When most of the books of the Bible were written, parents and grandparents held positions of honor. Children were expected to revere their elders and learn from them. When God introduced the Law to the Israelite nation, He even included a commandment to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). God also made it part of His Law that the younger person should stand in the presence of the elderly as a sign of respect (Leviticus 19:32). Implied within this command is a multi-generational attitude of honor toward senior relatives. As children observed their parents honoring the grandparents, they, in turn, would shoulder that responsibility when their time came.
Proverbs 17:6 says that “children’s children are the crown of old people.” Every grandparent understands that comparison. There is a special kind of bond between a grandparent and a grandchild that benefits both. Someone has humorously stated that “grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your own children when they were teenagers.” Humor aside, there is some truth to that. Grandchildren, like children, are a reward—a blessing from the Lord and one way that He is good to us (Psalm 127:3).
In the New Testament, the duty of an adult grandchild is made explicit: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to serve God by taking care of her, as she once took care of them. This is what God wants them to do” (1 Timothy 5:4, CEV). So the honor shown to a grandparent in need is more than mere respect; it is taking practical steps to support the grandparent and doing whatever it takes to meet his or her needs. Doing so is a natural part of serving the Lord.
Just as grandchildren have obligations to love, honor, and assist their grandparents, so do grandparents have responsibilities toward their children’s children. Proverbs 13:22 says that “a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” Righteous people live wisely and pass on their wisdom, knowledge, and material blessings to their grandchildren. In our day, it has become common for grandparents to have full custody of their grandchildren due to the parents’ inability or unwillingness to rear their own children. While this is sad, it also demonstrates the unique love grandparents have that creates a willingness to begin the task of bringing up a child just when child-rearing was supposed to be finished. Few retirees would volunteer for the emotional, financial, and physical burden of rearing children again, but, because they are grandparents, they set aside their own desires for the needs of a grandchild.
The Bible gives examples of grandparents, and some of the grandparents were wicked: 2 Kings 11 recounts the sad story of Athaliah, mother of King Ahaziah of Judah. When Ahaziah died, the Queen Mother ordered the execution of all her royal family so that she could take the throne. Unknown to her, one of Ahaziah’s sisters, Jehosheba, hid a baby grandson, Joash, in a bedroom so that he escaped his grandmother’s bloody rampage. He and his nurse remained hidden in the temple for six years while his grandmother ruled Judah. When Joash was seven years old, the high priest brought him out, anointed him, put the crown on his head, and proclaimed little Joash king of Judah. When Athaliah saw this, she flew into a rage, but the godly high priest ordered her to be executed. Thus, it was the murder of his entire family by his own grandmother that ushered in the forty-year reign of King Joash of Judah.
An unusual grandparenting relationship is found in the book of Ruth. The story of Ruth is a beautiful tale of love and loyalty between a young widow and her bereaved mother-in-law, Naomi. Although her husband is dead, Ruth chooses to stay with her mother-in-law to care for her. She even leaves her own people, the Moabites, to follow Naomi back to Israel where she meets and marries Boaz. When their first child is born, the townspeople congratulate Naomi, saying, “Naomi has a son!” (Ruth 4:14–17). The child was no blood relation to Naomi, but, because of the love and connection between her and Ruth, she adopted the baby as her own grandchild. This reminds us that grandparenting can come in many forms. In this day of broken families, divorce, and step-parenting, godly men and women who will adopt their children’s step-children as their own grandchildren are blessed, as Naomi was blessed. Her adopted grandchild, Obed, became the grandfather of King David.
When God designed this world, He instituted the family as His means of propagating the earth and teaching us about love and relationship. He intended for the elder to teach the younger and for the younger to revere the elder. Grandparents play a unique role in this design. Free from the responsibility to train and discipline a child, grandparents can offer open arms, acceptance, and a safe place for a child to run when things are not going well with Mom and Dad. Grandparents can provide wisdom beyond that of the parents, since they have already walked this road many years before. A wise grandparent, though, will never intrude upon a parental decision in front of the child. A grandparent’s role is not to supersede the parent but to support, encourage, and counsel as needed. When parents, grandparents, and children are living out their roles as God designed, the entire family thrives.