Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up. —Deuteronomy 6:4–6
This brief Bible passage accomplishes many things. In it, God makes himself clearly known to His followers, He establishes the relationship of love He wishes us to have with Him, and He gives us a duty to perform – to teach our children. It is with these words that God sends Moses and the Israelites on their continued wilderness journey after giving them the detailed behavioral teachings of the Ten Commandments. The instructions in our text seem to serve almost as a punctuation mark to the preceding teachings of the commandments.
The Smallest and Most Helpless
What is striking here is the scope of God’s willful message, from establishing who He is to ensuring that His kingdom will not come to an end but will, through the believers’ loving teaching of their children, reign forever. Centuries later, Jesus builds on this same teaching when He says, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Our passage takes us from the greatest, God, through to the least, children. It is the important position of the children and the teaching of them that begs for recognition and emphasis here. Though they in one sense are the smallest, the least, the most helpless, Jesus nevertheless says, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4).
Another time Jesus tells His disciples to “allow the little children to come unto me…for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). How vital, then, are the innocent babies born as gifts of God to those who love Him, to those who are “an holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself” (Deut. 7:6). The “special people” are God’s own believers – the mothers and fathers that believe in Him and who God has called to be teachers of the young ones. It is God who gives life to both parent and child.
In All Times and in All Places
God encourages parents and all caretaking adults in His kingdom to talk about faith. This teaching and guiding of children can also include grandmas and grandpas, sisters, brothers and godparents. We follow this command in the baptism sacrament when we exhort all adults present to diligently teach the children at all times and in all places. Here in Deuteronomy, God tells them to instill in the children His will and His love not only at home “in thine house” but also when they are away from home, when they “walk by the way.” He wants the teaching to begin when they awaken each day, “when thou risest up” and when they go to sleep at night, “when thou liest down.” In other words, He wants His “chosen,” who are a “special people” unto himself to fully live their faith in Him, so that their love and belief in God will be not just told to their children but instilled in them.
The words of Jesus explain this best: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Believing children are the continuation, the future, the “everlasting” of God’s kingdom here on earth – an everlasting that for the wee child in whom the love of God is instilled, and for the adult child of God, has already begun but will not end.
From Generation to Generation
This instruction to teach is expressed four more times in the book of Deuteronomy and much earlier, in Genesis, when God expresses his confidence in Abraham, saying, “I know him, that he will command his children…and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (18:19). Perhaps Psalm 78 sums up this teaching concept most clearly: “we will not hide [the words of my mouth – verse 1] from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength and his wonderful works…that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children” (verses 4 and 6).
Let us remember that the child is at the center of God’s kingdom. Let us also recognize that this child is born helpless and needs the nurture, teaching and guidance of loving parents – parents who accept these same values from the living God. May the kingdom of God continue, as it has throughout time, through the preaching and teaching of His Word from generation to generation.