Among the greatest leaders mentioned in the Bible are also the greatest failures as fathers. That seems like an impossible paradox. How can a man be a faithful and effective leader to millions of his people, while he has utterly failed as a father and a husband in his home? But the strangeness of truth is that such paradoxes do happen commonly.
I haven’t taken a count yet, but it seems to me that there are more failed fathers and husbands among the Bible heroes than there are those who have successfully parented their children and happily spoused their wives.
The greatest failure as a father and a husband in the Bible is, in my opinion, King David. Is there any other leader whose many sons all turned out to be failures? The one seeming exception, Solomon, was an exception only in his younger days, for in old age he too became unfaithful. Worse, he fathered children who were even greater failures than his brothers.
The second greatest failure as a father, among the Bible greats, is Samuel. This man is so great in God’s sight that he is one of the two persons (the other is Moses) given special mention by God.
‘The Lord said to me: Even if Moses and Samuel were here, praying with you, I wouldn’t change my mind.’1
Now let’s hear what the Bible says about the outcome of Samuel’s parenting ways.
‘Samuel had two sons. The older one was Joel, and the younger one was Abijah. When Samuel was getting old, he let them be leaders at Beersheba. But they were not like their father. They were dishonest and accepted bribes to give unfair decisions. One day the nation’s leaders came to Samuel at Ramah and said, “You are an old man. You set a good example for your sons, but they haven’t followed it. Now we want a king to be our leader, just like all the other nations. Choose one for us!” ’2
The failure of Samuel as a father was the direct cause of Israel’s desiring a human king and rejecting God who had been directly reigning over his people and administering his justice through human ‘judges’ he appointed in each generation. Samuel was the last judge of Israel, the last representative of Israel’s theocracy – only because this great man did not have one good son to succeed him.
‘Samuel was upset to hear the leaders say they wanted a king, so he prayed about it. The Lord answered: Samuel, do everything they want you to do. I am really the one they have rejected as their king.’3
Samuel’s childhood guardian, Eli, although not mentioned as a great leader, was nevertheless the judge over Israel prior to Samuel. His failure as a father caused the death of his two sons, which brought a tragic end to his own life.4
As in ancient Israel, many leaders in the present generation are so assiduously engaged in leading their people in governments and businesses that they don’t realize their home life is being seriously eroded.
Their children are bearing the brunt of paternal neglect, their wives are secretly sorrowing. And someone or something will have to give way in the family lives of such leaders sooner or later.
About three years ago I read of that greatest of evangelical celebrities, Benny Hinn’s divorce. A few months after his wife left him, Benny Hinn said on his show ‘This is your Day’, he was oftentimes ‘caught up with the ministry’ so much so that he forgot about his family.
‘I’ve made mistakes because I wasn’t the perfect husband and the perfect dad because I was always gone traveling the world,’ he remorsed. ‘That’s probably what broke the whole thing up.’
Hinn then told his viewers ‘not to neglect your family’, saying that the call of God should first touch the family.
Then recently the couple were reconciled, and I heard Hinn declaring on his show: “I always thought that it was God first, then his ministry, and then my family. Now I realize that it is God first, my family second, and then God’s work.”
Benny Hinn is fortunate to have a reconciliation with his family and the realization of the priorities in a minister’s life. But the tragedy is, too many other leaders have not realized what Hinn had to discover painfully. Too many of them are unintentionally causing great harm to their children’s syche. Too many of them are divorcing or having a bitter marriage. I could give many examples, but don’t think that is necessary. You could easily come across the stories of the tragic family lives of many greats in both the religious and secular worlds by an online search.
If a man desires to be a leader over a nation or a corporation, he should first prove his capability and earnestness by the way he rules his own household. This is a principle that applies even to those who seek a position of responsibility in the religious sphere.
‘It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile. That’s why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money. Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful. If they don’t know how to control their own families, how can they look after God’s people?’5
So, leader, or aspiring leader, how faithful and successful have you been in the greatest aspect of your leadership – bringing up your children to become great parents themselves, and being a great husband to the woman you married?
1 Jeremiah 15:1
2 1 Samuel 8:1-5
3 1 Samuel 8:6-7
4 1 Samuel chapters 1-4
5 1 Timothy 3:1-5