When Should You Kill Your Son?

by Joseph Franks

Imagine the scene. A Hebrew husband and wife are lying in bed exhausted from the day’s activities. The husband was up and off to work well before dawn. All day long he toiled for his family, and his bride was no desperate housewife. She filled her day working in the home and marketplace after the manner described in Proverbs 31. Both of them were godly and diligent. Both of them were industrious and exhausted. And on this particular night, both of them were frustrated and almost despairing. Why? Their teenage son was an ungrateful, uncontrollable, unashamed, unrepentant rebel. For many months he had been following this trajectory, and now life for the family was unbearable. They loved their son, but he was ripping apart their marriage, their family, and their local community; and he would not relent. So that evening, the godly husband and wife found themselves in bed, in tears, and contemplating the words of Moses:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

Little sleep was had that night. Was tomorrow the day they would summon the elders and the men of the city? Was tomorrow the day in which their son’s incorrigible wickedness would come to an end?

When one reads of this practice, a host of questions come to mind:

  • Where is the love, mercy and grace?  (Answer: Here we see love for God, God’s holiness, God’s reputation, and God’s family still under their roof.)
  • How wicked must the son prove to be?  (Answer: His particular sin or degree of wickedness is not the problem. All sinners may find mercy, grace and pardon. But no sinner may find such from God or God’s church when they live in their sin and willfully refuse to repent.)
  • Does God really consider disobedience, gluttony and drunkenness to be similar sins?  (Answer: Yes, God abhors a lack of self-control in whatever manner it is expressed.)
  • Does God really consider disobedience, gluttony and drunkenness to be sins worthy of capital punishment?  (Answer: Yes, when they are not repented of. And it gets even worse than this, for these sins result in eternal damnation for those who do not find pardon through the work of Jesus Christ.)
  • Would the father be required to cast the first stone and be included in the stoning squad?  (Answer: Most likely. It was common for Israelites to have “skin in the game” when bringing matters before a court.)
  • What affect would this have had on family and community life? (Answer: One can only imagine how this practice would have impacted the younger teenagers in the camp. Especially moved would be the siblings of the executed son. The “yes sirs” and “no sirs” must have come a bit quickly following this tragic exercise of family justice. All those in the family of God would “hear and fear.”)

However, perhaps we should leave considering these two additional questions:

  • What sort of a father could actually kill his own son?
  • What sort of a father could actually kill his own righteous and obedient son, as a substitute for another disobedient, gluttonous, and drunken rebel?

We know the answer to these questions. God the Father abhors all sin. He cannot allow it in heaven. It cannot exist in the place where his family dwells. And when he looks at the incorrigible sin of his children, he has the right to pursue justice and expel them from his midst. All those executed by the Father receive fair justice; they receive only that which they have earned and deserved. However, God the Father desires to be both just and gracious. So, in justice he crucifies his only Son in order to show undeserved love to unworthy, adopted children.

Friends, this is the Gospel. The perfectly righteous, obedient, and self-controlled Son of God took the execution of the Father so we who are characterized by sinful rebellion might be granted life in the Father’s house. Will you die for your own insubordination? Or, will you come in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ who unfairly dies for sordid sinners?

And this should also have an impact on our parental discipline. As we see the sinfulness of our children, let us recall that which we deserve, and then let us be very, very careful before casting the first stone. Shall not we, who have received incredible forgiveness from the Father, grant such incredible forgiveness to our rebellious children? Sure, there will come a time when tough disciplinary measures are required. (Execution is now off the table.) We would not be considered unfaithful by withholding the discipline expected by God. (Remember Eli.) But may these tough disciplinary measures only be enacted by parents who are presently humbled by their own reception of undeserved Fatherly grace.

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