Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Previously we looked at God’s creation of the family from Genesis 1 and 2. We called this foundational understanding “Shepherding 101” and rightly so. If you don’t understand that men and women were 1) created to represent God as His image bearers, 2) share equality of worth as they equally share that image, yet 3) function very differently with the man providing headship and leadership over the woman who supports and assists him, then you’ve already moved off of the foundation built by God. Given time, your structure will collapse. We’re still talking basics here. But moving from the original creation, let’s take a look at God’s design for the inter-dynamics of the family. This is Shepherding 111.
Today we’ll be looking at Deuteronomy 6. Just to give a little bit of context, Moses is not long for this world. He is addressing the 2nd generation of Israel (the 1st generation from the Egyptian Exodus died because of their bellyaching in the wilderness) right before they enter the land of promise. If we have learned a single thing from Genesis 1 up to Deuteronomy 6, it is that humanity has zero interest in obeying God. This poses quite the problem to Israel, because the covenant that God made with them at Sinai (Exodus 20) demands complete obedience. A failure obey means expulsion from the land. In order to remain in the land, they need generational fidelity. What then is the solution to generational fidelity? Faithful shepherding.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6 NASB)
Once again the trajectory must come from a correct understanding of God and our relationship to Him. Before breathing a word of specific command, Moses makes clear that it is the Lord who is the God of Israel (as opposed to any other “so-called” god) and that He is ONE (there is only one true God). This goes well beyond intellectual assent. It is not enough to be an ethnic Israelite and therefore by default be a worshiper of the Lord. Moses makes clear that this second generation must know who the Lord is (your God who is one) and they must love Him.
The personal triad given in v. 5 (heart, soul, and might) indicates the entire person. We must recognize that the “heart” to the Hebrew mind did not bring up the same ridiculous imagery as a 21st century western audience. The heart was not the seat of emotion to the ancient Hebrew. To the ancient Semitic mind, the bowels (not the heart) represented emotions.
Next Valentines Day, you should try giving your spouse a card in the shape of the large intestines. It’s just way more biblical.
The heart is the control center of man. This is where decisions are made. This is where personality exists. This is the core of humanity; the heart. If I am to love the Lord with my entire core, then that includes all of me. Both the immaterial (soul) and material (strength) would be required. Who God is and what our relationship and obligations are has not changed, nor can we be removed from this foundation.
The rest of chapter 6 commands the Israelite fathers how to shepherd their children in order to promote generational faithfulness. I can think of nowhere else in Scripture where the father’s duty is so clear. In vv. 7-9 we’ll see that Moses is calling the father’s of Israel to be first and foremost Teachers. And in vv. 20-25 we’ll note that father’s are called to be Theologians.
The Father as Teacher
“You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
First, understand that the subject that Moses is commanding the men of Israel to teach their children consist of “these words” (v. 6). This is a reference to the first 5 chapters of Deuteronomy, which is a brief history of Exodus through Numbers, which assumes the validity of Genesis. In other words: “This words” = the totality of God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. For our 21st century audience, the Bible. Blessedly, this text is unambiguous and speaks for itself. But I just want to make a few observations.
Teaching is the FATHER’S Responsibility
I would love for someone to show me where this text (or any other text in the entirety of Scripture) commands mothers to teach their children. Save you time, because there exists no such text. Some may turn to the example of Timothy who was taught by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). But understand that was not of God’s perfect design, but out of necessity as his father was a pagan Greek (Acts 16:1). Please do not misunderstand me. We want mothers to teach their children Holy Scripture. That is a good thing. But in addition to and not in place of their father’s instruction.
Turning our attention back to Deuteronomy 6, I can’t help but notice the scores of masculine 2nd person singular pronouns. I’d like to petition the editors of the NASB for an updated version that includes “y’all” for all 2nd person plural pronouns so that we can tell the difference. Every time you see the word “you” in these verses, understand that Moses is using a masculine singular pronoun. Singular: because it carries the effect of pointing to every single individual within the crowd (no man can hide within the crowd). Masculine: because the individuals being commanded are the men of Israel, the fathers. While there is nothing wrong or sinful in mothers teaching their children the fear and admonition of the Lord (please do so!), you must understand that the command “You shall teach them diligently…” falls squarely on the shoulders of husbands and fathers. But isn’t that what one would expect with a correct understanding of God’s perfect creation of the family?
The Father’s Role Never Ends
It’s hard to imagine how one could possibly misunderstand Moses’ words here. What does it mean to “diligently” teach your children the totality of God’s Word? A five-minute devotional around the dinner table? A two-minute prayer time before bed? A ten-minute moralistic lecture on the drive to school? Moses paints quite the different picture of fatherly responsibility. You will teach your kids the Bible each and every chance you get. When you’re at home together, when you’re traveling together, before you go to bed, and as soon as you get up you will be filling that young mind with the Words of God. Some folks out there might think that’s a bit excessive. No sir, that’s just being obedient.
I have a nine-year-old son at home, and I was struck by the fact that I have already used up half of my time with him. 50% of the time my son will spend under my roof is already gone. Have I already completed half the work of preparing him to be a man of God in a world that hates Him? The fact of the matter is simple. If you are a father, then you are a teacher. And your job never ends.
The Father’s Work is Sincere
The father is not allowed the privilege of being a lecturer only. He is commanded to practice what he preaches.
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Once again, “them” is a reference to “these words” which he is teaching his children. We will expand this reference to the totality of Scripture. The Holy Word of God will be to him as a sign on the hand. There’s nothing he can do without working through what he knows about God. Every tool that he picks up reminds him that he is living in world that is cursed with labor, but that work is a part of the “very good” creation. “These words” are to be as frontals before his eyes (that strange headband you’ve seen Middle-Eastern folks wear with fringe hanging down). The Word of God is to be a filter and a lens through which fathers view the world. This is a call for nothing short of a thoroughly biblical worldview. As he leaves home and as he comes home, he stands upon and his held accountable by “these words.”
The Father as Theologian:
I don’t mean that it is necessary for a father to obtain a theological degree from an accredited school. But I do mean that the Christian father should know Scripture well enough to connect the dots and answer the big questions for his children.
“When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you? Then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the Lord showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.”
God has commanded fathers to be more than instructors of facts, but shepherds. We are not commanded to only fill our children’s heads with facts about God. We’re teaching with the expectation that God will produce a heart change. We spend all day every day answering the unasked question “what?” as we read, teach, and explain the Bible to our family. But we must be ready to answer the question “why?” at the drop of a hat. It is in this sense that I say that a father must be a theologian. He must know his Bible and his God well enough to be able to answer the question “why?”
Going from “What?” to “Why?”
Verse 20 assumes that children will require an explanation for their daily way of living. Ancient Israel was commanded to dress a certain way, eat certain things, and worship in a particular manner. And none of it matched up with the people around them. Questions were bound to pop up. And when they do, the father doesn’t duck them, but answers them as directly and thoroughly as possible.
“Dad, what do all these things mean?”
“Son, let me start at the beginning.”
Notice the answer that Moses requires paints a picture of complete reliance upon God with magnificent indebtedness to God. “We were slaves in Egypt…But then God acted!” In these few verses, Moses states that God is Israel’s savior (v. 21), He’s all-powerful (v. 22), and He is faithful (v. 23). Verse 24 wraps up the answer.
“Son, we do these things because the God who saved us, demonstrated His power over the largest army in the world, and kept His promise to us, has commanded us to do these things. It is for our good and God’s glory when we obey Him. Why would we even think of doing otherwise?”
Going from Law to Gospel
“It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.”
I need to make one thing very clear. Believers in the Old Testament were saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone just like we are saved today. They were given a promise of a coming seed who would crush sin and recreate the world to once again be very good (Genesis 3:15; 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-8). The saints of the Old Testament look forward to the coming of Christ. We look back upon His work of redemption and forward to His return and re-creation.
All of that to say, obedience to the Mosaic Law didn’t save anybody. But obedience to the Law demonstrated a heart that believed and trusted solely in the coming one, Messiah. Just like faith without works is dead today (James 2: 14-26), it was then too. So when this father within Moses’ example states, “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment” he’s not suggesting a works based salvation, but stating that obedience is indicative of saving faith. You cannot fake the funk for long. If you seek to obey, it means that you’ve been given a heart to believe, meaning that it is righteousness to you. In other words: Don’t you dare stop your teaching at outward morality! But make sure that your children understand the gospel.
That might look something like this: Kids, I have certain rules in this house and for our family. But that is because God has placed me as your shepherd, to train you up to be men and women that please Him. He is the creator of everything and we owe everything to Him. We have been born into this world as wicked sinners who hate him. When you disobey me, understand that you are really disobeying God. I will give you a spanking for disobedience. But understand that all disobedience against God requires death. The good news though is that God sent His only Son into the world to save sinners, I of whom am foremost of all…
Do you see how that works?
The father’s role is NOT primarily the breadwinner. The father’s role is first and foremost a shepherd and a shepherd is primarily a teacher. God does not care about your career, how much money you make, all the things you’re able to “give” your kids. God has called you to a very simple job: To teach and demonstrate His Word each and every day to your family. If you are not a teaching father, then you’re not a shepherd.
The mindset of every Christian man must be: It is not our wives’ obligation to teach our children. We will not rely on the government, the schools system, or even the children’s ministry at church. We will be men who lead. We will be shepherds who teach. We will be fathers who disciple our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord our God.