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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(properly יֶלֶר , ye´ led, τέκνον; but represented by several other Hebrew and Greek words; comp. CHILDREN). Mothers, in the earliest times, suckled their offspring themselves until they were from thirty months to three years of age. The day on which a child was weaned was a festival (Genesis 21:8; Exodus 2:7; Exodus 2:9; 1 Samuel 1:22-24; 2 Chronicles 31:16; Matthew 21:16). Nurses were employed, in case the mother died before the child was old enough to be weaned, and when, from any circumstances, she was unable to afford a sufficient supply of milk for its nourishment. In later ages, when matrons had become more delicate, and thought themselves too infirm to fulfill the duties which naturally devolved upon them, nurses were employed to take their place, and were reckoned among the principal members of the family. They are, accordingly, in consequence of the respectable station which they sustained, frequently mentioned in sacred history (Genesis 35:8; 2 Kings 11:2; 2 Chronicles 22:11).

The sons remained till the fifth year in the care of the women; they then came into the father's hands, and were taught not only the arts and duties of life, but were instructed in the Mosaic law, and in all parts of the religion of their country (Deuteronomy 6:20-25; Deuteronomy 11:19). Those who wished to have them further instructed either employed private teachers, or sent them to some priest or Levite, who sometimes had a number of other children under his care. It appears from 1 Samuel 1:24-28, that there was a school near the holy tabernacle dedicated to the instruction of youth. There had been formerly many other schools of this kind, which had fallen into discredit, but were restored by the prophet Samuel, after whose time the members of the seminaries in question, who were denominated by way of distinction the sons of the prophets, acquired much celebrity. The daughters rarely departed from the apartments appropriated to the females, except when they went out with an urn to draw water, or occasionally joined in the labors of the field-as keeping sheep, which was the practice with those who belonged to those humbler stations in life in which the more ancient simplicity of manners was still retained (Genesis 24:16; Genesis 29:9; Exodus 2:16; 1 Samuel 9:11; Ruth 2:2; John 4:7). They spent their time in learning those domestic and other arts, which are befitting a woman's situation and character, until they arrived at that period in life when they were to be sold, or, by a better fortune, given away in marriage (Proverbs 31:13; 2 Samuel 13:7). The daughters of such as possessed rank and wealth spent the greater part of their time within the walls of their palaces, and, in imitation of their mothers, amused themselves with dressing, singing, and dancing. Sometimes their apartments were the scenes of vice (Ezekiel 23:18). They went abroad very rarely, but they received with cordiality female visitants. The sports of children were doubtless such as have always prevailed among youth, especially in the East. Hackett (Illustrations of Script. p. 120) mentions having seen Oriental boys even amusing themselves with flying a kite, and playing at leap-frog and ball.

The more children especially of male children person had among the Hebrews, the more was he honored, it being considered a mark of divine favor, while sterile people were, on the contrary, held in contempt (comp. Genesis 11:30; Genesis 30:1; 1 Samuel 2:5; 2 Samuel 6:23; Psalms 127:3 sq.; Psalms 128:3; Luke 1:7; Luke 2:5). That children were often taken as bondsmen Ly a creditor for debts contracted by the father, is evident from 2 Kings 4:1; Isaiah 1:1; Nehemiah 5:5. Among the Hebrews a father had almost unlimited power over his children, nor do we find any law in the Pentateuch restricting that power to a certain age; it was, indeed, the parents who even selected wives for their sons (Genesis 21:21; Exodus 21:9-11; Judges 14:2; Judges 14:5). It might of course be expected, while they lived in their father's house, and were in a manner pensioners on his bounty, that he would exercise his authority over the children of his sons, as well as over the sons themselves. In this case the power of the father had no narrow limits, and whenever he found it necessary to resort to measures of severity, he was at liberty to inflict the extremity of punishment (Genesis 38:24).

This power was so restricted by Moses that the father, if he judged the son worthy of death, was bound to bring the cause before a judge. But he enacted, at the same time, that the judge should pronounce sentence of death upon the son if, on inquiry, it could be proved that he had maltreated his father or mother, or that he was a spendthrift, or contumacious, and could not be reformed (Exodus 21:15; Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:21). It would appear, however, that a father's power over his daughters was still greater than that over his sons, since he might even annul a sacred vow made by a daughter, but not one made by a son (Numbers 30:4; Numbers 30:16). Children cursing or assaulting their parents were punished by the Mosaical law'with death (Exodus 21:15; Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9), a remarkable instance of which is quoted by Christ (Matthew 15:4; Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:9; Mark 7:13). The authority of the parents, and the service and love due to them, are recognised in the most prominent of the moral laws of the Jewish polity, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12); but the Pharisees devised a mode of evasion which our Lord strongly reprobates (Matthew 15:5-6; Mark 7:11-13). The prophetic curse or blessing of the father also possessed no little efficacy (Genesis 49:2; Genesis 49:28). (On punishing children for their parents' faults, Ezekiel 18, see Musaeus, De jure puniendi liberos propter pecc. parent. Lips. 1714.) Children who were slaves by birth are mentioned in the Scriptures as those born in the house, the children of maid-servants, the sons or children of the house (Genesis 14:14; Genesis 15:3; Genesis 17:23; Psalms 86:16; Psalms 116:16). Few things appear more shocking to humanity than the custom, of which frequent mention is made in Scripture, of making children pass through fire in honor of Moloch, a custom the antiquity of which is proved by its having been repeatedly forbidden by Moses (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:1; Leviticus 20:5; 2 Kings 16:3). (See MOLOCH).

There are some allusions in Scripture to the modes in which children were carried. These appear to be adequately represented by the existing usages, as shown in the following cut, in which fig. 1 represents a Nestorian woman bearing her child bundled at her back, and fig. 2, an Egyptian female bearing her child on her shoulder. The former mode appears to be alluded to in several places, and the latter in Isaiah 49:22. (See Hackett's Illustrations of Script. p. 57.)

In Scripture the word "child," or "children," has considerable latitude; disciples are often called children or sons. Solomon, in his Proverbs, says to his disciple, "Hear, my son;" so also our Savior (John 21:5). The descendants of a man, how remote soever, are denominated his sons or children, as " the children of Edom," "the children of Moab," "the children of Israel." Such expressions as "the children of light," "the children of darkness," "the children of the kingdom," signify those who follow truth, those who remain in error, and those who belong to the Church. Persons arrived almost at the age of maturity are sometimes called children. Thus Joseph is termed "the child," though he was at least sixteen years old (Genesis 37:30), and Benjamin, even when above thirty, was so denominated (Genesis 44:20). Solomon called himself a little child when he came to the kingdom of his father (1 Kings in, 7). (See ADOPTION); (See BIRTH); (See SON); (See INHERITANCE); (See EDUCATION), etc.; and (See OFFSPRING).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Child'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/c/child.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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