John Bradshaw - Bad Dads and What They Teach Us
This is "It Is Written". I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. You know when Father's Day rolls around, we love to celebrate Dad: Dad who took me fishing when I was a boy, Dad who came to all my games, Dad who was always there with an encouraging word, Dad who could fix everything and who sang songs and told the best jokes and bought the best gifts, always knew what to say, Dad who helped me buy my first car, all of that. It's like every dad was the best dad in the world.
I don't hear too much on Father's Day about celebrating the average dad: Dad who never took me fishing but did once buy me a fishing rod, Dad who came to the occasional game because he was always busy working, Dad who was kind of socially awkward, always left the gift buying to Mum and only ever told dad jokes and kind of left me to myself when I was buying a car and dating and all of that. "Happy Father's Day to a pretty good dad". "Happy Father's Day to an average dad".
The fact is, not all dads are great dads. I was fortunate. I had a good dad. Can't say he was perfect because there's no such thing. But take it a step further, and the awful truth is that some dads are terrible dads: negligent, uncaring, abusive, hardened criminals, abandoned the family. And Father's Day can be a bit hollow under those circumstances. You've got some folks at the Olive Garden handing out a Father-of-the-Year Award while someone else is crying themselves to sleep because their dad was lousy.
In the Bible there's one perfect Father, and that's God. He is love; He is kind; He is patient. In fact, Peter wrote that "the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation". That's how profound God's patience is. The Bible says God is faithful, that He wants the very best for everyone, that He's more willing to give you the Holy Spirit than an earthly father is willing to give good gifts to his children. He loved you so much "that He gave His only begotten Son," that by believing in Jesus you may have eternal life freely. But in the Bible we find a whole slew of lousy fathers, dads who were failures or who were failures at pivotal times.
It's interesting the Bible doesn't whitewash the failings of people. God didn't have to tell you about Solomon's dark side or about Gideon who won that incredible battle with only 300 soldiers and then led Israel into apostasy. I mean, why tell you about the night Lot's daughters got him drunk or about the times Abraham, the father of the faithful, lied through his teeth and very nearly brought calamity upon his household? But God tells you things so you can learn from them. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensembles", or examples, "and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come".
That's 1 Corinthians 10, verse 11. We're to learn even from the mistakes of the people in the Bible. You learn from Samson that lust is a harsh taskmaster. You learn from the faithless spies that it's better to trust in God even when things seem overwhelming. You learn from Achan that covetousness leads only to bad places. That the Bible records even the faults of men and women is an indication of its veracity. There's no attempt to sugarcoat or mislead or obscure the unfortunate chapters of the past.
So let's look at the example of several bad dads in the Bible and find out what they teach us. The truth is Israel simply should not have wanted a king. God was their king. At the time, the faithful godly prophet Samuel was their leader. But Israel wanted to be like the nations around them. I'll tell you it's a mistake to want to imitate the customs of those around you who are not followers of God. It happens in the church all the time. And it happens when families want to be like families around them who aren't following God. When they want to have what others have and act like others act and go where others go, even when it's out of harmony with the teachings of the Bible. It's especially hard for young people in a media-soaked society. Everywhere they turn there are images of people living outside the will of God. Their friends are doing this and that.
So young people feel the strong pull to be like the world around them. It was no different back in the days when Samuel was the prophet of God. Israel wanted a king, saying to Samuel, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations". That's 1 Samuel 8, verse 5. Samuel was understandably distressed. This couldn't end well. Future history would show it didn't end well. But God said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them".
Interesting, isn't it, that there are times God will give you what you want, even though He knows it's not in your best interests, and that's because God knows it might be that realizing your mistake will bring you to a place of repentance and to the place where, ultimately, you will surrender your will to Him. It wasn't long and Saul had been anointed Israel's first king. The Bible describes him in 1 Samuel 9, verse 2, as "choice and handsome". "There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people".
He was a fine young man. He even looked like a king. God worked miracles to show that Saul was His man, and Saul even prophesied under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It could hardly have looked better for Israel. He was measured early on. When a group of the people despised him, he kept silent, didn't make a fuss. And then when he saved the men of Jabesh-Gilead and absolutely routed the Ammonites, he was gracious in victory. It looked like Israel had their man. But that was far from the case. Saul turned out not only to be a train wreck of a king but a disaster of a father. How else can you describe a man who tried to kill his son? We'll look at that in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on "It Is Written". God acquiesced to the demands of Israel and gave them a king. And to begin with, things went swimmingly. But it wasn't long and it all turned to custard. He didn't only develop into a lousy king, but Saul was also a terrible father. What kind of father attempts to murder his son? Things when downhill when Saul started depending less on God and taking matters into his own hands. Instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive to offer sacrifice, Saul became impatient and offered the sacrifice himself, something a king should never have done. Samuel had told all Israel that their prosperity depended on their faithfulness to God, but Saul evidently forgot that lesson.
Then, as his son Jonathan was showing incredible bravery in winning a decisive battle against the Philistines, Saul issued an impulsive directive that any of his soldiers who ate food before the enemy was defeated would be put to death. Jonathan had no idea about this rash decision because he was off doing the actual fighting and eliminating Israel's foes. And he ate something. Saul decreed Jonathan should die. His life was saved only because Saul's soldiers intervened. Then when Saul was told clearly to completely destroy the Amalekites, he saved the Amalekite king and saved the flocks and herds. Saul had lost his way. Then he became insanely jealous of David. He tried to kill David many times. Then he hunted him like an animal, even though he knew David was the Lord's anointed.
On one occasion when Jonathan interceded for David (David was his dearest friend) Saul was so enraged that he threw a spear at his own son, attempting to take his life. Saul goes down in the annals of history as a catastrophic failure, not only as a king but also as a father. And, of course, it need not have been that way. The reason Saul failed in life was that he was ambitious for his own glory. He had been humble and teachable.
As Samuel told Saul, things went well when he was "little in his own sight". It's not that he made mistakes; every father does. Even big mistakes can be overcome. Children will forgive big mistakes. But Saul willingly separated himself from God. Fathers who make mistakes are what we call...fathers. They are human. But the real fault is in stepping away from God. We learn something from this bad dad. It's never good to live in disobedience towards God. You cannot be a successful father that way. It's good to do well, to try to be the best that you can be, but doing that for your own glory and not for God's glory is a recipe for disaster.
Dad, take God with you. Put God first. Live in obedience to God. Surrender your will to His. That's where the power is. That's where success is. That's how you can be a positive influence as a father. Live in connection with your Father, your heavenly Father. A successful dad depends upon God.
There are two more bad dads we're going to look at. One had every opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who came before him. Another raised his children in the church, like, right in the church, and they turned out so rotten that God took drastic action against them. Eli was a priest in Shiloh, which is where the sanctuary was located before the time of the kings. Eli was a priest and a judge and was instrumental in instructing young Samuel and guiding him to a life of faithfulness to God. But where it mattered most, at home, Eli dropped the ball. He governed the people but failed to govern his own sons. He raised his sons literally in the church. Being a priest, his sons were always at the sanctuary.
You know, you hear sometimes about PKs, pastors' kids, and about how sometimes they don't turn out well. Well, even though that does happen, it's not the fault of the church, and, should I say, even though that happens sometimes, plenty of PKs turn out great. Those that don't, don't because that's the path they've chosen, and it may be, as in the example of Eli's sons, maybe because their father did an awful job. Now, no one has to be a super father. There are some of those, but that's out of the reach of many men. They don't have enough money to be always taking the kids on fantastic vacations, don't have the time to be hunting and fishing and going on great adventures together, might not have the IQ or the creativity or the opportunity to do all the great stuff, the great dad stuff that other dads do.
Well, I'll tell ya: That's unimportant. You can't do what you can't do, and you can't be what you can't be. But you can follow the law, and you can be faithful. God's blessing on a parent's role is what is absolutely imperative. If God wanted you to be just like someone else, He'd have made you just like someone else. You can be you and a great dad. With Eli, it wasn't a lack of opportunity or talent or wit or anything of that nature. It was a lack of backbone to control his kids. I'll give you an example. I sat on a plane once for seven hours and endured the misfortune of sitting in front of a couple of rambunctious young children. It seemed like they were about 2 and 4. These kids weren't just rowdy; they kicked the seats and pounded the seats.
I'm talking about my seat. And they put the tray table down and pounded on the tray table, and they wouldn't stop. And dad, with them, just sat there. There was the occasional "shh," but that was it. He just watched them, basically just cheered them on. Now, I didn't say anything. It's tough having a couple of little kids on a plane, and I realize they were most likely just tired and hungry. But all of a sudden, the kids were quiet. I turned slightly to try to see what had happened. What had happened was dad had disappeared, and now mom was sitting with the kids. She leaned in, showed interest in them, engaged them, and they were happy. And about 20 other people, including me, were happy. Mom took control. That's what you do. The kids don't call the shots, they're kids.
Now, mom wasn't overbearing, she wasn't loud, she wasn't demanding, there were no threats, she was present, and she clearly helped the kids to see that there were boundaries that they shouldn't cross. Eli allowed his children to control him. He hadn't impressed upon them the importance of reverence for God. They corrupted the sanctuary service, doing awful things. Hophni and Phinehas had been brought up to think of no one but themselves. The Bible says, "The sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord".
First Samuel 2, verse 17. One poorly governed family, one permissive father brought so much distress to that whole society. The same chapter tells us that when "Eli was very old," he remonstrated with the boys, who by now were immoral and corrupt. But the Bible says, "Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father". God's message to Eli was, "You...honor your sons more than me". This is where those famous words were uttered: "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed". First Samuel 2, verse 30. What you had was a father who made a high profession. He was a priest and a judge. It's not simply that his kids were bad.
The best parent can sometimes have children that just don't turn out well for a plethora of reasons. Children have freedom of choice. When they exercise it badly, that's on them. But this was different. This bad dad, Eli, teaches us that indulgent parenting doesn't end well. Hophni and Phinehas died in a battle in which the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant. One of them left a pregnant wife, whose son, Ichabod, would never know his dad. Eli just needed to guide his children. Anyone can do that. He wouldn't, and the consequences were dire. And there's one more bad dad I want to look at with you. We can learn from these men, whether we're fathers, mothers, or none of the above. What can we learn from the bad dad who really should have known better? We'll find out in just a moment.
You'd think that with such a glaring example of a bad dad right in his own midst, David would have figured things out. Now again, you have kids that don't turn out well; sometimes that's not on you. And let's acknowledge this: Even when it is on you, it's not too late to do something about it. So many people wish they'd done things differently when they were younger. Well, parenting can be difficult. Children are complicated animals. You can do everything right, and still it doesn't quite go like you wish it would have. Don't condemn yourself. Don't berate yourself. Call out to God and ask God to intervene.
Love your children now, even if they're adults with children of their own. Let them see God work in your life. And pray for them. Pray that God will give them a revelation of Himself. Many people turn around and come to faith in God later in life. Don't ever think it's over. I know of one dear woman whose son walked out on God the day he left high school. She didn't stop praying for him, and she saw him come back to faith in Jesus when she was 99 years old. Don't give up. So what was it with David? He'd been called "a man after God's own heart". Like Saul, he was hand-selected by God.
The thing with David was this: When he made mistakes, he repented. He turned back to God. He never got so discouraged that he refused to turn to God in faith. His prayer, as found in the 51st psalm, was, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.... Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me". So why am I including David in a list of bad dads? Simple. Good dads don't take another man's wife. By the time David took Bathsheba, he already had a coterie of wives. There was Michal, Saul's daughter, Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah. But one night David walked upon the roof of his home and noticed a beautiful woman bathing. It may well have been that he noticed her innocently. We're not told. But what happened next was not innocent.
Now, it's one thing for David to be influenced by the prevailing customs of the day. Oh, I'm not excusing his actions, but polygamy had become a thing by then, and maybe David was just caught up in all of that. Maybe that's why he had more than one wife. Not right, not acceptable, but maybe that's part of why he did it. But cultural norms did not influence him to send messengers to bring Bathsheba to him after finding out that she was, and I quote, "the wife of Uriah the Hittite". What happened next was inexcusable and led to the death of a marriage, the death of a man, and the death of an innocent child. Good dads don't jeopardize their family. They don't take what isn't theirs, especially on this scale. David's immorality brought reproach and hardship on the entire kingdom of Israel. But it doesn't end there.
When Amnon forced his sister Tamar, David didn't act. The Bible says "David heard of all these things, and was very angry". But he didn't intervene. Absalom, a brother of both Tamar and Amnon, was so furious that he bided his time and then killed his brother. It's hard to imagine that would have happened if David had simply assumed his role as the leader of the family. And when Absalom fled, three years he was gone, David didn't go to see him. The rift between the king and his son widened so far that it culminated in full-blown rebellion on the part of Absalom.
David, the great king, saw his kingdom rent in two, and it could have been avoided. We know how it ended: Absalom died in battle. David's heart was broken. Regret may have had a lot to do with the anguish that he felt. No, we're not asking that David be perfect, but this wasn't a man who promised ice cream and then didn't follow through. This was a man who simply didn't take responsibility when he needed to. He could have stepped in after Amnon's disgraceful act. He could have talked with Absalom. He could have loved the man. But he failed to act when he should have.
That's bad dad stuff. But we can learn from that. We can learn from Saul's failings to submit to God, obey God, and bring faith in God into parenting. We can learn from Eli that being indulgent might be the path of least resistance, but it's not good parenting. Discipline is discipling. Eli had a responsibility to show his sons their responsibility before God. But he let his children run amok, and he didn't restrain them. And we learn from David that for a parent to have a good relationship with their children, there has to be communication. Ya have to address situations. And you have to live a moral life.
Lust and immorality are ruinous. Don't go there. Just don't. And remember, there is power in the Holy Spirit to keep you moral if you'll surrender to God and accept that power. Bad dads, we can learn from them. If you see something in your father's example that falls short, and no doubt you probably do, then learn from that. Let it grow you. Don't repeat those mistakes. Let the failings of your parents or your own missteps urge you toward being a better parent, a better spouse, a better citizen, and, most importantly, a fully committed believer in Jesus.
Let me pray with you now:
Our Father in heaven, in Jesus' name we thank You that You are a perfect Father, a loving Father, a patient Father, a truly good Father. We thank You for our earthly fathers. And even if they're not perfect, we thank You for their many good attributes, for the blessings that they have bestowed upon us, and the blessing they've been to us. Give us grace to learn from our parents, even the faulty ones, that those mistakes don't have to be repeated, and those generational dysfunctions don't have to be perpetuated. And I pray that we would mostly learn from You, that as we read the Bible and see Your goodness and Your love, we would want to be like You. And I pray You would be especially close to every dad and allow every dad who wishes to do so to reflect Jesus to those around us, in particular, his children. We thank You, we love You, we ask Your blessing, and we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Thank you so much for joining me. I look forward to seeing you again next time. Until then, remember: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"