What Should We Teach Our Children?
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deut 6:5-9
Deuteronomy 6 tells us to teach our children God’s commands.
In a previous passage (5:1–33), Moses repeated the Ten Commandments, the basis for God’s moral law. In fact, the rest of the book of Deuteronomy is actually an amplification and application of these commandments.
Israel was to hear, learn, keep, and do these laws (v. 1), for in obeying the Law they would be honoring God and opening the way for victory and blessing.
The New Testament verses concerning God’s law explain that those who love God will follow God’s instructions—His ways, His paths (Romans 2:23; Ephesians 6:2-3; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Hebrews 10:16; James 1:25; 2:11; 8-26; 1 John 2:3-4, 24; 3:22; 5:2,3; 2 John 6; Revelation 22:14).
The first part of Deuteronomy 6 is known by the Jews as the Shema.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4–5)
The shema is the official Hebrew declaration of faith. When Jesus was asked for the first commandment, He answered with the commandment of the Shema (see Matthew 23:37).
Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg, is a wonderful book that explains the depth and meaning we can find in the Bible when we enter the minds of its ancient authors. Here Tverberg explains the Hebrew word Shema:
The word that means “hear” or “listen,” shema (pronounced “shmah”) is an excellent example of the difference between Hebrew, which stresses physical action, and Greek and Western culture which stresses mental activity.
Listening, in our culture, is a mental activity, and hearing just means that our ears pick up sounds. But in Hebrew, the word shema describes hearing and also its effects—taking heed, being obedient, doing what is asked.
Any parent who yells at their children, “Were you listening?” when they ignore a command to pick up their rooms understands that listening should result in action. In fact, almost every place we see the word obey in the Bible, it is translated from the word shema.
The word shema is also the name of the “pledge of allegiance” that Jesus and other observant Jews up until this day have said every morning and evening. It is the first word of the first line, Hear (shema), O Israel!
The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).
By saying this, a Jew would remind himself of his commitment to love God, to dedicate himself to following God and doing His will. Some Jews teach their children the shema as soon as they learn to talk! It is the central affirmation for a Jewish person of his or her commitment to the Lord. The word shema here again means, take heed or listen and obey!
This gives us a clue as to why Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” He is calling us to put His words into action, not just listen.
He wants us to be doers of the word, and not hearers only (James 1:22). We Westerners put all our stress on what is in our minds, and tend to consider action as dead works. But Hebrews understood that we have not truly put what we have heard into our hearts until it transforms our lives as well.
In the second part of Deuteronomy 6, God’s people were commanded to meditate on “these commandments” (the Torah) and to keep the Law in their heart.
Parents were in a position to impress them on their childrens’ hearts. The moral and biblical education of children was accomplished best as the natural topic of a conversation which might occur anywhere and anytime during the day, rather than in a formal teaching format.
Again we need to view the Scriptures in their Hebraic setting to discover beautiful nuggets of new meaning. Here Lois Tverberg explains the Hebrew word torah in Listening to the Language of the Bible:
Protestant Christians tend to have a negative attitude about the word law, feeling that it refers to oppressive and arbitrary regulations. But the word that we translate as law, Torah, has a very different emphasis and connotation in Hebrew.
Torah is derived from the root word yarah which literally means to flow as water. Figuratively it means to point out, to teach, inform, instruct, show. Torah could best be defined in English as instruction, that is, God’s instruction to man. When it is used to speak of God’s instruction, there is an understanding that whatever God teaches us, we are obligated to obey.
Therefore, the word law is within the bounds of the definition of torah, but is not really its main emphasis. Our translations tend to reinforce our thinking, by translating torah as law most of the time. The Jewish translations like the JPS Tanakh instead translate torah as teaching most of the time.
We see evidence of Torah as teaching rather than law when we notice that the first five books of the Bible are called the Torah, but they contain much more than laws. The Torah contains the story of the Creation and Fall, God’s covenants, His rescue of His people from slavery, and His training them to be His people in the desert. All of the Torah teaches us about God’s ways and purposes, and about the nature of man. But only part of it is actually law.
The Penteuch is specifically called the Torah because it is understood to be the teaching given through Moses, but the word Torah is often used in a larger sense to describe all of Scripture.
This emphasis helps us see God in a more positive light. Now the word Torah reminds us that, rather than being primarily a lawgiver or a policeman waiting to punish us, God is a loving Father instructing His children in how to live. Jesus, who instructed His disciples and the crowds, was simply imitating His Father in teaching us how to have life, and have it more abundantly.
For you to teach your child God’s law you need to know it yourself or learn it as you teach your child.
Charles Spurgeon’s devotional on Psalm 37:31 sheds light on the meaning of the law of God:
The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
“Put the law into the heart, and the whole man is right. This is where the law should be; for then it lies, like the tables of stone in the ark, in the place appointed for it. In the head it puzzles, on the back it burdens, in the heart it upholds.
What a choice word is here used, “the law of his God”! When we know the Lord as our own God His law becomes liberty to us.
God with us in covenant makes us eager to obey His will and walk in His commands.
Is the precept my Father’s precept? Then I delight in it. re here guaranteed that obedient-hearted man shall be sustained in every step that he takes. He will do that which is right, and he shall therefore do that which is wise.
Holy action is always the most prudent, though it may not at the time seem to be so. We are moving along the great highroad of God’s providence and grace when we keep to the way of His law.
The Word of God has never misled a single soul yet; its plain directions to walk humbly, justly, lovingly, and in the fear of the Lord are as much words of wisdom to make our way prosperous as rules of holiness to keep our garments clean. He walks surely who walks righteously.”
We have a duty as parents, grandparents, teachers, as Christians, to teach our children (Eph 6:4).
Our children have a duty fear God and keep his commandments (Ecc. 12:13, 14).
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6