Having grown up in my early years in Tennessee on my granddad’s farm, I often heard the expression, ‘who’s tending the store, ‘who’s tending to the feeding of the livestock,’ who’s tending to this or that?’. What they were meaning is, ‘who’s taking care of whatever, or who’s watching over things’? One of the most significant events in all of history is recorded in Luke. “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Vs. 2.8). They were ‘tending the sheep’. Which was right where they were supposed to be, not imagining what was about to happen. Their first and foremost responsibility was the sheep under their care.
A couple of significant men in God’s kingdom work was Eli, the priest, and Samuel. Both had a family, and with important responsibilities as God’s representatives to the Israelites. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phineas. They too had been put in charge of the worship and sacrifices. But as it is recorded in I Samuel 2.12-36, they acted wickedly. And furthermore, Eli did not address their actions properly. He, so to speak, turned a blind eye as it related to their actions. God was not pleased with them or with Eli. Destruction and their deaths eventually came as punishment.
Lead your children
Simultaneously, we see Samuel who was a miracle baby. He was set apart for great works for the Lord by his parents. Saul and David are the first two kings of Israel and Samuel anoints both at separate times. He is actually referred to as a religious hero in the history of Israel. His name actually means ‘name of God’. He is the last judge, first of the prophets and a priest. His two sons were Joel and Abijah, made judges over Israel. But, they did not walk in the ways of their father and they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes and perverted justice. The elders meet with him and address the ways of his sons and demand a king for the first time.
Eli and Samuel, important men of God who neglected their families. Their sons became a disgrace to both. There’s a lesson here. And a profound one. No matter how important your tasks are, even serving the Lord, there is a primary responsibility as a father to make every effort to lead your children in the way of the truth.
Evidently these two did not. I know Jesus said that a man must hate his mother and father and extended family more than him. That does not state that you abandon them. It’s just the fact that God is your priority, but you also have been given a critical responsibility to disciple your wife and children. Of course, we must love our family, but not more than we love Christ. If we don’t, we are only committing idolatry and will hurt them. Because Paul also taught that there are consequences if we do not care for our own families. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim. 5.8).
Jesus also said that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and even love our enemies. But the key is, the first commandment; we are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. That is primary. But it does not exclude the responsibility of fulfilling Matthew 28.18-20. “Go and make disciples!” Our two Old Testament fathers put God first, but obviously did not disciple their sons. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Would you agree?