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7 Men in the Bible Who Failed as Fathers

Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.


Examples of Bad Fathers in the Bible

What do the words "Father" or "Dad" bring to mind? Are you reminded of an absent, indifferent, or abusive father? Do you think of your loving earthly daddy? The words "Father" or "Daddy" may bring up bad memories and feelings for some people. After all, earthly fathers, no matter how wonderful or terrible, are fallible human beings. They are not perfect.

The Bible shows many examples of good and bad fathers that we can learn from. We'll start with a few of the failed fathers and see what we can learn.

1. Eli, the Priest at Shiloh

Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress... Nevertheless, they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them (1 Samuel 2:22-24, 25b).

Eli, the priest at Shiloh, was a poor excuse of a father and priest. His two sons, Hophni and Phineas, did not know the Lord but Eli allowed them to have leadership in handling sacrifices of the people. They were evil and took by force the meat people brought for the sacrifice that was not designated to them. They also had sex with women in the tabernacle. It was no secret to Eli what his sons were doing. People brought their outrage to him about his sons.

Eli was a permissive father. Rather than removing and punishing his sons, he merely scolded them. '“Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. If one person sins against another, may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who for them?' His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death."

Their conduct was such an abomination the Lord wanted to kill them. Verse 17 explains further:

Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.

Eli's sons were causing people to abhor the offering of the Lord and who could blame them.

God had already warned Eli of the judgment coming to him and his sons, but he wasn't listening. 1 Samuel 3:1-18 God reiterated and confirmed it with little Samuel who served in the temple with Eli. One night the word of the Lord came to the young boy. The Lord spoke to him and promised judgment on Eli and his sons. Eli forced him the next day to tell him all that God said. When Samuel told him, Eli merely said, "It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.” It sounds so flippant. Or maybe he just resigned himself to what would happen rather than repent. It was too late now.

And indeed it happened that the two sons were killed by the Philistines and the ark of the covenant was stolen. Upon hearing the news, Eli fell backward on his chair, broke his neck, and died (1 Samuel 4).

Samuel only scolded his sons for doing evil.

Samuel only scolded his sons for doing evil.

Samuel did not take action against his evil sons.

Samuel did not take action against his evil sons.

2. Samuel

And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel...His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 8:1–6)

Samuel was a priest and prophet of Israel, revered for his wisdom and courage. However, he apparently learned his poor parenting skills from Eli when he served the Lord in the temple at Shiloah. Samuel's sons' behavior was similarly corrupt as Eli's were.

Despite his wisdom in most matters, Samuel lost his senses when it came to his many sons. He knew his sons were corrupt yet put them in offices of national leadership anyway.

When the mob surround Lot's house to rape the two angels, Lot offered his daughters.

When the mob surround Lot's house to rape the two angels, Lot offered his daughters.

3. Lot

So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, 7 and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! 8 See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof” (Genesis 19:6).

In Genesis 19 Abraham's nephew Lot did the unfathomable. Two angels appearing as men in Sodom were enjoying Lot's hospitality, dining with him, and were to spend the night. A group of evil men surrounded Lot's house and demanded the two angels come out so they could have sex with them. Lot offered his two virgin daughters instead. He went so far as to say, "you may do to them as you wish." They were not interested in the daughters, however, but what Lot did was an abomination.

After Lot and his family fled Sodom and his wife turned into a pillar of salt he and his daughters hid in a cave. The daughters got him drunk and had relations with him lest they never have the opportunity to marry and bear children. Lot was responsible on his part for letting this happen. There seemed to be nothing godly about Lot when it came to being a father.

Child sacrifice before the pagan god Molech.

Child sacrifice before the pagan god Molech.

4. King Ahaz

But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel; indeed he made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before the children of Israel (2 Kings 16:3).

Molech worship was practiced by the Ammonites and Canaanites, who revered Molech as a protecting father figure. Images of Molech were made of bronze, and their outstretched arms were heated red-hot. Living children were then placed into the idol’s hands and died there or were rolled into a fire pit below.

There is no need to elaborate. It's the most heinous action imaginable.

King David and his son Absalom, who later tried to usurp his father's throne.

King David and his son Absalom, who later tried to usurp his father's throne.

5. King David

King David was an absentee and passive father. Interestingly, it was the prophet Samuel (above) who anointed David as king. David was on the run for many years before he took office as the king. He was a devoted warrior and spent more time on the battlefield than with his family. He was a father to well over twenty sons and at least one daughter.

When his sons did evil, like Eli, he only scolded them. He took no actions to discipline them. Amnon, his first son, raped his half-sister Tamar. When David learned of it he was furious but did not punish him. However, Absalom killed Amnon, and much later on attempted to usurp his father's throne.

His fourth son Adonijah also tried to usurp his father's throne when he was old and frail. His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?"

This is just to name three. Clearly the man after God's own heart had no backbone when it came to his unruly, wicked sons.

Isaac favored Esau and Rebekkah favored Jacob.

Isaac favored Esau and Rebekkah favored Jacob.

6. Isaac

And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:28).

Isaac and his wife Rebekkah played favorites with their twin sons. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekkah favored Jacob. Esau was born first. Perhaps that's why he favored him. Esau was a brawny hunter, a manly man if ever there was one. He was also impulsive and foolhardy. He gave away his birthright to his brother Jacob over a bowl of stew. Such disrespect and disregard of his birthright was a sin.

Jacob favored Joseph above all of his sons.

Jacob favored Joseph above all of his sons.

7. Jacob

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (Genesis 37:3-4).

Jacob was an even worse father than his father Isaac. Some children were born from Leah, the woman he was tricked into marrying by her father Laban. Some of his concubines birthed some sons to him also. He was forced to wait fourteen years for Leah's sister Rachel that was promised to him and she was the only woman he ever loved. It turned out she was barren. It broke their hearts and at one point Leah rubbed her nose in it, mocking her. Finally, she gave birth to Joseph.

Jacob lavished his affections on Joseph, making him a special coat of many colors and giving him preferential treatment. He must have spent more time with Joseph teaching him the way of the Lord because Joseph was devoted to God. But that left his other sons high and dry without his tender love. They grew resentful and sold Joseph into slavery. Benjamin was also born to Rachel. She died giving birth. He favored Benjamin too, once Joseph was gone. The older sons grew evil and did horrific things.

Raise Children According to God's Word

Oh my goodness. Let us take a lesson, moms and dads alike, from these seven fathers who failed their children because of neglect, favoritism, or refusal to discipline them.

Every child should be treated equally with love and be disciplined when they sin. They need to be present. How else will they learn virtue, character, and godliness? The Bible has many passages about how to raise children, particularly in Proverbs. We must raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and on his precepts.

© 2020 Lori Colbo

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