Our daughters are not free agents. They have a man in their life, and until that man, their father, gives his daughter to another man, he bears a good deal of responsibility for her life. He is not responsible for her sin, but he is, for example, responsible for her purity.
In Deuteronomy 22:21, God says of the daughter found guilty of having given away her purity outside of marriage,
…she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house, and there the men of her city will stone her to death. (Deuteronomy 22:21)
Why is she punished outside her father’s house? Because he was responsible for guarding her purity. Her rebellion is to his shame.
This comes as something of a surprise to a world that encourages atomised, unaccountable individualism.
But we are taught by God not to be surprised at their surprise (1 Peter 4:4). From Martha and Mary to the woman at the well, the purity of our daughters is precious in the sight of God and should therefore be precious to us.
So, fathers have this great responsibility. It’s a noble ministry flanked by God’s grace in our weakness, and one that we fathers should be keen to fulfil. But how?
Where do you draw the line between keeping your daughter in a basement until she is twenty-one and having a devil-may-care attitude to her relationships with other boys?
This calls for wisdom.
You can’t control your child’s impulses, nor should you want to: But you can promote a spiritually healthy culture in your home. You can’t control your child’s every move, nor should you want to: But you can spell out the boundaries.
Two vivid examples from the Old Testament come to mind about how fathers did not, but could have, set appropriate boundaries and promoted godliness with their kids.
Eli, the priest, had two sons, Hophni and Phineas. These two priests used to go and help themselves to the best portions of other people’s sacrifices at the tabernacle under threat of force. They also abused the women who worked around the tabernacle.
When then continued unchallenged, God stepped in.
And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. (1 Samuel 3:13)
Eli did not restrain, or more literally, ‘weaken the resolve of’ his sons. He probably hated what they were doing, but he did not redirect them. He did not get in the way of their wicked impulses.
Fathers have a responsibility to interrupt wayward children. This starts by re-affirming holiness in the home.
Holiness is not to be assumed. It is to be spoken of in the home and lived out by parents as an example. We don’t “hope for holiness.” We spell it out. Eli did not join his sons in the horror of their sin, but he knew, and he said nothing (Leviticus 19:17).
David suffered a similar failure as a father toward his son Adonijah.
His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. (1 Kings 1:6)
David did not spell out the boundaries for Adonijah’s conduct, and so, Adonijah, being a sinner, was left to drift into destruction.
The word “displeased” is also used in Job 10:8 and means to fashion or shape. To fashion is to create boundaries and give definition to a thing.
Fathers should spell out the boundaries for their daughters, whether in or out of the home. They should not assume the boundaries, and they should not remain silent when the boundaries are crossed.
Beyond the explicit commands in scripture, wisdom will dictate the nature of those boundaries. It will depend on many things, including age, maturity and circumstance.
One of the things we notice about God as a Father in scripture is that He did not throw out hints.
“There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel”. (Deuteronomy 23:17).
This is as plain as it gets. That’s the boundary, and fathers meet their obligations to God for their daughters only when they state those boundaries in plain English.
Practical boundaries, laid out in plain English, may include curfews and the obligation of daughters to tell their dads where they are going and who they are with.
Behind all of these practical means of fulfilling the obligations of fatherhood should be the desire to see their daughters not simply obey the commandments of God, but love them.
And they are lovely.
God’s word to our daughters is given, not to hem them in but to guard their hearts against the devastating impact of sin and magnify their dignity and beauty. And so, fathers are encouraged to set forth the word of God as it really is—a thing of beauty. A thing that gives life, and peace, and security and hope.
It’s beautiful because it elevates the value and dignity of women. It brings security because it creates the kind of neighbourhood (and the kind of men) where that dignity is honoured.