Recently, I have been thinking about if there is a method for teaching children prescribed in the Bible and what that method might be. Sometimes, it seems like the Bible has very little to say about children specifically and at other time, I feel like the whole idea of the Old Testament is that parents must teach their children about the Lord. When they do not, a generation grows up without knowing the truth, and all kinds of evil happens because of the ignorant generation. This week I am slowly going through Psalm 78 and meditating on it. Here are the first 8 verses.
Tell the Coming Generation
A Maskil of Asaph.
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
(Psalm 78:1-8 ESV)
At all costs, the next generation must be told about what the Lord has done and what He requires of us. His past actions and commands must be constantly spoken of and reviewed with children so that they will understand them and act in that understanding. What is most astonishing about this passage is that God must be magnified in the children’s eyes even at the parents’ expense. The Israelites were supposed to talk about their own failures and the failures of their fathers in order to magnify the Lord and keep their children from making the same mistakes.
I decided to do a word study (kind of) and looked up as many verses as I could about children in the Old Testament. There were about thirty references that deal with teaching children. It was a little difficult to figure out when the passages were specifically talking about young children and when they were talking about descendants of any age, but maybe we do not actually need to differentiate so much after all. Many references are similar to this psalm and are direct commands that the parents must teach the children about the ways of the Lord. In Genesis 18 it even says that Abraham was chosen so that he would instruct his children and their children in the way of the Lord. The one chosen to begin the nation which would be a channel of the gospel was chosen with the purpose that he would teach his children and descendants well. Multiple verses also specify that parents needed to pass on instruction and the wonderful deeds of the Lord because the children did not see the miraculous deeds of the Lord with their eyes. The parents had a responsibility as eyewitnesses to pass on the information about the amazing things the Lord did in their presence. This reminds me of the way that the eyewitnesses of the resurrection were supposed to share the good news with others who had not seen.
Most of these passages do not talk about specifically how one should teach children, but that one should teach children. Maybe part of this is because the responsibility was to teach your descendants, not just young children. Scripture does not specific a time or age when training in the Lord’s law ended. However, several passages to address possible methods. For example, Joshua 4, Deuteronomy 29, and I Kings 9 all give the specific instructions with a command to teach. God uses children’s natural curiosity to teach them. All of these passages give parents instructions to do something or to set up a certain memorial. Not if, but when the child asks what the meaning of the memorial or ceremony is, the parent is to explain how God worked. When we teach children, we should answer their “why” questions! I realize that is not always possible because children are very imaginative; however, many questions can be answered if they are simply stated without excessive technical explanation. Another method talked about in scripture is in Deuteronomy 6. This familiar passage again commands parents to tell their children about God’s ways and his commandments. How are they to do that? They are to talk about them at every opportunity, whether that is in the home, on the way to or from someplace, at bedtime, or at breakfast. There were to be tangible reminders all over the house and God constantly was to be the topic of conversation in everyday life, not just at certain sacred times. And finally, children joined their parents in worship and celebration (Nehemiah 12:43), in mourning and confession (Ezra 10:1), and in ceremonially cleansing themselves (2 Chronicles 31:18). The flip side of this is that children also participated in idol worship when the parents did (Jeremiah 7:18). Children mimic the adults in their lives so believers who teach children must have good habits and rituals for children to follow.
As I was reading, the most encouraging passage I encountered was in Isaiah 54, which tells Israel about the future eternal covenant between the Lord and his people. Verse 13 says, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” The weight of responsibility is great on parents to pass the truth on to their children, as well as for believers to pass on the truth to any unbelievers, but it is an encouragement to know that through the Holy Spirit, we are no longer so dependent on human information. Because of the Spirit, we can learn from his illumination directly.
As I teach, I want the words and deeds of the Lord to be ever present in my words. I want to have the patience to answer their “why” questions. I want to include them in the disciplines of prayer, Bible study, service, etc. so that they can learn by doing and experiencing. I need to remember that teaching the next generation is of utmost importance, no matter what method one uses.
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