat to his father to get the blessing before Esau returned. First, she had to convince Jacob to go along: “Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you” [Genesis 27:8]. Jacob expressed concern that his father might uncover the trick and place a curse on him instead of blessing. However, Rebekah prevailed on him by taking responsibility for the plan: “…My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say…” [Genesis 27:13].
Rebekah understood the instruction she gave to Jacob was not ordinary. It was an instruction that God gave to her on behalf of her children and gave her the responsibility to ensure its implementation. Her husband was in the way because of being a man of custom intending to do what the custom required of him. She did not believe she could convince him to follow the instruction that God had given her. She realized she had a mandate to intervene and redirect her husband to pass the blessing to Jacob instead of Esau as he intended.
She received an instruction from God for her children and the responsibility to guide the children to implement the instruction. The approach she chose that entailed deceiving her husband raises issues regarding spousal interactions that we hope to discuss in more detail in a future study. In this study, we focus on the understanding that she received instruction from God on behalf of her children and intervened as necessary to guide implementation of the instruction.
Instruction to Joseph
On Behalf of Baby Jesus
Soon after the birth of Jesus, King Herod became aware of the birth as that of a child predicted to become the “king of the Jews” and wanted to kill the child at any cost. Wise men from the east (referred to as Magi) had arrived in Jerusalem seeking the birth place of the “king of the Jews” [Matthew 2:2] whose star had appeared to them recently. King Herod determined the time of appearance of the star from the Magi and the likely birthplace from consultation with the chief priests and scribes. He sent the Magi to Bethlehem and requested them to report back to him after they find the child “…so that I too may go and worship him” [Matthew 2:8]. He of course had different intentions.
God led the Magi to the child using the star that alerted them to his birth but instructed them to bypass Herod and return by a different route. When Herod realized the Magi did not return to him, he ordered massacre of male children in Bethlehem and neighboring districts, from two years old and under, according to the time of birth he had determined from the Magi.
FLIGHT TO EGYPT Before the massacre, God instructed Joseph through an angel to escape to Egypt with his family in order to protect the child from Herod: “…take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” [Matthew 2:13]. The angel appeared to him in a dream. He got up and left for Egypt with his family during the night and, thus, protected the child from King Herod.
RETURN TO ISRAEL After King Herod died, an angel appeared again to Joseph and instructed him to return to Israel with his family: “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” [Matthew 2:20]. Furthermore, on his way home with his family, God instructed Joseph in a dream to divert to Nazareth in the district of Galilee to avoid any threat from Herod’s successor.
As we discuss in a previous bible study under Parental Responsibility Based on Childhood of Jesus, Joseph’s family flight to Egypt and back to Israel illustrates the parental responsibility of protection. There we noted that God protected the child directly first by directing the Magi away from Herod, then handed the protection over to Joseph by instructing him to move his family to Egypt. The current study draws from the events an understanding that God may send message to a child as a clear instruction to the parent. In this case, the parent was responsible for implementing the instruction on behalf of the child.
Summary of What We Learned
God may send message to a child as a clear instruction to the parent on behalf of the child. The parent is responsible to implement the instruction, either directly for the child or by guiding the child through the implementation. We describe three examples from the bible illustrating such messaging: one drawn from God’s instruction to Abraham regarding circumcision of male offspring, the second from his instruction to Rebekah regarding Jacob-Esau relationship, and the third from God’s instruction to Joseph (earthly father of Jesus) regarding the flight to Egypt and back to Israel to protect baby Jesus from a massacre of male children ordered by King Herod.