Trump has made a lot of noise about his ability to negotiate great deals yielding tremendous profits. We will never know how much truth Trump tells: alternative facts and provable falsehoods seem to be everywhere these days. But the point is a deal is binding and bad deals can lock you into a major disadvantage for years. We know that too well in Africa: the deals our leaders have negotiated regarding our vast mineral resources are only but a few of the examples. How is it that the continent most endowed with mineral resources is also the poorest? Bad deals! Plus, you might add, Stealing.
Making bad deals that wreck your own life however is on another level. Take the example of Jacob - his older brother Esau had the birthright but apparently was unaware of its value. Jacob had his eyes on the birthright all along and one day Esau came home famished and demanding Jacob’s food. How he thought he could barter the food for the birthright is amazing but he probably had noticed that Esau had little appreciation of its value. Quickly he proposed the deal: my food for the birthright. Esau, hungry and wanting instant gratification confirmed that opinion: “I’m dying of hunger; of what use is the birthright to me.” The deal was signed and sealed with an oath. For Jacob, excellent deal; for Esau, atrocious deal (he would later discover his folly).
But strangely this Jacob now sees a woman he loves called Rachel. He approaches her dad and asks for her hand. Father agrees and Jacob himself makes the proposal: "I’ll work for you seven years for the right to marry her.” Now the woman may be well worth the dowry but seven years? And mind you, he’s bargaining away all his earnings for the seven years. That means he gets the woman after seven years but he has nothing to bring her home to. Why not put in a salary re-negotiation clause? Bad deal!
He gets tricked by the father-in-law, who gives him the less desirable older sister Leah instead of Rachel. When he complained, the father-in-law now makes a proposal: “Finish the one week with Leah after that you can have Rachel in exchange for another seven years’ labor.” Incredibly, Jacob agrees! He had not learned from the first deal: his passion for Rachel somehow blinded him. He ends up working fourteen years for two women, the one whom he loves, the other who was forced upon him; and at the end, he was still broke!
But for the Lord, he would have been sent away empty-handed after working for this father-in-law 20 years. God now shows him how to negotiate a deal for his future that delivers wealth into his hands, but that is after suffering for 20 years!
Negotiate your future and do it circumspectly.
Be careful when negotiating in passion: your passion to own something may blind you into making an atrocious deal that you will not even recognize after seven years. It is written that he worked seven years for Rachel and it seemed like a few days to him. It might have felt like a few days but make no mistake, that was seven years of his life just gone by.
Be careful also when you have to sign on to a deal on the spot, especially if you are an introvert like Jacob. Had he asked his father-in-law for time to think the proposal through, he might have realized he had options far better than what was being proposed: after all, he had been tricked into sleeping with the wrong woman, he needed to be compensated for that; he is being forced into marriage with two women, more compensation; having worked seven years, should my salary stay the same for another seven years? More compensation. But none of these was taken advantage of because he had no time to think it through.
Notable bad deals:
The concept of intelligence is often invoked to explain why one person succeeds in a situation that makes another falter. Schools place a lot of emphasis on cognitive ability and have developed all manner of tests to examine their students for it. Researchers have come up with test scores of their own to quantify how much intelligence someone possesses. The intelligence quotient (IQ) test is the most well-known of these. The emphasis on IQ derives from the observation that careers in science, technology, engineering, and math are often heavily dependent on cognitive ability. ‘Cognitive smarts’ have thus become highly treasured assets.
For much of our existence as humans, intelligence was understood to be a general mental capability involving the ability to reason, plan, and solve problems, especially of the complex kind. The IQ test aimed at capturing this sort of ability in a numerical form: it was the total score obtained from a set of standardized tests. The median IQ test score for the general population is usually cited as 100. IQ test scores fall somewhere between 85 and 115 in two-thirds of people; only 5% of the population would score above 125, and another 5% scores below 75.
How accurate is the IQ test score in predicting job performance or success? There appears to be a good correlation between IQ test scores and future performance on a job that ranges from 20% to 60% depending on the type of job. Military enrolment in some countries is only possible for those with IQs not less than 85; experiments with lowering this to 80 showed that the participants could not master the job requirements to a satisfactory level. Some critics have noted that a basic level of IQ is all that is required for employment success; that beyond this basic minimum of intelligence, other factors are far more important in determining success.
Beyond basic intelligence, it would appear that a different kind of smart is required rather than more of the same general IQ. Of these factors, possibly the most important is interpersonal intelligence – ‘people smarts’. It defines the capacity to effectively interact with others to obtain their cooperation. It goes by many names but the one I prefer is social intelligence. Seen as the ability to get along well with others and secure their cooperation, it is obvious why it is such a critical factor for success. For whatever it is you must do in this world to achieve significance, you are going to need the cooperation of others and if you are unable to get along well with others, your project is dead on arrival. Social ineptitude can get you into all sorts of trouble in all sorts of places. To illustrate, I made a trip recently to consult a respected professional on some pressing personal matter. I was ushered into a waiting room with more than 20 empty seats. I was the only person in waiting so I selected one of the chairs a few steps from the doorway and made myself comfortable. Shortly afterward, another gentleman was ushered in to await his turn. To my utmost surprise, he walked right up to where I was seated and chose the seat immediately next to mine to make himself comfortable, in so doing leaving only a distance of a hand’s breadth between our shoulders. Here was a guy I’d never met before in a room with 20 or more empty seats to choose from. Why he decided to choose the seat next to me, encroaching on what I considered to be my personal space was baffling. Nevertheless, he sat there completely clueless while I considered what words to use to jab his socially numb brain into life. But he wasn’t finished yet: a short while later when the attendant peered in the doorway, looked in my direction and motioned “Sir, you may go in”, my newfound ‘friend’ decided he ought to go in first and made his move. Fortunately, I did not need to say what I was thinking; the attendant quickly stepped in with ‘Not you Sir; I meant him’ pointing in my direction. As I left the waiting area, I could not help noticing how irritated I had become and how close I was to responding to his rude behavior in an unpleasant manner. I wondered how such a guy got along in the workplace.
For in the workplace we meet people who have a propensity for acting in ways that consistently alienate others. These are people we avoid and do everything we can to stay out of their way. Some are very smart people with excellent skills on the job but they seem completely inept at dealing effectively with the feelings, intentions, and preferences of the people they work with. They do not lack IQ or cognitive smarts; they are just socially numb or dumb. They have difficulty engaging others in ways that are socially appropriate to the context. These are often people who are so preoccupied with their own personal needs and struggles that they fail to appreciate the impact of their behavior on others. They have no insight on the effect of their behavior on others. But there are others who have such insight who nevertheless choose the path of intransigent disregard for the social rights of others. Another quick illustration: It was election time in Junior High School. The voting was to take place in our classrooms so I sat in mine to vote. In those days, you were given a blank piece of paper and you voted by writing the name of your candidate on the paper. I was among the first to enter the classroom and I chose one of the seats at the back of the class. Gradually the class filled up with students and all seats were taken. Just then a friend of mine who happened to be contesting for this particular post walked in. Seeing no empty seat, he walked up to me and essentially demanded to share my seat, and my desk. I could understand somewhat why he would do that: being friends, he thought I would not mind sharing my seat. But by his choice he had completely disregarded the context: I was supposed to make a choice by vote between him and the other candidates. By sharing my seat, he had basically hijacked my vote. I had a decision to make: ask him to find a seat elsewhere or submit my vote to his hijacking regardless of who I was going to vote for. If I asked him to leave, I would be telling him indirectly I was not voting in his favor. Frankly, before he sat next to me I had already decided another candidate was better suited for the post. I chose not to ask him to leave. The ballot papers were passed round. I spread out mine and wrote down the name of the other candidate while he watched. He whispered my name in complete surprise. I had anticipated his shock, and I had prepared a response: “I’m sorry my friend.” He said nothing more at that time. Later he accosted me: “Frank, if you had voted for me I would have won.” “What do you mean?” I responded. Unknown to me then, the results were out and only one vote separated him from the winner. I truly felt sad for him, not that where he sat would have made any difference to the outcome but he did not need to endure the pain of a friend casting a vote against him. This happened more than three decades ago. At the time I thought it was unfortunate that our friendship dropped a few degrees in temperature, but I was really left with no other choice. Though I had hurt a friend, I was at peace with myself knowing I had chosen to be authentic. It was much later that I understood the social intelligence issues that played out that day. That classroom was a regular meeting place; sharing seats during class was usual when enough chairs were not available. But on that that day, the social context had changed; sharing seats conveyed a totally different meaning. In my case it meant my privacy was lost, and my decision was hijacked. To maintain my authenticity, I had to do publicly what was meant to be done privately. The result was painful but it was so because someone breached the unwritten code of social intelligence.
They were born twin boys, the only children of their parents. The older was hairy, the younger was smooth. In our modern terminology we would call them fraternal twins. They were brought up by the same parents in the same household. They had essentially the same resources to draw from during their upbringing. In adulthood, they couldn’t have been more different: the older became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while the younger was a quiet man, dwelling among the tents at home. Daddy loved older twin because he was more adventurous and brought home game; mommy loved younger twin because he was mostly at home keeping her company: Introducing Esau and Jacob, the twin boys of Isaac, the son of Abraham.
As one grows in this world, it soon becomes obvious that not everyone succeeds in this endeavor called life. What I find most intriguing is how a set of twins who shared the same womb at the same time for all of nine months, grow up in the same house raised by the same parents end up with vastly different outcomes. You would have thought that having the same of life’s resources to share would yield nearly similar results. But that rarely happens among fraternal twins. The difference in the personalities of Esau and Jacob is remarkable but their characters and the choices they made in their lives were also very noteworthy. We know Esau made some very poor decisions as a young man, the best known of which was to barter away his birthright for a bowl of soup when he returned from hunting famished. In the course of time, Jacob outmaneuvers Esau and obtains his father’s blessing that was meant for Esau. In the final analysis, Jacob’s descendants become the nation of Israel while Esau founds the lesser-known Edomites. The difference in outcomes between their descendants is staggering for a pair of twins.
The questions that must be asked are which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? And what interventions can help children do better? In our world today, most believe that cognitive skills are supreme determinants of success. We speak of those with high intellect and those with great talent for one activity or the other. But current studies are increasingly showing that cognitive ability is not the single most reliable determinant of how a person’s life turns out. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth recently published her findings on what distinguishes children who succeed in school from those who did not and concluded that the essential difference was a trait called GRIT, which she defined as passion and perseverance for long term goals. Her work with other leading researchers in the field demonstrated that non-cognitive traits actually prove to be superior predictors of success; traits such as an inclination to persist at boring and often non-rewarding tasks, the ability to delay gratification, and the tendency to follow through on a plan, were far more important than cognitive ability in predicting success.
When psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, authors of the book Character Strengths and Virtues, were pressed to distil the essential elements of character that formed the basis for performance, they suggested grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. What the current studies seem to suggest is that it is not how much information we can stuff into the brains of little children that determines their success or failure but it is whether we can help them develop persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Ultimately, these elements of character determine the choices people make and the outcome of their lives. Esau made some terrible mistakes, and later seemed to turn round and rally. When he reunited with Jacob some 20 years after Jacob outmaneuvered him for his blessing and fled, he seemed to be doing well: he was leader of a troop of 400 men and had enough wealth to cater for them. In Gen 33:9 when Jacob offered Esau a handsome gift to pacify him, Esau replied, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
And in Gen 36:6, 7 their combined wealth so large they could not dwell together: “Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together.”
Esau learned his lessons and prospered also but not as much as his brother. Their story shows that regardless of having the same resources as someone else, a poorly developed character will lead to poor choices. It also shows that a poorly developed character can be fixed and rewards result therefrom.
He was called John; widely regarded as a prophet, but a rather unusual prophet. Of priestly descent, his birth to a pair of elderly citizens was foretold by an angel. A Nazirite from birth, he spent his early years in the mountains of Judah between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. When he finally burst forth into public life preaching a baptism of repentance, multitudes of people, great and small were drawn to him.
His message and way of life drew crowds to the banks of the Jordan where he baptized thousands unto repentance. His fame spread to the corridors of power in Jerusalem and aroused debate as to his true identity: some said he was the promised Messiah; others said he was Elijah; yet others insisted he was the Prophet Moses spoke about (Deut 18:15). When the debate could not be resolved, the Jewish leaders sent men to John to inquire about who he was:
John 19:22 – Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John’s answer (v23) is most intriguing:
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”
From the arguments preceding, it is clear the people’s answer to the question “Who are you?” was a personality – the Messiah; Elijah; the Prophet. John’s response to the same question was his mission – the voice of one calling in the desert. John says I have a personality but I am my purpose and my mission defines who I am.
Personality was given to express and accomplish purpose. The constant admonition to ‘know thyself’ is an imperative to know your personality and your purpose. Knowing yourself is the key to harnessing your strengths and bringing them to bear on your mission.
He was well known because of his crimes. He made a living by robbing others and eluding the law. He was wanted all over the country but try as they did, they could not apprehend him. Then came the fateful day: The robbery was supposed to be an easy operation, a quick hit and an escape. But unknown to him, this was no ordinary day, for the hour had come when scripture was to be fulfilled. The son of God was about to be arrested and sentenced to death by hanging on the cross. With him, two robbers would end up with the death penalty as well, each hanging on their own cross on either side of the King of the Jews. When he was arrested during the botched robbery and handed over to Roman soldiers, it marked the end of a long search for a notorious criminal; it also earned him a place by the side of the crucified Christ.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43.
I remember when I first heard this story with my friends. We were in secondary school attending a Scripture Union meeting. I still remember our sentiments back then: ‘How lucky this criminal was! To live your life the way you want all the way to the last hour and then with a simple request to Jesus, find a place in paradise!’ How we envied him! And how we all wished we did not have to subject ourselves to all the many ‘thou shalt nots’ and just at the moment of death ask for pardon and jump into paradise.
I have lived several decades since I first heard that story and have even had the opportunity to learn much more from the scriptures for more than 25 years. And the more I contemplate that story, the more I realize how unlucky that robber was! Here is a guy who is going to live in eternity with a God he never made any effort to know personally. He is lucky to get into paradise alright but his experience would have been a million times richer if he had a relationship with the God of paradise before checking in there. Here is how one of the wisest men of all ages put it:
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them”
It is essential to get to know your Creator in your youth, not in your old age; in your early days not in your last days; in your best moments not in your worst ones! Why is this so? Why is Solomon emphasizing this approach? I think the reason is time invested in knowing your Creator compounds the benefits over time. In monetary terms, this is how compounding works – you deposit an amount in an investment instrument that yields a certain amount of interest over a specified period, say 7% a year. At the end of the year, you have the initial deposit plus an interest of 7%. If you do not withdraw either of these, then over the subsequent years, you earn interest on the initial (principal) amount as well as on the first interest earned. In other words, compound interest occurs when interest earns interest. Libby Kane writing for Business Insider illustrated the incredible power of compound interest with this graph from JP Morgan Asset Management:
It shows the investing activities of 3 individuals (Susan, Bill, and Chris) in an instrument yielding a modest 7% return per year. Susan starts investing $5,000 every year from age 25 years old and stops doing so after only 10 years, when she is 35 years old. In total, she invested $50,000. Over the next 30 years, she makes no additional investment but ends up with a little over $602,000 in her portfolio by the time she is 65 years old.
Next is Bill who started his investments 10 years later than Susan at age 35 years old, just when Susan stopped additional investments. Over the next 30 years, Bill invests the same $5,000 every year until he turns 65 years. In total, he invested $150,000 and ended up with $540,741 (>$60,000 less than Susan). Note that Bill has contributed 3 times as much as Susan, but he never caught up with her because he started 10 years later!
But here comes Chris, who like Susan, started at age 25 investing $5,000 every year till he is 65 years old. He ends up with a handsome $1,142,811 after investing a total of $200,000.
Here are the learning points about compound interest:
What has this got to do with God? Everything! Solomon’s advice is to remember your creator in the days of your youth. Compound interest teaches us why. The earlier you start making inputs into having a relationship with Him, the better you get to know Him in your latter years. The earlier you get to know Him, the greater the benefits and the sooner you get to enjoy the benefits. Best of all, you get to check into paradise with a good chunk of Him in your heart! Do not wish to be like that robber dying on the cross; he lost the opportunity of a lifetime to know Him before checking into paradise.
When he set off from home that day, David had no plans of becoming a fugitive or a murderer of a teenage college hopeful. But how quickly things can change, especially when you’re behind the wheel in traffic!
Both David Chester, 28, and Bianca Roberson, 18, were behind the wheel, as they approached where their two separate lanes merged into one. At that point, the two began "jockeying" for the right of way. The situation quickly turned into a high-speed "cat and mouse game" on the road as each tried to outmaneuver the other for the lead position. According to Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan, "They jockeyed for position, and he wasn't happy, so he pulled out a gun and shot Bianca in the head, killing her instantly." Afterward, David, the shooter fled in his red pickup. In one very brief moment of anger, he was transformed into a fugitive facing murder charges and the dream of a budding college student was abruptly terminated. This tragic story took place in the USA (West Chester, Pennsylvania) and was reported by the Associated Press on 2nd July 2017.
The story parallels many instances when emotion gets the better of someone and in a brief moment of extremely bad judgement, an act with grievous consequence is carried out. The excuses that often result are typical – I don’t know what happened; the devil took control of me; it was a moment of poor judgement; it was temporary insanity; the list goes on.
Control of strong emotion like rage often proves difficult. Hundreds of years ago, King Solomon observed that a patient man was preferable to a warrior, and that it takes more strength to control oneself that it takes to capture a city (Pro 16:32). Following this observation was the warning in Ecclesiastes “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Eccl 7:9) The counsel is to guard against what offends you and how quickly that happens. Basically, we must learn to overlook many potential offenses in our quest for self-control. Whatever you do, don’t allow anger to take residence in your lap. Here’s how another put it “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” (Eph 4:26, 27) I particularly like the part where it says ‘do not let the sun go down on your anger, nor give place to the devil.’ Put another way, if you carry your anger to bed, you know who just came to bed with you … the devil himself!
Here’s another story about someone who invited the devil to bed: There were two brothers, one was a farmer the other a shepherd. Both decided to bring sacrifices to the Almighty God. Ostensibly, there were already established regulations regarding sacrifices to the Almighty. The farmer, being a worker of the ground brought some of the produce from his farm as an offering while his younger brother, the shepherd, brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. The Almighty God respected the younger man and his offering, but not the older man. So the older brother became very angry and went about in a foul mood. So the Almighty summoned him and asked “Why are you angry? And why are you in such a foul mood? If you do what is right, will you also not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, beware for sin lies at your door, desiring to rule over you…” However, big brother paid no heed and so one day while they were in the field, he rose up against his brother and killed him. This of course is the story of Cain and Abel. (Gen 4:1-8) Cain took his anger to bed. While he slept, his anger metamorphosed into the devil and changed him into a killer. He was warned, but he paid no heed. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no place to the devil!
Bad parenting begets bad children is a popular belief worldwide. On the 4th of August 2011, a police officer shot and killed 29-year-old Mark Duggan on the Ferry Lane Bridge next to Tottenham Hale station. It was supposedly intelligence-led targeted vehicle stop operation. Reasons given by the police for the killing seemed to contradict initial media reports, raising public concern and the threat of protests. Two days later, a protest march began, that soon turned into rioting and looting beginning from Tottenham. Several violent clashes with police ensued, resulting in the destruction of police vehicles. In the days to follow, rioting spread to several English cities including Birmingham, Liverpool, Leicester, and several others. By the 15th of August, more than 3000 crimes had been linked to the rioting, five people had died from 16 others were injured and an estimated £200 million worth of property damaged. Many factors were blamed for the riots. Many politicians blamed the violence on a lack of moral guidance in the home. An article in the Daily Telegraph went further to link the riots to gangsters and a lack of male role models in British society. "Like the overwhelming majority of youth offenders behind bars, these gang members have one thing in common: no father at home" the paper reported. This was further linked with England having the worst record in family breakdown in Europe.
When children misbehave, we are apt to point fingers at their parents for bad parenting, labeling them as bad parents. But how about parents we know to be good who nonetheless get bad children? Consider the story of two eminent priests in the bible. Both had impeccable records of service with integrity. Both had two sons who became judges after their father’s retired. And in both instances, the sons turned out to be corrupt, quite unlike their fathers. This is the story of Eli and Samuel (1 Samuel chapters 1-8).
Eli was priest in Shiloh when the unborn Samuel’s distressed mother was praying earnestly for a child. When Samuel was born, he stayed with his mother just long enough to be weaned after which he was to Eli in Shiloh to serve before the Lord in keeping with her mother’s promise to the Lord. So the boy Samuel served before the Lord under the supervision of Eli.
Meanwhile, the aging Eli had appointed his two sons as priests although they did not know the Lord. Not surprisingly, they were corrupt, taking from the temple treasury whatever they wanted and even sleeping with the women who served as attendants at the temple. Eli kept hearing of his badly behaved children and one day summoned them to a meeting. The expected rebukes were delivered by a frustrated father who pressed his case with the closing argument “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” His sons however paid no attention and continued in their evil ways. I always wondered why Eli did not terminate their appointments but just kept watching while his sons continued to destroy all he had toiled to establish. The Lord subsequently sent a prophet to warn Eli (2Sam 2:30-34) “…those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed… And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day.” Still Eli seemed powerless to turn the tide around.
The Lord then called to the boy Samuel who initially mistook the call to be coming from Eli. On the third call, having been directed by Eli, he responds to the Lord “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. Samuel is now made privy to the calamity hanging on Eli’s head. He is informed by the Lord: “For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.” 1Sam 3:13
Subsequently, war broke out between Israel and the Philistines. Eli’s two sons died during the war and the ark of the Lord’s covenant was also captured by the Philistines. Eli fell over backward and died when he heard the news. So the young Samuel succeeded Eli as priest, judge and prophet. He was upright and served the Lord and Israel in all roles with distinction. Now when Samuel was old, he appointed his sons Joel and Abijah as judges for Israel. “Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.” (1Sam 7:3) The situation concerned the elders of Israel who must have had a déjà vu feeling about all this. Was it not just in the previous administration when we witnessed this same thing happening between children succeeding their fathers? They would have none of this anymore. They approached Samuel and said to him “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1Sam 7:5). Samuel was displeased, but I’m sure he could see where the people were coming. It must have seemed to Samuel that he was essentially in the same place that Eli had gotten himself. How come his sons did not take after him? How could they have such a powerful role model for a father and still turn out corrupt? How could they have the precedent of Eli and his sons for an example and still go the wrong way? Samuel probably did not know his sons well enough. I doubt he would have appointed them judges if he had any notion that they would go after unjust gain and pervert justice. So what exactly happened? How come such good people produced corrupt sons? What really determines how children turn out? This is a question I have pondered for years which got even more complicated when I considered the story of Hezekiah and his son Manasseh. For I thought Hophni/Phinehas and Joel/Abijah were problematic children but Manasseh is in a class all by himself? But that and some of the answers I have obtained would be for another post.
The sun was setting across the horizon of the 1970s African sky. In the coolness that followed the scorching heat of the mid-afternoon, children gathered on the quiet street in front of a large block of single room apartments in the Ash Town neighborhood. This area of the city has several of such buildings serving as rented apartments for the mainly working class families that live here. The landlords who owned these buildings each provided accommodation for roughly twenty households. Asokwa is one of such landlords. In his early seventies at this time, his children were middle aged and no longer lived in the neighborhood. He was a difficult man and not particularly liked by his tenants. His children, when they used to live in the neighborhood were not favorites either.
In my childhood, I lived with my family in the Asokwa house. We would play soccer on the pavement in front of the house, something which Asokwa frowned upon. Not infrequently, we would be chased from this 'soccer pitch’ when he approached with a cane in hand. Playing on the street in front of the house kept the notorious landlord off our backs, the drawback being that the game would be interrupted by the occasional passing vehicle.
Soccer on the street was an exciting event and this evening was no different. But as we played this particular evening, we could see the silhouette of a man against the backdrop of the setting sun approaching the house from the street corner. As he drew closer, we could tell who it was: K-Duro as we called him, Asokwa's last born son. We remembered him when he used to live in the house, a young man, grumpy most of the time who seemed to think life ought to treat him better. He did not get on too well with his father either and had left the house in anger one afternoon following a messy confrontation with him. This was not the first time he was returning after that unpleasant departure, seemingly to visit family. This time however, he had a mean look on his face as he glanced up the third floor balcony where his father usually sat at sunset with a clear view of the pavement and street below.
He disappeared into the main house as we continued our soccer game on the street. Not long afterward, we could hear father and son arguing at the top of their voices. The commotion that accompanied the argument caused a virtual standstill and soon people gathered on the pavement in front of the house where the noise was loudest. Suddenly, to everyone's horror K-Duro emerged from the inner rooms onto the balcony in a tussle and tangle with his father, the son making every effort to shove the older man over the balustrade. Bad as this was, the real crisis point came when K-Duro managed to hoist his father onto the balustrade, the older man clutching at him with all four limbs for fear of tumbling down onto the pavement below. We all held our breath at the bewildering spectacle: we were about to witness a son murder his own father in living color. But for the quick thinking and timely intervention of some men inside the house who were responding to the unusual commotion and noise emanating from the landlord’s room, the story would have made headlines the following day.
It’s been more than three decades since this event, yet even today I get goose bumps just thinking about it. We never really got to the bottom of what the disagreement was about. But as you would expect, the old man was never the same again; he was really shaken and thoroughly shamed. In his anger, many foul words were uttered to describe the son, who we never saw again. We heard later that he died violently in a foreign land a few years after this incident.
As we celebrate fathers’ day, I imagine that most of us will remember the commandment that says ‘Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you…’. What the commandment does not say but is probably implied is that if you choose not to honor your father, at the very least do not dishonor him. I have often wondered why the commandment did not go something like ‘Honor your good father…’ But clearly, there must be important benefits to derive from simply honoring your father regardless of his approval rating. I suspect the benefits of doing so are both natural and spiritual. But though it cost you all you have, do not dishonor your father.
As I have grown, I have come to realize many others who have infamously disregarded this intuitive commandment, to their regret.
God himself asked his priests:
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master.
If then I am your Father, where is My honor?
And if I am your Master, where is My reverence?
“You offer defiled food on My altar,
… when you offer blind animals as a sacrifice,
… animals that are lame and sick,
Is it not evil?
Offer it then to your governor!
Would he be pleased with you?
Would he accept you favorably?
You also say,
‘Oh, what a weariness!’
And you sneer at it,”
“And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick;
Thus you bring an offering!
Should I accept this from your hand?”
Says the Lord.” Malachi 1:6-8, 13.
Or consider Reuben, Jacob’s first son, who went in and slept with his father’s concubine. Arguably, this was not out of lust, as one could clearly see the woman must have been some 15-20 years older than him. Some believe, and I’m inclined to agree, that he did this in anger and out of spite against his father for preferring Joseph, the last born, to him who held the rights of the firstborn. This conclusion is easy to make when you read the account of Jacob’s line up of his family (in Gen 33:1,2) to meet the combatant Esau he had outmaneuvered in his youth. At the time of the incident, Jacob made no comment but finally, on his deathbed and Jacob’s pronouncements made it clear the firstborn had sold his birthright in his anger! (Gen 49: 3,4; 1 Chr 5:1) For this is how the Chronicler recorded the event: "Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright.” 1Chr 5:1
Along similar lines we remember the example of Absalom who decided to make himself a stench in his father’s nostrils by lining up his ten concubines and sleeping with them in the full view of all Israel (2Sam 16:21,22); what dishonor! It’s as though he declared an eternal war on his father, a war which was not winnable.
There are others who dishonored their fathers in other ways and paid the consequences: Noah’s youngest son Ham discovered his father drunk and naked in his tent and went broadcasting the headline news to his brothers without. When Noah awoke and found out what Ham had done, he promptly cursed Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, whose descendants became subjugated as a result; Simeon and Levi took no regard for their father's predicament when in anger, they attacked and annihilated a whole tribe whose prince had defiled their sister, forcing their father to pack bag and baggage and flee the region for fear of reprisals from stronger neighbors. They were bypassed on the day of blessing and the scepter went to Judah instead (Gen 49:5-7); Esau who knew his father’s contempt for Canaanite women but went ahead and married them anyway incurring his father displeasure; Hophni and Phinehas priestly sons of Eli who showed no regard for their father’s hard-earned reputation when he complained about their bad behavior and immorality as priests of the Lord. They ended up dying for their corrupt ways, ending a whole family line’s blessing.
So here are the takeaways:
Frank is a cardiothoracic surgeon practicing in Ghana. His work involves mainly pediatric cardiac surgery. Apart from children's health, he's also passionate about lifestyle modifications to promote health.