Tag Archives: Torah

A Meditation on Moses’ Farewell to Israel

The word is very near you. YES!

It is in your mouth

That I may

  • Confess it
  • Share it
  • Teach it
  • Write it

 

And in your heart

That I may

  • Cherish it
  • Remember it
  • Think about it
  • Dwell in it
  • Immerse myself in it
  • Be nourished by it
  • Mature in my understanding of it

So that you may do it.

Deuteronomy 30:14

In this way I will grow into the person God created me to be.

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How Do You Bring Baby Up in the Way He Should Go?

After a major poll reported shocking statistics that indicated that a third of Americans under thirty have no religious connections, many Christians began to ask how that could happen. Sadly, most Christians know from experience in their own families, or from the observation of other Christian families, that today’s young adults do not necessarily share the views of their parents and grandparents about religion in any form. They may have completely disconnected from the family faith. Since every generation of Christians expects that the impact of Christianity on the world will be increased by the next generation, this news is disconcerting. How does it happen that the torch is not passed from generation to generation? Perhaps some scientific studies about the way children learn will shed some light on the problem.

Scientific observers tell us that babies learn language by hearing words over and over. They hear and absorb a word and its meaning for a long time before they actually use the word. If you could see a diagram of what it looks like for a baby to learn a word, you would see the baby moving around in his world constantly brushing up against this word in his home and elsewhere. The baby is absorbing the sound and the context of this sound. The baby might play with some of the various sounds that make up this word. He observes what happens when other people use this word. Then one day his own context and his curiosity about the word come together, and he speaks the word. He doesn’t get the idea to say that word out of thin air. It has been brewing in his mind and body for a while.

My son’s first word was “cookie.” When he said it, I was in the process of tucking him into bed. I got very excited. I hugged him and ran to get him a cookie. I called out to his father and sister to tell them that he had said a word. Everybody praised him and hugged him. He enjoyed his cookie, and then finally I tucked him in and kissed him good-night. He learned a lot of things that night which he was able to use to help himself learn more new words. He certainly learned that he had rightly understood the word “cookie.” This is the way babies learn, and they learn this way because that is the way they are created to learn. Very recent video and audio recordings of babies demonstrate babies learning this way.

In the biblical book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were given very powerful guidance from God himself about the way children learn. The Israelites had been in a forty-year religious retreat during which God had taught them about himself. God knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for them to maintain their own faith through coming generations without some help. God told them what it would take for them to transmit their faith to oncoming generations:

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,  (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

I may have been eleven or twelve years old when I first read this text. I had a fairly literal understanding of God’s command to Israel. I thought he meant they should take the time every day, morning and night, to tell the children how to know God and serve him. My literality was not quite the same as that of Jews who actually put texts from God’s Torah in little packets and tie them on their foreheads and hands with leather thongs, but I had the same fundamental idea. As an adult, I understood this instruction to mean that parents were to be intentional about teaching their children the faith. They should pray before meals, attend worship, and tell children to speak God’s name reverently.

However, God’s guidance takes into account the truth contemporary science is only now discovering in studies about the way babies learn language. More than three thousand years ago, God told parents that children need to be immersed in the faith in their daily lives. They need to slosh about in it the way clothing sloshes around in a washing machine. They need to encounter it everywhere so they have many, many opportunities to see what it means and how it works. The everyday life of the family needs to be a stew kettle in which the faith of the parents draws the children near to God, readying them for the moment when they will meet him and commit themselves in an adult way. That is the second level of meaning in this text, and it reflects the underlying truth about the way God created children to learn. God never intended it to be possible for children to learn the faith from a speech or being exposed once to a church service. If God told the ancient Israelites to immerse their children in their faith, then perhaps we should do the same.

I am trying to shine a light on a problem that disturbs me without having a facile solution ready for anyone to use. I can only suggest that parents give this issue thought and prayer. Statistics tell us that young adults are largely disconnected from any faith. Most parents surely care about this problem. How do you feel about this problem? What do you think parents can do?

Train children in the right way,and when old, they will not stray. Proverbs 22:6

A Verse for Meditation

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes.

Psalm 19:8

Do you think the study of law is delightful? What is it about the Lord’s “precepts” that might make you rejoice?

Is there a “yes” somewhere in all those “Thou shalt not” statements?

When we want to explore something complicated, we often say that we need to “shine some light” on the subject. In what way does the “commandment of the Lord” shine light on things?

The word “precept” can be thought of as a principle or teaching. What other words come to mind? How does that word change you reaction to the idea of “law?”

A “commandment” could be a directive or an order. What other words come to mind? How is your reaction to the word “commandment” different from your reaction to the word “precept?”

What is the value of God’s law to you in your daily life?

 

Truth in all its Splendor

The more I read Psalm 19, the more I love it. This psalm is like a layered sauce for shrimp and pasta. Each layer has been reduced to its flavorful essence, and there are so many flavors that it is impossible to appreciate each one.

Psalm 19 begins with a lavish statement of the way creation testifies to God’s work and ongoing sovereignty. Pointing out that created things have no voice in the sense of a sound we can hear, the psalmist says, as translated in The Message, “Their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” (Psalm 19:4) This statement feels like a Hubble photograph. It responds to my hunger for truth. The world around me suffers from a massive truth deficit, but all of creation speaks truth that fills and comforts my heart. To hear these words is to be built up in faith that God has a purpose for all things, and his purposes do not fail.

The heart of the psalm is a master statement of the way God’s law testifies to the same truth which creation speaks without words. God’s law is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure and true. There really is order behind the chaos I encounter everywhere. Like a painter’s palette of many colors, the psalmist’s word palette names God’s law as the facets of a jewel – law, decree, precept, commandment, fear, ordinance. I feel as if I hold this treasure in my hand turning it this way and that to catch the light the way I might view a beautiful diamond ring.

In case I don’t really absorb the value of God’s law, the psalmist explains what will happen if I make the law a part of myself. If I absorb it into my spirit, it will make me feel alive, it will make me look wise even if I am not smart, it will make me happy with a happiness that cannot be crushed, it will give me insight into reality, it is never out of date, and best of all, it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Using God’s personal name, the name God gave to Moses to emphasize his eternal presence with Israel, the psalmist makes the revelation of the law intimate and vibrant, just for me.

In sum, the psalmist says, God’s revelation of himself is so rich and so valuable that it is better than the finest gold or the sweetest honey. Maybe I don’t think so highly of honey as the psalmist, but I do know that when Israel left Egypt bound for the Promised Land, they called it the land of milk and honey. As far as the psalmist is concerned, the law is a real treasure.

There is only one legitimate response to such a revelation. I bow my head in worship and prayer. God has given me the priceless treasure of himself, wordless truth in creation, words of truth in his law. With the psalmist, I ask nothing more than to speak and think truth in all things as my creator does.

If you don’t have a Bible handy, here is a copy of the Psalm

Psalm 19

1      The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2     Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

3     There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

4     yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5     which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,

and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6     Its rising is from the end of the heavens,

and its circuit to the end of them;

and nothing is hid from its heat.

7     The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the decrees of the Lord are sure,

making wise the simple;

8     the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is clear,

enlightening the eyes;

9     the fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true

and righteous altogether.

10    More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey,

and drippings of the honeycomb.

11    Moreover by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12    But who can detect their errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.

13    Keep back your servant also from the insolent;

do not let them have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless,

and innocent of great transgression.

14    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.