What did the ancient Israelites teach their kids about God? Deuteronomy 6:4–9, to this day a foundational text in Judaism, is a good starting point. Verse four is commonly referred to as the Shema, taken from the first Hebrew word of the verse, “hear.”
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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
It’s most likely the very first passage that Jesus learned as a toddler. His father, Joseph, would have taught him the verse, and he would have committed it to memory by age three. In fact, all little boys would have learned the verse from their fathers.
The Shema was a passage of Scripture that was impressed upon Jesus’ heart—chiseled so deep into his well of knowledge that he could easily draw from it as an adult and find refreshment. Jesus referred to it in his answer to the Pharisees when they asked him what the greatest commandment was (Mark 12:28–30).
Parents Teach a Confession: The LORD our God, the LORD is one
The first part of the Shema is a confession of faith, not a prayer. The confession that the “the LORD our God, the LORD is one” articulates a basic belief about God.
The people were acknowledging that the LORD was their God, and that He was the only God. It’s like saying, The LORD is our God. He’s the only one.
The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and He was their God. They needed to affirm that God was their God—the One who saved them from bondage in Egypt. They also confessed that He was the only God. Surrounded by pagan nations who worshipped many different gods, the Israelites distinguished themselves from their neighbors by worshiping the one true God alone—the God who saved them from slavery.
Perched on the edge of the Promised Land, after wandering in the wilderness for nearly four decades, Moses reminded the Israelites about God’s mighty acts. God had saved them through awesome deeds so the Israelites would know that the LORD was indeed God, and that He was the only God:
Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other (Deuteronomy 4:32b–35).
God, Revealed in Jesus Christ, is the One and Only God
But what does this confession mean for Christian parents today? What exactly do Christian parents teach their kids about God? We teach that God, who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, is our God, and that He is the one and only true God. God has saved us from the bondage of sin through the mighty, miraculous act of Christ’s resurrection. It’s this confession of faith that Christian parents teach their children in the hopes that their kids will someday make the confession on their own and pass it down to the next generation.
Teaching Confession Against the Cultural Tide
But such a confession is a tough sell in our culture: God, revealed in Jesus Christ is the one true God. He’s not one among many. He’s not the best option. He’s the one true God.
We teach our kids this confession of faith even when it’s not popular. Many of the kids that our children interact with at school and at play are not being taught the truth about God. Perhaps like me, you know some parents who are intentionally not raising their children in a particular faith because they want their kids to “make their own decisions.” For them, teaching a child that God, revealed in Jesus Christ is the one true God is absolutely ridiculous!
One of my sons had a playdate around Christmastime. My mantle was set with the Nativity. Our young guest approached the fireplace and asked what the ceramic display was all about. “These figures tell a story,” I said. “The Christmas story.” He crinkled his face, clearly confused. I cradled each piece in my hands. “This is Joseph and this is Mary. Here’s baby Jesus, God’s son.” I showed him the shepherds and the oxen; the angel and the star. This little boy had never heard the Christmas story. Ever.
Impress Compassion & Kindness with Conviction
When Christian parents impress God on their kids, they teach them to make this confession with conviction. But when that confession is shared with others, parents also have a duty to teach their kids that love and grace must guide it. Not everyone believes that God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the one true God. When we speak the truth about God, it’s helpful to remember what the apostle Paul said to the Colossian believers: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
Parents teach their kids that God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is indeed the one true God. But there’s more. There are natural implications to this bold confession. So in our next chapter, we’ll consider teaching our kids how to respond to that confession of faith.
Study: Find out what a mezuzah is. How does it relate to Deuteronomy 6:4–9?
Reflect: What is the first memory verse you learned? Who taught it to you?
Apply: Choose a Scripture verse and commit it to memory with your kids.