Old Testament Roots for Family Discipleship

The best place for us to begin to get our reason and method for family discipleship is where God begins, the Old Testament.

The Role of the Parent

The place we will begin our survey is in the Garden. Adam and Eve were created and felt no shame. This is true martial bliss - no shame, complete openness and vulnerability without the hint of reservation. However, after they rebelled against God, everything changed. So long to the marital bliss. They felt shame - shame due to the guilt of their rebellion -  and a distrust towards the other.

This is where one of the major gospel implications comes in: even though they rebelled against the Lord, the Lord took the first step in restoration:
"And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them."
Genesis 3:21
This might not seem significant at first, but this is the first death. Blood was spilled to cover over the nakedness (by way of allusion, sinfulness) of humanity. This set the paradigm of the sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews explains, "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22)

In the next chapter, we meet the first children of the Bible, Cain and Abel, offering a sacrifice to God. Cain offered to God fruit, which He rejected; whereas Abel offered to God the firstborn of his flock, which He accepted. The reason why God accepted the sacrifice of Abel to further explain the sacrificial system that He instated. That, however, is not my concern at the present moment. My question is this: If Cain and Abel were born after their parents were cut off from God's presence, after the time that God taught Adam and Eve the sacrificial system, how did Cain and Abel know about God, let alone how did they know to offer sacrifices to Him and what sacrifice is according to His revealed will? 

The answer: Their parents taught them. 

They knew about God because Adam and Eve told them about God. They knew they were to offer Him sacrifices because it had been handed down to them. This is called oral tradition. In the time before writing was developed, people communicated orally. Listen to what the Psalmist says, 
"Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
Incline your ears to the words of 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 our our children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done."
Psalm 78:1-4
In fact, everything we know from Genesis came by oral tradition - parents passing these stories down to their children.

The Shema 

Arguably the most significant and explicit Passage that teaches us what God expected of parents in the OT comes from Deuteronomy 6, the Shema. 
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9
The context of this Passage is the Second giving of the Law. This is Moses' sermon to the people right before Joshua leads them into the Promised Land. The words that Moses is referring to are the first 5 books of the OT, which he wrote. He charges parents with the role of primary faith trainer (terminology for OT discipleship).

Commands are given to parents to (formally and informally) share God's Word with their children. Philip McKinney highlights the 4 verbs emboldened above (teach, talk, bind, and write) and gives helpful ways we can and should communicate God's Word with our children:

  1. Teach- Carve out time every week to read and explain the scriptures to your children. 
    • ex. An hour at your teenagers favorite coffee shop
    • ex. A few minutes each night

  2. Talk- As Moses explains, "when you sit in your house, walk by the way, lie down and rise." Whenever and wherever you are, talk about the things of God with your children.

  3. Bind- Fashion Scripture in places to serve as a reminder to your family. Example: Scripture as wall art.

  4. Write- Write your children notes. Slip a note with Scripture on it in with their sandwich in their lunchbox. 


What is so easily missed when reading the Old Testament is the partnership that existed between the family and prophets/priests. Let's consider Nehemiah 8. The people have returned from Exile, and Ezra stands in front of the people, opens up the scriptures, and all the people weep as he reads from God's Word because it is precious to them:
"And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then He said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions ot anyone who has notion ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. On the second day the heads of the fathers' houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law."
Nehemiah 8:9-13
In this Text, we find the priests and fathers gather to study the Word of God. Pay attention here: This is a type of what we will find in the NT. This partnership between the OT religious leaders and families will be seen again between NT pastors/teachers and families. 

You might be a parent and feel like you don't know anything about God's Word. You might feel insecure or hypocritical trying to teach something you do not understand or are not faithful in. Whatever you might be feeling, God has called you to teach the word to your children, and God has called your pastors to equip you for that ministry. Go to them. Study God's word with them so that you can take that word back to your family.
The Generation Who Did Not Know the Lord

After Moses preached his sermon and the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they began their conquest of the Promised Land. At the end of their conquest, Joshua stands back and he sees the remnants of idolaters, those who worship false gods. He gathers the people together to give them a message like Moses gave the people, and much like Moses' final words to the people, Joshua gets right to the heart and challenges parents to be faithful to their calling:

"Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Joshua 24:14-15 
After such an epic charge by Joshua and Moses, it would seem that that the people would be committed to the Lord. However, that is not the case. In Judges 2, we see that as soon as Joshua and his generation pass away, the people very quickly abandon the Lord: 
"When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim ,north of the mountain of Gaash. 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. And the people of Israel did whta was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And the abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies."
Judges 2:6-14
This generation set the precedent for the idolatry of generations to come. How in the world did things take such a drastic turn? The parents of "the generation who did not know the Lord" clearly knew him! They saw all kinds of wonders and miracles, and conquered their enemies. How did their children grow up and "did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel?"

Answer: Their parents failed to heed Moses' Words to teach God's Word to their kids, to talk about the things of God, to bind them and write them such that the Word of God marked every aspect of their life as a family.
Conclusion: The Proverbial Promise? 
The most well-known OT verse with regards to parenting comes from the Proverbs:
"Start a youth out on his way;
even when he grows old he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6
This passage is comforting to many parents for many reasons. It provides us with hope, but many parents have had their hopes shattered when a child that they have raised in Church, prayed for and with, read Scripture over and with, has abandoned the faith. They look to this Proverb and wonder why their child has departed from the way. They conclude:
  • "Maybe I failed as a parent. I wasn't faithful in starting my 'youth on his way.'"
  • Or, "God's Word is not true. I know I set my 'youth on his way.' This promise turned out to be a lie. 

But neither of those are right conclusions. Proverbs ought not to be interpreted as unbreakable laws. As Robert Stein puts it, "Proverbs are not laws. They are not even promises. They are generalizations learned from careful observation and a wise analysis of life." That means, even if you are faithful in disciplining your child, they can still wander away from the faith. Why?
  • They are individuals and have the responsibility to respond to the Gospel in faith and repentance. That is something that they must do for themselves. You can not blame yourself for your child's behavior, conduct, or choices. 
  • This proverb is giving general wisdom for life, not a law that cannot be broken. 

If you are struggling because your child is in your home or out of your home and not following the Lord:
  • Pray for them. 
  • Share Christ with them. 
  • Love them well. Never abandon them for the Father did not abandon you when you were in sin. 
  • Trust God with the results. 
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