Volume 17, Issue 2: Childer
When Sons Leave
I want to begin by belaboring a point. The Greek word for "leave" is
kataleipo. The New Testament uses it twice to mean
forsake (Heb. 11:27; 2 Pet. 2:15), once to mean
reserve (Rom. 11:4), and the rest of the time it means plain old
leave, as in "he up and left."
Jesus, for example, left Nazareth (Mt. 4:13). A man might leave his wife by dying (Mk. 12:19). The young man
who escaped from those arresting Jesus left behind his linen cloak (Mk. 14:52). Levi left everything to follow Jesus (Lk.
5:28). Mary left Martha with the dishes (Lk. 10:40). A good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go find the one (Lk. 15:4).
It was not right for the apostles to leave the Word of God to wait tables (Acts 6:2). The ship St. Paul was on left Cyprus
behind (Acts 21:3).
The New Testament also uses this same word to talk about sons leaving father and mother in order to marry a wife
(Mt. 19:5; Mk. 10:7; Eph. 5:31). This is a quotation from Gen esis 2:24 in all three instances, where the word
azab is useda word that throughout the Old Testament means
forsake or leave.
Now in the sense of simple departure or separation, a daughter also "leaves." But she leaves because she is given.
Daughters are given. Sons go.
This does not mean that sons have the right to disrespect their parents, obviously. The Fifth Commandment was
not written just for daughters. Sons are to honor and respect their parents, just as daughters are. But the point must be
underscored here. For a son to leave home when he is grown does not constitute disrespect. This is because honor and respect are defined
by scriptural duties, and not by what the requirements of the parents may be.
A normal pattern is for a son to leave home in order to marry. A man will
leave his father and mother and cleave
to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. There it isleave and cleave. But Scripture also indicates that sons leave for other
reasons as well.
For example, when the armies of Israel mustered for battle, the men who were required to be there were the men
twenty years old and up. "Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward,
throughout their fathers' house, all that are able to go to war in Israel" (Num. 26:2). One of the central duties of manhood is to fight
in battle if that is necessary. In Israel, eighteen-year-olds were not mustered for battle, but at the age of twenty, they were
included among the men of Israel.
On the flip side of this, those who were under the age of twenty when Israel came out of Egypt were permitted to go
into Canaan. The adult men, that is, those who were twenty and up, were kept out of Canaan with the exceptions of Joshua
and Caleb. "Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I
sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me" (Num. 32:11).
Another indication that men were considered responsible and independent adults at the age of twenty was that this was
the age when they had to pay the atonement tax on their
own. "Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from
twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the
Lord" (Ex. 30:14).
In my view, this has obvious ramifications for how we bring up our sons. In a very real sense, parents are preparing them
to leave. As my wife once put it, there is one thing worse than a son leaving home, and that is a son who doesn't. This means
that when a son reaches a certain age, he may just leaveeven if his parents have not blessed itand he may do so without
being guilty of rebellion against them. He is supposed
to go. In addition, he may do this even if he is not getting marriedhe may
have joined the Navy or be off at college. When he does this, and he is financially independent, he should be considered as
a responsible adult, a new household.
At the same time, a common mistake that young men make at this age is that they want the perks of independence
while postponing the responsibilities of independence. But young men who want Dad to stay out of their "private" affairs (like
their lack of study habits) while fully expecting Dad to keep up the car insurance payments are young men who clearly have not
yet grown up. They need to learn obedience.
Now the fact that a son may go when he has grown does not mean that his motives are right in going. In other words,
he may have the right to be wrong. And his parents may be right to be worried about the choices he might make. But sons
who struggle with independence when they have finally become independent are likely sons who have not been trained or
prepared for it. That preparation should have happened long before the age of twenty.