And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said,
Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.
—Genesis 33:5

Jacob was returning to Canaan after twenty years with his uncle Laban. He had fled Canaan because of the wrath and threats of his brother Esau. Having learned that Jacob had stolen the birthright blessing by deceiving his father, Esau vowed to kill Jacob. Jacob had fled to his uncle Laban alone and empty. He returned twenty year later full. He had large herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. He also had two wives, two concubines, and twelve children.

After crossing the River Jabok, Jacob had to meet Esau. Esau had heard of Jacob’s return and came to meet Jacob with 400 men. Fearing for his life, Jacob sent presents ahead to give to Esau. When Esau finally came upon Jacob and his family, Esau embraced Jacob and received him warmly.

In response to the question of who these women and children were, Jacob responded, “The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.” To deal graciously with someone is to show them favors they do not deserve. God indeed had dealt graciously with Jacob in giving him his family. God also deals graciously with all believing parents when He gives them children.

This carries with it a very solemn obligation to train up their children in the fear of the Lord—a good reminder for covenant parents as a new year of schooling and catechetical instruction begins.

A covenant gift

Jacob acknowledged that God had given him his many children.

At this point in his life Jacob had twelve children (eleven sons and one daughter) from four different women. These were all born within a thirteen-year period, meaning that Reuben, the oldest, was at least twelve years old.

That God had given Jacob these many children is quite obvious from the Genesis account of Jacob’s life. In Genesis 29:31 we read that the Lord opened the womb of Leah when He saw that Leah was despised. According to Genesis 30:17 God hearkened to Leah so that she bore her fifth child. Then again, in Genesis 30:22, we learn that God remembered Rachel so that she bore a son, Joseph. Of special notice is that in the last two instances God gave children in response to prayer.

God also gives our children to us.

Married couples often think that they are in charge of whether to have children, how many they will have, and when they will have them. Some take measures to prevent childbirth until they are older and more established, only to find out that they can have no children at all. Others attempt to prevent childbirth and find that God is not bound by their means. Often these unwanted children are resented and even aborted.

All children come from the hand of God. He determines whether we have them, when we have them, and how many we have.

That brings up an important question. May we seek to limit the number of children we have or the frequency with which we have them? God does not legislate in this area; nor may we. But we are guided by certain principles God has set forth in Scripture. One principle is that children are a blessing, and under ordinary circumstances married couples should desire them (read Psalms 127 and 128). Another principle is that in deciding whether so seek children or wait with children, we may not act selfishly but always with a view to how best to serve God. And there is more. At all times we must humbly submit to the will of God when it comes to children in our home. If He withholds children that we desire or gives us children that we did not seek, we must humble ourselves before God who is all wise and good. At all times we must thank the Lord for our children. And it is appropriate also to pray for children, as did Leah and Rachel.

The children God gave to Jacob and that He gives to believing parents are gifts of the covenant. God’s covenant is the bond of love and friendship He establishes with His elect in Jesus Christ. In that love God lives and dwells with them as Friend with friends. He cares for them and blesses them with every good thing. This covenant is established and maintained solely by the grace of God.

The elect are not naturally the friends of God but His enemies. Yet in Christ God atones for their sin and transforms them by a great work of grace so that they love and serve Him. In that atoning work of the cross and the transforming work of the Spirit the people of God enjoy an intimate bond of friendship and fellowship with the ever-blessed God. The elect who belong to this covenant are known by their faith. In Genesis 17:7 God promised to establish His covenant with Abraham and his seed. The rest of Scripture, especially Galatians 3, makes clear that this seed is all that have the faith of Abraham. In the Old Testament that seed was limited mostly to the natural seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the New Testament that seed is found among all the nations.

All true believers belong to God’s covenant.

The children God gives them are gifts of the covenant.

A gracious gift

Being gifts of the covenant, Jacob’s children were gifts of grace in which Jehovah God did him a great favor.

This is not the mentality among many today. Many consider children to be no blessing and favor from God but only a terrible burden. That mentality most often arises out of an earthly-mindedness that places too much concern on enjoying the treasures and pleasures that are here below. Children, and especially many children, are a hindrance to the lifestyle many people want to have.

Yet the Bible repeatedly extols the blessing of having children. This blessing is threefold.

First, the work and sacrifice necessary to rear children are in themselves a blessing. Rearing children requires one to be giving rather than just receiving, selfless rather than selfish. This is a blessing in itself as Jesus taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In addition, to learn the blessedness of giving requires spiritual growth through much prayer. The gift of children is an opportunity to abound in the spiritual riches and joys of the covenant.

Secondly, children are a tremendous resource to their parents who reach their senior years. Psalm 127:4, 5 makes this abundantly clear, “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Children, do not forget to care for your aging parents!

But the greatest blessing of children is the fact that children of believing parents are covenant children. God’s covenant follows in generations. God places His elect children, destined to faith and glory, in believing homes. What a blessing this is! What a privilege it is to be entrusted with the care of God’s elect, covenant children. What a joy to believing parents when their children respond to their training by coming to know the Lord and walk in His ways.

This favor of God to give believers children of the covenant is undeserved.

This was true with Jacob. Jacob had many weaknesses. He ran ahead of the Lord, not trusting the Lord. He was a deceiver, deceiving his father. He was a polygamist, due to his lust for Rachel. He did not deserve the blessing of covenant children. Yet, God graciously blessed him with a covenant family that became the great nation of Israel, the church of the Old Testament.

What was true for Jacob is true for all believing parents. God’s work of grace in His people has only begun in this life. The holiest of saints have only a small beginning of obedience. Covenant parents have many weaknesses resulting in many sins. None deserve the blessing of covenant children. Yet God graciously gives to such parents His children in whom He will accomplish the great work of salvation.

How humbling!

How thankful believing parents must be!

A solemn obligation

It is the solemn obligation of covenant parents to train their children in the ways of the covenant. God’s covenant children need to be taught all the realities of the covenant. This includes who the God of the covenant is, the salvation of the covenant, the Mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ, and the life of the covenant. Covenant children must be taught this by word and example in the home from early age on to adulthood. What a blessing God has given to godly parents in providing Christian schools to assist them in this training of their children.

The church also has a responsibility to the covenant children it receives as members through baptism. The church is obligated to instruct them from the pulpit but also through sound catechetical instruction.

Jehovah, the God of the covenant who has given us His children, promises to use these means to bring His children to Jesus Christ and the salvation of the covenant.

Pray that our Christian schools may be able to operate this year in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Pray for the work of the church in catechizing our children. Pray for diligence to train up our children in our home in the fear of the Lord!