Our burden should be to leave to our children the Great Story, the perennial Wisdom, the Everlasting Man. What’s more, we should maintain, as the Psalmist does, tremendous hope in unseen fruit, far beyond our lifetime and personal influence.
As mentioned in my last post, education means shaping and filling, admonition and nurture, law and story. That should sound familiar as the two basic components of covenant faithfulness, and the best place to see this is the book of Deuteronomy–which also features God’s fatherhood over Israel as a central theme.
In considering Deuteronomy, especially with a view to education, our attention will rightly be drawn to the Shema (6:4-9). Here Moses describes an educational methodology that strikingly matches what the New Testament readers would have understood by Pauline paideia (Eph. 6:4)–the way our identity in God floods every crevice of life, like sunlight at noon. In this nurture, the knowledge of God must mark key times, actions, and places; and the important divisions of ordinary life must fall under God’s dominion. Education requires a liturgy that testifies to God’s claim–and his name–on all of our person, all of life, all of space.
But when Moses tells fathers to teach “these words diligently to your children,” what is he referring to? Deuteronomy begins:
These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness…
Inspired by God (1:3), Moses first retells the history of their initial approach to the promised land, God’s provision of judges, the people’s faithless rebellion in the wake of the twelve spies’ report, God’s curse for this rebellion and their subsequent wandering in Edom and Moab; he retells the defeat of Sihon and Og, all the way to Beth-peor and the commissioning of Joshua.
The first three chapters of the book are therefore a retelling of the story, so the young Israelites born in the wilderness may see afresh “how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place” (1:31). God has marked out a faithful remnant to fill and subdue again, starting with their new Eden (1:39).
Chapter four narrates the covenant renewal ceremony in a passage heavy with commands, warnings, and promises; then in chapter five Moses rehearses the Decalogue. For our purposes, what stands out are concerns about covenantal memory and generational transmission:
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them to thy sons, and thy sons’ sons (4:9).
Here at the intersection of the first and fifth commandments, where culture is rooted in cult, education is essential to the success of dominion (cf. 4:10, 23, 25, 40; 5:16, 29, 33).
As I have said, the two essential parts of education are storytelling and law, which are both captured in the movement from the prologue to the first commandment:
I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me (5:6-7).
God says, this is who I am, as known by (the story of) my works, and this is what you shall do to be what I have named you. God commands their love, expressed from their hearts in specific forms of worship and life, because he first earned it as the author of their story (4:37; I Jn. 4:19).
Likewise, before we human parents ever issued the first ‘no,’ the first punishment in the wilderness of life, our children had wallowed in a thousand hours of cuddling, feeding, and comforting. Children learn because they love, because they are loved. Story, culture, and relationship all provide the context for law.