“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
The most important verse in all of the Old Testament as far as Judaism is concerned is Deuteronomy 6:4. It is called the Shema, the Hebrew command “listen,” because that’s the first word. It goes like this:
“”Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
– Deuteronomy 6:4
The next verse is cited with it together by Jesus as the greatest commandment. Here’s verse five:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
– Deuteronomy 6:5
This idea that they should worship God alone and love Him with all of their being formed the core of who Israel understood themselves to be. For faithful Jews today it still does.
But, God understood that this was not a command the people were going to follow on their own. It would take patient teaching and application for it to penetrate into the depths of their heart and become part of their identity. It would take this work in every single generation. One generation was going to have to be diligent about teaching the next or they were going to wander off somewhere else.
Because of this, after telling the people they were going to need to keep this command fresh in their own hearts, He said this to them:
“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.”
– Deuteronomy 6:7
Passing this along to the next generation was part of the greatest command. One generation would share it with the next, and that one with the next, and on down through the line of history for as far as it went.
This was supposed to be how the nation operated, but for Israel during the period of the Judges things broke down rather seriously. The generation of Joshua and the one immediately following him kept the law, but they forgot to pass it on, to teach it diligently to the next generation, and so a whole generation arose who did not know the Lord or the great things He had done for their ancestors.
If we are going to be faithful in our own Christian journeys as followers of Christ, part of this faithfulness will be played out through our diligently teaching the next generation about the faith. We will teach our children not simply what we believe, but why we believe it so that they can make it their own. We won’t simply “drag them to church” for years while they aren’t in a position to say no, we will teach them to love the Lord and His Church.
This last part is important. We are in a place culturally in which a whole generation is turning from the Lord in record numbers. This is a generation whose parents were fairly faithful on the whole. But, rather than teaching their children diligently, they simply dragged them to church as if being in church itself would make them into Jesus followers. It hasn’t. It’s made them skeptical and mistrusting of the church and its leaders.
If you are a parent, teach your kids about Jesus. Show them why the Christian faith is more reasonable than any other worldview option. Help them understand why church matters. Share with them your story of faith and what it has meant in your life. The faith of the next generation depends on it.