Full Quivers And City Gates
"Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:4-5 NASB).
We live in perverted times. In days gone by, children were considered a blessing, wonderful additions to the family and a cause for rejoicing. As late as the nineteenth century all of Christendom (not just Roman Catholicism) considered the use of contraceptives a sin. These days children are often considered lifestyle options - playthings whose arrival is carefully planned so that the disruption of Mommy’s and Daddy’s standard of living can be minimized. Unfortunately this self-indulgent attitude is often found within the Church as well (or so it seems). Yet even a cursory reading of the Bible makes it clear that children are a great blessing from God.
The problem is that on many fronts, popular culture has invaded the Church. We rail against the culture of death, maybe even take our turn marching around the local abortion clinic with outsized photos of aborted babies. Nevertheless, we fail to recognize that "culture of death" is simply another term for a culture of self indulgence. People want to murder infants in the womb because if that baby is born it will infringe on someone’s right to pursue happiness. Those same people want to euthanize the old or disabled because they are too great a burden. They limit the number of children they bear - if they have any at all - for similar reasons. I’m not saying that Christians who artificially limit the number of children they have are Worldlings1 in disguise; I am saying that they may have allowed the worldly mindset to infiltrate their thinking.
The Bible tells us that "children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Ps. 127:3-4)2. In other words, Children are a blessing. This is not to say that rearing children is an easy venture. Yet can you name any worthwhile endeavor that is without difficulty? The world would be a desolate waste if ease of accomplishment were the standard men used in deciding their course of action. Indeed, obedience to the dominion mandate guarantees us trials and tribulations; incidentally, that mandate is the primary reason we are given children.
In ancient Israel the feel of the city gate was something like a town hall meeting. There the elders settled disputes and executed punishment, business was transacted and community affairs were discussed (Deut. 22:15, 24, Ruth 4:1-ff, Prov. 24:7). There really is no community hub in our society equivalent to the ancient gate. These days we use the term "market place" to describe the realm where one's influence may be felt in a fashion similar to the city gate. The "market place" is that personal sphere of influence where the Christian strives to bring Christ’s kingdom (the rule of the King), to bear. So, how is it that a man with a house full of children will not be ashamed in his sphere of influence?
To begin with there will be those who see him as an authority on child rearing (assuming that he practices godly oversight in his home). As a counselor I am often described as a family and children expert - by clients and other counselors alike - based primarily upon the fact that I have a large family. Whether you are a counselor or not, if you rear a large family in the fear and admonition of the Lord you will probably attract the attention of other parents who are seeking advice.
Prior to the industrial revolution, a large household was often considered an economic advantage as well. In the days when most families made their living working the soil or tending the herd, every member of the household was expected to do their fair share. In our modern world, this familial approach to economic success is primarily practiced by immigrants. I’m familiar with more than one immigrant family where every able bodied member of the household works and contributes to the family’s support. Even if that is not the normal practice for most middle class Christian households, the fact remains that a large family is a financial engine of tremendous (potential), power3. In any case the strength a large houshold represents should be focused on the purpose and goals of the father for his family. Even when this does not include a financial contribution, children who have "bought into" the vision of their father provide momentum to the realization of his goals.
Finally there are the companionship and sharpening benefits of a full quiver. I enjoy spending time in the company of my many children - just to see them, to talk with them and participate in their activities. The girls with their beauty and grace, the boys rough and ready - these blessings also translate into strength in a man’s sphere of influence. How? Well, the man who presides over a household of various talents, personalities and abilities becomes, with time, a man with "people skills" to reckon with; he is enriched by close participationin the life of other unique persons. It is in the family that one meets with adventure, the unexpected. Families are not made up of people and personality types we choose; if that were the case families would be dull and safe - a refuge for the weak and self centered. Instead God created an institution which demands strength and wisdom in order to navigate its diversity - danger even. A man who is able to do so learns more about reality in one lifetime at home then he would over a thousand lifetimes in the marketplace. A full household is not for the timid. Indeed, the larger the household the deeper the effect upon a man's character. His focus is drawn outside of himself by the presence of others in his household. He learns to play, to teach, to adjudicate, to pay attention when he rather read a book and to stoop to help those smaller and weaker than himself. He learns to discuss, to negotiate, to persuade and to direct. In short he becomes a servant leader like the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet the strength and confidence which comes from a full quiver extends beyond these things. In ancient Israel, gate-side poise was based (in part), on a man’s ability to back up his position with physical force if necessary4. Thus a house full of stalwart sons who had been taught how to handle themselves in a scrum carried a lot of weight5. Most modern Christians overlook the application of this detail in our day. A large household schooled in the ways of the kingdom is a powerful weapon in the war against wickedness. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but is for the hearts and minds of men. As each child grows to maturity - physically and spiritually - and puts into practice the kingdom living he learned at home, Christ’s rule moves a step closer to covering the earth as the waters cover the sea. As our children and our children’s children bring their sphere of influence under Christ’s authority the impact of the Lamb’s victory will be felt throughout the land. As their witness goes forth and the Gospel is proclaimed, more and more people will be drawn into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (Is. 2:1-4, 11:9, Acts 15:15-17). The day will come when the kingdom will reach critical mass; the man who raises a large family in the ways of the Lord should not be ashamed when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. He is walking in obedience to God’s commission to take dominion. Truly, Christ’s Gospel will triumph as his people raise up families of spiritual warriors to take the good news into every corner of the world.
1. This is a term Charles Spurgeon employed to describe the unregenerate.
2. The Hebrew here says "sons" but the term is also "used idiomatically for children generally" R Laird Harris et al eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute), I:254.
3. There are those who would suggest that a Christian father must be the sole bread winner for his household (based on 1 Tim 5:8). What about the farming family? Often times the children work with little or no direct wage. Their work is seen as simply doing their fair share (this is what we call then pioneer model). Or how about the man who owns a construction business and employs his children? If he is smart, he has his business set up as a corporation and he pays a salary to himself and his employees. The wages are normally kept low in order to minimize the tax burden. Additional profits will be corporate income placed at the disposal of the father. The children will therefore be contributing to the support of the family. I personally don’t believe it is any different for the family that practices "patchwork economics" (the immigrant model), wherein the working members of the household all pool their money and it is distributed at the discretion of the "company owner" - the father (for the record, the wife and mother in the household should remain at home as manager of the house in any scenario). Although I have not made use of the immigrant model, I can’t say that I am opposed to it on biblical grounds.
4. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 10 vols., Commontary On The Old Testament, (1866, Peabody: Hendricksen Publishers Inc., 1996), 5:770-771.
5. One of the functions of the assembly at the city gate was the handing down of legal decisions and punishment. However, declaring judgment and the physical ability to enforce punishment would have been two different things. It is significant that many of the judges and leaders of Israel were acknowledged as men of war and bloodshed; or like Jair, identified by his thirty sons (Judges 10:4). Moreover, an aged man would depend upon his (many), sons to protect his interests against adversaries at the city gate.
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