Digging in Deeper: Zechariah 13:3

“If a man still prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You cannot remain alive because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord.’ When he prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will pierce him through.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

How tolerant are you when your children do something wrong? I guess it depends on what kind and how severe of a wrong it is. It also depends on how much of a perfectionist you are and how tired you are and how willing you are to bear with the process of addressing the wrong at the moment. It probably also depends on how old they are and how much intention was involved in their doing it. In other words, it just depends. Okay, let me change the question just a bit and ask it again: How tolerant are you when your children sin? That question may sound similar, but it’s different and its answer matters a whole lot more.

Sometimes you read something in the Scriptures that grabs your attention and won’t let go. There are many inspiring passages that do this. There are several stories that are absolutely gripping. There are some commands that are just bizarre. And then there are verses like this one.

Listen to this verse one more time. “If a man still prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You cannot remain alive because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord.’ When he prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will pierce him through.”

Did you catch that? This verse is talking about a time when parents will actively put their own children to death because of their sin. In case that wasn’t clear, I said, “To death.” As in, dead. As a door nail. With their own hands. What?!?!?!?!?!?!?

How could that ever be the case? How could anyone even develop the slightest glimmer of a thought that this would be something that is okay? What kind of psycho parent would put their own children to death because they sinned? You see, this is what’s wrong with the Bible. It contains stuff like this that crazy literalists use to justify doing unspeakably awful things.

Okay, let’s step back just a bit and take a breath. Let me say here that I am categorically opposed to the notion that it would ever in any circumstances be morally appropriate for parents to put their children to death for anything. Furthermore, I don’t think that’s what Zechariah is really advocating for here. He’s using graphic language phrased in terms they understood (keep in mind, there was a law that commanded parents to put incorrigibly rebellious children to death by their own hands—a law that was fulfilled in Christ who paid the penalty for theirs and our sins Himself and thus does not apply any longer) to make a point.

Well then, what is His point? Consider the context. He’s casting a vision of the total restoration God intends to bring to His people. He’s describing a time when the people will be completely cleansed from their sins. Sin will be removed from their midst and they won’t tolerate its returning to their ranks in any way, shape, or form.

But killing their own children? Again: This is using graphic language to make a point about how opposed to sin the people will be. But killing their own children? Stick with the bigger picture of intolerance for sin and come back to the second question I asked back at the beginning: How tolerant are you when your own children (or someone else in your life in whom you have a similarly significant emotional and relational investment) sin?

The fact is, we’re usually pretty tolerant of it. In young children we often think it’s cute. In older children, it makes us angrier, but more because of the inconvenience of it than because of what it does in them. So then, let me change my question up just a bit more: How tolerant should we be of sin in those we love? The answer: Not even a little bit tolerant.

Think about it. What does sin do? Lots of things, but most notably here it separates us from God. And what does separation from God bring? Death. If we treat sin in our children, or anyone else we love, as anything less than a kind of poison that will eventually kill them, however slowly that end may come, then we are not loving them as fully as we should.

Now, this doesn’t mean we need to jump all over them in anger when they sin. God Himself doesn’t do that with us. Patience and gentle instruction are often incredibly effective tools at rooting out sin from their lives. But we cannot treat it as if it doesn’t matter. And we should always keep the bigger picture in mind: They need Jesus or they will eventually die an eternal death in their sin.

Whenever we see our children sinning, we need to address it. We need to call them on it. We need to show them by our love what the better path is and encourage them to take it. We need to hold them accountable when they sin and punish them in a manner that is wise and instructive. We need to call them patiently, but firmly to the path of righteousness and make sure we are walking it ourselves. Let us point them and live toward a day when sin will be gone entirely. This is rarely easy, but it is what love requires. And it will always lead us down a path of life.

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