A numerous offspring was regarded as a signal blessing, Ps 127:3-5, and childless wives sought various means to escape the reproach of barrenness, which was deprecated in the blessing given to a newly married couple, Ru 4:11. The pangs of childbirth, in their suddenness and sharpness, are often alluded to in Scripture. The apostle Paul speaks of them as fruits and evidences of the fall; but assures those who abide in faith, that, amid all the suffering that reminds them that woman was first in the transgression, Ge 3:16, they may yet look trustfully to God for acceptance and salvation, 1Ti 2:15.
A newborn child was washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in swaddling clothes, Eze 16:4; Lu 2:7-11. On the eighth day he was circumcised and named. At his weaning a feast was often made, Ge 21:34. The nurse of a female child often attended her through life, Ge 24:59; 35:8. Children were to be instructed with great diligence and care, De 6:20-23. They were required to honor and obey their parents, and were subject to the father's control in all things, Ge 22:21; Nu 30:5; they were even liable to be sold into temporary bondage for his debts, Le 25:39-41; 2Ki 4:1; Mt 18:25.
The first-born son received, besides other privileges, (see BIRTHRIGHT,) two portions of his father's estate; the other sons, one portion each. The sons of concubines received presents, and sometimes an equal portion with the others, Ge 21:8-21; 25:1-6; 49:1-27; Jg 11:1-7. The daughters received no portion, except in cases provided for in Nu 27:1-11.
The term child or children, by a Hebrew idiom, is used to express a great variety of relations: the good are called children of God, of light, of the kingdom, etc.; the bad are named children of the devil, of wrath, of disobedience, etc. A strong man is called a son of strength; an impious man, a son of Belial; an arrow, the son of a bow, and a branch the son of a tree. The posterity of a man is his "sons," for many generations.
Ben, "son;" bath, "daughter;" both from baanah, to build. Regarded as consecrated to God, in the same covenant relation as the parents; therefore sons on the eighth day were circumcised (Ge 17:12). Hence, flowed parents' responsibility to rear children in the way of the Lord (Ge 18:19; De 6:7; 11:19); also children's responsibility to obey parents, as a preparatory discipline for the higher relationship to God. At five years of age, the boy passed under the father's training. At 12 he became "son of (i.e. subject to) the law," and was advanced to a fuller instruction in it. Smiting, or even cursing, a parent was punishable with death (Ex 21:15,17); also contumacy (De 21:18-21; compare De 27:16). The child might be sold to bondage until the Jubilee year for a parent's debt (2Ki 4:1; Ne 5:5).
Children were often nursed until they were three years old. They were carried on the mother's hip or shoulder (Isa 49:22; 66:12). Governors or tutors watched them in nonage (Nu 11:12; 2Ki 10:1,5; Isa 49:23; Ga 3:24, paidagoogos, the guardian slave who led the child to school). The mother's example and authority were weighty over sons and daughters alike (Pr 10:1; 15:20), even with a royal son (1Ki 2:19). Daughters had no right of inheritance; but if a man had no son the daughters received the inheritance, but they must marry inside their own tribe. Metaphorically: CHILDREN OF LIGHT (Lu 16:8; 1-24; 1Th 5:28), of obedience (1Pe 1:14, "as children of obedience" Greek), of this world, of Belial, of wisdom (Mt 11:19), of faith. (See BELIAL.)
As children resemble their parent, so those in whom these several qualities, good or bad, predominate, are children of them severally (2Sa 23:6). So Barnabas is termed "son of consolation," expressing his predominant grace (Ac 4:36); John and James "sons of thunder," characterized by fiery zeal (Mr 3:17). So "sons of might," "daughters of sons" (compare Isa 5:1, "a very fruitful hill," Hebrew: "the horn (i.e. peak) of the son of oil,") "children of the bridechamber" (Mt 9:15), the heavenly Bridgegroom's best men (friends) who go and fetch the bride, the apostles and evangelists who seek to bring sinners to Jesus and to heaven (Matthew 25).
David proclaimed, "Lo, children are an heritage of Jehovah: and the fruit of the womb is his reward." Ps 127:3. Women in the East had a great desire for children, as may be seen by Sarah, Rachel, and Leah giving their handmaids to their husbands that they might have children by them, and this ever characterised the women of Israel afterwards.
The law commanded children to honour their parents, and if a son smote or cursed his parents he was put to death. Ex 21:15,17. Parents were to teach the law to their children, and to chastise them when needed, and if a son was disobedient and contumacious the men of the city were to stone such a one. De 21:18-21. The first born was claimed by God, and had to be redeemed, Ex 13:13; and the eldest son inherited a double portion of his father's possessions. De 21:17.
Metaphorically we meet with 'children of Zion,' 'children of Belial,' 'children of the devil,' etc., often referring to their moral character.
In the N.T. various Greek words are translated children in the A.V. Thus in 1 John, 'little children' occurs in 1Jo 2:1,12-13,18,28; and though correct, yet there is a difference in the words. 1Jo 2:1,12 and 28 refer to all Christians as God's children; but 1Jo 2:13 and 18 refer to young children or babes as a class, in contrast to young men and fathers. Again, in many places where the word is ????, and should be translated 'sons,' the A.V. has 'child' or 'children,' as in Ro 9:26-27; 2Co 3:7,13; Ga 3:7,26; Eph 2:2; 5:6; Col 3:6; 1Th 5:5; Heb 11:22; 12:5; Re 2:14; 7:4; 12:5; 21:12; besides often in the Gospels and Acts. See SON. Again, in Ac 4:27,30 the word is ????, which is as often translated 'servant' as 'child,' the word signifying both. In these verses it would be much better to translate 'thy holy servant Jesus;' David is also called 'servant' in Ac 4:25.
The blessing of offspring, but especially of the male sex, is highly valued among all eastern nations, while a the absence is regarded as one of the severest punishments.
As soon as the child was born it was washed in a bath, rubbed with salt and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
On the 8th day the rite of circumcision, in the case of a boy, was performed and a name given. At the end of a certain time (forty days if a son and twice as long if a daughter) the mother offered sacrifice for her cleansing.
Le 12; Lu 2:22
The period of nursing appears to have been sometimes prolonged to three years.
2 Macc. 7:27. The time of weaning was an occasion of rejoicing.
Both boys and girls in their early years were under the care of the women.
Afterwards the boys were taken by the father under his charge. Daughters usually remained in the women's apartments till marriage.
The authority of parents, especially of the father, over children was very great, as was also the reverence enjoined by the law to be paid to parents. The inheritance was divided equally between all the sons except the eldest, who received a double portion.
Daughters had by right no portion in the inheritance; but if a man had no son, his inheritance passed to his daughters, who were forbidden to marry out of the father's tribe.