When Moses told parents in Israel to instruct their children about God, Scripture hadn’t been written down yet. They weren’t going to be reading bedtime Bible stories to their children. What they had was memory of the orally transmitted history of their people. At the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land, they acquired another memory load. God gave Moses His detailed law for his uniquely chosen people. Accompanying the law given by God, here are the instructions Moses gave:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF FORGETTING
Moses, knowing that this stubborn, hard-hearted people would forget God and everything He had said, warned them ahead of time:
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
As a sad matter of fact, it didn’t take their getting into the land before Israel began to forget the Lord. A whole generation failed to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and might. They murmured about God’s provision, they rebelled against Moses’s leadership, they failed to trust God’s power to defeat the enemies awaiting them in Canaan, and they died in the wilderness, never to see the Promised Land. It was their children and grandchildren (twenty years and younger when leaving Egypt) who entered the Promised Land with Joshua and Caleb.
Think about the human aspects of that story for a minute. Think about having been told amazing stories about a wonder-working God by parents who no longer stood in awe of Him; by grandparents who had become cynical, hardened and ungrateful grumblers. Think about forty years in the wilderness of being commanded to love the God who was going to strike your parents and grandparents dead. For this generation to have reached the entrance to the Promised Land, ready to commit themselves to following God into battle says as much about God preserving a remnant as it does about this generation’s faithfulness.
WAS IT ISRAEL’S PROBLEM ONLY?
What about you and me? Do our children see in our daily lives the God about whom we teach them? Or does our faltering faith undo the messages they bring home in their Sunday School papers? Will your children be inclined to love the God you profess to love after they’ve been with you “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:8)? What does your life say to your children about God?
We all have God stories that we should rehearse with our children to remind them that the God we read about in the Bible is our God. The very same God who brought the people of Israel through the Red Sea and guided them through the wilderness with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day guides us too, provides for us too; loves us too. Perhaps we need to rehearse those stories for our own benefit, to remind ourselves of Who God is and what He’s done. Our lives should reinforce, not contradict, what we teach our children from the Bible. The Israelites lives contradicted everything they should have known about God. They, to their hurt, just did not take God seriously.
It appears that under the leadership of Joshua and Caleb, this new generation did have a restored confidence in and fear of God. After the conquest of Canaan, just before Joshua died, he challenged Israel to decide whom they would serve, saying, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). As a group, Israel committed to serve the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt, sustained them in the wilderness for forty years, and defeated their enemies in their new home land.
Sadly, we see in the book of Judges that this resolve did not last long. The book of Judges is famous for the recurring line,”Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This aptly describes today’s culture. God has gone out of style. Today’s cultural leaders and their followers trust their own opinions more than God’s authoritative Word. In their pride, I guess they’d rather die in the wilderness than consider the possibility that God might be right.
Perhaps there is hope with the next generation. Perhaps they will see that what their parents and grandparents protested, pronounced, and legislated to be right was terribly, terribly wrong, and that God, the Creator of the universe and all its inhabitants, holds all rights to proclaiming what is good and what is evil.
Does your daily life reflect what you say you believe about God? What do you need to change to make your life line up with your message?