There are more than 1700 references to children in the Bible. These begin in the early chapters of Genesis, with the first spoken command to humanity to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1:27) followed subsequently in the narrative with the birth of the first children (Cain and Abel, and later Seth). References to children continue throughout the Torah / Pentateuch, the Prophets and Wisdom books of the Old Testament, into the Gospels and Epistles. The child/parent metaphor is favoured by Paul as a rich and fertile characterisation of the believer’s relationship with God, to whom the Spirit cries on our behalf, ‘Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:6). It is in the life and ministry of Jesus that we find the most profound – even astounding – teaching regarding children, the culmination of the fact that throughout the Scriptures children play surprisingly prominent and even pivotal roles.
In Genesis, children are shown to receive and bear the imago Dei (image of God) equally with adults; just as God makes humanity ‘in his image and likeness’, so human parents bear children in their ‘image and likeness’ thereby transferring the imago Dei to successive generations. In fact, ‘pro-creation’ represents the most truly God-like creative activity in which humans can participate; in partnership with God himself according to the psalmist (‘You God knit me together in my mother’s womb’ Psalm 139:13). This high value on procreation and the birth of children echoes throughout Genesis, with many of the great promises of God to the patriarchs centering on and being fulfilled in the ‘blessing’ of receiving children. Abram’s very identity—and indeed the change of that identity from Abram, ‘exalted father’, to Abraham, ‘father of many’—is fundamentally related to the coming of children: ‘Your descendents will be like the stars’ (Genesis 15:5) ‘I will bless you and through you every nation on earth will be blessed’ (Genesis 12:1). Such blessings rely on the physically unlikely but much cherished promise of children, and successive generations of children, and foreshadow ultimately the coming of the messianic Child, through whom the promise is fulfilled.
God is concerned with the welfare of society’s most fragile and defenceless, Himself adopting the role of ‘father of the fatherless’ and ‘defender of the defenceless'.
Caring for socially and physically vulnerable children, particularly orphans, receives particular attention from Yahweh in the legal codes (‘Torah’) of the Hebrew community. This reveals something of the nature of Israel’s God: He is not aloof and impassive, but the opposite; God is concerned with the welfare of society’s most fragile and defenceless, Himself adopting the role of ‘father of the fatherless’ and ‘defender of the defenceless.’