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Unrestrained Children
by Dr. Johnny O. Trail, LMFT
The sons of Eli were wicked men. While it is true that one does not bear the iniquities of another person (Ezekiel 18.20), parents have an impact on the type of people their children turn out to be. One of the issues that caused Eli’s sons to turn out the way they did was an apparent lack of discipline. Notice the words in 1 Samuel 3:13. “For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” Eli knew about the wickedness of his sons and did nothing to correct them.
The behaviors of two men being groomed to take over the responsibilities of the tabernacle were deplorable. Their wickedness is explained in great detail and future events in their lives are foreshadowed. 1 Samuel 2:22-25 says, “Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD'S people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.” This last passage makes it clear that they were unwilling to listen to and obey their father.
Why were Eli’s sons so wicked? Evidently, it was partially due to the fact that he did not “restrain” or correct them for their bad behaviors. The entire family of Eli would come to tragic ends. 1 Samuel 4:17-19 says, “And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. And his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.” 
On this occasion, over 30,000 people lost their lives. It was a great national tragedy that could have been averted. The sins of a few triggered horrific suffering in the nation of Israel.
Many of the problems that one sees in society originate from a lack of parenting. We are living in an age where some parents do not take their responsibilities seriously. That having been said, it needs to be stated that neglect is in fact a form of child abuse. Raising a child takes time and energy. Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Parenting is not for lazy, slothful people. It takes work, prayer, and effort!
Some of the communal provisions of the Law of Moses take this into consideration. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” As the aforementioned verse demonstrates, the sin of one child in a society impacts the entire nation. This is why the execution of a “stubborn and rebellious child” was done in such a public fashion.
Conversely, there are instances when a child is raised by godly, conscientious parents and the child departs from the faith. Many parents have sat in preachers’ offices and shed tears over children who have chosen a life of spiritual destruction. In these cases, brethren need to avoid being critical of people who are already beating themselves up over a child who has become reprobate.
Jehovah God is the greatest parent who ever existed. Consider what His first two human children did. Genesis 3.9-13 says, “And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” If God was unable to get the first two humans to do what was right in His eyes, how much more do we as human parents have to struggle to get our children to walk in the straight and narrow pathway?
Moreover, it seems that the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is most akin to Jehovah God. Regardless of how much the father understood about life and the consequences of sin, He gave His son the freedom to choose his own pathway in life. Luke 15:12-13 “And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” Sadly, the son chose poorly in spite of his Father’s best efforts. 
Nonetheless, the Father did not endorse his sinful choices. Luke 15:32 says, “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” Godly parents love their children—even when they make horrible decisions. The Father’s love throughout the parable of the Prodigal Son is unwavering. The text portrays a Father who is awaiting His son’s return. Luke 15:20b “…But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
Still, there remains the problem of parents who do not have the spiritual underpinnings of those mentioned in scripture. In essence, our nation tends to throw money at problems without any real means of solving of them. We do this because it is easier than effectuating real change in our society.
While completing my licensure as a marital and family therapist, I had to undergo supervision. This supervision included various therapists who would present cases involving people who struggle with various mental and family disorders. One therapist shared her experiences in the school systems. 
One young man was being helped by about ten adults in his school including teachers, guidance counselors, principals, and therapists. It was observed by this writer in the supervision session that all of these people who are being paid with tax money might be replaced and removed from the situation if this young man had two good (godly) parents who attempted to have an impact upon his life. The problem was that neither of his parents really cared. They were aloof and had no real interest in their son’s future. They were content to let the “system” raise and educate their child. Tragically, this is not an isolated vignette of what is happening to our society.
Teachers who are members of the body of Christ have reported similar things to this writer over the years. One of the most difficult questions that is asked of children is to provide their address and contact information for the school intake forms. This is not because of any inability to remember their information. It was problematic, because it directly related to the instability of their home. On any given day, children were not certain of where they might be staying. They might be with their mother on one day, their grandparents the next, and at their mom’s boyfriend’s home on the following day. These facts underscore the real problem—complete and total instability in the family.
The flip side of this is being a child who receives and applies instruction to his life. Proverbs 1:7-9 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.” A parent can instruct, beseech, and discipline a child, but the child must make the decision at some point to accept the instruction of their parents.
The church and our society need godly parents who take notice of what is going on in the lives of their children. We need parents who put God and church first in their lives, because the priorities they establish in their lives will most likely become the priorities of their children.