THE URGENCY OF DISCIPLINE
“For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.” 1Samuel 3:13 (NKJV)
This message from God was given to none other than the high priest of Israel, Eli. The time was just before Samuel would become a judge of Israel, to be followed by King Saul and King David. Eli’s sons had done almost everything imaginable to desecrate the worship of God in Israel, from stealing the best sacrifices for themselves, to sleeping with women in the tabernacle. They had made a mockery of the worship of God, and brought reproach on His name, even as we read in 1st Samuel:
“Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.” 1Samuel 2:17 (NKJV)
Nevertheless, due to God’s mercy and patience, judgment did not come quickly – but it did come. Eli had been warned again and again, and in a paraphrase of what Longfellow said, “God’s wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” And so, finally, God’s judgment fell on Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and they both died in one day. However, not only were they judged, a curse was also declared on the whole priestly line that would come from Eli, stemming from his failure to discipline his sons.
“Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: `I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the Lord says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. 31 Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.'”
“33 But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age.” 1Samuel 2:30-31,33.
The fulfillment of this prophetic curse on Eli’s priestly descendants can be traced to the failure of Abiathar (a priest for King David) and even to the killing of the eighty-five priests of Nob, whom Saul had murdered by Doeg the Edomite. Abiathar was loyal to God and King David for most of his life, but turned against him when David’s son, Adonijah, tried to take the crown from Solomon (See 1Kings 1:7 below). The heinous murder of the eighty-five priests of Nob is also a fulfillment in that they were Eli’s descendents, and died “in the flower of their age”.
We may also note that Eli appeared to truly be a man of God. The Bible brings no reproach against him except for the matter of his sons. Nevertheless, the sad fact remains that all the good he did for Israel was negated by the damage done by his sons. Moreover, let us note that in God’s eyes he was considered responsible for his sons’ profligacy and infidelity, because he did not restrain them.
Samuel’s Sons Were Like Eli’s
Hanna had prayed for a son, but was granted one only when she promised to commit him to the Lord. This dedication was so complete that she took Samuel to the tabernacle as a young boy to be Eli’s protégé. This action must have taken a lot of faith, considering the fact that any mother would have been concerned that Eli’s sons might corrupt such a young boy. However, Eli’s sons evidently did not have a bad influence on Samuel ? Eli did. There is no doubt that Samuel was a great man of God, but after he stepped down from being the judge of Israel we find that he apparently failed in the same way Eli did.
“Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, ‘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.'” 1Samuel 8:1-5 (NKJV)
King David’s Children
It cannot be proven from the Bible, but many august writers of Bible commentaries conjecture that Samuel had some part in David’s spiritual training. We do know that Samuel was Israel’s high priest and judge when he anointed David to be king of Israel, therefore it does seem logical that David may have received training from him. In any event, whether David picked up a deficiency in child rearing from Samuel or not, the Scriptures clearly reveal to us that he had the same problem, which evidently resulted in the rebellion of some of his sons. We read in the following Scripture that he never disciplined Adonijah.
“Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 6 (And his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, ‘Why have you done so?’ He was also very good-looking. His mother had borne him after Absalom.) 7 Then he conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they followed and helped Adonijah.” 1Kings 1:5-7 (NKJV)
In an evident continuation of this sad legacy, we find that the eventual split of Israel’s kingdom in some part may be related to this deficiency. Solomon was a man blessed beyond measure, and yet he blatantly disobeyed God. His son, Rehoboam, reeked of arrogance and over-weaning pride as he became king and took over Solomon’s throne. The older advisors told Rehoboam to take it easy on the people, because his father had been so hard on them. But Rehoboam instead took the advice of his rich spoiled-brat friends and told the people that he would be harsher than his father, which caused them to separate from Judah and seek their own king, splitting Israel in half.
“?and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!?Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: “What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse? ” 1Kings 12:14, 16 (NKJV)
By the way, even though this did fulfill God’s plan to punish Israel, that does not justify the character flaws that were bred in Rehoboam and which precipitated the division.
The Clear Biblical Warning
Can any of us fail to see the message for us in these passages? Regardless of their faults, Eli, Samuel, and David were men who desired to please God and generally obeyed Him. Nevertheless, their children were not disciplined properly, and they not only became a source of misery to their fathers, they led to the ruination of spiritual life in Israel. This is not to say that one always can blame parents when their children turn away from God. On the contrary, there are many fine Christian parents who have had problems with rebellious children. People individually have free will, and many make bad choices regardless of their upbringing. But generally, Proverbs 22:6 applies, which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” And if a child does not receive adequate discipline, one can expect behavioral problems to ensue.
There Is a Way That Seems Right to Man
Parents may run to the store to buy the latest book on raising children, but unless it is based on biblical principles, it will not be worth the paper it is written on. In fact, books of this nature are what have led us into our present undisciplined society. One landmark was a book written in 1946 by Dr. Benjamin Spock about the care and feeding of babies, which also brought forth his anti-disciplinarian theories. It has taken some years for Satan to erode the biblical mandate for discipline from our society, but it has now occurred. The devil knows that if he can stop discipline from being dispensed, he will pull down one of the foundations of Christianity, and add to the ruination of society. And unfortunately, his long-term plan is now bearing fruit. For years no one questioned the following Scriptures, but now they have fallen into disrepute:
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” Proverbs 13:24 (NKJV)
“Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. 14 You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” Proverbs 23:13-14
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15
“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Proverbs 29:15
“Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul.” Proverbs 29:17
“For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; Reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” Proverbs 6:23
In fact, the idea that spanking children is wrong is being proffered so vehemently by sociologists and psychologists that we may soon see laws passed that prohibit corporeal punishment. It is tempting to think that spanking causes children to be violent and resentful, but this is simply not true. God understands the human psyche better than any human being, and He has given us explicit instructions on child rearing. He knows that the nature of children requires physical punishment in some measure. Of course the caveat is that punishment becomes abuse if it is too severe. Nevertheless, it is also psychological abuse not to punish a child physically when it is warranted, as we read in the aforementioned Scripture.
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” Proverbs 13:24 (NKJV)
Moreover, we must understand that the way of the world is at enmity with God, and the mind behind the system, Satan, is seeking to deceive us in all matters. Consequently we must renew our minds with the Word of God and believe it, or we will find ourselves on a path that leads to spiritual decline, as we are advised that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)
Dealing With Rejection
Children can take a great deal of correction, but even small amounts of rejection are hard for them to endure. However, it seems today that it is the parents who are most worried about being rejected. They are afraid that their children will not like them if they discipline them. And so, due to their own selfishness, they withhold discipline because they are uncomfortable with the reactions of their children. The irony here is that it is the lack of discipline which actually causes their children to eventually turn against them and dislike them. Consequently, the very thing that they do to avoid rejection from their children, causes rejection from their children. However, it does not always manifest itself right away ? it may take years to come forth.
Our understanding of this delayed reaction is deepened by the example of the curse on Eli’s priestly line due to a lack of correction. The Lord does not say that they will fail from the very beginning of their lives. Rather, they seem to be okay at first, but fail later ? somewhat like a time bomb. This is what is meant when God says in 1Samuel 33, “But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age.” The literal death stated here is a type which speaks to us of spiritual death. However, note that it does not occur in their youth, but in the “flower of their age.” Similarly, there are sins that a person may indulge in and not see immediate judgement for, but rather an eventual reaping. This is clarified by the Scripture which says, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Ecclesiastes 8:11 (NKJV)
Eli, the Nicest Pastor in Town
Not too long ago a survey was taken of what people wanted in a pastor. Their answers exclusively viewed the pastor as a giving, loving man who would always encourage them, would pat their hands at their bedsides when they were sick, would smile ear to ear as they entered and left the church, and whose preaching would always be uplifting, self-esteem building, and positive. This man would never offend them in anyway, never get irritated or upset, and never, ever, point out their sins and spiritual shortcomings.
Evidently Eli was such a man. If we had known him, we might have said that he was the “nicest man” we had ever met. He may well of been easygoing and relaxed, and not the type to “rock the boat”. In fact, today we have Eli multiplied many times over in numerous churches, and one of the reasons this is the case is because modern congregations do not like to be reminded of their sins. However, we also have the softest church in the history of the western world. Discipline is almost never mentioned, and is enforced even less. This is why Christians who have problems with pornography, fornication, adultery, covetousness, entertainment, gluttony, racism, and worldly pride can sit in church and not feel conviction.
When incidents do occur, especially with church leadership, they are “swept under the rug” in many cases. However, if this lack of vigilance is discovered, it is usually veiled with a weak reference to love and forgiveness, even if the offender has not repented. The worst cases of this are found with famous leaders. It seems that “celebrity” Christians are invited back regardless of their failures. One might question if it is biblical to restore a leader to authority who has been imprisoned for theft and is guilty of adultery, when he has not even met the basic qualifications of 1Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:7. There is no question that when discipline is not taken to heart in the church that the world, with good reason, mocks and laughs. Sadder still, however, are those who are turned away from Christianity because they believe that Christians are hypocrites since they do not uphold the basic standards of Christianity.
Some of this has occurred because both sides of God have not been clearly preached and taught. We hear about His love, but not about His judgment ? and this unbalanced presentation of God tends to soften us. We need the correct balance, as we read in Romans:
“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” Romans 11:22 (NKJV)
We talk about “not shooting our wounded,” with the implication being that backsliders are the wounded. But let us clearly understand that this analogy is being wrongly applied. Soldiers wounded in battle are self-sacrificing, brave, and honorable. To compare them to backsliders is demeaning and implies that the backsliders are the victims ? which is almost like saying “the devil made them do it.” That being said, when a backsliding Christian repents and comes back to Christ, he or she should be encouraged and helped in every way possible by other believers. However, if we put that person back into a position of authority, we will cause damage to the rest of the flock and also cause the disqualified leader harm. Those who are no longer qualified to lead, if they are thrust back into the limelight and given authority they should not have, are all the more likely to fall again. In fact, as the Scripture warns us that withholding discipline will ruin a child, we can be certain that withholding it in the church will also ruin the Christian who is disobedient.
Twenty Years Away from Anarchy
Each generation of our society is only twenty years away from anarchy, and complete rebellion against authority. Children, cute as they may be, are born with an inherent sin nature, and need to be trained against it. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that children do not need to be taught to lie, fuss, or be selfish, but must be disciplined to rid them of these traits. Otherwise, left to themselves, these bad characteristics become more exaggerated as they manifest themselves in adulthood.
If one generation were to completely ignore the discipline of their children, savagery and barbarism would become commonplace. In fact, to some extent this is already happening, evident by the violent acts perpetrated by adolescents. For the most part this is the result of the increasing laxity of morals that has been practiced and taught by the “sixties” generation. The long hair may be now cut or balding, and the drugs may be taken less conspicuously, but the agenda against decency and morality continues to be promoted, and our society is paying the price. Contributing to this, of course, is neglect by parents who spend too little time with their children because both are working or involved with some selfish activity. Therefore when they do spend time with them, they want to make the time pleasant, and feel guilty if they discipline them. But children who are not trained correctly at home will find themselves in trouble with their employer, spouse, or perhaps the police. Moreover, if they are Christians, God will have to arrange circumstances to chasten them in adulthood. And receiving correction as an adult is always more painful and embarrassing than as a child.
The Center Cannot Hold without Discipline
In the spiritual realm there is also a breakdown in discipline in current times. This is apparent in the sermons of ministers when they do not discipline themselves to pray and study. No matter how great the gifts endowed upon a man, if he is out of prayer the anointing will eventually cease. And when it does, his words become the letter rather than the spirit, which causes deadness in the church. Thus we read, “?for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2Corinthians 3:6 (NKJV). Couple this with a lack of prayer and study in the congregation, and the result is Christians who lack discernment and are susceptible to false teachings, but are resistant to teachings which carry with them strong admonitions from God’s Word.
Discipline is the glue that holds the Christian to Christianity. And although Jesus gives us the power of self-control, we do have to exert effort to live the Christian life and refrain from evil behavior. The Apostle Paul stated clearly that he had to make this effort when he said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV). Moreover, the Word of God stresses instruction in many places, and the word for it in Hebrew is “muwcar” which also means, “correction, chastening and discipline.” Consequently, when we read the following Scriptures, we may also insert the word discipline everywhere we see the word instruction.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. 8 My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” Proverbs 1:7 (NKJV)
“For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” Proverbs 6:23 (NKJV)
“He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray.” Proverbs 10:17 (NKJV)
“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Proverbs 12:1 (NKJV)
“He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. 33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.” Proverbs 15:32 (NKJV)
A certain dog trainer begins by telling the dog to “stay” as he puts a slab of red meat before it. The first few times this is done the hungry dog ignores his master’s command and gobbles it down. However, after he is punished several times, the dog does an interesting thing. When the meat is thrown down, he does not look at it. Rather, he keeps his eyes on his master’s face, ignoring the meat as if it does not exist, evidently afraid that if he glances at it, the temptation will be too great.
In the same way we can be trained away from natural impulses which are bad, if we keep our eyes on Jesus. Many would say that it is impossible to train a hungry dog from snapping up red meat that is tossed directly in front of him. Along the same line, many might surmise that the normal temptations in life are too great to be resisted. Nevertheless, the Scriptures tell us “But with God, all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.
In a society that encourages self-indulgence and hedonism, discipline is not valued highly, unless it is to win a sporting event or some other activity for self-glorification. But the discipline the Christian exercises is to glorify God. And discipline in matters which are puzzling to unbelievers is what makes us the salt and the light in a perverse society. The world may honor the man who is mighty and powerful in the flesh, but God honors the one who disciplines himself (or herself), for He tells us:
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32 (NKJV)