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.
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.