Six Different Kinds of Disobedience (and the Root Problem)

My wife and I are launching on a new Bible study. We’ve often tried to read through the Bible from beginning to end in a year (sometimes we make it, sometimes we don’t), but this time we’re reading through the Bible looking for insights relevant to parenting. I’m already excited about what we are finding. You notice new things when you’re reading with a different perspective!

Six Different Kinds of Disobedience (and the root problem) - Doorposts blog

Israel’s early history as recorded in Exodus and Numbers contains many examples of disobedience and its consequences. These can be instructive to us as we seek to obey God in our own lives and as we train our children in obedience.

Here are six different kinds of disobedience we identified:

1. Proudly refusing to obey – Pharaoh at first scorned the word of God given through Moses, and as Israel was leaving, still demonstrated his hard-hearted will to keep the Israelites as his slaves against God’s command.

2. Partial obedience – After enduring four plagues, Pharaoh began telling Moses they could go – but without leaving Egypt, without taking their families, or without taking their livestock. Only after ten plagues destroyed most of Egypt did Pharaoh finally do what God asked.

3. Complaining instead of obeying – When Israel finally reached the border of the Promised Land, ten faithless spies brought back a bad report and caused them to hesitate. God was ready to lead them in, and yet the Israelites became afraid of the giants, armies, and fortified cities. This fear led to complaining and a failure to obey God’s directions. The consequence was 40 years of desert wandering and an entire generation missing out on the blessings God had offered them.

4. Delayed obedience – Once the Israelites realized the consequences of their failure, they admitted their sin and hurried to fight the Amalekites and Canaanites even though God said He would no longer help them. (Much like a misbehaving toddler saying “I obey now!” and rushing to mend his ways when he sees Dad ominously getting up from his chair.) As Moses warned, many of them died and the battle ended in defeat.

5. Obeying with an angry spirit – In a moment of anger, Moses and Aaron spoke harshly to the Israelites and struck the rock instead of speaking to it as God commanded. God still brought forth water for them to drink, but for this sin, the two leaders were not permitted to enter the Promised Land.

6. Questioning clear commands – Tempted by the promise of fame and riches, Balaam asked God a second time if he should go with the king’s messengers after God had already given him clear instructions. God was angry and sent an angel to kill him, though he was mercifully spared, thanks to his donkey.

In each of these stories, the disobeyers lacked faith in God. Instead of trusting God to know what was best for them and submitting to His will, these men acted impulsively out of fear, anger, or greed. (And we consistently see the destructive results: disappointment, death, and loss of the very things they desired.)

When dealing with a disobedient child, it may help to look for the root cause. Is the child afraid of something? Is he just being selfish or willful? Or is trust missing from our relationship?

We can help our children learn to obey by proving ourselves worthy of their trust, just as God repeatedly proved Himself faithful to Israel. Of course we are imperfect people and make mistakes, unlike our Heavenly Father. But by His grace, we can become more trustworthy in the eyes of our children.

Here are some things we can do to build trust with our children:

  • When we ask our children to obey, it should be for their own good (safety, learning, receiving blessing etc.), not just for our convenience.
  • We can remember their weakness and immaturity and avoid burdening them with impossible expectations or rules.
  • When we do set rules, we can communicate them clearly, make sure they are understood, then enforce them consistently.
  • We can keep our word and our promises to our children, just as God keeps His promises.
  • We can spend quality and quantity time with our children, being available for them and taking care to make our relationships with them a priority.
  • We can provide for their needs, both physical and emotional, so they have no need to fear.
  • We can pray for them and with them.
  • When we make mistakes, we can apologize to our children and demonstrate our own submission to God and His authority.
  • We can tell them often that we love them and delight in them.


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