Why would God say that He would strike the earth with a curse if the hearts of the fathers would not be turned toward their children? I am referring to Malachi 4:6 which declares “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest [or otherwise] I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” This comes just before God’s thunderous warning, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Mal 4:5). Clearly, this was speaking about John the Baptist which was said of him that “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17). Jesus affirms this in Matthew 11:12-15 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Were these “children” the children of Israel? Were these God’s children? Does Malachi refer to the children of our day, to the children of any day or to the fathers living today? Malachi was giving a prophecy of what would precede the coming of the Lord. John would come in the spirit of Elijah and is believed by many to be the very last of the Old Testament prophets, even though he shows up in the New Testament. Jesus was speaking about John, in the spirit of Elijah, to those who were then in Judea because He said, “to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates” (Matt 11:16). He began to pronounce “woes” to them. Every time you hear a woe mentioned, it is a judgment from God Himself. John the Baptist was extremely respected and popular, even long after his death and he did turn many of the father’s hearts to the Lord and these “children’s” hearts were turned toward God the Father. But why would Malachi decree utter destruction on the land if the father’s hearts were not turned to their children?
Father’s hearts had to be turned to their children because they were obviously not aimed toward their children in the first place. The word “turn” is close to what repentance is like, which means to turn around and go the other direction. If the father’s hearts were already aimed at their children, there would be no need for them to turn their hearts toward their children in the first place. It could almost be read like this: If fathers, in their hearts repents, then the children’s hearts would be turned toward their fathers. What happens if a father’s heart is not turned toward the Lord or if their father’s have not repented? What’s so important about the fathers anyway and why does a curse seem to be tied to their not turning their hearts to their children?
When Fathers are Absent
What happens when father’s hearts are turned away from their children? Just read these stunning statistics from 2006 from a study done by the Department of Health and Human Services:
A whopping 42% of female-headed households with children were poor, compared with 8% of families with children who had a father in the home.
Girls without fathers in their lives are 2.5 times more likely to get pregnant and 53% more likely to commit suicide.
Boys without fathers in their lives are 63% more likely to run away from home and 37% more likely to use drugs.
Boys and girls without father involvement are twice as likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to go to jail and nearly four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems.
Even when fathers are living with the family, the average American father spends only 7 ½ uninterrupted minutes per week with his children while the family watches TV for nearly 35 hours a week! What a discrepancy. It’s so much easier to stick them in front of a TV or DVD movie than take the trouble of talking to them about their day or playing catch with them in the backyard. Why not have a family night of playing games or watching a family-friendly movie? Sadly, most of the TV programming is tuned into talent shows, reality shows, or worse, a violence-filled movie. The old American tradition of eating together as a family is gone as it happens, on average, about 1 to 2 times a week.
A Vicious Cycle
Perhaps the reason that they say history repeats itself is because we don’t learn from it. Our children will become the parents we are today. If fathers spend less than 10 minutes a week engaged in conversation with their children, you can bet that they will do the same thing with their children. If the father leaves the family to fend for themselves, the possibility for this cycle to repeat itself is more than tripled. When children are exposed to absent parents, divorced parents, and present-only-in-body fathers, they will see this as the norm and tend to repeat the pattern, thus creating a vicious cycle that repeats itself generation after generation. And when the family breaks down, in time so will the nation. The break down of a nation starts at the level of the nuclear family and when the families break down, the nation is cursed because there is no strong leadership. That makes Malachi 4:6 make much more sense now. I never knew my father and so I determined to break the cycle of my family. My children, and now my grandchildren, will know and have known their father and grandfather. I attend as many events as I can like band concerts, plays, music programs, special programs, sporting events…you name it. They’ll remember that their father or grandfather was their and that he was there cheering them on. This shows them that your hearts are aimed at them and it clearly reveals your love for them.
God Speaks to Fathers
Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Colossians 3:19, 21 “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them….Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
Psalm 127:3 “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
Disciple Equals Love
Father’s, we must be a strong, controlling influence in our homes. As our children grow older, their father’s hands are like the reins on a horse. In our today’s society our guidance becomes increasingly important. Boys especially need a strong male image to identify with. It is critical to remember that we are not their buddies or best friends. First and foremost, we are their fathers. Discipline and reprimands are essential elements of their maturing. Discipline doesn’t come from anger but from love. It is a disapproval of the child’s actions and not a disapproval of the child. Discipline is love. Even God says that He corrects every son that He loves (Heb 12:6, Prov 3:12). The opposite of love is not hate…it is indifference. Harsh, angry tones and bitterness will only provoke children to be the same way and we are commanded not to do this (Eph 6:4). Ruling with an iron fist will only make rebellious children.
Make sure children understand that discipline is done in love not in anger and that the discipline is based on disapproval of the actions of the child and not of the child themselves. Discipline is necessary but must be exercised patiently and for the good of all concerned.
Father’s, love your wives. When fathers love their wives in the presence of their children, they are revealing what is essential in their coming to understand what a godly, marital relationship should be. Who cares if they roll their eyes or feign embarrassment. Praise your wife in front of your children and do it in public too. Believe me from experience…they will not forget. Remember the saying that “more is caught than taught.”
Fathers, my challenge to you is this…be a man, be strong, lead your family well, teach your children and encourage them to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus, and love your wife as Christ loves the church.
Jack Wellman is Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible.