“She is just like her mother.” “He is exactly like his dad.” It is amazing how much children favor their parents, especially when they become adults. They look like their parents. They talk and walk and sit like them. They respond with the same words, gestures and facial expressions. For good or bad, the Jewish proverb “Like mother, like daughter” (Ezekiel 16:44) is probably more true than we like to admit. We clearly see how others imitate their parents but fail to realize that we do the same. The influence of both mother and father is strong—so strong, in fact, that we can be tempted to think that it predetermines a child’s destiny in this life and in the next. An old Bible story puts this in perspective.
The first king of Israel was a little man in a big man’s body. Saul was rash and unreasonable. He was quick-tempered and vindictive. He was prideful, jealous and harsh. He did only the things God told him to do that he found useful and disregarded the rest. He had one standard for himself and a different set of rules for others. His own words describe him best: “I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21). But even that confession was not clean. The prophet Samuel had warned him earlier when he disobeyed God and tried to justify himself, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). He would not listen to God and so God refused to hear him. In the end he consulted a witch and the next day committed suicide.
Jonathan was the son of this self-centered, self-willed man, but he was different from his father. That difference stood out in how they related to one who was a man after God’s own heart––David. Saul envied David and was afraid of him; he “became David’s enemy continually” (1 Samuel 18:29). But Jonathan was the best friend David ever had. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his old soul” (I Samuel 18:1). That friendship almost cost him his life.
Jonathan protected David and his father was so furious that he had the audacity to accuse Jonathan of being just like his mother (“a perverse rebellious woman”) and threw a spear at him to try to kill him (1 Samuel 20:30-34). When this happened, Jonathan “rose from the table in fierce anger.” But he refused to become the bitter, unjust man his father was. He was loyal to Israel to the end in spite of his father the king and died in a fierce battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 31).
Jonathan was like Hezekiah, Josiah and others in the Bible. He rose above his upbringing. How? There were other influences in his life, but the simple answer is that he chose to be better. His example is rare, but a true Christian is rare in the overall picture. Even in the worst homes everyone makes the choice to do good or evil. The Bible speaks of a wicked father who “begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and considers but does not do likewise” (Ezekiel 18:14). If it happened then, it can happen today.
It is easy to lose hope in a world like ours. But we must be just and have faith. Don’t be like Elijah when he thought he was the only one who cared about doing right (1 Kings 19). Don’t be like Jonah who thought and even wanted the worst outcome (Jonah 4). We must not be naïve to family traits that cause trouble, but we must also not use the bad we have seen in families as a reason to stop trying. There are still exceptions to the rule like Jonathan.
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