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Turning the Hearts of the Children to the Fathers

In answer to the question: "Who are 'The Fathers' mentioned in Malachi 4:6 and Luke 1:17?" by Dean VanDruff.

Mal 4:6 (NIV) "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

Luke 1:17 (NIV) "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

I have always thought there was a problem with a "low-level" interpretation of this prophecy as interpreted by Promise Keepers and the men's movement in general--as having to do with the father / child relationship. For fathers and children have done rather well historically, and it is in modern times that this has mostly gone awry; and appears likely to get worse before the return of Christ. So it is hard to see how a few fathers swimming against this tide (a good thing, to be sure) is a fulfillment of this prophecy. Rather, the overall trend is just the opposite. More deadbeat dads, more abuse (especially girls), more selfishness (on the part of both children and dads) and less love is the rule; and we have reason to believe it will only get worse (scripture on this momentarily).

Second, Jesus seemed to have a rather cavalier attitude about his own human parents. "Woman, what have I to do with you?" (Jn 2:4) to his mother, and "I must be about my Father's business" to his stepdad, (Lk 2:49) and the like.

Mat 12:48 (NIV) He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

This is a fairly radical statement, but I think we would do well to take Jesus' "family mindset" seriously. Thus, I don't get the idea that God is looking to fulfill the prophecy you are asking about in our modern, literal interpretation; although if it does mean this (incidentally) it would be really great--even as an eddy-current. As a friend of mine often says, perhaps the prophecy should be interpreted spiritually and literally, as is sometimes the case. But I cannot see any dynamic or reason to think that things will get better in the "literal" regard--concerning this--in general before the end, but rather considerably worse instead. Worse, in fact, than has ever been seen on this planet.

Mark 13:12 (NIV) "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death."

Given this, what does the "fathers and sons" prophetic text mean? Well, to state what it does not mean one more time:

Mat 23:9 (NIV) "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven."

Again, this is a difficult verse to take completely literally, but obviously Jesus said it for a clear spiritual reason. He wants for us to think like He did, not trying to please men (even earthly father and mother) but God. If we please God, then we will honor our earthly parents, not by aiming at that but rather by imputed righteousness that comes by grace through faith. I am living proof that this works, but that is another story.

Onto the positive case of my interpretation. What I think "fathers" and "children" mean in this context has to do with the uniquely Jewish orientation and central theme of generation or progeny in scripture: of "who made you" or "where you come from" and "whose 'seed' you are". The Jews were very big on pedigree, tribe, etc., as God instructed them to be in the Old Covenant. This frames one of the major conflicts between the unbelieving Jews and Jesus.

Mat 3:9 (NIV) "And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham."

Interesting, eh? Has this to do with "fathers" and "children"? You bet! If we let scripture interpret scripture, we begin to see the interpretation unfold. Here's a few more verses along the line of "the fathers" to underscore the point.

Acts 7:15 (NIV) Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our fathers died.

2Pet 3:4 (NIV) They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."

This "fathers" mindset was the basic assumption at the time the New Testament was written, and would have been (I would suggest) how any reader would have interpreted the term "fathers" back then--not to a bunch of people's (plural) "fathers" (plural again) literally, but spiritually the "fathers of our faith".

This "father" issue was a major "stumbling stone" for the Jews, as Jesus appeared to be illegitimate. They thus taunt Jesus with being a "momser" (bastard; momsers had certain limited rights in Jewish law, they could come into the temple outer courts, for example, but no further...) and Jesus responds with His famous retort... which is very much to our purpose of seeing into spiritual fatherhood...

John 8:39-44 (NIV) "Abraham is our father," they answered. "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me... Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire."

Get it? It is all about spiritual parentage and posterity.

John 8:53,57-58 (NIV) "Are you greater than our father Abraham?... Who do you think you are?"... "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"

The Jews figured they were of "father Abraham" genetically, so they were "in" with God, so to speak. But Jesus told them they were "Of their father, the devil".

Seeing this, then, opens up the meaning of the verse you are interested in.

2Cor 4:18 (NIV) So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now I am half Arabic by decent, so I hark from Abraham on the Ishmael (flesh) and Esau side (they intermingled and became the "'ites" and "'ines" that oppressed the Jews later), so I can say (like the Jews) that I am "from" Abraham as well--after the flesh--even if from the wrong side of the family <smiles>. But this I count as "dung" (to quote Paul) compared to a new, eternal, and spiritual relationship that I have with God... and thus Abraham and David and Ezekiel and Moses and Jeremiah and Paul and C.S. Lewis and Richard Wurmbrand. For these are my spiritual "fathers" in the faith.

John 1:13 (NIV) Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

1Pet 1:23 (NIV) For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

There are many verses along this line, but here is one of the wildest and most instructive:

Gal 4:22-31 (NIV) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband." Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Did you get what was "wild" about this? He is saying the unbelieving Jews (in Jerusalem) are "sons of Hagar" (which they are not, physically) and that is why they are persecuting the spiritual "children of promise" of Sarah "the free woman", who are the Gentiles (in context) Paul is writing to! The Jews "born in the ordinary way" now persecute the children "born by the power of the Spirit", that is Gentiles and Jews (physically) who are born again into the family line of Sarah by the Spirit. "At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now." Boy howdy, is that ever true! But near the end, those born of this heavenly seed will begin to have their hearts turned to their spiritual father's (and mother's) in the faith, and vice versa.

Here it is, then. I believe the prophecy means our spiritual, not physical, fathers; that rather than listening only to the pop-christian luminaries du jour, we are finally turning back to listen to the fathers Moses, Abraham, John, and Paul. As Jesus put it, "If you were Abraham's children, then you would do the things Abraham did." (Jn 8:39) Amen. The heart of the children are turned to the fathers... and vice verse. "Abraham saw it, and was glad!" (Jn 8:56)

Beyond just a "turning", as we have it in English, there is a deeper meaning of repentance. We look with understanding, we are finally able to "get it", to relate to them and to their struggles, and to take comfort and encouragement from them. This turning is more than just knowledge or facts, their lives and faith soak into our hearts and give us hope. The Psalms suddenly spring to life and make perfect sense to us! Instead of feeling alone we sense the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) urging and encouraging us onwards. Some of these might even be related to us physically, but that is hardly salient! It is the spiritual progeny that matters.

Paul speaks in this way, perhaps with the verse of our consideration in mind.

2Cor 6:11-13 (NIV) We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange--I speak as to my children--open wide your hearts also.

1Cor 4:14-16 (NIV) I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Paul speaks "as a father". This, then, is how I interpret the prophetic verse. I find it true in my heart as well. My heart is finally turned to the "fathers" (plural). I am "getting it"; and I suspect all along they were "open hearted" towards me. For I am born of heavenly seed, and live a life of "promise" and not "the ordinary way" or of "perishable" seed. God is after the eternal, not the ephemeral.

Isa 51:2 (NIV) Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.

Mal 4:6 (NIV) "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

Luke 1:17 (NIV) And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Mark 1:3(NIV) "'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"


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