At age 14, I started teaching a Sunday school class of children. I’m not sure if they learned much, but as a teacher, I learned many Bible stories and developed a life-long passion for teaching.
Teaching is an important part of how faith in God is shared with others; in the process, the teacher’s faith is expanded and developed further. Deuteronomy 6:1-9 was given to people entering the Promised Land as a commandment by God. God knew that living among unbelievers would be difficult; keeping faith in God would require intention and devotion. So Moses said, "The Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe..."
"…so that your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life…""…so that your days may be long…""…so that it may go well with you, and…" "…so you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey…"Deuteronomy 6:1-3 NRSV
The verses following the passage are very direct. When teaching young children, we direct them to "listen." We also say "eyes on me, hands in your lap, turn your body this way!" Teachers know that listening is first in learning.
Deuteronomy 6.4 commands "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God and the Lord alone." The verses following give several verbs as direct commands — love, keep, recite, bind and write; to do those commands, one must first hear. The next command — love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might — is tied both to hearing and the understanding that God is one and the only one.
The Israelites were entering foreign territory after 40 years of being united as one people with one leader. Keeping God at the center of their lives and community would require great dedication and resolve. They were charged to "keep" them in the heart — the center of their being. Heart indicates deep-seated feeling, something worthy of reflection, devotion and/or attention. "With all your might"suggests that one would persevere until all strength and energy was expended in the great cause.
Once the Israelites understood the main thing, they could move into the teaching mode. They could "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." Children learn by watching what the teacher/parent does; every action, intentional or not, is imitated by children and students. No teacher can teach information which is not personally understood and/or modeled. (I’ve never taught car repair and maintenance for obvious reasons!)
Now the Israelites receive more commands from God given by Moses. To insure the Israelite does not forget his/her part, he/she is to "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." In other words, post constant reminders to yourself that you are to be very dedicated to your role as a teacher. Today we might post reminders on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror, anywhere we look every day to be reminded of the importance of our role.
So why is this passage from Old Testament and Deuteronomy so important? Why do we need this reminder? As Christians and people of faith, we too are living a foreign land — a land of violence delivered into our homes through various forms of media, a world that has no boundaries, a fast-paced existence of constant change and continual questions. Do we need to refresh our memories as to the main point of life?
Educators know that one must have a purpose and goal for instruction. What is the main thing one wants her students to learn? As Christian educators, pastors, parents and church members we too must ask, "What is the main thing — the real focus of faith and how can we pass it to our children, our family, our friends, and others who need faith to help them through confusing and difficult times?"
"Hear, O people of the 21st century, the Lord our God is the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your might." That’s the main thing. Let’s keep the main thing, as the main thing in our lives, our homes and our communities so that our days will be long, so that it may go well with us, and so that our faith will multiply greatly in this great land flowing with milk and honey.