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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Child, Children

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1. Value set on the possession of children . Throughout the Bible a noteworthy characteristic is the importance and happiness assigned to the possession of children, and, correspondingly, the intense sorrow and disappointment of childless parents. Children were regarded as Divine gifts ( Genesis 4:1; Genesis 33:5 ), pledges of God’s favour, the heritage of the Lord ( Psalms 127:3 ). It followed naturally that barrenness was looked upon as a reproach, i.e. a punishment inflicted by God, and involving, for the woman, disgrace in the eyes of the world. Thus, Sarah was despised by her more fortunate handmaid Hagar ( Genesis 16:4 ); Rachel, in envy of Leah, cried, ‘Give me children or else I die’ ( Genesis 30:1 ); Hannah’s rival taunted her to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb ( 1 Samuel 1:6 ); Elisabeth rejoiced when the Lord took away her ‘reproach among men’ ( Luke 1:25 ). ‘He maketh the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children’ ( Psalms 113:9 ), cries the Psalmist as the climax of his praise. The reward of a man who fears the Lord shall be a wife like a fruitful vine, and children like olive branches round about his table ( Psalms 128:3 ). Our Lord refers to the joy of a woman at the birth of a man into the world ( John 16:21 ). Not only is natural parental affection set forth in these and similar passages, but also a strong sense of the worldly advantages which accompanied the condition of parentage. A man who was a father, especially a father of sons, was a rich man; his position was dignified and influential; his possessions were secured to his family, and his name perpetuated. ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ was a blessing desired by every married couple for the sake of the latter part of the blessing, the necessary accompaniment of fruitfulness ‘replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion’; for fatherhood involved expansion of property and increase in importance and wealth.

2. The filial relationship . The position of children was one of complete subordination to their parents. Genesis 22:1-24 , Judges 11:39 , and the sacrifices to Molech of children by their parents ( Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5 , 2 Kings 23:10 , Jeremiah 32:35 ) indicate that the father had powers of life and death over his children; these powers are limited in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 . Reverence and obedience on the part of children towards their parents were strongly enjoined ( Exodus 20:12 , Leviticus 19:3 , Deuteronomy 27:16 , Proverbs 1:8 etc.). Any one smiting or cursing his father or mother is to be put to death ( Exodus 21:15; Exodus 21:17 ). Any one who is disrespectful to his parents is accursed ( Deuteronomy 17:16 ). Irreverence on the part of children towards an older person is visited by a signal instance of Divine judgment ( 2 Kings 2:23-24 ). Several passages in the Book of Proverbs urge care, even to severity, in the upbringing of children ( Proverbs 3:12; Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 15:5; Proverbs 22:6; Proverbs 29:15 etc.). The outcome of this dependence of children upon their parents, and of their subordination to them, was an intensely strong sense of the closeness of the filial bond, and a horror of any violation of it. A son who could bring himself to defy his father and break away from his home life was indeed no longer worthy to be called a son ( Luke 15:19 ). The disobedience of Israel is bewailed in penitence by the prophet because it appears to him like the most heinous crime, the rebellion of children against a loving father: ‘Surely they are my people, children that will not err.… In his love and in his pity he redeemed them, … and he bare them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled’ ( Isaiah 63:8-10 ). In this connexion some of the sentences in our Lord’s charge to the Twelve must have fallen upon startled ears ( Matthew 10:21; Matthew 10:35-38 ). Children were expected to follow in the footsteps of their parents and to resemble them. Hence such expressions as ‘Abraham’s children,’ which carried the notion of resemblance in character. Hence also the figurative use of the word ‘children’: ‘children of transgression’ ‘children of disobedience.’ Phrases like these are closely connected with others in which the words ‘children’ or ‘sons’ are used in a spiritual sense conveying the ideas of love and trust and obedience. St. Peter speaks of ‘Mark, my son.’ In touching anxiety for their spiritual welfare, St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, addresses them: ‘My little children’; and St. John, in his Epistles, is fond of the same expression.

3. The feeling for childhood . Tenderness towards child life, appreciation of the simplicity, the helplessness, of children, affection of parents for their children, and children for their parents: all these are features of the Bible which the most superficial reader cannot fail to observe. There are many touching and vivid examples of and references to parental love. All the sons and daughters of Jacob rose up to comfort him for the loss of Joseph, but he refused to be comforted ( Genesis 37:35 ). ‘If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved’ ( Genesis 43:14 ), is his despairing cry when Benjamin also is taken from him Benjamin, ‘a child of his old age, a little one … and his father loveth him’ ( Genesis 44:20 ). Hannah dedicated her little son to the service of the Lord in gratitude for his birth; and then year by year ‘made a little robe and brought it to him’ ( 1 Samuel 2:19 ). David fasted and lay all night upon the ground praying for the life of his sick child ( 2 Samuel 12:16 ). The brief account of the death of the Shunammite’s boy is a passage of restrained and pathetic beauty ( 2 Kings 4:18 ff.). Isaiah’s feeling for the weakness and helplessness of children is displayed in the mention of the words first articulated by his own son ( Isaiah 8:4 ); and in his description of the time when the earth should be full of the knowledge of the Lord, and little children, still dependent for life and protection upon their mother’s care, should, without fear of harm on her part, be allowed to play among wild beasts and handle the asp and the adder ( Isaiah 11:6-9 ). Zechariah dreams of the happy time when Jerusalem shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets ( Zechariah 8:5 ). The beauty of a child’s humble simplicity is acknowledged by the Psalmist, who likens his own soul to a weaned child with its mother ( Psalms 131:2 ); unconsciously anticipating the spirit of One, greater than he, who said that only those who became as little children should in any wise enter the Kingdom of heaven ( Matthew 18:3 ), and who gave thanks to His Father for revealing the things of God to ‘babes’ ( Matthew 11:25 ).

E. G. Romanes.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Child, Children'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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