Part II: Is Disobedience to Parents Rebellion?
To obey is better than sacrifice…for rebellion is as the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry (1 Sam 15:22-23 NIV)
This is a tricky question. After all, we have all known (and many of us have been) ‘rebellious teenagers’. There is no question that rebellion against parents, against upbringing, against traditions all exist. And rebellion is clearly an important issue. None of us want our children to grow up in a sin ‘like divination or idolatry’. But I want to contend that childish disobedience and even teenage ‘rebellion’ is a different phenomenon from rebellion as depicted in the Bible, as in the famous passage quoted above, when God rejected Saul as King of Israel.
Some important differences:
- Saul was an adult. He had the advantage of at least 20 years (he couldn’t have been in the army if he was any younger) of instruction in Godly living and had reached an age of accountability for his own actions. Our children are given to us immature. They deserve to be given all the time that God has allotted (at least) to grow to the full maturity of acknowledging God’s wisdom.
- Saul was King of Israel. He represented all Israel before God. His disobedience to God was a bad example to the whole nation. Also, his actions had repercussions far beyond the present, as his omniscient God well knew. Haman, the villain of the story of Esther, appears to have been the descendent of Amalekites who were not killed that day, possibly of King Agag himself, as he is called ‘Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews’ (Est 3:10). God saw all this, and Saul had shown by his rebellious actions and heart that he was not fit to be King of God’s chosen people.
- Saul’s rebellion was against God. A search on Blue Letter Bible for the word ‘rebellion’ in the KJV and NIV shows that the KJV only uses the word half a dozen times, and the NIV 42 times. What I found most notable in the list of verses, it that ‘rebellion’ is never used about children and parents, or about tribes and their elders, or Christians and their leaders. In the KJV, the term ‘rebellion’ is only used with reference to God. The NIV also uses it in relation to politics, ie Israel in rebellion against the House of David, the city of Jerusalem in rebellion against nations who try to oppress it, Barabbas taking part in a rebellion. Rebellion in the Bible happens on a big scale, against governments and against God. To apply this serious label to a child’s disobedience, or a teen’s assertion of individuality, is, I think, flippant.
I’m not saying that parents should not address our children’s disobedience. What I am saying is that when they don’t obey us it is not a sign of a deep spiritual problem. We do not need to address it as rebellion.
Edited to add: When responding to Katerine’s comment below, I realised ad made made a mistake. I searched ‘rebellion’ but not ‘rebellious’ and so missed the matter in Deuteronomy of a rebellious son:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders … They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” (Deut 21:18-20)
So it is possible to have rebellion on the village scale, so to speak. I was wrong. I apologise for my laziness.
However, I feel that these verses back up my more fundamental point, that subadults cannot be said to rebel. Firstly because the son in the passage is clearly an adult son, to be a glutton and a drunkard. Secondly because it is not until he reaches this level of deep depravity that he is called a rebel. He will have been given many opportunities to change his ways before his parents will ask the town to stone him! Our children’s temporary disobediences do not fall into the same category. It is also important to note that according to the Talmud, no one was ever stoned for rebellion. If an adult cannot be convicted of rebellion, can we really accuse our children of this offense?