To write about “The Benefits of Having Children” is like writing about the benefits of acquiring King Solomon’s mines or inheriting the Comstock load. The topic should be a no-brainer. That this is often not the case shows not only poor discernment, but a non-covenantal view of the family, where God covenants to bless us and our children (Ps. 102:28; Gen. 18:19).
The Bible presents the children of believers positively, especially in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. They receive top billing as the spiritual and economic capital of God’s people. There are many telling metaphors that advertise this truth.
Metaphors for Children
We begin with the picture of children as living assets of God’s people. In Psalm 127, the Holy Spirit summons two economic descriptors, “heritage” and “reward.” There is nothing said directly about monetary wealth: a God-fearing family is wealth enough! Our children are a “heritage” not just because they are given as a reward, but they themselves are the reward. They are not money in the bank, but the bank itself.
This means that they are a “heritage” (gift) belonging to the Lord and generously given to God’s people. In addition, our children are God’s “reward.” A reward from God is a lavish payment, which shows that children are living assets instead of liabilities. In fact, the sanctity of the word “reward” is illustrated by Genesis 15:1, where God speaks of Himself as our “exceedingly great reward.” Not only is the Giver of the gift Himself the Gift, but our children are dignified by the word “reward.”
The word “heritage” in Psalm 127 commonly describes the land of Israel, which was a land of milk and honey, a land of promise. This land was completely unearned; it was given by grace. It is the same with the word “reward,” which does not mean that we earn children or that God owes us. Rather, to paraphrase John Calvin, God makes Himself our debtor by His grace.
Children are also armaments or weapons. Psalm 127:4 reads: “As arrows in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” In Bible times, what was a mighty man without arrows? An archer without weapons is a paper tiger, a chocolate soldier. Just as a soldier needs weapons to be mighty, so a man needs children who are his strength.
Children benefit us, especially when they are “children of the youth.” This is not speaking about young children so much as it is about young parents. The Bible encourages early marriages (Mal. 2:14-15; Is. 54:6; Gen. 37:2). One reason for early marriage relates to our children’s help when we decline in age. Our children are our Social Security! John Howard Hilton’s daughter said to him as she knelt by his deathbed: “There is no greater blessing than for children to have godly parents.” “And the next,” said the dying father with gratitude, “for parents who have godly children.”
God also showcases children as a quiver. Psalm 127:5 reads, “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Here, happiness and quiverful go hand-in-hand. How many make up a quiver is a topic for debate. Some have thought that a quiver constitutes twelve. There is an old German proverb: “Many children make many prayers, and many prayers bring much blessing.” When the Rev. Moses Browne had twelve children, someone remarked to him, “Sir, you have just as many children as Jacob,” and he replied, “Yes, and I have Jacob’s God to provide for them.”
Of course, this does not mean that the arrows in our quivers are born as “straight as an arrow.” Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Psalm 127, writes: “…it is not untypical of God’s gifts that they are liabilities, or at least responsibilities, before they become obvious assets. The greater their promise, the more likely that these sons will be a handful before they are a quiverful.”
Parents of arrows must feather their arrows so that they fly toward the right target. This involves work, love, patience, and discipline; thus our children are our “sweat capital.” As we train our children in God’s ways, there will be times when we think that children are more a handful than a quiverful. It may even seem as if our arrows are aimed in the wrong direction, that is, toward God and even ourselves. This paradox is explained by viewing our padeo-assets as a kind of “deferred gratification”; we plant tearfully with a bag of seeds while waiting to bring in the sheaves with rejoicing.
The Joy of Children
Many years ago a godly father with many young children said ruefully, “The Bible speaks about all this joy of having children. I am still waiting for this joy to make itself known. Where is it?”
What makes the godly father happy about having a quiverful? Psalm 127 answers: “They shall not be ashamed when they speak with the enemies in the gates.” He is “happy” to have what the Lutheran commentator Leupold calls “stalwart sons in the city gates.” A city gate is where the people gathered to dispense justice. The thought is that we are “blessed” to have sons who, barrister-like, will annihilate the arguments of God’s enemies in the gate (“gate” representing the judicial center or City Hall).
It is instructive that the Hebrew word for “speak” in Psalm 127 can also be translated “destroy.” Some have thought the idea is that of “killing” the enemies in the gate, since the gate was always the prime target whenever enemies besieged a city (Gen. 22:17; Gen. 24:60). In his Treasury of David, Spurgeon said of the children of Psalm 127, “They can meet foes both in law and in fight.” The reason behind such irresistible wisdom is the Holy Scriptures, which make our children “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
A fitting example of such wisdom was Edward VI, the boy-king of England, who put “a hole in the drum” of his regents when they urged him to allow the re-introduction of “idolatry” (English Protestants in the 16th century felt very strongly about the subject) by Mary, his sister. When Edward entered the presence of the Council, the Lord Treasurer fell before him, saying that they were undone, as Mary would reintroduce idolatry. Edward asked, “Is it lawful by Scripture to sanction idolatry?” to which the treasurer replied, there were good kings in Judah who allowed high altars and yet were still called good. But to this inadequate reply our wise Edward responded, “We must follow the example of good men when they have done well. We do not follow them in evil. David was good but David seduced Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. We are not to imitate David in such deeds as these. Is there no better Scripture?” The bishops were silenced. Then Edward concluded, “I am sorry for the realm and sorry for the danger that will come of it; I shall hope and pray for something better, but the evil thing I will not allow.”1
A additional benefit of having children is symbolized by the figure of “olive-plants” in Psalm 128:3. The picture is probably the multiplicity of children. These olive plants around our table are not only our wealth, but also our hope for the future. Multiple “olive-plants” shows that an abundance of children is not only a sign of wealth, but prosecutes the shortsightedness of those who would restrict this capital. If children are wealth, then the decision to curtail this wealth might be likened to a man who e-mails his banker, asking him to decline all future interest on his money instruments. In most cases, for couples to resolve, “No more children” is like saying, “We cannot take any more of God’s blessings!” Surely no sane human complains about the aggrandizement of his wealth!
Additional Benefits: the Home, the Church, and the World
Another benefit of having children is the expectation of seeing our “children’s children” (Ps. 128:6; Pr. 13:22). The blessing of children is trans-generational. Our children are arrows and our grandchildren are “arrows of the arrows.” God blesses with fruitful wives, godly children, and “children’s children.”
The Christian home is a castled paradise. As Spurgeon said: “Before the Fall, Paradise was man’s home; since the Fall, home has been man’s Paradise.” So Psalm 128 describes a prolific family of wealth and blessing. It is the beautiful cameo picture of home life. And Psalm 128 is a Psalm of comfort for those who suffer crosses outside of marriage; we walk out of our home to do battle and we come home to peace. Remember: the Hebrew word Shalom (peace) describes our spiritual and material prosperity.
Of course, it would be wrong to restrict the benefits of having children to their enrichment of the family alone. Children benefit both the church and the world. We do not bear children to populate hell. When Christ took the babies in His arms and blessed them, He said, “for of such is the kingdom of God.” His meaning was unmistakable: our children are Kingdom children under the crown of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that they have a kingly mission to fulfill, the Dominion or Kingship Covenant of Genesis 1:26-28, where God commands us to be fruitful and to multiply, to replenish the earth, and to exercise kingship over it. Of course, this Kingship covenant can only be fulfilled when our children are united by faith to the Christ, who rules His church by His Word and Spirit and rules the nations with a rod of iron.
1. Elizabeth Longford, The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes (United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1991), 221.
- Jim West
Jim West has pastored Covenant Reformed Church in Sacramento for the last 18 years. He is currently Associate Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology at City Seminary in Sacramento. He has authored The Missing Clincher Argument in the Tongues Debate, The Art of Choosing Your Love, The Covenant Baptism of Infants, and Christian Courtship Versus Dating. His latest book is Drinking with Calvin and Luther!