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  • Writer's pictureTravis Maxey

What was the Family's Role in the Old Testament?


I don't think any sane person would deny that the family unit is special. Those inside and outside of the church should be able to make that claim. Yet, do we understand how special and how important the family unit truly is? Let's look at the first part of this study: the Family's role in the Old Testament.


So, what was the Family's role in the Old Testament? We find in the Old Testament two primary ways the family's role is distinguished: the dominion mandate and the preservation of the law and the covenant. The dominion mandate emphasizes God's original intention for the family unit: to go forth, multiply, fill the earth, and exercise dominion over it (Genesis 1:28). The second way the family's role is distinguished is in the preservation of the law and the covenant (Deut. 6:1-15) in which faithful Israel was to flourish and grow (Gen. 12:2; 17:4-6; 18:18; 46:3; Deut. 26:5; 32:45-47).


It seems like there's much riding on the role of the family unit in the Old Testament. Let's look more intently at it!


The Dominion Mandate


God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 1:28

This is the dominion mandate given by God to Adam which means "Man." Adam's commission so to speak was to have and rear godly offspring. Offspring that would walk with God just as Adam walked with God in the coolness of the garden (Genesis 2:8). Offspring that would be obedient to the command/s of God, the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16), and the command/s found in the dominion mandate.


Adam's commission was to rule and subdue God's creation, the earth. This commission goes far beyond the borders of the garden of Eden, it seems to stretch to the very ends of the earth. That Adam and his offspring were to make the rest of earth like Eden, a place where God's presence was fully known, served and worshiped. This was God's commission given to Man.


This was the dominion mandate, Adam faithfully teaching generation after generation to carry out this commission/mandate. Adam practiced family discipleship in his faithful passing of this mandate from generation to generation. Teaching his wife and children to walk with God, to serve God, and to worship God! These are the direct implications of the dominion mandate.


Which we know that Adam failed to do. He failed in the leading of his wife and in the instruction of his children. Both led to the fall of men. The first failure, the failure to lead his wife led to the fall of mankind (Genesis 3). The second failure, the family failure with Cain (Genesis 4) ultimately led to the destruction of the earth by the global flood (Genesis 6:1-3; 5-7; 11-13).


Generational Discipleship

I put this chart forward as a visual for us to see how Adam had a multigenerational influence even to the days of Noah. The Scriptures tell us that there was a godly lineage following Adam's son Seth. Amongst his sons and grandsons were two individuals who stood out: Enoch and Noah. Both of them walked with God (Genesis 5:24; 6:9).


If you look to the longevity chart above you will clearly see Adam's influence. Adam would have had 300 hundred years to pour into his great great great great great grandson Enoch. That is likely 250 more years of discipleship with his grandson than we even have with our own children today.


Then there is Noah who was the only righteous one in his generation, and who also walked with God. Now Noah was born roughly 100 years after Adam's body finally died. Yet, Adam clearly had a signifigant influence through Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech who was Noah's father. We see a signifigant pattern of multigenerational discipleship in this lineage.


The LORD God used families to preserve the knoweldge of Him from generation to generation. But eventually He was to make good on His promise made in Genesis 3:15 that the Messiah would crush the head of the serpent. To do this He created the nation of Israel. He created them through Abram to be a great people and a blessing to the whole world!


The Preserving of the Law and the Covenant


God made a covenent with the nation of Israel and gave them His Law. A covenent to prosper them if they obeyed His law and curse them if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 27-28). The covenant is also clearly seen in Deuteronomy 6:1-15 (I suggest you read it in its entirity), as well as the admonishment of a multigenerational discipleship.

Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, so that you may do them in the land where you are going over to take possession of it, so that you, your son, and your grandson will fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. Now Israel, you shall listen and be careful to do them, so that it may go well for you and that you may increase greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Deuteronomy 6:1-3, bold added

This is a command with a promise. Receive the teaching of Moses and obey, teach them to your children, so that your days may be prolonged! It seems simple, and it is. But it was not adhered to. You don't have to read very far to see the nation of Israel going its own way. A generation serves the Lord but fails to disciple their children and the next generation is far worse for it.


The passage continues with perhaps one of the foundational verses of the Old Testament:

Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. And you shall repeat them diligently to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. You shall also tie them as a sign to your hand, and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead. You shall also write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, bold added

This passage in no way takes away from the authority and teaching of the priests and the prophets. It actually adds to it greatly! The Word of God is clear here! Families are responsible for the instruction of their children, that there would be multigenerational obedience and fear of the LORD!


If this isn't clear enough then look at Psalm 78:2-8

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will tell riddles of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, But we will tell the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His power and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they were to teach them to their children, So that the generation to come would know, the children yet to be born, That they would arise and tell them to their children, So that they would put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But comply with His commandments, And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart And whose spirit was not faithful to God. Bold added

The psalmist clearly understands that the health of the nation of Israel is directly linked to the family unit. When the family units are functioning properly: instructing children in the ways of the Lord, giving testimony of the works of God, worshipping God in the household, men leading both wives and children, etc. Then Israel would be prosperous, both spiritually and in material prosperity. Yet, the anthesis remains true, when the family unit was failing the nation failed!


The family unit was and still remains highly important! God is clearly showing that the family serves a great influence on the next generation of worshipers! This is true of the nation of Israel in the past and of the church today. When families neglect to worship God in the home, the larger group suffers... The church is called to make multigenerational disciples of Christ, this is ONLY done WELL when families are equipped to disciple their households.


Stay tuned for the co-post "The Family's Role in the NEW Testament."

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