The Story doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing the behavior of God’s chosen people. While it’s sad to read how the Hebrews got off track so easily and so often, the truth is that I’m not much different from them. Chapter 8 recounts a 300-plus-year history of ancient Israel’s oscillation between obedience and disobedience. But the first sentence in the third paragraph of the chapter really struck me:
“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”
After Joshua and his generation had all passed away, the next generation came along not knowing who God was nor what he had done for Israel. How could that be?
God’s instructions were clear: As long as Israel followed the laws and instructions they had received from God, they would experience God’s blessing. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t. It could not have been more simple.
But an important part of that responsibility was that the older generation was obligated to pass along to the next generation the history of what God had done for Israel. Parents and grandparents were commanded to recount the myriad stories of God’s faithfulness, along with instructing the children about the Law and how to obey it. Moses had stressed this in Deuteronomy 6:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
It’s difficult for 21st century Western Christians to appreciate what life must have been like for ancient Israel. The people had been led by two very strong leaders: Moses and Joshua. But with no one appointed to take Joshua’s place, the people were on their own. Ideally, the leaders in each tribe and each clan would have taken the responsibility of reminding their families about the Law and instructions. The priests also had an important role to play.
Obviously, “ideally” never happened for an entire generation. This wasn’t just a one-time failure to obey; this was epic, long-term, in-your-face disobedience. In simple terms, the older generation failed to guide the younger generation in the ways of the LORD God – failed to instruct them, failed to discipline them, failed to correct their errors.
The result? The kids didn’t know who God was, nor did they know the story into which they had been born. They were rootless and unconnected with their past and their culture. And when they looked around at their foreign neighbors with their foreign gods, they saw some pretty enticing things that seemed OK with them.
Each of us has had our periods of disobedience – some more than others. Most of us discover that things go better, on the whole, when we choose to obey. While each succeeding generation needs space to make its own mistakes, it also needs the wisdom from its elders, those who have traveled the path and who know the story and their part in it.
For the sake of your children and grandchildren, tell them your story and God’s story. Tell them about your mistakes, how you learned from them, and how you’ve grown as a result. Above all, demonstrate daily how God’s great grace helps us to forgive each other, makes allowance for our faults, and encourages us to strive toward obedience.
A fellow traveler along the Way,