4.1.2 Father: Authority & Provider
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 4.1.2
Father: Authority & Provider
As symbols go, that of the “Father” is fairly ubiquitous in scripture. The Hebrew word describing this relational concept, ab, appears 1,214 times, and its Greek equivalent, pater, occurs 419 times. Many of these instances, of course, describe actual, historical parent-child relationships, but a surprisingly large number of them—especially in the New Testament, and especially in the recorded words of Christ—refer to God, Yahweh, as our “Father.” That’s a mind-boggling concept if we even remotely comprehend the immensity and awesome glory of our Creator.
As in English, the Greek word pater is used both literally and metaphorically. It means an originator, ancestor, father, mentor, or model—“One who imparts life and is committed to it; a progenitor, bringing into being in order to pass on the potential for likeness…. Used of our heavenly Father: He imparts life, from physical birth to the gift of eternal life through the second birth (regeneration, being born again).” (Helps Word-studies)
Thayer notes that the word is “from the root pa—literally, nourisher, protector, upholder…. properly, equivalent to: generator or male ancestor…. Metaphorically: the originator and transmitter of anything; the author of a family or society of persons animated by the same spirit as himself; one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds; one who stands in a father’s place and looks after another in paternal way; a title of honor, applied to teachers, as those to whom pupils trace back the knowledge and training they have received.”
The story is much the same in Hebrew. Ab is used of “the father of an individual, as commanding, instructing, a begetter or genitor, rebuking, loving, pitying, blessing, grieving, and as an object of honor, obedience, and love.” God is also seen as “father of His people, who constituted, controls, guides, and lovingly watches over it.” (Brown-Driver-Briggs)
Baker and Carpenter define ab: “A masculine noun meaning father, head of a household, ancestor, patron of a class, due benevolence, respect, or honor. This word is primarily used to mean either a human or spiritual father. There are numerous references to a father as a begetter or head of a household…. One of the most important meanings is God as Father. It can also mean originator of a profession or class. A father is also one who bestows respect or honor.”
Another source defines ab: “father, i.e., the male progenitor of an offspring, or male adoptive parent; grandfather, i.e., the male progenitor of a child’s parent; forefather, i.e., a person many generations removed from a current generation; founder, originator, i.e., one who causes something to begin, including profession, or cities; caregiver, formally, father, i.e., one who cares for persons in need, as a figurative extension of a father caring for a child’s….” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains).
So in both Greek and Hebrew (as in English), “father” can connote more than one’s biological male parent. The word implies volition, action, and purpose—fatherhood is not a passive role. In light of the systematic breakdown of the family in these Last Days (with “fathers” too often being little more than sperm donors), a man who invests himself in a woman’s children, who provides for, protects, and mentors them, even if there is no biological connection, is better described as the child’s “father” than the one who merely got the mother pregnant. Of course, they’re supposed to be the same person: it was God’s intention that a child’s biological father would assume the symbolic role of father as well, for being a physical progenitor is only half the job: a father must also provide for his offspring if he is to reflect Yahweh’s character.
Let us begin our survey of the “father” symbol by exploring what a father does, as revealed in scripture. I should note that I intend to cover scripture’s “husband” metaphor separately, for the counterparts that define their roles (i.e., children vs. wives) are different, even though a man may be both things at the same time.
Our first example is the patriarch Job, heard defending himself against accusations of hidden sin that would have theoretically accounted for his sudden stroke of ill fortune. He protests, “I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame. I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the case that I did not know. I broke the fangs of the wicked, and plucked the victim from his teeth.” (Job 29:15-17) He (rightly) saw the role of fatherhood as defending the oppressed and providing for the needy—even if they weren’t his physical offspring. And he testified that he met these requirements—implying that failing to do so would have been sin worthy of the punishment he was suffering.
Despite our best intentions, we fathers occasionally find ourselves incapable of “making everything better.” Even though we are doing everything in our power to take care of our families, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control. What then? A couple of incidents recorded in the Gospels should shed some light on our proper course of action. “One of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw [Yahshua], he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.’… While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe.’” (Mark 5:22-23, 35-36) You know the story. Jairus did believe (though his eyes were telling him something else), and Yahshua healed his daughter—and more: He actually raised her from the dead.
Rabbi Jairus had first shown his faith in Yahshua when it made sense to do so, since He had gained a reputation as a healer. But what about when asking for healing was no longer reasonable, when it no longer made sense, when it was no longer even possible? Yahweh seldom asks us to make giant “leaps of faith” into the great unknown, but rather encourages us only to make small steps into the light—faith based on sight. God (in the interests of maintaining our privilege of free will) doesn’t usually offer proof, but He does provide evidence in abundance. Jairus knew Yahshua’s reputation, and he believed in His ability (and willingness) to heal his daughter from her illness. So Christ asked him to extend that belief just one more inch. He said, in effect, “You have already believed in My ability to heal sickness. Believe now in My ability to overcome death, for since it is in God’s power to do the one, He can also do the other.”
As a father, I have found myself in Jairus’ shoes several times. My wife and I adopted two profoundly handicapped infants—ill to the point that neither of them was expected to survive longer than a few months. Putting our faith in Christ, we saw both of them far outlive their prognoses. But then—after making liars out of their doctors for years—both of them died. As with Jairus, Christ told us, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” And we do believe. Not that our beloved Jill and Molly will “arise and walk” as Jarius’ daughter did, but that they will dance and sing with us in paradise as they were never able to on this earth.
Jarius, as a father, did the best he could for his child by asking for help from the One whom he knew was able to supply his need. By doing so, he multiplied his own abilities and gave wings to his own fatherly instincts. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Another father is on record in scripture as doing the same thing. “And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic [literally, “moonstruck”—i.e., acting like a lunatic] and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.” (Matthew 17:14-17)
I feel for this man, for I too know what it’s like to be totally unequipped to deal with some of my children’s problems. Men—fathers—like to fix things if they’re broken—even our kids. But sometimes all human efforts fail, if only as reminder that we serve a God who actually can “fix things.” The hard part (at least in my case) is remembering that intercessory prayer—which is basically what the father of the suffering child did here—should be our first move, not our last resort. Asking God for help is not an admission of defeat (or incompetence). If it helps, think of it as applying leverage to the problem. You can’t lift a car, either, but you do know how to use a jack, don’t you?
The focus of these last couple of examples was on human fathers, and what they did to get the help for their children that they themselves could not provide. But we should not ignore the fact that even Yahshua—the very Son of God—relied on His Heavenly Father. I realize the symbolic roles can be hard to sort out, since He actually was God, though manifested in the form of a humble human being. But there is a reason why we’re told in the Gospel narratives that Christ was forever wandering off into the hills to pray. He was teaching us to seek help, for we mortals are quite incapable of solving the world’s problems on our own. Our best efforts and intentions are not enough: we must remain in constant touch with our Maker if we hope to make a difference in this world.
Where did Yahshua get the ability to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons? The answer to that reveals another facet of the father-son relationship. “Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will….” That’s right: a father teaches his son, mentors him, passes along knowledge (and hopefully wisdom as well), and reveals the “trade secrets” of the family business. In Christ’s case, the “family business” was bringing life and salvation to all mankind.
Just as the human Messiah could do nothing without the power of God being wielded through Him, neither can we can do anything, or know anything, without Yahweh’s presence in our lives. For example, when Yahshua asked his disciples who they thought He was, “Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:16-17) A father’s job includes revealing truth to his children.
Beyond that, the father transfers authority—that is, the influence and weight of his reputation—to his son: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:19-23) As we saw in our study of the “family” as a symbol, there is a time at which the patriarch “turns over the reins” to his eldest son, a custom that makes us aware that Father Yahweh intends to invest all earthly authority and power in His glorified human manifestation: King Yahshua.
In point of fact, He already has. After His resurrection, “Jesus came and spoke to [His disciples], saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name [singular in the Greek—there is only one name, not three] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20) There it is again: as the Father taught the Son, the Son teaches His disciples, who are in turn instructed to teach “all nations” (that’s us), who have been given the privilege of becoming adopted children of God (see Romans 8:13-17).
And the transfer isn’t restricted to knowledge or spiritual insight; it includes, amazingly enough, a measure of the father’s authority. Yahshua told His disciples, “But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30) The idea that the Son of God doesn’t think like an autocrat, and doesn’t desperately grasp power for Himself, would probably come as an epiphany to many people. There are many who covet God’s authority, and pretend to wield it over “the little people” in the temporal realm. But seizing power for oneself and accepting the responsibility God entrusts to His children are two very different things.
The legacy a father passes down to his children can (and should) be a good thing, but it’s not automatic. The Second Commandment includes this warning: “I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6) It’s not that God punishes the children for the sins of their fathers. It’s that fathers have influence—for good or ill—upon their children. Our attitudes and prejudices can be passed down from generation to generation. If you honor God with your words and your walk, your kids will pick up on it, but if you’re an idolatrous heathen (even if you talk like a Christian gentleman), that will usually be the legacy you leave, whether or not you meant to.
Yahshua’s earthly father, Joseph, was by all accounts a good and godly man, but at a very early age, Christ realized that His real mission would entail pursuing the “business” of his Heavenly Father. Luke relates the story of the twelve-year-old Yahshua’s first recorded encounter with His Father’s “board of directors,” the teachers of the law at the temple. Even at this tender age, Yahshua proved Himself to be true “CEO” material, demonstrating an amazing grasp of Yahweh’s “business plan,” the Holy Scriptures. Mary and Joseph had brought Him to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover as a fledgling “bar Mitzvah,” a neophyte “son of the Law,” but when the feast was over, unbeknownst to them, He had stayed behind in the temple when they departed for home in Nazareth with all their other kids.
“So when they [Mary and Joseph] saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’ And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” (Luke 2:48-50) He wasn’t being cheeky or insolent; He had merely become so focused on His real life’s work, He had lost track of all other considerations. Mary and Joseph, of all people, had been prepared by God to know that their eldest son was special. But being the “parents” of the Son of God came with its share of little inconveniences.
The story doesn’t end there. Yahshua didn’t remain in Jerusalem, but went home with His parents, mildly chastised, no doubt, for having given them the fright of their lives. (Can you imagine the weight of responsibility implied in being assigned the task of raising the Son of God to manhood? “What do you mean, you lost Him…. I thought you were watching Him….”) “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51) This episode highlights something else fathers are supposed to do: chasten their children—reprimand, discipline, correct, and chastise them when they err.
Let’s face it: if we are never chastised by our fathers, can we really be called their sons? Imposing discipline is hard work, requiring wisdom, discernment, and vigilance. Only a real father goes to the trouble of doing it consistently—until the son is ready to face the world on his own. Put another way, the man who refuses to chasten his children is treating them as if they were someone else’s.
So the writer to the Hebrews points out, “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.” Much of the problem with the crime rate today stems from the fact that too many children are growing up without fathers—authority figures—willing to guide and chasten them. “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11) There is security and contentment in knowing where the boundaries are. We who had fathers growing up benefited by their discipline, though none of us particularly enjoyed it at the time. How much more advantageous it is to heed the rod of God’s correction in our lives.
Discipline, of course, is a two-way street. The father has to administer it, but the child also has to receive it, if any lasting good is to result. One of the most severe (and misunderstood) laws in the Torah reads: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Ouch!
A couple of points bear mentioning. (1) We are presumably talking about a grown son, judging by the charges leveled against him. We’re not talking about a recalcitrant four-year-old to whom the father could easily bend over his knee and administer the “board of education” to the “seat of knowledge.” (2) Both the father and the mother hold authority over a son, grown up or not. (See the Fifth Commandment.) The Muslims (not surprisingly) have this one all wrong. (3) Being “stubborn and rebellious” (the evidence for which is self-indulgent excess) is described as “evil” and is deemed a capital crime. (4) The punishment is death by stoning, a method of execution reserved for crimes in which the whole community has been violated. The purpose is not to punish the sinner so much as to eradicate the evil so it can’t spread. The Torah specifically emphasizes the deterrent value of the execution.
There is no record of this precept ever being carried out personally, i.e., in a literal family in Israel. But God later made it clear that it was a parable: He was the Father and Israel (especially Ephraim, the northern kingdom) was the “stubborn and rebellions son.” The Psalmist Asaph writes: “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel [the one we just read, among others], which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Well, they can’t say they hadn’t been warned: the sins of the fathers who hated Yahweh were revisited upon the third and fourth generations. “The children of Ephraim…did not keep the covenant of God. They refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them.” (Psalm 78:5-11)
So far, then, we have seen that it is the father’s role and responsibility to (1) defend and protect his children; (2) Seek assistance from God in the face of his own inadequacies; (3) teach, instruct, and mentor his offspring; (4) pass on a legacy of truth, honor, and righteousness; and (5) Chasten and discipline his children when appropriate. In the following pages, we will also discover that a father is to: (6) pity his children—show mercy and forgiveness toward them; (7) seek his children’s well-being, sheltering them from the world’s evil and defending them from harm; (8) provide for their needs—feed them, clothe them, and reward them for a job well done; and (9) be perfect—complete and consistent—in his expression of love.
Gee, that sounds like a tall order. Okay—it sounds impossible. But these are all things that Yahweh does for us, or that Christ demonstrated on our behalf. When we as fathers do them, to the extent that we get them right we are showing the world the character of God. But conversely, if we as fathers are autocratic, distant (or worse, absent), self-centered, uninvolved, lazy, and capricious, then we are, in effect, lying to the world—and especially to our own children—about God’s nature. Don’t complain that this sort of heavy responsibility is not what you thought you were signing up for when you got married and/or began having sex, guys. Acting out our divinely assigned roles is part of the human condition. If we don’t teach our kids, by example, what our Creator is like, then who will? And if no one does, how are they to find Him in this world? Failure to reflect Yahweh’s attributes to our children is child abuse, men.
A child is alive and fully human at the moment of conception, but even nine months later, when he emerges from the womb, he is still helpless, totally dependent upon his parents. Do they find this odd, or evil? No, of course not. The wise parent is hoping—expecting—to have the kid around the house for the better part of two decades, “growing in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.” We don’t expect our toddlers to have grown-up abilities or understanding, and yet we teach them and nurture them, hoping that our instruction and care will someday result in grown children who are wise, mature, and capable of making their own good choices in this world.
Why, then, would we act like we expect Christians to be sinless and wise from the very moment of their “new birth” in Yahshua? God expects no such thing. “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so Yahweh pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:11-14) The purpose of His Instruction is to help us grow, to mature, to become more like our Father in character and attitude with every passing day. It’s not to belittle or demean us for having been born helpless. God’s unrelenting mercy is designed to help us grow from helpless babes into “workmen who need not be ashamed.”
It’s a process that will consume our entire lives—and perhaps beyond. A recent epiphany for me: In Revelation 22, one feature within the “New Jerusalem” (our eternal heavenly home) will be the tree of life, whose leaves are said to be “for the healing of the nations.” But by the time we get there, the Millennial Kingdom will have been concluded, and the Great White Throne judgment will be in the history books: everyone present will already inhabit his or her immortal, sinless resurrection body. So why will the “nations” of believers still need to be “healed”? Apparently, God will continue the process of perfecting us well into the eternal state.
In the meantime, we are instructed to reflect the attributes and attitudes of God in our human relationships. Yahshua said, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36) Note that one of the indicators that we are “sons of the Most High” is that we do what He does—show mercy, compassion, and pity upon those we meet in this world—including the “unthankful and evil.” While we are to remain steadfast in the defense of scriptural truth (particularly in the matter of what constitutes sin), we are also to “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” showing mercy on sinners, for that is what our Heavenly Father does.
For my part, there isn’t really anyone in my life I’d call an enemy. But there are some large and noisy groups who would consider me their enemy, simply because I’m a Christian and try (in my better moments) to adhere to the principles outlined above. For example, one tactic aggressive homosexuals have been using recently to discredit Christians is to ask them to bake “wedding” cakes for same-sex nuptials, or provide professional photographic services, just as they would for ordinary brides and grooms. Several Christian-owned bakeries have followed their consciences and politely refused to participate in this abomination (God’s word, not mine). One such bakery in Oregon was sued recently, and must pay the “offended” couple $135,000 for their politically incorrect stand.
While my initial kneejerk reaction was similar to that of the Christian bakers, in the light of these counterintuitive scriptures I’m being forced to rethink the whole “gay-marriage wedding cake” nonsense. Perhaps our reluctant baker brethren have it all wrong. I’m now thinking they should bake the best darn cake they possibly can, charge a small fortune for it, and use the proceeds in the cause of Christ. (There’s no need to keep your moral reservations a secret, of course.) Back when I ran my own graphic design business, my best client (by far) was a manufacturing company run by Muslims. I served them faithfully and skillfully (as unto the Lord), and used the money I earned—which was considerable—in His service. Now they know (or at least should) how a Christian does business.
Have we forgotten what Paul (quoting Solomon) wrote? “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.... If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21) Right now, litigious homosexuals come to Christian bakers for their wedding cakes only because they want to provoke us to hatred, and maybe create grounds for a lucrative lawsuit. (Funny: they never approach and sue Muslim bakers—who really do hate and persecute gays.) People (even sinners) should be coming to us because we’re absolutely the best at what we do. Let’s face it: this is the only way money from homosexuals will ever feed the poor and spread the gospel.
I am reminded that Yahshua prayed for forgiveness for the Roman soldiers who were at that moment crucifying Him, even though they had neither repented nor asked for clemency. And in His “model prayer,” He had stressed forgiveness above all else: “Do not be like [the hypocrites and heathens]. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:8-15)
So God, in His role as father, shows mercy, pity, and forgiveness to His children. And we in turn are to demonstrate those same attributes to others—first, to our own children, but also to our “brothers” in this world, that is, our fellow human beings. And we are to show mercy not just to those who deserve it, or who have earned (or asked for) our forgiveness, but to everyone. It bears repeating, however: mercy is not the same thing as compromise. Forgiveness is not remotely the same thing as tolerance. You may sin against me, and expect me (in my lucid moments) to forgive you—but don’t ask me to condone your sin or declare it to be good, or even normal. Lying to you about the danger you’re in is not mercy.
One extreme example: the story is told of a Coptic Christian who had been captured by ISIS terrorists and was about to be beheaded. He refused to convert to Islam to save his own life, but as he was about to be executed for his faith, he forgave his captor and bequeathed him his Bible. The terrorist then proceeded with his grizzly task, but was so puzzled by the man’s forgiving attitude, he took the Bible and read it—finding Christ himself in the process.
Our normal kneejerk reaction would have been to defend ourselves to the death, would it not? We can see ourselves not forgiving the terrorist and giving him our Bible, but getting loose and beating him senseless with it. Is self-defense now a sin in Christianity? Did not Christ Himself tell His disciples to be prepared to protect themselves? Shortly before His crucifixion, “He said to them, ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” For the things concerning Me have an end.’ So they said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” (Luke 22: 35-38)
But He also told them, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33) It appears we have some sorting out to do here.
Does our Father defend us, or doesn’t He? Yahshua said, “The Father is with Me,” yet within a few hours He would find Himself hanging on a cruel Roman cross. Moses told Israel, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for Yahweh your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6; cf. Hebrews 13:5) But ten of their tribes would be decimated by Assyria, and Judah and Benjamin would find themselves hauled off in chains to Babylon for their sins—then restored to the land, only to be scattered to the four winds by the Romans in the wake of Christ’s crucifixion.
But wait. Christ rose from the dead, and lives today, seated at the right hand of the Father. And Israel survives to this day (against all odds, and contrary to the fondest desires of two billion Muslims and atheists). We must come to terms with the fact that our idea of “defense” doesn’t exactly match God’s.
The key, of course, is that Father Yahweh is the Lord of Life—the Creator and Sustainer of all living things, both biological and spiritual. If He allows Christians to be beheaded by ISIS terrorists (or die of old age, for that matter), it is only because biological life isn’t remotely the sum or essence of our existence. I would go so far as to say that biological life is to Yahweh only a symbol—a useful metaphor—for what real life is. It’s “usefulness” consists primarily in the fact that this is the form of “life” in which our moral choices can and must be made. The only thing about our mortal existence that matters in the long run is what we do with Christ. You can’t really “kill” a Christian—you can only change His address. But by murdering him, you have made an eloquent statement about your own hatred for His Creator.
If God’s defense of His children consisted of saving them from temporal pain or adverse circumstances in this world, then the fates of Christ’s twelve apostles are awfully hard to explain. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs reports that Andrew was crucified. His brother Simon Peter was crucified upside down. Philip and Simon the Canaanite were also crucified, as was Bartholemew, who suffered a savage beating first. Stoning was the fate of James, the son of Alphaeus, Jude or Judas (not Iscariot—also known as Lebbaeus and Thaddeus), and Matthias, the “elected” replacement for Judas Iscariot. Matthew Levi and Thomas were both speared to death. James, the son of Zebedee, the first apostle to be martyred, was beheaded, as was Paul (who was an apostle, though not a disciple). James’ brother John was the last to go, dying of extreme old age—but not before having been boiled in oil (unsuccessfully) and exiled for years on the desolate Aegean island of Patmos.
Something tells me today’s “health and wealth” prosperity preachers need to rethink their position. Their heresies flatly contradict what Paul taught: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Timothy 3:12) God’s “defense” of His children does not consist of miraculously preventing bad things from happening to them in this world, nor in instantly punishing those who attack us, for such things would tend to curtail man’s free will—their God-given right to choose between right and wrong. No, His protection consists of making our eternal destinies absolutely secure, our place in Yahweh’s family unconditionally inviolable. This strategy only works, of course, because He is the author of life.
That being said, it seems odd that so many people, especially in these Last Days, find God’s truth so opaque. Yes, we were told up front to “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) But it’s one thing to elect to take the broad road to destruction yourself; it’s something else entirely to declare war on God’s followers simply because they have chosen a different path. The “tolerance” demanded of God’s children by the lost is an exceedingly rare commodity in their own ranks.
The key to the conundrum is that God is playing an elaborate game of “hide and seek” with the world, in the interests of respecting our free will. He hides the proof of His glory that would abrogate our privilege of choice, while He seeks people who honestly want to find Him. The interesting thing is that these attributes are part of scripture’s profile of Yahweh as our Father. “Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise [Greek sophos: learned, skilled, clever] and prudent [Greek sunetos: sagacious, understanding in keeping with one’s own perspective] and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.’” (Matthew 11:25-27, cf. Luke 10:22)
In context, what was “hidden” from the self-proclaimed cognoscenti was the deity of Christ, as revealed by His works. The irony is that we who are willing to receive the evidence as children—with simple faith in what is reasonable and logical—will find Him true to His word, while those who insist upon being given empirical proof will somehow find the mountain of substantiation He has provided to be insufficient to satisfy their “awesome intellectual prowess.” There is such a thing as being too clever for your own good.
But if we simply and honestly seek the Father, He will reveal Himself to us. It is my experience that He never turns away an honest, genuine seeker, though He often allows the proud and pedantic to wallow in the bog of their own self-delusion. Using a play on words that works as well in English as it did in Greek, Christ told the Samaritan woman he met at a well, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) Paraphrased to reveal the range of meanings of the word “spirit,” that might be rendered, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when genuine worshipers will approach the Father in a state of enthusiastic inspiration based on His truth, for Father Yahweh is seeking such people to worship Him. God is an uncreated, self-existent, immaterial Being, and those who revere Him must worship through the truth provided by the motivating influence of His personal presence dwelling within them.”
A father, then, (if he is using Yahweh’s model) seeks his children’s well-being. He shelters them from the world’s evil and defends them from harm to the best of his ability, even if it requires sacrifice on his part. But this doesn’t entail overprotective micromanaging. He doesn’t “protect them” by locking them in a closet for fear they’ll get hurt. Part of God’s concept is allowing us to learn about our world by making mistakes, and letting us learn (the hard way) about the value—the necessity—of repentance. The Father’s “trick” is knowing what can really hurt us, and what we can live through if we’re grounded in Him. The counterintuitive part is that if we’re in Him, the death of the body is one of those things we can “live through.” That’s why we’re taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil.”
Perhaps the most fundamental (or at least the most obvious) piece of Yahweh’s “Father Profile” is his role as provider. God gives good gifts to His children (including those whom He would love to adopt into His family but who haven’t come home yet). These gifts would include “little” things like air, water, food, the testimony of His awesome glory as revealed in nature, and life itself. I realize most people take these things for granted, but personally, I can’t help but praise Him for this universal provision—even if it does seem to “merely” comprise the normal background of our mortal existence.
For that matter, God provides for all living things, not just people. When instructing us on the matter, Yahshua said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:25-26) The little luxuries of life are nice, but superfluous. They don’t comprise life or contentment or a close walk with our Heavenly Father, so there is no point in our sacrificing unduly in order to obtain them. God provides all we need.
That being said, He often provides more than the basic necessities. He seems to enjoy it. Speaking of “the birds of the air,” I keep a bird feeder in my front yard. The woodpeckers don’t really need the suet I give them (extra bugs—yum), but it makes them happy, and that makes me happy. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that the cardinals, chickadees, wrens, and finches who visit like a particular kind of seed, so that’s what I give them—because I enjoy their company. Is it really any different with God? “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, cf. Luke 11:11-13)
These “good things” the Father gives us, a cut (or two) above the bare minimum we need for survival, aren’t necessarily rewards for faithful service or even just appropriate reverence for our God—but they can be. It is probably no coincidence that many of the great saints of the patriarchal age—Abraham, Job, Jacob, Joseph, and David, for instance, became immensely wealthy during their lifetimes, though they didn’t start out that way. But God sends rain on the just and unjust alike—as a test, I’m guessing, just to see what we’ll do with the blessings He’s given us. Do the “good things” make us thankful, or merely arrogant? There’s only one way to know for sure. Something tells me the recipients of God’s favor (like me) would do well to read the stories of Nebuchadnezzar (in Daniel 4) or Job from time to time—just to remind us that the gifts we’ve received from God’s hand are expected to be used for His glory—not our own.
There is a scriptural protocol for handling Yahweh’s blessings: “When you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:3-4) Most of the world’s richest people are on record as being generous givers to a variety of charities and causes. But according to Yahshua, that’s a problem: making sure everybody knows how much you’ve given away (advancing your reputation as a great philanthropist in order to mask the evil that made you rich in the first place) sort of defeats the purpose of giving, in God’s eyes. And the same principle applies to anything you might do in “God’s service.” If you’ve done it for the applause, you have already received all the reward you’re going to get (see v.16).
Motivation is everything. Sometimes “keeping your charitable deed a secret” is next to impossible. When my wife and I were adopting all those kids, our forays together out into the world, whether to church, or the park, or out for dinner, made it pretty obvious that this was not a normal family. And although we were far from unique, nobody went to the absurd lengths we did unless they were being driven by God’s love. It got to the point where we got sick to death of being called “saints” by people who wouldn’t lift a finger to help their neighbors themselves. But it couldn’t be helped, I suppose.
The funny thing is, we twice allowed our family to be featured on national television in “human interest” pieces to highlight “National Adoption Awareness Month” (November, coinciding with Thanksgiving). My mother whipped out Matthew 6 and told us we were going to “lose our reward.” I told her I didn’t care, because (1) our real reward was the kids themselves, and (2) if our story inspired just one family to adopt a needy child, then that was all we wanted. That being said, when our pastor recently asked my wife and I to “share our testimony” about adopting all those handicapped kids, we politely declined. Sure, we did something that looks noteworthy in retrospect (though it didn’t seem like it at the time), and yes, God has richly blessed our life (arguably because of it). But now that we’re empty-nesters, telling the world about our adventures in a sound-bite couldn’t help but come off a bit boastful, like a retired missionary having to tell about his thirty years in Papua New Guinea in five minutes. Like the missionary, we’re just happy (and maybe a little surprised) to have come through it relatively unscathed. Besides, if one more total stranger calls my wife and me super-saints, I think I’m going to gag. We’re just people, no better than anybody else.
The surprising underlying reality of all that was that God did “openly reward us” for our service—in this world. We didn’t put one dime away for our retirement, because it all went into the kids. And yet, God took me out of the workforce at the tender age of fifty-four, making sure we had enough to live on (provided we were careful with it). Now I get to spend my days writing these books that all of you (okay, both of you) find so edifying.
In scripture, God is usually quite careful to avoid linking our personal prosperity to good deeds we have done. Although His provision for our daily needs is an ongoing reality, He goes out of His way to circumvent the appearance of celestial pay-offs—just as he doesn’t immediately punish wrongdoers. In the bigger picture, heaven is not presented as a bribe for believers, nor is hell characterized as a threat to the wicked. Those scenarios would be tantamount to a violation of our free will—something Yahweh refuses to do.
In fact, most of the Bible’s promises of blessing for obedience to Yahweh’s precepts, or cursing for their infraction, are national in character, not personal. A careful reading of the promises of Leviticus 26 (issued before the wilderness wanderings) and Deuteronomy 28 (given afterward, as a new generation was about to inherit the Land) reveal that Israel wasn’t to be run on an “every man for himself” basis. Although individuals would feel the joy of God’s blessing (or endure the pain of His curse), the nation would rise or fall as a nation.
I can’t help but reflect on the economic and political death spiral in which my beloved America now finds itself. Our national demise will be the direct result of the majority’s refusal to honor God, to trust Him, and to heed His commandments. While a sizeable minority here still keep the word, we are too few in number to dictate national policy or effect change. Fitting the profile of the Church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3, we “have (but) a little power.” Worldwide, the picture is much the same: small pockets of believers hold to the truth in the face of increasing persecution, though “The Lord still adds to the church daily those who are being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
While it appears neither America nor any other nation will taste the obedience-based blessings of Yahweh short of the Messiah’s Millennial Kingdom, we should not ignore the “upside” of the Philadelphian profile: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” (Revelation 3:10-11) It’s the Father’s ultimate provision: shelter from the coming storm—a trial so severe, it will be truly said before it’s over (of the belatedly repentant church of Laodicea—that will not be kept out of the trial), “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” (Revelation 14:13)
But until the Messiah-King comes for His children, the normal mode of the Father’s provision is His response to what Yahshua taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11) This “bread” includes not only the necessities of our mortal lives—food, clothing, shelter, etc.—but also what these things themselves symbolize: Christ Himself dwelling within us. “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world….’” He’s saying that the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years was actually a metaphor for Himself—He who sustains us and gives us life on a spiritual—and eternal—level, if only we’ll trust Him enough to step outside our tents and pick it up.
“Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst….” As with the manna, the only “conditions” for receiving Christ are that (1) we do so in faith (which for the Israelites translated into gathering only enough manna for each day) and (2) observing the Sabbath (ultimately meaning that if we are to exercise belief, we must do so when God provides the opportunity: now is the day of salvation; the day is coming when no man may work. And our “work” if you’ll recall, was defined by Yahshua as “believing in Him whom God sent”—He Himself).
“But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe….” This is the rough equivalent of seeing the manna on the ground but refusing to gather and eat it—or conversely, hoarding it, not trusting Yahweh to continue His provision on the next day, as promised. Only those whose “belief” is demonstrated by their obedience to God’s commands (as outlined above) can benefit from His provision.
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day….” If we follow the train of thought here, the Father (Yahweh) provides the Son (Yahshua) with what He most ardently desires—the eternal security of everyone who trusts the Son for salvation. In terms of the manna metaphor, Israelite fathers who earnestly desired their children’s survival gathered the bread from heaven that God had provided: their belief resulted in life.
If Christ is the fulfillment of the “manna” symbol, then we might do well to observe what the bread of heaven did for the Israelites. The entire exodus generation died in the wilderness because of their unbelief, but their children (the ones whom they had accused God of condemning to starvation in the desert, you’ll recall) lived on the manna for forty years—just long enough to enter the Promised Land. The manna is therefore metaphorical of that which sustains us throughout the journey: Christ. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread [Me] will live forever.’” (John 6:32-40, 57-58)
The point—one we often miss—is that eternal life begins in this world, when one assimilates Christ and is born from above in God’s Spirit (See John 3). Our bodies will die, of course; but our souls, indwelled with and quickened by the Spirit of God, will live forever. They’re the engines that will power our new, immortal, resurrection bodies—the sort of vehicle Yahshua Himself demonstrated for us between his resurrection and His ascension.
These, then, are the things a father does—as defined by scriptural example. To recap, his role and responsibility is to (1) defend and protect his children; (2) Seek assistance from God in the face of his own inadequacies; (3) teach, instruct, and mentor his offspring; (4) pass on a legacy of truth, honor, and righteousness; (5) Chasten and discipline his children when appropriate; (6) show mercy and forgiveness toward them; (7) seek their well-being, sheltering them from the world’s evil while defending them from harm; and (8) provide for their needs—feed them, clothe them, and reward them for a job well done. There is only one attribute left to explore, but it’s probably the hardest task of all: a father must (9) be perfect—complete and consistent—in his expression of love.
Ah, those pesky Beatitudes. They’re even harder to keep than the Torah’s myriad precepts, for they cut right to the rotten core of the human condition: our fallen, sinful nature. Yahshua taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven….” The words roll off the tongue easily enough, but doing this in practice is absolutely contrary to human nature—which is kind of the point. We (especially fathers) are not called to be “humane” exactly—to be kind and compassionate to the helpless and oppressed. Rather, we are called to be Godly: picking up where simple “humanity” leaves off—loving and blessing and praying for everyone we encounter—even evil, nasty, hateful people.
We rightly identify with victims, of course, showing empathy for them and rendering aid if we can. But how often do we pray for perpetrators and predators? That’s what Christ commanded us to do—not for their success in evildoing, but for their repentance and salvation. For example, it’s easy to be against animal cruelty. It’s something entirely more difficult (not to mention counterintuitive) to show compassion to the guy who runs a cock fighting ring. It’s easy to hold a prayer vigil outside an abortion clinic. But would you fix a flat tire for an abortion doctor if the need arose? If we are godly—if we are acting like the “sons of our Father in heaven”—then we will resist the temptation to return evil for evil.
Why? Because vengeance is not ours, but Yahweh’s—and so is the schedule. Between now and Judgment Day, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love [only] those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) The word translated “perfect” (Greek: teleios) doesn’t exactly mean “flawless,” as it sounds in English (as nice as that would be). It means full-grown, mature, completed, full, or wanting in nothing. So basically, this admonition tells us fathers to grow up, to be mature in our responses to the foolishness we see in the world around us—resisting the urge to lash out in anger or frustration at every evil (or error) we see in the world. After all, that’s how our heavenly Father does things. We have His word that He has things under control, and that He will deal with them in His own way and in His own time. We, on the other hand, just need to learn to trust Him. So that’s where we’re going next.
Now that we know what a father does, we need to explore what scripture says about how we are to relate to him. The principle still applies: since our earthly fathers are symbolic stand-ins for our heavenly Father, the way we react to their instruction, authority, and discipline reflects our attitude concerning Yahweh. Yes, I know that our human fathers (unlike God) are fallen and imperfect creatures—I surely am, as was my own father. But God says, “I don’t care: you are to treat him with respect, for he stands in for Me on this earth. I’ll take his failures up with him—as I will with you.”
Let us begin with the basics—the Ten Commandments. The fifth of the series reads, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which Yahweh your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) As we shall soon discover, one’s father and his mother are often seen together in the same scriptural context. We are to honor them equally, because even though their roles are different, they are both symbolic of deity—the father standing in for Yahweh and (if I’m seeing this correctly) the mother for His Holy Spirit. Both parents are required for life to exist, and both are necessary for a child to thrive.
The active verb here is “to honor.” The Hebrew word is kabed, literally meaning “to be heavy, to make weighty.” That is, we are to take our father seriously, consider his voice to bear the weight of authority; we are not to take him lightly or flippantly. A few pages back, we reviewed a Torah precept in which this was not the case—a situation in which the parents had to admit, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” (Deuteronomy 21:20) The penalty was stoning—which may seem overly harsh until you realize that one’s father and mother represent Yahweh and the Holy Spirit in this world. Honoring them is not optional: it is the path to abundant, eternal life.
Because the principle is so crucial, not only personally but also on a societal level, Yahweh repeated Himself: “Everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9) The word translated “curse” here is the antonym of kabed (to honor). It is qalal, literally meaning to be swift or light, hence to treat something or someone as trivial, contemptuous, or insignificant—to slight him or consider him a “lightweight.”
Note too the contrasting promises. The one who honors his father will “live long upon the land,” not eretz (which could be construed to denote only the Promised Land, the territory of Israel) but the broader adamah, meaning dirt, ground, earth, or clay—the stuff Adam (a related word) was made out of—thus in the larger sense, the whole inhabited earth. In other words, the one who honors his father (whether biological or spiritual) is promised an extended mortal life, all things considered. But if one “curses” his father (that is, treats him lightly or with contempt), then “his blood shall be upon him,” which is to say, his all-too-likely early demise will be his own fault.
Why stoning? It was to serve as a deterrent and example to the whole community (as was pointed out in Deuteronomy 21:21: “All Israel shall hear and fear”), for the whole community had been violated, and would therefore be required to participate in the remedy. Did it work? Well, it would have if Israel had actually followed the precept. But as of the time of the Assyrian invasion, the prophet Micah described the sorry state to which the nation had fallen: “Do not trust in a friend. Do not put your confidence in a companion. Guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom. For son dishonors father, daughter rises against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies are the men of his own household….” Society was in chaos and disarray, rife with paranoia and suspicion. Why? Because the Fifth Commandment—“Honor your father and mother”—had been utterly forsaken.
I don’t know how to break it to you, but it has been forgotten in America as well in these Last Days—with the same devastating effect. It doesn’t help that fathers have so often abdicated their roles as head of the family (as outlined above). Nor does it help when wives usurp their husbands’ authority (instead of encouraging them to step up and fulfill the role God assigned to them), nor that government has all too eagerly stepped in to fill the shoes that fathers were supposed to wear. There is only one possible solution to this sorry state of affairs—the one the prophet opted to take: “Therefore I will look to Yahweh. I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” (Micah 7:5-7)
Even if we were to return to the principle of respect for our parents, it wouldn’t help much unless we also appropriately applied the symbol in the spiritual realm. Yahweh muses, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” (Malachi 1:6) It is not enough to keep the letter of the “honoring your parents” law—never mind that nobody has ever been completely successful at doing so. We must also factor in what Christ announced: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
Honoring one’s father and mother is only one of a thousand puzzle pieces in the Torah that when put together reveal a picture of the life and mission of Yahshua. Everything in the Law of Moses is symbolic of one facet or another of the way Yahweh’s plan of redemption would be brought to fruition in Christ. All of the sacrifices, the rituals, the tabernacle instructions, the rules governing society, health, and restitution, and even dietary discernment—all of it points toward the Messiah. Yahweh requires that we honor Him, for to do so is life.
Part of “honoring one’s father” is receiving his instruction. Solomon writes, “Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine. Do not forsake my law. When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me, and said to me: ‘Let your heart retain my words. Keep my commands, and live.’” (Proverbs 4:1-4) Knowledge, skill, attitudes, and even wisdom can be passed from one generation to the next, though it’s not automatic, freedom of choice being what it is.
That works both ways, of course. Both Solomon and Absalom were David’s sons. “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Proverbs 13:1) Generally, it takes wisdom on the part of a father to know how to effectively “rebuke” (discipline, correct, or chastise) his child. But honoring our earthly father requires that we receive his rebuke even if he has gotten it all wrong—even if he has been unfair, overly harsh, overly lax, micromanaging, or virtually absent. We are not to assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—even if he doesn’t. We children don’t have all the facts either.
“Instruction” means more than imparting specific knowledge about a particular subject. It was customary during Bible times for a son to follow his father into the “family business,” farming, herding, tanning, carpentry, stone masonry, even the priesthood. These days, that’s a rarity (if for no other reason than that technology is changing so quickly). None of my children followed me into my chosen profession (graphic design), nor had I followed my father into his (accounting). And yet, I can see how the intangibles—our family’s work ethic, our approach to solving problems, our attitude toward integrity and honor—have passed more or less intact from one generation to the next. If I had been a career criminal, a welfare cheat, a substance abuser, or a corrupt politician, I have no doubt that those “qualities” would have surfaced in my kids’ lives as well. Don’t blame the kids if they follow in your footsteps, fathers: that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re watching you, and they will walk like you do if they can.
It follows, then, that the most important thing you can teach your children is reverence for Yahweh. King David told his future heir, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for Yahweh searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.” (I Chronicles 28:9) The reason David is heard advising—pleading with—his son is that free will (as always) is in play here. It is a father’s responsibility to teach his son (or daughter, of course). But it is also the child’s responsibility to heed the father’s instruction—the father cannot honor God on the child’s behalf. David, for all his shortcomings, took the time to sit his son down and lecture him on the subject of serving Yahweh. Too many godly fathers today (me among them, I’m afraid) tend to let our actions speak for us. But these are perilous times: subtlety and innuendo, implication and inference, endeavoring to be a good example and role model, are no longer reliable modes of communication. They probably never were.
For his part, Solomon took his father’s instructions to heart, especially in his youth. Reflecting on his own response to his father David’s wise counsel, he wrote, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1) Take two: “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.” (Proverbs 15:20) And take three: “He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother is a son who causes shame and brings reproach.” (Proverbs 19:26) Note that Solomon agrees with the Fifth Commandment: both father and mother are to be honored, for in reality, they are one—just as Yahweh our God is One.
Another prophet links the dishonor of one’s father and mother to a general attitude of lovelessness: “Look, the princes of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you [i.e., in Jerusalem—the “bloody city”]. In you they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow.” (Ezekiel 22:6-7) The word used here to denote their crime is the Hebrew qalal, to treat lightly or with contempt. That’s right: it’s the same infraction, against the same target, that earned the perpetrator death by stoning under the Torah, as we saw above (Leviticus 20:9). Ezekiel points out that the same attitude that manifests as contempt for one’s parents (and by extension, for God) also shows up as hatred toward widows and orphans. So for all practical purposes, violation of the Fifth Commandment is tantamount to a breach of the two greatest laws in the entire Torah: love Yahweh, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s bad enough when ordinary people do this, but when the leaders of the nation (here called “the princes of Israel”) do them, you know you’re in real trouble.
As if in answer to the evil “princes of Israel” excoriated by Ezekiel, Yahshua (who Himself could be characterized a “prince” of Israel—as in, its future King) taught His disciples how to react to the Father’s instructions. Just before His crucifixion, He told them, “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world [i.e., Satan] approaches. He has no power over Me, but I will do what the Father requires of Me, so that the world will know that I love the Father.” (John 14:30-31 NLT) He knew exactly what was about to happen to Him—though nobody else did yet. The Father had sent Him to be the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Announcing your intention to “do what the Father requires” sounds noble, but Yahshua knew that it would entail allowing evil men to flog Him within an inch of His life, jamb a crown of cruel thorns down upon His brow, mock Him, spit on Him, and send Him out to be crucified by foreign thugs. The hard part of this psychologically would have been knowing that Satan had no actual power over Him, and knowing there were legions of angels He could have summoned with the snap of His fingers, who would have been all too happy to make the whole ugly scene go away. Resisting the temptation to “bail out” must have been the hardest trial any man ever faced. (I would have failed miserably, I can guarantee you.) But Yahshua “did what the Father required of Him,” because He loved the Father, and the Father loved us.
The thing that made Yahshua the “Lamb of God”—the perfect Passover sacrifice—was His innocence. He was the only one in history who had no need of repentance. For the rest of us, of course, the repentance factor looms large in our consideration of how we are to relate to our fathers (or our Father—Yahweh). So Yahshua went to great lengths to teach us how repentance works, in the Parable of the Lost Son.
He said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood….” The younger son knew that his elder brother (being the firstborn) would receive a double portion of their father’s legacy, and more importantly, would inherit authority over the estate. His sin began not when he asked for his inheritance (which by rights belonged to him), but when he began to covet his brother’s status as the firstborn son. His envy developed into hatred toward his brother—whose only “crime” had been being born first. Yahshua did “what the Father required of Him” out of a spirit of love, but the younger son in the parable abandoned his brother and his father, driven by a spirit of hatred, envy, and pride.
The first lesson he “learned” was that if you’re not earning your own living, your resources are finite. “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want….” Even if he hadn’t been prodigal—wasteful, profligate, and dissolute—he would still have run out of money eventually, for he was no longer contributing to his own prosperity (as when he had worked under his father’s authority and his elder brother’s supervision).
The second lesson was that if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it’s probably Astroturf. “Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything….” Allow me to extrapolate a bit here. Swine were unclean animals, and the son knew it. Yet he was reduced to living among them and even envying them. The modern equivalent might be finding yourself doing what you know to be wrong, but doing it anyway just because you think you must in order to survive, smothering your conscience with pig slop. How many have turned to street crime, prostitution, drug dealing, lobbying, or investment banking, just to put food on the table? How many have entered politics because laboring honestly where God put them—in obscurity—was just too heavy a cross to bear? (Okay, I’m exaggerating. A little bit. Maybe.)
The point is, our sins can place us in situations we never intended. When we awaken from our self-induced coma, we need turn around, find a new path, and go back to where we took the wrong turn. We need to learn lesson number three: repentance. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants….”’” The son was said to be suffering from “hunger,” the lack of food. But our motivation for repentance is more likely to be for what food deprivation represents: a hunger for peace or righteousness, a thirst for truth, or a longing to become clean once again—you name it. Repentance does not consist of the realization of the need, however. The son knew he was hungry his first day in the pig sty. It consists of taking the action necessary to meet the need—in this case, getting up, leaving the “far country,” and returning home to his father’s house in humility and contrition.
The son was fully expecting to find that his sin had cost him his relationship with his father and elder brother—and he was prepared for that. What actually happened was totally unexpected: “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” He was reading the script, just as he had in his mind a hundred times over as he made his way home. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry….”
Lesson number four. You never stop being your father’s child. You can be in rebellion, estranged, stupid, prodigal, and as good as dead, but if you were ever your father’s child, that relationship cannot be severed. What can be severed is fellowship. Did everything go back to the way it was before? No. Our actions have consequences. Trust had been breached, and wounds had been inflicted, leaving ugly scars that, while healed, would never completely disappear. The son’s inheritance was gone, and it would not magically reappear. However, the son’s repentance was genuine, so the father received him with gladness. But notice something else: he was now treated (at least for the moment) as a guest, not with easy familiarity (i.e., as “family”) but as someone deserving of hospitality because of the father’s good manners and fundamental love. There was (as I imagine it) an undercurrent of tension amid the celebration; the son didn’t know quite how to act. It was all a bit awkward.
Remember, it is the father’s function to extend mercy, pity, and forgiveness. It is the child’s responsibility to humbly accept the father’s authority and discipline. Yes, the father had extended his hand in mercy, but the son was still aware that he was the “glutton and drunkard,” the rebellious son, who had rightfully earned himself the sentence of stoning in Deuteronomy 21. It would be some time (I’m guessing) before he forgave himself. What you and I need to realize is that placing ourselves under the Father’s authority includes adopting His mindset concerning our guilt: if He has forgiven us, then we are forgiven. Period. We have no further right to our own opinion on the matter.
As the story goes, the older son got wind of the prodigal’s return, and he reacted more predictably (or at least more like humanity’s xenophobic norm) than his father had: he refused (at first) to celebrate his brother’s repentance. “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’” At first glance, he seemed to have a point: he was righteously indignant at the damage that had been done to the family’s integrity and his father’s reputation—though something tells me the accusation of his father’s “neglect” was a gross exaggeration: he was no victim; he just hadn’t rebelled in the same way.
But unforgiveness (read: hatred) is never the proper response to repentance, and the father was wise enough to know that. In fact, the father had forgiven his younger son long before he ever returned. The party was not being held to celebrate his own forgiveness, but his younger son’s return to the fold. “And he said to [the elder sibling], ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. [But] It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32) Aren’t we all?
It should be apparent that the two “sons” in Yahshua’s parable prophetically represent Israel and the ekklesia (the “church,” the largely gentile called-out assembly of Christ, though not necessarily the vast religious organization that goes by the same name—much of whom is still “living it up” in Babylon). And of course, the “father” is symbolic of The Father—Yahweh. The differences in how the two groups relate to their father is telling. The ekklesia is composed of a bunch of screw-ups, and we know it. We know all too well that we have done nothing worthy of God’s favor: we are totally bankrupt before Him, in every conceivable way. But we have repented, crawled back to our Father, and begged for forgiveness—even being so bold as to approach Him, hat in hand, requesting jobs as His hired servants (since we know we’re not worthy to be called His sons).
But much to our surprise, our Father is having none of it. No matter what we have done, He still sees us as His children, and He’s just happy to have us back home, safe and sound. In truth, the only thing that prevented Him from tracking us down in Babylon and dragging us home with Him was His unbounded respect for our privilege of free will. So slaves? No, that’s not going to happen. We are sons. Sure, there will be plenty of time for work, but it will come in response to our reconciliation—not as a strategy for obtaining it.
The Jews, meanwhile, are laboring under the misconception that they never left the Father. Oh, Israel always maintained the illusion that he was serving Yahweh as His eldest son, the privileged firstborn. But his service was grudging, phony, and disingenuous, because he didn’t comprehend what it meant to be the patriarch’s principal heir. He was supposed to contend with his Father’s enemies at the city gate, not fraternize with them. The “friends” with whom he wanted to make merry were the sons of his Father’s adversary—Satan. So there was a reason his Father wouldn’t give him a goat (God’s symbol for sin) with which to party with the bad boys. The Father didn’t want Israel to fall in with the neighborhood hoodlums, or get swept up in their crimes.
So although he never actually left the farm, the elder son fantasized about life in exotic Babylon and secretly envied his younger brother for having joined the gang, done the time, and gotten the prison tats to prove how tough and cool he was—the very things the kid later found so pointless, empty, and self-destructive. It never occurred to the elder brother that the “curses” he had suffered (everything listed in the “bad side” of Deuteronomy 28, in fact) had been inflicted on him by his loving Father—in a vain effort to persuade him to repent.
Israel, the elder son, has still not repented; they are still holding a grudge against their contrite and thankful brothers, the Christians. But they will: it is by far the most oft-repeated prophecy in the entire Bible. One example among hundreds: Zechariah writes, “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn…. I will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people,’ and each one will say, ‘Yahweh is my God.’” (Zechariah 12:10, 13:9)
Don’t give up on Israel. Their incredible national epiphany is very, very close.
So we know what the Father’s role is, and we’ve learned how we are to respond—how to relate to Him. And (hopefully) we have come to terms with the fact that human fathers are (by God’s design) symbolic of our Heavenly Father: we are to play our parts in the human drama—whether as fathers or children—as if the whole world were watching us, trying to discern from our actions what God is like. No pressure, or anything, guys.
This, of course, explains why Satan works so hard to undermine the God-ordained role of fathers—and the family itself, for that matter. If we could look at our fathers (and mothers) and see a glimpse of Yahweh’s wisdom and love there, we would say, “God is awesome.” The devil wants fathers to seem distant, autocratic, and abusive, or at least incompetent—basically the same lie he whispered in Eve’s ear in the Garden of Eden—so we’ll come to the conclusion that Yahweh is just like that: not worth worshiping. I think Satan would actually prefer that fathers weren’t around at all—leaving mothers to raise their children alone, in poverty, insecurity, and hopelessness. If he can get people to live like that, he might just get them to swallow the parallel fable that God doesn’t care about them, doesn’t provide for their needs, or doesn’t even exist.
Apparently, his ploy is working. A recent survey reveals that in the United States (arguably the last bastion of cultural Christianity on earth), the childbirth statistics among millennials (those who reached adulthood around year 2000) are as follows: 64% of children were born into families in which one or more births were out of wedlock. (That is, two thirds of the time, mom had already borne a child before she married dad.) 47% of children—almost half—were born into households in which none of the births took place within marriage. Only 36% of children were born into families in which all of the births were to married parents. For blacks, the stats are even more depressing: fully 72% of African-American children are born out of wedlock. The bottom line is, for American millennials, out-of-wedlock childbirth is now the norm. (It’s worth noting that the higher a couple’s education level, the more likely they are to bear children within the bonds of marriage—but it’s still only 68% for university graduates. Educated people are presumably smart enough to discern that a mother and a father are both needed to raise well-adjusted children, but a third of them still don’t care.)
The bottom line is that, in America and worldwide, more and more children are growing up without any idea what a real father is supposed to be, or do. Consequently, they have no clear idea of what God is like. So they hear the term “heavenly father” and imagine God to be the same sort of cringing weasel who got mom pregnant and then disappeared—or at the very best, even if he stuck around for a few years before moving on to “greener pastures,” he never had the courage or character to marry her. Is it really any wonder that so many in the world have such a screwed-up conception of who God is?
Consequently, when a young person today looks at how fathers and sons are presented in the Bible, he is likely to be laboring under a skewed conception of what a “father” really is. And if he is not prepared for Yahweh’s use of symbols, he is also likely to be confused by the whole “Son of God” presentation of Yahshua of Nazareth. Let us, then, return to the scriptures in an effort to discern who the “Father” is, and to discover how we can know Him.
Not surprisingly, most of the “Heavenly Father” references are found in the Gospels—describing the relationship between Yahshua and “the Father.” But the concept of “God as Father” was introduced all the way back in the Torah. Just before he died, Moses (knowing how stubborn and rebellious Israel could be) admonished them, saying, “Do you thus deal with Yahweh, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, who bought you? Has He not made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32:6) He uses three verbs here to describe what Yahweh had done to prove He was their “Father.”
(1) He had bought them. The Passover prophecy had foretold how the world (symbolized by Egypt) would perish in its sins, but Israel’s life (representing those who believed in their God) had been spared through the application of the blood of the sacrificial lamb—something we can now see was a transparent euphemism for the coming Messiah.
(2) Yahweh had made them. That is, He had created them from whole cloth, calling Abraham from pagan obscurity and making him a nation through miraculous means. The Hebrew verb asah is a very broad word, meaning to accomplish, advance, appoint, bear, bestow, bring forth, have charge of, do, execute, fashion, gather, govern, maintain, make, perform, prepare—and a dozen other things, all of which add up to a pretty fair description of what a “Father” is.
(3) He had established them. The Hebrew word here is kun, literally meaning He had made them to stand upright in His presence, or figuratively, confirmed them, “fastened” or “fixed” their place in human history, ordained and prepared them for greatness. Having been established by Yahweh, Israel wasn’t just any nation, like the Amorites or the Hittites, who though great and powerful would pass into history barely leaving a trace.
Earlier, Moses had said, “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so Yahweh your God chastens you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5) That is, God’s willingness to chasten Israel defined Him as their Father. The concept is one we’ve encountered before. The Hebrew verb here is yasar—to admonish, discipline, correct, warn, teach, chastise, reprove, and even punish: all things a good father does for (or to) his son in order to raise him as a godly and upright man, a person of character, worthy of honor and respect. Children who grow up without these things (especially from the hand of a loving father) tend to turn out to be lazy, worthless, dishonest, self-centered under-achievers. Thank God there are exceptions.
The Hebrew prophets too understood the familial relationship between God and His people. “Look down from heaven, and see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, the yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained? Doubtless You are our Father, though Abraham was ignorant of us, and Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O Yahweh, are our Father. Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” (Isaiah 63:15-16) Isaiah wrote at a time of apostasy and upheaval in Israel, though peppered with sporadic episodes of spiritual awakening. The prophet recognized that Yahweh was “Father” to Israel, but at the moment, they were like the pre-repentant prodigal son in Yahshua’s parable. He asks, “Where are You, Father?” To which He responds, “I’m right here where I’ve always been—waiting for you to turn from your evil ways and return to Me.”
Malachi takes Israel to task for failing to recognize that because Yahweh is their Father, they should treat one another like brothers—not as enemies. “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Malachi 2:10) The relationship, of course, extends beyond Israel. Yahweh created all of us: we are all brothers and sisters before Him. Therefore, the treachery so endemic in human affairs is an affront to God our Father. Put another way, when God tells us to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” it is because our “neighbors” are actually our siblings—children of the same divine Father. The fact that so many of them are estranged from Yahweh should not make us think of them as our enemies. But even if they count us as their adversaries—even if we find ourselves in total disagreement—remember that Christ also commanded us to love our enemies. There is no getting out of this: we are required to love one another. “Have we not all one Father?”
Yahshua expanded the thought, telling His disciples, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:8-9) The distinction we are instructed to make is between our Heavenly Father—manifested on earth in human form as Yahshua the Messiah—and everybody else. The title “Rabbi” literally means “my great one” or “my honorable sir.” In popular usage, it means “master” or “teacher.” It is derived from the Hebrew rab, meaning abundant or great one—hence a captain, chief, or elder. The scribes and scholars of the day loved to bask in the glow of such accolades. But Yahshua says, you are all brothers, sons of the same Father: there is no place for such pride among God’s people, no matter how smart you think you are. One might understand the ongoing Judaic error here—after all, they rejected Christ’s teaching. But what are we to do with Roman Catholic clerics who insist on being referred to as “father?” We Christians were specifically warned not to exalt ourselves (or anyone among us) like this. Yahweh alone is our Father, and Yahshua is Yahweh—in identity, though not in form.
The Jewish religious elite couldn’t get past the fact that Yahshua was a mortal man. How could God (who is admittedly incorporeal) manifest Himself as a human being? And because their hearts were cold and rebellious, He didn’t make it easy for them: “The Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” Elsewhere, of course, He made the point that His own testimony concerning His deity would have been rejected out of hand—and they knew it. So “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe.” How had He “told” them? “The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” (John 10:24-30)
The illustration He used was a slap in the face to the proud but disbelieving Jewish elite. His references to “Father” and “sheep” would have conjured up images of Israel’s greatest ruler, David—the shepherd-king through whose lineage the Messiah had been prophesied to arise. It had been foretold, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse [David’s father], and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.” (Isaiah 11:1-2, cf. Revelation 22:16) Yahshua was a physical descendent of David through His mother Mary, and was David’s lawful heir through Joseph. As David has famously defended his father’s sheep from the lion and the bear, so Yahshua would preserve Yahweh’s “sheeple” from the attacks of the Evil One.
The scribes and Pharisees, of course, weren’t buying it, though they understood the references well enough. So Yahshua made rejecting Him a matter of intellectual suicide, telling them, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.’” (John 10:37-38) Not believing Him became a matter of “Don’t confuse me with facts—my mind is made up.”
The “works” the Father had empowered Him to do among them—healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, making the lame able to walk, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons, and even raising the dead—were all a testimony to His identity and anointing: they proved that He was the “Son of God.” He never did harm to anyone, only good. Yet He often did good deeds on the Sabbath, because the scribes and Pharisees had tried to transform God’s “day of rest” into an onerous load of trivial minutiae, a legal quagmire that completely undermined the spirit of liberty that God had ordained. All Yahweh had said about it was to “keep” or observe the Sabbath—that is, don’t do your regular work, that with which you earn a living for yourself, on the seventh day. It was, rather, a day to make a point of relying upon the Father’s provision.
Yahshua made sure the religious elite would themselves confirm that He was working in the Father’s power and authority. An incident is recorded in Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 6, in which Yahshua—on the Sabbath—told a man with a withered hand to stretch it out. He did so, and was instantly healed. Christ hadn’t touched the man, hadn’t promised to heal him, nor had given any indication that any sort of miracle was about to take place. Furthermore, neither the act of extending one’s damaged appendage, nor telling someone else to do so, could remotely be construed as “work.” Yet the scribes had no choice but to admit that Yahshua had been personally instrumental in restoring the man’s limb—something only God could do. There was no other explanation. But He had “done the work of God” without actually having done any “work,” leaving only the stark reality of His deity. Their illogical response was to begin plotting how they might destroy the one doing the miracles.
What choice did they have? Between miracles, Yahshua kept saying things that identified Himself—to the exclusion of all others—as the Son of God, Yahweh incarnate. And it would have been blasphemy, had it not been true. But since the scribes and Pharisees didn’t know Yahweh, there was no way they’d respect—or even recognize—His Son. The most “logical” explanation they could come up with was that He could cast out demons because He Himself was in league with them. (I know, it’s not logical at all.) They had no explanation whatsoever for Yahshua’s healing of the sick or raising the dead. They only knew that they didn’t like Him rocking their profitable, egotistical little boat. They truly were the sons of their father the devil.
Just prior to the passion, “Jesus said to [His disciple, Thomas], ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him….’” Prior to His resurrection, of course, it had to have been hard for the disciples to sort out the difference (if there was one) between Yahshua’s being a great prophet of God, Yahweh’s anointed Messiah, and God Himself in the form of a man—the “Son” of God. They didn’t quite comprehend how it all worked. (I know I wouldn’t have.) All they knew for certain was that Yahshua was Someone any true worshiper of Yahweh should be following. But here, at the end of His earthly ministry, Yahshua began tying it all together for them: He was teaching them that He and the Father were One Person—they shared the same identity, the same nature: if you knew Yahshua, you knew Yahweh as well, for God is One (see Deuteronomy 6:4).
Still confused, the disciples continued to press for clarification: “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?...” Father Yahweh’s nature was a glory so intense no human being could witness it and live to tell the tale. The “Son” had therefore been sent in order to (among other things) demonstrate what Yahweh was like in terms we humans could comprehend (not to mention survive)—compassionate, forgiving, providing, and defending: the same attributes that human fathers are supposed to demonstrate to their children.
The only “fatherly” attribute Yahshua didn’t overtly exercise during His mortal sojourn was authority. Yes, He taught with authority (i.e., not like the scribes and Pharisees, who typically just quoted the opinions of earlier sages in defense of their positions). But wielding physical, political power over men was not His job—not this time around. That would be reserved for another advent, another millennium. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:6-11)
In the meantime, Yahweh’s authority would be made apparent in Yahshua’s “works,” His intrinsic ability to heal the sick and all the rest. In other words, His authority during His first advent would be exercised not over people, but over the intangibles of the human condition—facets of God’s purview that would not compromise our freedom to choose between good and evil. If He exercises moral authority in our lives in this age, it is at our discretion: we get to choose whom we wish to obey. In the coming Kingdom age, however, the necessary past distinction between “Heavenly Father” and “Son of God” will be somewhat blurred, I’m guessing. The reigning Messiah will be as glorious as anything mortal man has ever—or will ever—encounter. And every knee will bow.
The whole concept of Yahshua being “in” God, and at the same time having God dwelling “in” Him is admittedly hard to fathom. What does it mean—and more to the point, how can we follow Him in this most exciting of prospects? Christ explained that the evidence of this mutual indwelling is manifested in the works He did—things that no ordinary mortal could accomplish. He says that His Father (Yahweh) does the works—and on the Sabbath, too: gasp! He Himself, He says, is just a conduit, a vessel.
Practically in the same breath, He explained how it all works for us, using (surprise!) another parable. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit….” In this illustration, we get a glimpse of what it means to be “in” Christ. He likens himself to a grapevine, and not just any old plant, but the “true” one, the real thing, the genuine article. Thayer notes that the Greek adjective alethinos means “that which has not only the name and semblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real and true, genuine.” (Remember: Yahshua’s name means “Yahweh is Salvation.”) He is “opposed to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated, pretended,” and to “what is imperfect, defective, frail, or uncertain.”
We believers, meanwhile, are like wild grapevine branches that have been cut off from the lost and dying world and grafted into this “true” vine by the Great Vinedresser, Yahweh. (And yes, it was as painful for all parties involved as it sounds.) We thus receive our sustenance—our ability to do good things in God’s vineyard—through Christ, and only through Him. We do not operate independently of Him, nor does He operate independently of Father Yahweh, the One who is doing all the grafting, pruning, harvesting—and rejoicing at the vintage we produce because of His care and effort on our behalf.
So He concludes: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me…. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:1-4, 8) The whole point, He says, is “bearing fruit.” To “bear” (Greek phero) is to carry, bring, lead, or make publically known (i.e., to bring forward). And since the Holy Spirit dwells within us believers, the definition of “fruit” is as follows: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [i.e., patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
These are the things by which God is glorified in our lives. We are to bear them, bring them forth, and make them a visceral reality among the people we meet in this world. If all they see in us is dour religiosity, hypocrisy or judgmental condemnation for their oh-so-obvious sins, our Father will not be glorified. Face it: these are homeless spiritual orphans we’re talking about—terrified, suspicious, hungry, and desperate. They have no idea what a loving Father is, and they never will—unless we show them.
The trick, of course, is being gentle and loving to sinners while holding your ground on the lethal nature of the sin that’s threatening to kill them. Sometimes it seems as if we Christians must spend our lives trying to “talk people off the ledge”—convince them not to commit spiritual suicide. We can’t force folks to receive the love of Christ, for free will is their privilege. But we can—and must—bring the fruit of the Spirit into their lives. We must show them what it’s like to have what they don’t even know exists.
As strange as it may seem, God can’t do the job Himself (not directly, anyway), nor is Christ (God’s human manifestation) in a position to personally interact with lost people as He did two thousand years ago. Reflect on His “vine” illustration: Yahweh is the vinedresser, outside of the world (read: holy), though vitally interested in its well-being. And Christ is the “vine,” the central trunk of humanity anchored in the earth. But fruit doesn’t grow on a tree trunk. It sprouts, rather, on the branches, the outliers—we who depend upon the trunk of the vine to draw in the sustenance we need. All a lost and hungry world needs to know is where the fruit can be found. It is with us—we who are anchored in Christ. If the fruit we bear is sour, poisonous, or non-existent, the world will starve to death—and it will be our fault. But if it is sweet and nourishing (as the vinedresser intended) the world will be sustained. Note also that we must be ready to bear spiritual fruit “in season and out of season.” Remember what happened to the fig tree in Mark 11—who it was who removed if from service, and why.
If I may stretch the “vine” metaphor to the breaking point, think of the “sap,” that blood-like substance which flows through the vine to the branches, as the Holy Spirit. If the world is going to find the grapes sweet—full of love, joy, peace, and all the rest—then the Spirit must flow unimpeded from point A to point B. That is, it must not be “grieved” through our bitterness, wrath, slander, or clamor (Ephesians 4:30-31), nor should we allow it to be “quenched” in unthankfulness or skepticism (I Thessalonians 5:16-20).
Yahshua explained to His disciples how it works: “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you….” What the Spirit brings to us “branches” is Christ Himself—His word, His nature, and His power. It is our responsibility to turn all that into the “fruit of the Spirit” so the world can be nourished. Remember, short of the occasional miracle, we believers will be all the world will ever see (or taste) of the risen Christ. We need to get it right: the Spirit, flowing from the Father through Christ to us, must result in love and its fellow attributes, or the world will starve.
It seems like an impossible burden, and it would be but for one thing: it is not our righteousness or virtue that the world will see in us. It is God’s. We are merely the conduit through which His love is meant to flow. Our only job is to allow God’s Word to flow through us without hindrance. We just need to relax and let God be God: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Remember, “peace” is one manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. “You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me [love: there’s another bite of fruit], you would rejoice [and there’s another] because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.” (John 14:25-28)
Yahshua was reminding His disciples here that although He had shed the trappings of divinity in order to appear as a man among them, mortal frailty was not His true nature. It was like a disguise—something like a “hazmat suit”—He put on in order to shield us from His own intense glory. But although He and His Father Yahweh were indeed “One,” His saying “My father is greater than I” is a contender for the understatement of the century.
The “Son,” God incarnate, was born into a fallen race, lived among fallen men, and though sinless, offered Himself up as a holy sacrifice so that we fallen creatures might one day stand before God redeemed, cleansed, and eternally alive. The “Father,” on the other hand, did things on a completely different scale. He spoke the universe into being, created us as a race of beings uniquely equipped with free will so we could reciprocate His love, and then defined fatherhood by distinguishing right from wrong, being compassionate, forgiving our failures, providing for our needs, and defending us from evil—even our own. (Perhaps His greatest feat was restraining Himself as we fallen creatures crucified His only begotten Son. If I had been God, I probably would have said, “Forget it. This was a bad idea,” as I proceeded to angrily unmake the universe.)
In the final analysis, the Father is—symbolically as well as literally—the source of life—something infinitely more significant than it appears at first glance. One could make the argument that according to the theory of relativity (expressed in the familiar equation E=MC2), matter is merely another form or manifestation of energy. That is, since there was demonstrably a time before which matter did not exist (i.e., before the big bang), energy must have pre-existed, “somehow” coalescing into matter. (My own “theory,” one I can’t begin to prove, is that Yahweh Himself was this eternally extant “energy source,” but that’s not the point I wish to advance here.) With somewhat questionable logic, then, scientists could convince themselves that matter—the stuff the universe is made of—appeared spontaneously, without the need for a Creator.
What they can’t explain, however, is the phenomenon of Life, much less sentient life. No one has ever witnessed life spontaneously emerging from non-life (inorganic matter). As far as science can tell, the basic attributes of living things are that (1) they can reproduce themselves; (2) they change and grow, via such things as respiration, mobility, and metabolism—i.e., physical and chemical processes by which a material substance is produced, maintained, and destroyed, and by which energy is made available; and (3) they die when metabolism ceases. That is, all observed life is mortal; it doesn’t persist forever (which is why self-replication is critical). They insist (because it’s all they’ve ever known) that all life is (4) cell-based; and (5) built with DNA molecular structure.
From these observations, scientists usually make a metaphysical leap of faith that one logically can’t really make: that life’s origin must somehow depend on chemistry—that if all of the right elemental ingredients were placed in the right juxtaposition (an impossibly complex task, by the way) then life would inevitably result. But although life may be compatible with chemistry, the two things are not interdependent. As any med-school sophomore should be able to tell you, exactly the same chemical composition exists in a human body the moment before it dies and the moment after. That being the case, life must consist of what’s different between a living person and his fresh corpse.
This “difference” can be tracked via several physical indicators, of course—electrical activity within the nervous system, the beating of the heart enabling blood flow, the continuing function of most of the body’s other organs, cellular integrity, and so forth. For that matter, the same sorts of indicators mark the beginning of life: one moment an ovum is inert in a woman’s womb, and the next it is alive—independently of its host—due to its impregnation by a sperm cell, a condition that will persist until the organism (in this case, a human being) once again becomes inert. “Life” (in the mortal sense) is therefore whatever it is that begins at conception and ends at death. Although science has no clue what it is, they call this “life force” the soul or spirit. If one has a viable soul, his body is alive. And vice versa. (The Bible, not surprisingly, is far more precise in its terminology, as I have explained elsewhere in this book.)
The point of all that is simply that in Yahweh’s symbol lexicon, “life” is something that originates with the Father (not to be confused with nurturing, which is the Mother’s—read: the Holy Spirit’s—role). Moreover, one’s mortal life (i.e., a soul making a body alive) is “merely” God’s metaphor for something infinitely more significant—eternal life, a state of being that, unlike our short sojourns on this pale blue space dot, will continue forever, just as our heavenly Father lives infinitely longer than our earthly fathers.
Yahshua explained it all to His disciples, not that any mortal human is equipped to fully comprehend what’s going on. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life….” Who sent Him? Yahweh, our heavenly Father. And what does it mean to “believe in Him?” To trust and rely upon Him as a small child (ideally) relies upon her daddy—thankfully, unquestioningly, unflinchingly, unreservedly. It isn’t the “belief” itself that causes life, but rather the connection that such belief forges between God and man. Eternal life resides in God: if we are to “tap into it,” we must be grafted into Him (as Yahshua’s “vine” parable phrased it).
We can sort of understand “not coming into judgment,” but how does that translate into a transition from death (Greek: thanatos, death as defined by separation of the soul from the body) into everlasting life? It’s important to understand what “judgment” actually is. The Greek noun krisis is a judicial term—the separation or distinction between guilt and innocence: a verdict, a legal opinion determining the course of justice, a selection between right and wrong. It’s not necessarily condemnation, though that’s what it sounds like because—let’s face it—we’re all guilty of something.
If we who believe in Yahweh “don’t come into judgment,” it’s because our case has been thrown out of court. It’s not that we were declared innocent (because we’re not), but that the case was never brought before the Judge in the first place. Why? Because Yahweh sent His Messiah to atone for our sins, and our reliance upon the efficacy of His sacrifice—that which “grafts us” into the living vine, so to speak—is “counted as righteousness” on our behalf, and as a result we will “not come into judgment.” If we do not believe, however, we’ll have nothing to stand upon but our own performance. Put another way, the only life we’ll have will be that which we can secure for ourselves—something that man, for all his cleverness, is utterly unable to do.
But wait a minute. Everyone dies—even those who have attained this imputed innocence. Even the redeemed are mortal. So how can our lives be called “everlasting”? Yahshua explains: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man....” Issues of form and manifestation aside, the Father and the Son are the same person. As Yahweh has life within Himself, Yahshua proved His identity with the Father by rising from the tomb on the third day under His own power. Furthermore, all of Yahweh’s authority (the prerogative of the Father, you’ll recall) has been transferred to the risen Christ (see Matthew 28:18). Though the “Son” of God, He has assumed the role of heavenly Father, because they are, in fact, One.
So when we, whether living or dead, hear the voice of the risen Son of God, we too will rise as He did—not as mortals, but in new immortal, spiritual bodies, presumably just like the one in which Yahshua walked the earth after His resurrection. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself [in My diminished, human manifestation, that is] do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:24-30) Once again (’cause you may have forgotten): “doing good” in this context is “believing in the One whom Father Yahweh sent”—Yahshua the Messiah.
In the same chapter in which he describes the resurrection body we’ll inhabit as immortal believers, Paul addresses the seeming fluidity between the roles of God as Father and God as Son (who we know are the same divine person, but in different forms). “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” That’s the “resurrection of life” to which Yahshua referred. “Then comes the end [that is, the eternal state], when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For ‘He has put all things under His feet.’ But when He says ‘all things are put under Him,’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:22-28)
If we’re not paying close attention, it might seem as if Paul is speaking of the Father and the Son as two different entities. Yes, in our experience, the “Father” has authority over the “Son,” who is in turn “subject” to Him. But in truth, the Father and the Son are both One Person (only one of which—the Son—is ever manifested among mortal men). So what Paul is describing here is the process by which the Son will be revealed to be Father Yahweh Himself. Only when the last believing mortal is finally clothed in his immortal resurrection body will it be “safe” for Yahweh our Father to be revealed in His glorious, undiminished unity.
What a day that will be. The first day of the rest of our lives.
(First published 2016)