“O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away” (Hosea 6:4).
This scripture is the anguished cry of a loving Father, spoken through the prophet. So much had happened leading up to Israel’s disobedience.
It was the eve of entering the Promised Land. Moses had taken this last opportunity to admonish the people to obey and warn them of consequences if they did not. He reminded them of the hardships they had endured during the forty years that brought them to this point:
“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Two chapters prior to this, Moses zeroed in on the greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (6:4, 5). Survival for the Israelites was more than consuming physical bread. They were to keep God’s word in their hearts and teach them diligently to their children (vv. 6, 7).
Teaching at home
In his book Authentic Christianity, Ray C. Stedman helps us better understand Moses’ words: “Nothing can happen through us unless it has first happened to us.”
This is so true of teaching children. As part of his series of commentary on Deuteronomy 6, Stedman advocates that all discipline, training, and guidance begin at home. Parents are responsible to “pass the torch” of spiritual development — their faith, not tucked away in a box for Sabbath but shared daily through object lessons.
Verses 8 and 9 go on to say, “You shall bind [God’s Word] as a sign on your hand, and [it] shall be as [a frontlet] between your eyes. You shall write [it] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Phylacteries (Hebrew: tefillin) are miniature scrolls with encrypted scriptures attached to the back of the left hand and forehead as reminders of God’s laws. Jesus derided the scribes and Pharisees for enlarging their phylacteries, and enhancing the borders of their clothing — all in an effort to be seen and held in high esteem (Matthew 23:1-11). Parents should therefore take a lesson from the Pharisees and not fall into “Do what I say, not what I do.”
Stedman likens the scribes and Pharisees drawing attention to themselves to some professing Christians who prominently display Bibles in their homes yet seldom read them — another warning for parents. He considers phylacteries as figurative. Other sources agree they are figurative — mere Jewish tradition — and indicate that the law of God should be taken to heart instead.
Stedman considers obedience as the ground of authority and that Moses’ message granted authority to parents. He describes that as “authority . . . created by integrity, by consistent obedience to the truth.” Phylacteries on the hand had reference to works performed, and those on the forehead to guidance of one’s thought life. To quote Stedman: “. . . the prophet is saying that parents are expected to show loving, honest, open, forgiving, responsible lives, guided by the Scriptures, in the presence of their children.”
Deuteronomy 6:9 also says to write God’s Word on the doorposts. He considers doorposts and gates to represent parents’ contact with the outside world, showing relationships with neighbors, relatives, and friends. These relationships will be visible proof to the children that their parents practice what they preach. Therefore, their children will respect them as authentic, and parents will have the authority they seek.
Stedman maintains that, down through generations, most of us have believed that we have authority and our children should be obedient simply because we are the parents. We find it difficult to admit to wrong in our own lives and/or have failed in some area. However, in situations where parents have gotten it right, in love and conscience, being obedient to the Scriptures themselves, acknowledging failure and asking forgiveness when necessary, authority over their children will always exist and be accepted.
Stedman describes God’s authority as stemming from His holiness (integrity), not His power, and this should be the basis of our own authority as well. Conversely, the Devil has authority to control and/or influence through hate, a false ground of authority that compels obedience through fear of reprisals.
Discipline, according to Stedman, is a limiting and directing of life, creating a safe environment in which to live and move. Much like a river rushing through a narrow gorge, discipline channels a person’s life to increase its intensity, to better direct choices, and to receive more joy in living. Without boundaries, a false freedom is created. Discipline can avoid bad outcomes and/or disasters.
Because of His great love for us, God disciplines by setting limits so we can enjoy a better quality of life (Galatians 5:13, 14). In like manner, parents should discipline their children.
In Stedman’s words, “. . . good discipline always originates out of love.” We see this passionate parental love in God’s expressions to Israel in Hosea:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him . . . I taught Ephraim to walk . . . How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? . . . O Israel, return to the Lord your God . . . I will heal their backsliding” (11:1, 3, 8; 14:1, 4).
Because the love of the Father is so great unto us, He anointed His only Son to give “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that [we] may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
What greases our spiritual “wheels” and creates a joyful relationship with the Lord God more than His love poured out on us! His love, invested in us, encapsulates our lives, receiving a high return in adoration, obedience, and offerings of our time and resources, sharing love with the world, beginning with our families!
These are the truths we should share with our children whenever we have the opportunity. And we begin to share them by our own example.