Parenting With Hope In the Worst of Times
Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires. 2 The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. 3 Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. 4 The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge.
The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. 5 Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; 6 for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
7 But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. 8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. 9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. 10 Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.
11 A day for the building of your walls! In that day the boundary shall be far extended. 12 In that day they will come to you, from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. 13 But the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their deeds.
14 Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, who dwell alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things. 16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; 17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God, and they shall be in fear of you.
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. 20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.
We conclude a series on spiritual parenting today. The title I have chosen for this last message is “Parenting with Hope in the Worst of Times.” There are no times that are easy for bearing and rearing children. The point of Genesis 3 is that as soon as sin entered the world, childbearing and childrearing became very difficult. The Lord said to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). And after she and Adam had raised two boys, one of them killed the other.
The Only Way to Be Free
The point of that story is that sin is now in the world—in every parent and in every child. And this is the sort of thing that sin does. It ruins people, and it ruins families. The main problem in the world is the power of indwelling sin. And it is a power. It is a force, a defect, a depravity, a corruption in the human soul. It is not a series of free choices. Sin is a powerful bondage that destroys human freedom.
The only way for a human to be free—for a parent or a child to be free—is to be born again by the Spirit of God; embrace Jesus Christ as Savior; be forgiven for sin by the Creator of the universe; and receive the Holy Spirit as the only counter-power to the power of sin. That is the only hope for the world and for parents and children. This is always true in every age.
No Easy Times for Parenting
So there are no easy times for bearing and raising children into humble, loving, righteous, creative, productive, Christ-exalting adults. There are no easy times. But some times are harder than others. And whether they are harder or not may depend on your personal circumstances or societal circumstances.
My desire today is to help you parent with hope in the worst of circumstances. And I mean both worst at home, and worst in culture. And for those who are not parents, everything I say applies to you, because how to have hope in the worst of times is the same for everybody. We just need it for different reasons.
The Prophet Micah
The Jewish prophet Micah preached during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (Micah 1:1). That’s about 750 to 687 B.C. The clearest statement of why he came onto the scene is given in Micah 3:8,
But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.
Proclaiming Judgment and Mercy
God sent prophets to make plain to the people their sin. And with their sin the prophets proclaimed judgment, and they proclaimed mercy. This is how it is all through the Bible: Judgment and Mercy. Judgment and Mercy. God is holy and righteous, and sends judgment on sinful people. And God is merciful and patient and compassionate, and rescues sinful people from his judgment. Micah makes this clear in Micah 4:10,
Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
and dwell in the open country;
you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
there the Lord will redeem you
from the hand of your enemies.
The Lord is going to send them into Babylon in judgment. And he is going to bring them back to their land in mercy.
Punishment Is Coming
In chapter 7, Micah refers to parenting in the worst of times—worst at home and worst in the culture. Verse 1: “Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” He may be talking about how destitute he is for food. But I suspect he is speaking metaphorically of being destitute of godly friends and associates. Because he goes on to say, verses 2–3: “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together.” The leaders are corrupt. They conspire (“weave”) to do as much evil as they can, and to do it well.
Verse 4: “The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge.” If Micah tries to get near them, they stick him. “The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand.” So the watchman who is appointed to see the enemy coming—his day is soon here. Punishment is coming.
Even Wife and Children
Now Micah brings it from the culture to the neighborhood and the family. Verse 5: “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms.” In other words, sin and corruption and deceit are so pervasive that you need to watch out, lest even your wife betray you—“her who lies in your arms.”
Now to the children. Verse 6: “For the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” There are five people in this picture. A father and a mother. A son and a daughter. And a daughter-in-law. So the son is married. Micah has already said that things are uncertain between the husband and wife (“Guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms”). And now he says the son is rising up against his father. And the daughter is rising up against her mother, and the daughter-in-law is siding with the daughter against the mom. Micah even calls them the man’s enemies. At the end of verse 6: “A man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” He refers specifically to the sons. It seems the daughters are focusing their animosity on his wife. But he feels it.
Now this is heartbreaking. Some of you live in exactly this situation. This is the worst of times. The culture is corrupt, and the marriage and family are in crisis. That’s the picture in Micah 7. For some of you, that’s the picture today. And for others, it will be tomorrow.
Jesus Brings This About?
Before I point you to Micah’s hope in this situation, I want you to see what Jesus did with this family portrait in verse 6. Turn to Matthew 10:34–36. Jesus describes the effect of his coming: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [Then he uses Micah 7:6.] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
Here are the same five people, the same reference to enemies in your own home, but one striking difference. Jesus says that he brought it about. Verse 35: “I have come to set a man against his father. . .” He doesn’t mean, of course, that he loves to break up families. What he means is that his radical call to discipleship does disrupt relationships. One believes, another doesn’t. A father follows Jesus, a son doesn’t. A son follows Jesus, a father doesn’t. A daughter follows Jesus, a mother doesn’t.
Why Jesus Here?
The point of bringing Jesus into the picture here first is to show that the breakdown in the family in Micah’s day is not necessarily owing only to corruption in the family. It may be owing to righteousness in the family. Everything may have been going smoothly until someone got serious about God, and about his covenant, and his word. Then the accusations began to fly. “You think you’re so much better, now that you’ve got religion! Things were fine, and now you think the rest of us should get fixed.”
And the other reason for mentioning Jesus’ use of this text is to show that there was nothing unique about Micah’s day. It was true in the 8th century B.C. It was true in the first century A.D. And it is true in the 21st century. For somebody, it’s always the worst of times, even if it’s not for you.
What, then, does Micah have to say about parenting with hope in the worst of times?
What Micah Has to Say: Brokenhearted Boldness
He describes himself—I suspect as a representative father and a representative of the people of Israel—and the posture he takes is one of brokenhearted boldness. That’s the essence of what I want to say to you about parenting in the worst of times. Do it from the posture of brokenhearted boldness. And to make sure you know what I mean by “brokenhearted” and what I mean by “boldness,” we need to ask: What’s he brokenhearted about? And on what basis can he be so bold? Let’s look at verses 7–9 to get the answer to those two questions. What’s he brokenhearted about? And how can he be so bold?
Not in Self-Righteousness
Right after saying in verse 6, “A man’s enemies are the men of his own house,” he says in verse 7, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” So in the worst of times, we look to the Lord. We may have tried looking elsewhere. Nothing works. Everything breaks. We thought maybe we could make the family work. Maybe these children were in our power to shape any way we chose. Maybe with just the right marriage books, deeply mutual trust and respect and admiration and affection would be in our power. And now. Now we look to the Lord.
But be careful. Is Micah looking to the Lord in self-righteousness? Such a thing is possible. Is he saying, “I did everything right—all a dad should do. If this family is not working, my heart is broken, but I’m not the problem. They are.” Is that the posture of this man? No, it is not. And I hope it won’t be yours either.
Sinned Against But Conscious of Our Own Sin
Listen to what he says in verses 8 and 9. Listen for the boldness and the brokenness. Why is he broken?
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
Don’t miss the beginning of verse 9, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.” The reason this is so important for spouses and parents to see is that he says it in the context of being really sinned against. In verse 8, he tells his enemy (maybe his son or his wife), “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” Don’t gloat over me. And in verse 9 in the middle, he says, the Lord will plead my cause and execute judgment for me, not against me. “He will bring me out to the light; I will look upon his vindication.”
In other words, he knows that he is being sinned against. He knows that some of their accusations are wrong. He knows that God is for him and not against him. God will bring him out of darkness and into the light; he will vindicate him. He is bold in this confidence and this assertion. Amazingly bold. Nevertheless, what he draws attention to in order to explain the Lord’s indignation and his own darkness is his own sin. “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.”
Why So Brokenhearted
So here’s my answer to the question: Why is he brokenhearted? It is not mainly that he is being sinned against in the family, but that he sins. The posture of parenting with hope in the worst of times is the posture of brokenhearted boldness. And the brokenheartedness is owing first to his own sin, and only then to being sinned against. This is the great battle we face. Will we find, by God’s grace, the kind of humility that enables us to see our families and ourselves that way?
How So Bold
Second question: How can he be so bold, if he has sinned? How can he talk the way he does when his own sin is so prominent in his mind? Where does this kind of boldness come from? “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise. . . . God will execute judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.”
The answer is given at the end of the chapter. And the fact that it comes as the last thing in the whole book, and that it comes with such emphasis, shows how utterly crucial it is in the book—indeed, in the whole Bible. Verses 18–19:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
The reason Micah is so bold in his brokenness is because he knows God. He knows what is really amazing and unique about God. “Who is a God like you?” That means: There is no God like you. Your ways are higher than our ways. Your ways are higher than any deity in the world. And what is your uniqueness? You pardon iniquity and pass over the transgression of your people. Thus the peculiar uniqueness about the God of the Bible—and there is no other God.
Going Deep with God’s Pardon
How then do you parent with hope in the worst of times? How do you parent with hope when your own family may be divided three against two and two against three? You look to the Lord. You cry out to the Lord (verse 7). And you cry to him with two very deep convictions. One is that you are a sinner and that you don’t deserve anything from God. We have not been perfect parents. We have sinned. And we are not foolish or naïve. We know we have also been sinned against. But everything in our flesh wants to think about that. Only the Holy Spirit can make us see our own sin. Only the Holy Spirit can make us feel our own guilt. That’s one deep conviction.
The other is that there is no God like our God, who pardons iniquity and passes over transgression, and relents from anger, and delights in steadfast love. We are just as deeply convinced of this as we are that we have sinned against our spouse and that we have sinned against our children, and that in all this we have sinned against God. Do you see how both are crucial—how they work together, each making the depth of the other possible? If you don’t feel your sin and guilt, you won’t go deep with the pardon of God. But it works the other way, and this is crucial in families: If you don’t know the depths of God’s pardon, you won’t go deep with your own sin.
These two deep convictions produce the posture of brokenhearted boldness. And that’s the posture for parenting with hope in the worst of times. Broken for our sin in the vortex of being sinned against, and bold because, “Who is a pardoning God like you!”
Brokenhearted Boldness—Intensified in Jesus
And for Christians both halves of this posture are grounded and intensified by knowing Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross. For Micah, Jesus was only a hope in chapter 5: “But you, O Bethlehem . . . from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . . . He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5:2, 4). This good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). And when he did, we saw with greater clarity than ever the greatness of our sin (that required that extent of suffering) and the greatness of God’s resolve to pardon it. And so the brokenheartedness and the boldness are intensified.
So if you are parenting in the worst of times, or want to get ready for parenting in the worst of times, or simply want hope in the worst of times, look at Micah and look at Jesus and take this posture: brokenness because of your sin, and boldness because of Christ. Then in the power of the Holy Spirit, set your heart on being the best imperfect parent you can be—for Jesus’ sake.