Teach Your Children Well


Introduction: This Psalm has two intense recitations of God’s wonderful operations of power in rescuing Israel from Egypt (see verses 11-12 and 42-43). One of these reminders is followed by a description of their unfaithfulness throughout their wanderings in the wilderness (14-41). The second moves quickly through the plagues upon the Egyptians (44-53), the Israelites conquest of the land (54-55), and summarizes the inconsistency of their faithfulness after having settled in the land and God’s consequent chastening up to the time of David (56-72). The passages selected for study from this Psalm (5-8 and 32-39) emphasize the necessity of remembering the ways of God and embracing the revelation both of his justice and of his mercy with the heart.


I. Verses 1-4 – The Determination of the Psalmist to Keep alive a knowledge of the ways of God with the People.

A. Verse 1 – A Call for rapt attention – Asaph was one of David’s three chief musicians. He first appears in 1 Chronicles 15:16-19 at the return of the ark from Obed-Edom to Jerusalem. He also was called a “seer,” (1 Chronicles 25) and so had charge of making sure that music was consistent with the words of divine revelation. He calls attention, therefore, to the lesson he is about to utter in this “maskil” designed for worship through music.

B. Verses 2, 3 – He is confident of giving the spiritual truths that should be gleaned from the narrative. Calling his narrative a parable does not mean that the events to which he refers were not historical but that he arranges this narrative in service of theological discernment (“dark sayings from of old”), truths about God and man that help define the nature of God’s redemptive purpose established before the foundation of the world.

C. Verse 4 – The open display of these things, even the hard things must be told.

  1. “We will not hide them, etc” – No truth of God should be hidden if God himself has revealed it. Maturity both mentally and spiritually may determine when one may ingest the truth with understanding, but the Psalmist indicates that even the hard truths of this narrative should be recited to the children.
  2. The focus should be Godward, his glorious deeds and might, and the wonders he had done. The brilliance of the divine glory is set against the backdrop of human sin and unfaithfulness.


II. Verse 5-8 – The Fabric of Purposeful Teaching

A. Verse 5 – There is a command to teach the children. Among other places, Deuteronomy 6 contains all of these parts.

  1. “He established a testimony.” Deuteronomy 6:20 supposes a child asking about the “testimonies and statutes.” The answer should include a historical narrative that demonstrated the power of God and his prerogative to give such commands (6:21-24).
  2. “Appointed a law” Exodus 20 records the giving of the Ten Commandments. As mentioned last week, the laws given Israel marked them off as a nation peculiarly defined by specific ceremonial laws and civil laws as well as universally applicable moral laws. Through them a Messiah, anointed one, would come, but not only for them but for the Gentiles also. Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 summarized this law in the first (that is, clearly preeminent) command: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord in 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.”
  3. “He commanded our fathers” – Teaching our children the commandments of God is not an option. With the fulness of divine revelation that now is present in the New Testament and the work of redemption completed in Christ, how much more clear, certain, and necessary is careful conformity to this command?
  4. “To teach their children” – Deuteronomy 6 reinforces the necessity that “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” (6:7).

B. Verse 6 – This should be done in perpetuity – “That the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, etc”

  1. Redemptive events have finality. God does not perform the redemptive event in every generation but has determined the particular times (“in due time” Galatians 4:4; “what manner of time” 1 Peter 1:11) when these will occur. These events, though they do reveal otherwise unknowable truths about God are not done primarily for revelation but to accomplish a particular purpose of redemption and/or providence. The explanation of the event comes later.
  2. Their meaning is given by revelation. The knowledge of their importance and their meaning, therefore, is communicated by revelation couched in communicable words. Each succeeding generation learns of the event and its application through teaching. Paul indicated that revelation in words is given that we might know the things given to us by God in the events (1 Corinthians 2:12).
  3. Their content is communicable from one generation to another. To the children yet unborn, those who have no immediate personal knowledge of the events themselves, may, nevertheless, understand their meaning and relevance. The meaning may be communicated accurately from one generation to another and the hearing itself becomes foundational to a true and saving knowledge of God’s historical action. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

C. Verses 7, 8 – The goal is true faith in God. The teaching that we give our children is a seedbed of truth. It does not confer transforming power in itself but prepares the mind for the operation of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

  1. What To be –
  • They should set their hope in God. No other hope do we have. We cannot hope in our works for they are only worthy of condemnation. We cannot hope in other men for they too need redemption and, like the mown grass of spring, they dry up and blow away with the dust.
  • They should keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 30:16 reiterated this in saying, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” God set before them “life and death, blessing and curse” and, through Moses, urged them to “choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord, obeying his voice and holding fast to him for he is your life and length of days.”
  1. What not to be – Do not be like the generation that received that very promise but failed to observe what God had commanded.
  • Do not forget the works of the Lord. He has demonstrated that he alone is God; he is creator, sustainer, and the redeemer of his people, the judge and sovereign of all nations.
  • Do not be stubborn and rebellious. God has given clear revelation of his will and of what is at stake in either obeying it or disobeying it. It is not a mystery. Deuteronomy pictures a person, who, having the commands, yet says, “I shall be safe though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” That person deserves immediate and irremediable judgment (Deuteronomy 29:19-21). In the divine purpose, and for the divine glory, however, he might find mercy.
  • Do not emulate the fathers’ lack of steadfastness and lack of faithfulness. A people with greater privileges did not exist on the earth. Perversity of heart, however, overwhelmed them, made them ignore and despise their privileges so that they might prefer their own lusts over the holy commandment of God. They chose curse and death rather than blessing and life.


III. Verses 32-39 – Teaching Prepares the Heart for the Necessity of Mercy (Cf. Titus 3:4-7)

A. Verse 32 – All of God’s favors gave further evidence of stony hearts. When God inflicted the promised judgment, even this did not sway their fathers to see the utter truthfulness of his word and turn their hearts to worship him and see in him their joy and delight. “Despite his wonders, they did not believe.”

B. Verses 33 – 35 – Further judgments brought temporary conformity and zeal

  1. God inflicted even greater discipline on the people. They had complained of lack of food and God gave them game birds in abundance, but also brought with it a great plague for their complaining bitter spirit toward him (cf. verses 18, 19). Look at Numbers 11:1-3 for one of these judgments and 31-34 for the judgment that came along with the provision of quail.
  2. When the people failed to follow the counsel of Caleb and Joshua and take the land that God had promised them, God swore that none who had seen the greatness of his wonders in delivering them from Egypt would see that land (Numbers 11:23). See also the rebellion of Korah and the hardness of the people in light of that judgment in Numbers 16.
  3. Such judgments brought a time of repentance and earnest seeking for God. They attempted to take the land that God had promised, but failed, for even that zeal was pursued in disobedience to God (Numbers 14:35-43). In recounting this Moses said, “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord commanded us.’” They were defeated soundly for they went up against the word of the Lord and when they returned from their defeat Moses recounted, “And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you” (Deuteronomy 1:41-45).

C. Verses 36, 37 – Their outward conformity did not arise from true hearts. This phenomenon continued throughout the history of this nation. When Isaiah prophesied, God told him, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13). During Ezekiel’s time in exile, the people would say, “Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.” But God warned Ezekiel, “They hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain” Ezekiel 33:30, 31).

D. Verses 38, 39 – God maintained his purpose of gracious intervention. In the many times of rebellion Moses intervened on the basis of God’s glory, honor, and covenantal promise. In the event of the golden calf see Exodus 32:11-14. Also see Moses’ intervention on the basis of God’s mercy and provisions for forgiveness in Numbers 14:13-19 after they refused to take the land and even threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb from urging them to move immediately for the possession of the land. By Aaron’s offering of incense among the people, a plague was stopped that consumed almost 15,000 people (Numbers 16:41-50). The zeal of Phinehas put an end to the wrath of God manifest in a plague and in executions of those who went after the women and the gods of Moab (Numbers 25:1-15

E. This is the very nature of salvation. We need saving, not just from sin and its condemnation, but from the hardness and deadness of our own hearts and our refusal to love the ways of God. God intervenes according to his purpose into the lives of stubborn, rebellious people intent on their own ways and oblivious to the rightful prerogatives of God over them. “Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity” (38).

  1. Paul described the natural man as “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). The text in Psalm 78 said, “He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again” (39).
  2. The intervention of God, therefore, for salvation must be on the basis of his own purposes and his gracious wisdom that has devised a way to interrupt the course of self-destruction of such vain and venal people. Indeed, he “did not stir up all his wrath” (38); instead, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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