Why Aren’t There Many Good Dads in the Bible?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,
It’s approaching Father’s Day. Why are there so many bad dads mentioned in the Bible? What do you think are some of the most important things about being a good dad? How can I be a good dad?

Dear Scott,

Why are there so few good fathers mentioned in the Bible?

The answer is simple. Because there aren’t many good dads around. Being a Dad is a difficult task.

Let’s discuss some of the fathers in the Bible—good and bad—and then learn a few lessons on how to be a good one.

First, dads are human. They’re fallible. They’re broken. And they’re far from perfect.

When God didn’t come through quickly enough, Abraham got impatient and used his concubine to have a child. Instead of fathering one family, Abraham now had two.  The result was untold misery (Genesis 21-22).

His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, spent their lives in competition and battle against each other.

Isaac and his wife Rebekah birthed Jacob and Esau. They played favorites with their twin sons (Genesis 26:1-27:). Many research projects reveal that while denying it vehemently, most parents really do have a favorite child. Don’t think for a moment that brothers and sisters aren’t aware of which child is the favorite.

Jacob fathered twelve children. His awful fathering produced a family filled with deceit, rape, murder, regrets, anger, adultery, and mistrust (Genesis 30-31).

David had at least 30 sons and daughters. His family was dominated by death, murder, incest, rape, adultery, and rebellion (1 Samuel 13). David was a neglectful, permissive, absent father.

Also, like many biblical fathers, David was a polygamist. Unfortunately, he had more wives, concubines, and children than he had time to care for.

It’s time to recognize that many men in our society are serial polygamists. They just don’t have all of their wives at the same time like David did. They have three or four wives spread out over several years. Unfortunately, many of their children face horrible consequences just like David’s did.

Second, the Bible has only a few good fathers to put on display.

I can only think of three.

Job was involved with his children socially and prayed for their spiritual lives (Job 1:4-5). His heart broke when they suffered. He loved and cared for them in a hands-on way.

The father of the Prodigal Son was loving and forgiving. Even after all the misery, selfishness, worry and grief that the Prodigal Son caused had caused his father, dad’s arms were still open with love, forgiveness, acceptance, and rejoicing (Luke 15:11-27).

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, must have been a great father. Otherwise, God would have chosen someone else to help with parenting!

It’s not hard to imagine Joseph caring for Mary and protecting baby Jesus when Herod called for the slaughter of the two-year-olds. As Jesus was growing and maturing, Joseph obviously saw to Jesus’ education and to his spiritual, emotional, mental and physical needs. Joseph taught Jesus the carpentry trade. The Bible calls Joseph a righteous man. Joseph was a father of quiet strength, honesty, and kindness (Matthew 1).

And Jesus must have loved him dearly.

I imagine that multiple thousands of books and articles have been written on how to be a good parent.

My intention is not to relate them all. However, let me mention a few characteristics of good fathering that mean a lot to me.

1. Build a solid spiritual foundation.

A vibrant spiritual life is more caught than taught. If we are walking in the spirit, nine times out of ten, so will our children.

I remember looking through the door to the den early one morning and seeing my dad on his knees in prayer. You never get over that.

When I became a father, I glued a small plaque to the outside door which led into the kitchen. Every time my children went in or out of the house they were reminded: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 1:7).

We must raise our children “In the nurture and admonition of the Lord and on his precepts” (Ephesians 6:4). In other words, take the time to read and study the Bible on your own and with your children. You have the opportunity to help them develop a rich relationship with Jesus and a reverence for God’s Word.

2. Take the time to develop an intimate relationship with your children.

Busy fathers often say, “I may not have much time for my children; but, the time we do have is quality time.” Don’t be deceived. Having a little quality time doesn’t come close to the quantity of time that children really need.

Based on actual face time, the average father spends fourteen minutes a day with his teenage children. Christians fathers aren’t much better. They average seventeen!

Children spell love, T-I-M-E.

Think about what happens when most fathers try to discipline their teenagers. The teenager brings all of his/her emotional baggage to the conflict. Dad brings his. Their issues immediately clash. Imagine the explosive scene. Everyone gets hurt.

Now, imagine a situation where mom and dad have built a loving relationship with their teenager. Can you imagine that the confrontation would have a much better outcome?

It’s hard to discipline a child you don’t even know.

3. Meet the needs of your children by implementing these top ten intimacy principles.

Most people don’t think they really have many needs. But they do!

It’s important for fathers to meet the needs of their children. Meeting their needs is the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of love.  When meeting the needs of our children, we look most like Jesus.

The Top Ten Intimacy Needs

  • 1. Acceptance: Can you receive me and unconditionally love me even if I never change?
  • 2. Affection: We are talking about touches and cuddles and verbalized expressions of love.
  • 3. Appreciation: This has to do with someone commending the things you do.
  • 4. Attention: Who is spending time with you?
  • 5. Approval: This is close to appreciation but also contains an affirmation of who you are.
  • 6. Comfort: Who will let you cry? Who will cry with you? If you only have one temperature, you don’t have enough.
  • 7. Encouragement: This is to urge others on to fulfill their dreams, goals, and desires. Who’s your cheerleader?
  • 8. Respect: The key word here is value. I need someone to value my opinions, ideas, thoughts and convictions.
  • 9. Security: This is not just freedom from physical harm and having the doors locked. It has to do with emotional protection.
  • 10. Support: This is a practical need. I don’t need you to criticize me or advise me, I need you to get under this burden and share the load with me.”

Pay attention to your children’s needs and deliberately meet them daily. You’ll be a great father.

Our hope is that our children have no unmet needs.

Be encouraged; even if your child is an adult, you can still begin filling the holes left by unmet needs. It’s never too late!

One Friday, Julie and I were teaching a number of couples about the importance of having needs met. On Saturday morning we regathered, and one father could hardly wait to tell us a story.

It seems that last night while pumping gas he got a call on his cell phone from his daughter. She had been in an accident. He said, my old model was to ask questions like: “What happened? Were you hurt? Was anyone else hurt? Was it all your fault? Did you call the police? How many times did I have to tell you to be more careful?”

He continued, “I decided to try out what I just learned in the conference. I said to her, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you. You must be so scared. Please be at peace. We will work everything out for the best. No harm done. There is nothing here that can’t be fixed. Relax, I’ll be there soon to help you.’”

There was a long pause on the phone, and then she said, “Daddy, is that you?”

Good fathering means meeting the needs of our children.

4. Some dads are really good. You were fortunate if you had one.

I was fortunate. I had a great dad who invested time, energy, and wisdom to help prepare my brother and me for life.

For example, he was constantly searching for words of wisdom to pass on to us.

Perhaps the wisest thing ever said to us was: “Son, if you have to love people and work hard, you will always be a success in life.

Here are just a few sayings that he drilled into us:

“Life by the yard is hard; but by the inch it’s a cinch.”

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

“Don’t sell your peanuts at the end of the parade.”

“He who whispers down the well, about the goods he has to sell, will not have as many dollars, as he climbs a tree that hollers.”

His favorite words of advice were from the Bible. He must’ve quoted Philippians 4:13 twenty times a day: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Be at peace. You are not doomed pass along to your children the mistakes of your past. Many men have raised successful children despite a tough childhood.

By the way, don’t be too angry if you had a poor dad. Give him room for some grace. If you don’t get appreciation from your dad, there’s a good chance he didn’t get some from his father either.

It’s very hard to pass on what you have never received.

Fortunately, if we didn’t have a good dad, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and special people around us can minister to the unfulfilled needs in our lives. We can then pass them along to our children.


Well Scott,

I hope this is helpful. May God bless you and your children.

Love, Roger





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