The fifth commandment states: “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12). The history of the Old Testament is a sad record of the failure to pass a Godly heritage from one generation to the next, but the historical record does not end without a bright message of hope for the future. In the very last verse of the Old Testament, God gives us a remarkable hope for the blessing of family restoration under the Messiah. Before the Messiah comes, God will send a messenger who will bring harmony and unite the hearts of children and their parents. The prophet Malachi announces: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6).
How interesting and very fitting that the last words of the Old Testament dovetail perfectly with the first words of the New Testament! After four hundred years of silence in the intertestamental period, the Lord sent an angel from Heaven to the Temple in Jerusalem. During those years of silence, God had been preparing the world for the coming of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The successive waves of world conquest by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and finally Rome had accomplished God’s purposes.
When the fullness of time had come, the angel Gabriel was sent with a message from Heaven to a priest in Jerusalem. The message: Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth would bear a son named John. John was to be the forerunner of the Messiah. The angel said of John the Baptist, “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
An important part of the work of John the Baptist was “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” This has not only been the work of John the Baptist, but it has been an important part of every true revival in history. In the revivals of King Hezekiah and King Josiah later, we see fathers and sons humbling themselves together in repentance and faith. In the revival under Nehemiah, we see old men and young men, women as well as little children, together in the streets of Jerusalem weeping over their sins and taking comfort in God’s promises (see Nehemiah 8:9–10).
Throughout Christian history, the multigenerational links between fathers and children have been restored during times of spiritual revival. Parents see the importance of and exercise their responsibilities to lovingly prepare and guide the next generation in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Children, in turn, see the duty and benefit of honoring their parents as unto the Lord. Grandparents understand their important role in encouraging and influencing the next generation to have faith in God.
The key to understanding this promise is contained in the Hebrew verb turn. It is the very same word which is often translated repent. Repentance in the heart is the key to true personal and national revival. Genuine heartfelt repentance is necessary for the proper application of the fifth commandment. The repentance required here is a mutual repentance of both fathers and their children.
“Turning the hearts of fathers to the children”
Fathers must humble themselves in order to see their own personal failures. Babies are born with a God-given dependence upon their parents. Thus, children grow up with an instinctive respect for their mother and father. A child’s focus upon his mother is vital and understandable. However, as children mature, they also come to love, respect, and look to their fathers for protection, guidance, instruction, and stability. But in this fallen world, we as fathers can disappoint them. Our children see our anger, our inconsistencies, our laziness, and unkept promises. Although they might not understand, even little children can somehow sense the defeat of moral failures. Eventually, even the best of fathers will disappoint their little ones. This is why it is so crucial that fathers humble themselves and acknowledge their failures and repent of pride, anger, and lust. Even a toddler can sense the peaceful restoration that comes when his father asks the mother for forgiveness and the joy that flows from repentance. Fathers should not be afraid to take upon their knees their little children and ask forgiveness for a broken promise or an angry outburst. This repentance will unite the hearts of father and child and will build a solid foundation for obedience and honor in the days to come.
“Turning the hearts of children to the fathers”
On the other side of the relationship, God’s intention is for children to take responsibility for their failures to obey and honor their fathers and mothers. Repentance is a vital key to restoring relationships. Every father is also a son. Many fathers have wondered why their children have rejected their authority and despised their counsel. Too often, it is because these fathers have not honored their own parents. When we criticize our parents in the hearing of our children, we are sowing the seeds of discord into the next generation. As sons, we should repent of our own rebellion against our parents and thank God for the parents He has given us. If our parents are still alive, it would be very appropriate to make an honest confession to them of our failure to honor them. Our own children will see this humility and the blessings of a restored relationship and be drawn by example and conviction to pursue that harmony in their own lives.
God’s ways are sometimes painful and difficult, but His ways are the best ways. Brokenness and humility are required in order to acknowledge our sins as sons and as fathers, but repentance and confession results in the peaceable fruit of righteousness. All across the world today, homes and churches are broken by bitterness and discord. Though many want a solution, they are often waiting upon someone else to take the first step.
Why not be the courageous man who will take the initiative? Gather your children around you and acknowledge to them your offenses as a father. Ask them to forgive you. Call your parents and confess your failures as a son. Better yet, invite them over to your home so that your entire family, three generations if possible, can be restored in heart and purpose. Reconciled relationships and peace are what the Lord Jesus desires to accomplish in every family.