Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
Who is responsible for the training of children in the home? There is much talk concerning the mother’s calling in this regard. She is called by God in Scripture to be a “keeper at home” (Titus 2:5). Sometimes there is so much debate that swirls around this question that we can forget about the role and function of father in the training of his children in the home. The Bible does not relieve father of this all important task. It may be true that father is called by God to provide for his family and that this requires of him to be gone to work, but this does not alleviate his active role in training his children in the fear of the Lord.
In many places in the Bible we read of the calling of fathers in this regard. Paul writes of this calling to fathers in Ephesians 6:4: “ye fathers, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Or again he exhorts in Colossians 3:21, “fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” This same calling likewise belonged to the fathers of the Old Testament church, as is evident from the passage quoted at the beginning of this article. There is an obvious duty of fathers in the training of their children, which, if ignored, will have devastating results on their children in the generations that follow.
A Testimony in Jacob
We learn from Psalm 78:5 that God has “established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel.” It is not the intent of this article to prove that these words must be applied to the New Testament church even though they were spoken to the Old Testament nation of Israel. The New Testament proves conclusively that today the church is made up of the believing children of Abraham (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29). That means that the New Testament church can also be called Jacob or Israel in a true spiritual sense. Today, right now, in these last times, God has appointed a law in Israel. That law may no longer be made up of all the ceremonies of the civil, ceremonial, and even moral laws of the Old Testament, since Christ has fulfilled the law and brought it to its perfect end. But there is surely a law established in the church of Jesus Christ today too. That law of the church consists not only of the ten commandments, which are still in effect today, but it consists of the Word of God as a whole. The Scriptures are the law appointed in Israel.
Fathers are to make the Word of God known to their children. These may not hide from their children the glorious truths of God’s Word. This entails teaching, as well as enforcing in the life of his children, the exhortations and the laws commanded us in God’s Word. Fathers are called to make known to their children that they may not serve any other God beside Jehovah God. Fathers must teach their children that they may not take God’s name in vain and that they must keep the Sabbath day holy. Fathers must impress upon the hearts of their childrentheir duty toward their neighbor, that they may not kill, commit adultery with, steal from, or lie about their neighbor. The emphasis of this passage of God’s Word is, of course, that fathers apply themselves diligently to make known the law that God has appointed in the midst of His church and covenant.
But obviously the content of this instruction includes more than just an outward code of ethics or morals. This law must also be a testimony. The word “testimony” in Psalm 78literally means “revelation.” The idea of the passage therefore is that God’s law is a revelation—it reveals something to us. What is the revelation of God’s Word and commandments to His people? They together are a revelation of who and what we are as compared to the holy and just God of heaven and earth. When we examine ourselves according to God’s Word, that Word testifies to us that we are sinners. Out of the law of God is the knowledge of sin. By the deeds of the law no man is justified in God’s sight. The commands of God in His Word “testify” or “reveal” that to you and me. This is what, in turn, must be taught to our children as well: they with us are sinners who fail miserably to keep God’s law.
In that way the law must serve as a testimony, not merely of our sinfulness, but of the fact that we cannot be saved other than in the precious blood of Jesus Christ. That ultimately is what God’s Word and commandments testify or reveal to us: the cross of Jesus Christ. Law and gospel do not contradict each other. Fathers impart to their children a knowledge of God’s Word and what God demands of them in His Word. But in that connection, fathers also teach them that Christ alone is the only way into heaven and God’s favor. That is the law and testimony established in Jacob.
The Duty of Fathers
The law and testimony appointed in Israel are to be taught by fathers. According to Psalm 78:5, fathers are commanded to make these known to their children. Specific mention is made of fathers — not mothers or parents — but fathers. And though there is no doubt that mother is included in this command of God, nevertheless the emphasis falls on the father of a covenant home and family. There are two truths that lie at the heart of this command that fathers receive in God’s Word.
The first is this: God sets the father as the head of his household. In our day and society this is a truth of God’s Word that is questioned or even denied. Feminism in our land has served to rob society of this important truth of God’s Word. So obscure has this truth become, it seems, that many in the church itself believe that father and mother are equal in authority and rule in the house. That is not true! God has ordained the father as the head of his home and family! That follows from the truth that, already in the marriage, before children are born, God has ordained the husband as head of his wife. The wife is always called by Scripture to submit to the rule of her husband over her (Eph. 5:25-33; I Pet. 3:1-6). When God gives to this man and his wife children, then the role that belongs to the man remains the same: he rules his household. This is one of the qualifications listed in I Timothy 3:4, 5, 12 for one who is to be called as an elder or deacon in the church: he must rule his household well.
This is how God establishes good order in the home. There cannot be two heads! There cannot be two who are equal in command. Though both parents are, no doubt, in authority over their children, that authority is not equal. Neither ought we to overlook the practical significance of this truth. If there are two within the household who think themselves of equal authority, the result will be bitterness and strife. Neither will give in. When such strife takes place in a home, then children witness this and they begin to question the legitimate authority of both father and mother. Children who grow up in a home where a wife constantly rebels against her husband, and tells her children to do or not to do something that father has commanded, most often will also rebel when they become teenagers. That, because mother has undermined the authority of father in the home.
This does not mean that there are never going to be differences of opinion concerning their children that arise between a father and mother. But when these differences arise, the wife must always remain submissive to his authority in the home. These differences can be discussed quietly and away from the presence of the children. And if there is not agreement as to how to deal with a child, then mother bows humbly before her husband’s rule. The father has been given the command by God to make known and teach his family in the precepts of God’s Word. The father must therefore take the leading role in his family.
This authority ought not to be abused by fathers, of course. The husband is not without his wife. God gives the work of training children to the husband and the wife to perform jointly. The father may not be a tyrant or dictator in his home, ignoring the opinion and wise counsel of his wife. God has given a man his wife in order that the two of them as one flesh might raise their children in the fear of God. Husbands who do not recognize the role of their wives as mothers in Zion are foolish. Fathers who do not back up the authority of mother over her children by means of discipline also teach their children to be rebellious. Fathers and mothers must always present a united and harmonious authority before which children must bow. Our text teaches therefore the authority of father in making known the laws and testimonies to his children—but not without the wife.
A second truth that reveals itself in Psalm 78:5 is that the father must take an active role in this instruction of his children. He is not simply a figurehead. He is not simply the one who doles out duties that others must perform but as for himself personally he does not become involved in the actual carrying out of those duties. The father himself must be active in his home and family. He must be there for his children! He must be busy in his home giving instruction and encouragement and meting out discipline. I can still remember when I was young having to take my catechism book to father before going to class, in order that he might make sure I knew my lesson. Father must lead his family in family worship. He must set aside each day to read the Bible and discuss it with his family. It is a good tradition we do well to keep that each day, while the family fellowships around the table together, father sees to it that the Word of God is read and discussed. My father always referred to our meal times together as “the family altar.”
Father must be at home in order to set the spiritual atmosphere or tone of his family. He must raise his children in such a way that they feel comfortable and free at any time to discuss their problems. They must feel free to seek the spiritual advice of father in these matters. In this way it is father who serves to establish the spiritual tone of the family in the home. If this is lacking, it is father’s fault. And father will be held responsible before God in the day of judgment since he is the head of his home. This also implies that father must be home as much as possible. When he is finished with work, then his place is with his wife and children, not pursuing his own pleasures and desires, leaving the care of his children solely up to his wife. In our busy world, fathers, its seems, are away from home far, far too much. This surely will have its effect on the generation that arises in the church—and not a good one, either!
When a father takes seriously the command of God to make known the testimonies of God’s Word to his children, then his children will grow to do that with their children too. When this happens, we see God’s covenant carried on in our generations. God uses the means of a godly father who trains his children in the fear of God in the home to carry on His covenant fellowship with children and children’s children. Notice what the psalmist writes inPsalm 78:7, “that they (children, WB) might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” When fathers fail to be a part of the training of their children, then in our generations our children forget God. When that happens they no longer hope in God.
The incentive covenant fathers have, therefore, in teaching their children is that they will see with their own eyes their children and grandchildren, and possibly even their great grandchildren, hoping in God. How beautiful to behold our generations desiring the fellowship of the ever blessed God! How glorious to see our families confessing the name of God and His Son! How it makes our hearts thrill to see our children taking the banner of Christ from our hands and holding it high in their generation too!
How important are fathers to their children!