The Value of Children : The Blessings of a Full Quiver
January 8, 2005
by David Crank
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. 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 will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate. Ps 127:3-5 (NAS)
The unbelievers around us do not place a high value on children. This is well evidenced by the high abortion rate and the number of couples who either want no children or only one or two. There also seems to be a widespread mindset that regards children as a bother, as an expense, and as an obstacle that hinders their parents' success and enjoyment of life.
Now most people probably do want children, but many only in small doses. One or two is enough and they want others to take care of them, entertain them and take responsibility for them. Many people just don't want the responsibility of children! Some parents seem to only want to be grandparents. They want to enjoy the children occasionally but give them back to someone else to handle most of the care, education and deal with any problems.
But God has a different view - He calls children "blessings"! The Bible describes children as gifts from God and as rewards! Though He may choose to bless us in many different ways, one of the most prominent ones in the Scriptures is by blessing us with a large family. How many people today associate “large family” with “blessings”? Probably not many! How unreceptive many are to God's blessings! Now don't think that all of this comes just from the few verses at the first of this article. There are many passages associating children, and even many children, with God's blessing (See some following this article). There are also many scriptures where parents refer to their children as gifts from God or where God is credited with having given a particular child as a special gift and blessing. Even from the creation of Adam and Eve we find God blessing mankind with the words, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it."
HOW DO CHRISTIANS TODAY REGARD CHILDREN?
I am ashamed to say that many Christians seem to have adopted some of the world's view concerning children. Truly this world does press in on us and try to conform us to itself. And we do sometimes conform without even realizing that is what we are doing! Rather than seeing children as primarily burdens and financial obligations, we should see them as God sees them. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through the word of God (Romans 12:2).
Admittedly, children are a huge responsibility and require a great deal of self-sacrifice on the part of their parents. So in this sense, there is a burden involved. But the Bible portrays the blessing of children to be so much greater than the burden of their care and upbringing. Though we know God’s Word is true when it tells us children are blessings, yet it is sometimes hard to truly view each and every child as God's blessing at all times. We can easily rationalize that that too much of a good thing can be bad and that children are only a blessing in moderation. “Moderation” we may define as only coming after we have been married a few years and then always two to three years apart, and then stopping after three or four or maybe five children. But of course that is not exactly what God's Word says or even implies. The Bible regards persons having eight or ten or even twelve children as being exceptionally blessed by God. Few people would regard twelve children as children in moderation!
But a big family can be scary even to Christians today. Most adults today grew up in fairly small families. I was an only child, most of my friends were from families with only two or three children. With no experience or good role models for how to raise a truly large family, it can be frightening! How could we ever manage? How could we support so many children? How could we have time for them all and do a good job of raising them? How could we hold up physically and mentally to the challenge?
I have had a hobby from time to time of researching our ancestors. And do you know what? A lot of everyday folks in the 1700s and 1800s had very large families by today's standards. I find lots of families with seven to ten children and some with even twelve or thirteen. Now admittedly times are very different, but it is still encouraging to note that these folks managed and many did a fine job as parents and had wonderful loving families. Could it be that we are frightened for no good reason? Perhaps we are frightened because we are seeing things through the eyes of our unbelieving, materialistic and selfish culture rather than through God's eyes. Perhaps it is due to a lack of faith, or lack of encouragement from other Christians, or lack of instruction and shared wisdom about how to wisely raise a large family.
HOW ARE THEY BLESSINGS?
It seems clear that God declares all children to be blessings from Him to us. We can take this by faith, but it may be helpful to contemplate just how children bless us. Following are few of the ways children often are, or should be, blessings to their parents.
1. Enjoyment and entertainment. When they are small, they are so cute, so fun to play with, so gratifying to watch as they grow and learn. They can provide endless hours of enjoyment if we are willing to take the time.
2. Teaching us love, self-sacrifice, discipline, self-control, gentleness, and patience. God can use children so effectively to mature us and help us to develop godly character. What better classroom does God have to teach these things than a home with children to be raised?
3. The blessing of the love and trust of a child. The love and trust of a small child is so precious and can have such an effect in softening and keeping our hearts softened.
4. Assistance with our work. Children properly taught can be a big help around the household as young as 6 or 7 years of age. And as they get older, their abilities multiply, making their help even more valuable. Older children can handle nearly all household tasks, can be a big help in caring for younger siblings and even homeschooling them, can help with animals, a garden, with a family business, even with building a house! Teaching your children to work alongside you aids greatly in their instruction and discipleship. Children should have the opportunity to become contributing members of the household, both for their sakes and yours.
5. Assistance in later life. When we are old and less capable of doing for ourselves, our children (and grandchildren) can and should be a huge help in a great many ways (just as we should also be to our parents and grandparents). Sometimes just having a grown child who sometimes visits or calls or writes makes all the difference in the life of an elderly person. When one becomes old and feeble, ones children, grandchildren and great grand children may become the primary reason for continuing to live.
6. Enlarging our impact on this world. Even as God associated being fruitful with the ability to subdue and rule over the earth (Gen 1:28), so our children, grandchildren, and later descendents extend our reach far beyond what we in ourselves could accomplish. With each child we have the priceless opportunity to teach and train that child for about 20 years. And even afterwards we can continue to influence and instruct and assist our children in some things through the rest of our lives. Even one child well raised can have a mighty impact for God. Who can estimate the possible impact of 10 or 12 children well raised for the Lord? This is probably some of what is alluded to in Psalm 127:5, "They shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate." In other words, parents with many dutiful children tend to do well in confrontations with enemies. A man with many children can be (and ought to be) a man of considerable influence and might with both his community and his church. Why? Because when they are grown, he has the love and support and assistance of a significant number of other family members. As his children's families grow, so does his potential influence. This was well understood by people in earlier times (and is by people in many other cultures). Even in some of the old TV shows from the 1950s and 1960s, the value of family assisting each other was extolled (i.e. "Bonanza" in which the three Cartwright brothers were always assisting each other and their father out of difficult or dangerous situations). The more loyal children parents had, the more their power and influence.
ARE ALL CHILDREN, WHENEVER BORN, BLESSINGS?
Is every child born really a blessing? Is there a time when a child is not truly a blessing? Well the Scripture seems to make no qualification - children are a blessing from God period. But though God intends children to be blessings, the parents may not receive the child as such and may raise the child in a way that prevents the child from being much of a blessing to them or anyone else. It is the parents choice whether to accept the child as the blessing God intended or to regard the child as an unwanted burden.
Is God's timing ever truly wrong? The timing of a given child may seem hard to us or just awfully inconvenient. There might be serious situations that make us think it is an unwise time to bring a child into the world. Perhaps there are huge marital difficulties, perhaps very serious health problems, perhaps a family financial crisis, perhaps mental illness or addiction, or perhaps a war and great suffering and hardship. But even so, there are so numerous examples of how a child has been a tremendous blessing in spite of each of these circumstances. Sometimes the child can be a significant tool in God's hands in resolving marital problems. At other times, a child can become the very joy and blessing of its parents in the midst of otherwise very hard and difficult times. Which of us is wise enough to know what the future holds and to judge when is a truly good or bad time in which to have a child?
Without knowing all that a child's future holds, how can we judge the best time for a child to be born? And even if we think we can, there are problems! We may try to have a child, but there is no telling when or if a child will be conceived. And at the time of conception, we don't truly know what tomorrow holds (James 4:11) - in nine months things may be terribly different! God raised up Esther to be royalty at just the time needed to save the people of Israel from destruction at the hands of Haman. Being born into captivity and being orphaned does not seem ideal to us, but it was God’s perfect timing for the sake of all of His people! Who can say how much depends on, or how many other lives will be touched by a single child and how great the loss to us all will be if that child is not born in God's time?
JUST HOW VALUABLE IS A CHILD?
So just how valuable is a child? How can one place a specific value on another living soul born into a family? Is a child worth $100,000? $1,000,000? $10,000,000? It is impossible to accurately value a child by money! The question is whether we value children properly, as God does. Would we willingly suffer financial hardship to give life to another child? Would we even risk our lives for the sake of a baby? Moses’ parents risked theirs!
Does a child's value decrease with being the 4th or the 8th or the 14th child? Numerous examples can be given of the greatest blessing being received from a child who was born after the birth of many other siblings. Consider Joseph, the 12th child (11th son) of Jacob. Consider David, the 8th son of Jesse. Consider John and Charles Wesley (the 15th and 18th children of their parents). Indeed we have no way of knowing just how great a blessing each child will develop into. Will it be the 1st or the 4th or the 10th child that will really be there for us in our hour of need? In the fictional story of "Little Lord Fauntleroy", a rich and powerful Earl loses all three sons to death in early manhood, but finds a single grandson, born to his youngest, who changes the bitter grandfather's heart and becomes such a blessing to all the people around. Only God knows the future that lies before each of our children and the blessing they may become to us and to many others.
BUT IS IT SOMETIMES IRRESPONSIBLE TO HAVE A CHILD?
But some may ask, "But isn't it a sin to bring children into the world when you cannot provide adequately for them"? ("But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" 1 Tim 5:8 (NAS) )
Take a closer look at this verse in its context and think about it a little. The context is in reference to providing for your widowed mother or perhaps a widowed aunt. It is talking about being selfish and not sharing what you have with your own relatives, leaving them to be supported and cared for by the church when you are well able to do so! It is not addressing how well you are able to provide for those of your family, nor is it condeming the poor man who is struggling to meet the needs of his family. The rebuke is directed at the selfish , the greedy and those who will not work and take responsibility for their own family members. Whatever our means, we are to share with those of our own family who are in need, doing our best to provide for them.
This verse does not even hint at reducing or limiting the number of members of your household so that there will be a greater abundance! I find no place in Scripture where husbands and wives are ever encouraged to prevent conception. Consider, is it ever a sin to accept God's blessings? Or is it ever virtue to reject His blessings?
Do we really think that God will give us a child and not provide us with the essentials with which to raise up this child? Does not God promise to provide for our basic needs, food and covering (Matt 6:25-34)? We are expected by God to work for our bread, but it is He who enables us to work and provides a return to us for our labor. And we are assured by the Bible that He cares for us and knows exactly what we truly need!
Paul admonishes us to be content with food and covering (1 Tim 6:6-8). Does our contentment require houses and land and furniture and electronics and so on? Have we failed to provide for our children and sinned if we are unable to pay $20,000 per year per child for a college education? Or if we are unable to buy each child a car and provide them with the latest name brand clothes, etc.? When we fear not being able to provide materially for another child, is this not the same as being anxious for what we shall eat and drink and wear? Is this not just our fear to trust God to provide for us?
Consider the following:
1. Is it really irresponsible to allow God to bless you? Has God anywhere commanded you to take responsibility for planning the number and timing of your children? Has God anywhere criticized someone for having too many children or not spacing them well?
2. How do you know how many children you can provide well for? Can you see into the future? Have you already learned all that God would have you learn about frugality and using your resources wisely? There are plenty of examples of very large Christian families who seem to do well on very modest incomes. There are also plenty of testimonies concerning God's faithfulness to increase or supplement income as one's family grows.
3. Will God give you more children than you are able to raise well? Will He entrust His blessings to us knowing our inability to care for them adequately? If He does, it is surely part of His plan and He will use it for our benefit (Rom 8:28).
4. How many children can you raise well? How do you know? Even if you feel you are failing as a father or mother, God may still have a special purpose for that additional child. God is not limited by your shortcomings in using that child mightily for His purposes!
Be careful what you call irresponsible - when is trusting God ever irresponsible? Who can be better trusted? Who else loves us so, has the wisdom and ability to see what the future holds and really knows what is best? Or who else has the limitless resources and might with which to provide for us and protect us through every hardship or trial we may encounter in life?
Now there are scriptures indicating that there are times and situations in which it may be best not to marry. But once you are married, multiplying is part of the program - if God so blesses you! And in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 Paul instructs husbands and wives not to abstain from marital relations (perhaps the only practical and reliable birth control available to most people at that time). Marriage is supposed to produce children, even in accord with God's command twice given in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. God never withdrew this command or indicated any advantage or wisdom in trying to prevent our bodies from functioning as He designed.
And neither is modern birth control similar to using modern medicine to treat illnesses. It is one thing to medically treat your body when it is ill, or to surgically remove a part which is misfunctioning and harming the whole body. It is quite another to surgically alter your correctly functioning body or take medications to tamper with correct hormonal balances in order to prevent conception.
HOW MUCH MIGHT GOD BLESS US IF WE LET HIM? HOW BIG IS THE QUIVER?
Does this article scare you to death? It was a topic I was once very fearful about. If you grew up in a family of only 1-3 children (like I did) and nearly everyone you know came from similar families, it is hard to envision a much larger family and how you would cope. You may wonder, if you did trust God for your family size, how many children would He give you? I don’t know, but consider this:
1. Does it really matter? Trust God to decide! You don't need to fear - but you may need to adjust your expectations concerning what is "normal" and what constitutes an "average" verses a "large" family.
2. We can draw inferences from others who have taken this path. We can look at the rare people around us who have followed this pattern for many years. (The few I know had the following number over 20-25 years:1, 4, 5, 12, 14). We can look back in records of earlier times, when birth control methods were few and viewed by most good Christians as sinful. From studying our family’s ancestors, I find an average of about 7-8 children per family during the 1700s and 1800s. I've found a few families of 12 or 13 children, many more with 8-10 children, and a significant number with only 4-6. But it was pretty rare to find a husband and wife living to 50 years of age with only 1 or 2 children. And in the several hundred families I studied, 13 was the largest number of children.
I just recently read of President Theodore Roosevelt’s complaints about the falling American birth rate: from 1800 to 1900 the average birth rate of white women had dropped from seven children to 3.56 children. The birth rate for women in 1800 was probably minimally affected by birth control. The most remarkable record of many children I have come across is that of Susanna Wesley and her mother. Susanna was the 25th and last child of her mother and she herself had 19 children (at least 2 sets of twins among these). But only 10 of her children lived and some number of her mother’s children died early also. Yet God remarkably gifted these women to be good mothers for all their children!
We can also look at records in the Bible of people's families. Abraham & Sarah (1); Isaac & Rebekah (2); Jacob (13 - but with 4 wives); Moses (2); Jesse (8 sons); etc. There are others that are pointed out in the Bible as blessed with unusually large families or unusually large numbers of sons. In 1 Chronicles 26:4-5 we are told that Obed-edom had eight sons, with the comment that God had indeed blessed him. Similarly we see Job being very blessed with seven sons and three daughters. These are among the larger families mentioned in the Scriptures, other than those where many wives were involved. And these are people who appear to have wanted just as many children as possible! This all shows that God causes a lot of variety in terms of how many children each couple has. His plan for you may be very different from the next person.
3. We can consider what seems likely given the way God has made our bodies. (Assuming God neither withheld children nor did anything but let our bodies function in accord with His design). In theory, a woman could have about one child a year for her entire child bearing years. Assuming marriage at about age 20, a woman might be able to have children for about 30-35 years. Practicality is a bit different though, as a woman's fertility tends to decline in the last 10 years. In fact ovulation often completely ceases years before the menstrual cycles cease.
But you just don't find women now or in the historical past with anything approaching thirty to thirty five children, even when marriages as early as age 16 were common (except perhaps a few remarkable women who had multiple sets of twins or triplets, etc.). Besides the fact of near infertility for 5 or more years prior to menopause, having children as close together as one year for an extended period is somewhat unusual. When women nurse their babies fully there is usually at least a year and a half, if not two years minimum between babies. And as a woman ages there seems to be a pattern of children being spaced out more without any effort on the couples' part. The 1-2 year gap becomes 4 and then 6, etc. A number of around 12-14 children tends to be the practical limit for all but the most unusual women. (Of course you could be the next Susanna Wesley!)
All children are given by God to be blessings to their parents (even to the ungodly). A “quiver full” of children is a great blessing, but is not part of God’s plan for everyone. Some people very favored by God will not be blessed with children at all or will be blessed with very few (i.e. Abraham with Sarah; Isaac & Rebekah; Zachariah & Elizabeth). But whether or not God chooses to bless us in this way, we should learn to value children as He does and welcome each and every one.
We should not fear having a large family and we should view a large family (8, 10, 12, 14 children) as very good and desirable! And we should trust God, that if He so blesses, He will continue to provide for us all that we truly need, including the need for the means, strength and ability to raise a large family well!
Posted: January 8, 2005 6:12 PM