Sometimes I get the feeling that many of my contemporaries don’t study the Bible because they think it’s ancient and doesn’t apply to them. Some got the idea along the way, maybe in childhood, that it’s stale or, worse, wrong or even cruel. And, now, these views often get cemented when the text they encounter in synagogue seems dead to them.
A great sadness of mine is that many folks don’t bring their adult minds to a serious study of the Bible in the here and now. If they did, they could see how powerfully responsive such study can be to meeting their own greatest needs through lessons in loving-kindness, righteousness, and justice.
This week’s texts from Genesis and I Kings are perfect examples of stories that I would like all parents to study.
In Genesis, we see Jacob, as he approaches death, telling his sons the words he thinks they should hear from him before he dies.
In I Kings, we see David, as he approaches death, telling Solomon the words he thinks his son should hear from him before he dies.
As a father who is always anxious about the messages I send to my own children, I’m thrilled to learn how our great leaders, even in their imperfect ways, handled such duties in their lives. I bet most parents would, too, if they could just jump into the narrative and find the fabulous lessons that are waiting there.
So, let’s jump in!
David takes one approach. He’s learned a hard but extremely rewarding truth: a life lived in service of God is a good life and one that will be rewarded. With the exception of his waywardness with Bathsheba and Uriah, David lives as close to God, in service of the Divine, as any of our forebears. In fact, it might be argued that the lifelong consequences he bears as a result of that sin bring him even closer to God in profound ways, along with great blessing.
David, therefore, emphasizes from his deathbed that his son should “be strong and become a man.” He tells Solomon to “safeguard the charge of…God…to walk in His ways, to observe His…Torah…so that you will succeed…and that God will uphold His word…”
Further, David praises Solomon’s greatest strength, his wisdom, and asks him to act on it. Then, before dying, he does what one king would feel duty-bound to do with his successor. He gives his son important advice about a few urgent matters Solomon will soon face in his reign.
Jacob takes a different approach. He gathers his sons to tell what lies ahead for each of them.
For some of the sons, it is the richest sort of blessing that plays out in their lives and those of their descendants.
For most, it is metaphorical language about the direction of their lives, words upon which these sons can understand and build their futures.
For a few, it is harsh truths that are merited but also likely dispiriting. Some have no good future. (I wonder how I would handle such a predicament with my own children, should such be the situation.)
Yet, in the case of one, Levi, who is chastised, the son and later his tribe turn a negative prophesy in such a constructive direction it becomes – in the end – a most amazing blessing. They become our people’s priests and holy attendants!
As for me, for now, I love having all these ideas swirling in my head. Yes, I would want my children to know God and follow God’s direction. I believe much good comes from that. I would want my children to be strong and mature. I would want to emphasize their strengths and give them some crucial advice about serious problems they will face.
I hope my sense of their direction would be helpful in how they actually structure their lives. I hope I can bring truth to what I say, even if there is concern in my thoughts and voice. And I hope they will find a constructive path forward, even in the face of criticism.
God willing, though, I hope I have a little more time to think about what I’ll finally say. In the meantime, I’m just very grateful I have these invaluable lessons from the Bible to help me write my “first draft.”