THE STATISTICS INUNDATE US TO THE POINT OF NEAR-DESPAIR. Fifteen million American children live in poverty. Nearly one-half of all children in the U.S. live with only one parent. The school dropout rate stands at 25 percent overall, and 50 percent for minority students; many urban districts report dropout rates as high as 65 percent. Beyond the obvious problems of divorce, adultery, wife and child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and a general tone of immorality, our society encourages accountability to no one.
In such a world, children need to learn more than merely how to “make it through” the first eighteen years. Their training must be aimed primarily toward deferred and eternal goals to develop them into godly adult leaders for new families, and more broadly, for the church.
We can see some of the qualities they need by looking in an unlikely place—by viewing the behavior of displaced children of the Bible. Three texts in the Old Testament give us a look at how some young people acted when removed from the influence of their homes.
Live by Biblical Standards
As we encounter the now-famous Hebrew children in the Book of Daniel, the ancient calendar stands at approximately 600 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar rules as king in Babylon, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are young adults. The idolatrous king had made a gold image ninety feet high and nine feet wide, requiring all officials of the realm to bow before it. Since such behavior would obviously violate their Hebrew monotheism, the young men refused, even under threat of death.
What observable behavior can we see in Daniel 3:16–18? The response of these three to a pagan king demonstrates total faith in God’s power and God’s choice, leaving the fate of their lives exclusively in His hand.
Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Christian children nurtured by godly parents and caring congregation must know the standards of godly living, believe the standards of godly living, and value the standards of godly living. Too often parents bemoan certain kinds of behavior without considering the dynamics which produced it.
Know That God Hears Prayer
Some fifty years after the incident of the fiery furnace we find another demonstration of kidnapped faith in action. Daniel had come to Babylon as a teenager in 605 B.C.; now he presides as a senior official in an alien land. Though over eighty years old, his behavior still reflects those lessons of godliness learned in his Israeli homeland during his childhood years.
The temptation sounds familiar: a godly man required by a pagan government to transfer his allegiance from Yahweh to an earthly king and to demonstrate it in public. How does Daniel respond?
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help (Dan. 6:10–11).
Believe in God’s Power
Ben-Hadad II ruled Syria from 860 to 841 B.C. His successful and courageous military commander, Naaman, suffered from leprosy. Had he lived in Israel he would have been isolated; not so in Aram.
In his household served a young slave girl. Learning of her master’s leprosy, she uttered the only two sentences history has ever recorded from her lips: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3).
The child’s witness reflects a life of deep faith. Only recently snatched from her mother’s arms, the little girl demonstrated concern for others, a clear-cut knowledge of God’s power and, more importantly, a living faith in that power. Her spiritual maturity reached far beyond her years, and her family training reflects the importance of experience in the rearing of children.
Our children need to see God at work in their lives and their families. Christian parents can show children how to use God’s Word by showing them how to test and prove their heavenly Father in real life: school work, health, family crises, dating, job problems, and a host of other day-to-day activities requiring divine involvement.
The oldest of our vignettes takes us back to Egypt in about 1895 B.C. Again the captive is a slave. Young Joseph had a tough life back in Canaan, and also now in Egypt. When faced with the lustful maneuvering of Potiphar’s wife he replied, “‘How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’…He left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house” (Gen. 39:9, 12).
Somehow an obnoxious teenager becomes a valiant young warrior for the Lord, and we can attribute the dramatic change only to the intervention of God’s miraculous hand.
The incident described in Genesis 39 offers some useful lessons. Joseph had a highly developed sense of responsibility, making a predetermined decision about how to respond in a moment of temptation. He faced no need to search within himself, attempting to determine the appropriate behavior for the moment. Much like modern teenagers, Joseph regularly encountered difficult decisions. He chose purity, a selection motivated by his sense of accountability to God. Contrast this with what we’re told today—that decisions to resist premarital sex should rest merely on cultural limitations such as AIDS or other social or physical risks.
Meaningless anecdotes of past? From the past, indeed, but hardly meaningless. To handle successfully the challenges they’ll face when they’re on their own, young believers (and actually all of us) need to avoid sin, believe in prayer, know and practice biblical standards, and have faith in God’s power—lessons learned from kidnapped children.