The Word of God puts a huge responsibility on the shoulders of a current generation to transfer their faith to the next generation(s). This is because of a whole bunch of reasons, the most important of which would be the knowledge of God in future generations in order that God’s glory be known from generation to generation. Parents need to see how important it is to transfer correct doctrine to their children. This is clear from Psalm 78:1-8.
1 Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.1 2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. 5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: 7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: 8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
Psalm 78 is a wonderful Psalm in which this responsibility is stressed in a unique way. It uses the history of God’s dealings with His covenant people as the base information from which to transfer their faith. This Psalm can be regarded as a “historical psalm”, building and using history, as well as a “didactic psalm”, focusing on the teaching aspect of transferring faith.
After opening the Psalm, the psalmist lets his generation know how their faith was formed, describing it as “what we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” Verse 3 therefore tells us how we gain knowledge of God. It is through a living relationship with God that builds on the information that was transferred by the previous generation(s). From verse 4 Asaph gives the content of what it is that must be transferred.
– The Praises of the Lord
In the Psalms, this is usually synonymous with God’s attributes and His acts of salvation towards His people. The result of this is usually a life of praise towards God for who He is and what He does as a result of His person and character. The ESV translates it as “the glorious deeds of the LORD”. It lies at the heart of the reason why the church exists according to 1 Peter 2:9:
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Not knowing God results in not knowing salvation. Our children need to know that God is sovereign, almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent, holy, righteous, good, powerful, three-in-one, the Creator of heaven and earth, etc. These doctrines they need to see actively integrated in our lives as their models of the knowledge of God.
Furthermore it includes teaching them everything that God did to save His chosen people (Israel and the Church) from their sinful life through the atonement of Christ on the cross purely on the basis of His unconditional love for them and His great mercy towards them. They need to understand these doctrines, as this is core to a life of hope in God grounded in His Word.
This is important to understand. The Word calls each generation to the responsibility to transfer a life of praise to God. This is built first and foremost on the doctrines about God and how His character is seen in His deeds towards man. It is not an emotional hype which is void of substance and meaning. We praise God because we know God, and the more we come to know Him, the more we want praise Him! This our children must see in us and learn from us. It takes us back to verse 3 and the relationship between what we have learnt from our forefathers and how that knowledge has become our own. Teaching our children the praises of God is not dead dogma. It is living doctrine coming to life in our own lives to the extent that we are able to model it and teach it to our children.
– His Strength
This is a reference to the power and strength of our God. We speak of God as Almighty and Omnipotent. His strength is the display of His power and the proof that He is truly the only God who does as He wishes and when He wishes. If this was not the case, He would not have been the sovereign God who brings into action His will by His own strength and power.
Scripture is clear about His strength. In Isaiah 51:9-10:
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Artthou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?”
We learn of a couple of areas in which the strength of God is displayed:
Creation – In the beginning God created everything from nothing. At His command, each day and creature were formed. “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). In Romans 1:20 Paul teaches that in creation God is revealed: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, evenhis eternal power and Godhead.”
Probably one of the greatest areas under attack is being waged around God as the Creator. Evolution is being taught in schools and from a very early age our children are getting comfortable with the idea of a God that does not have the power to create out of nothing and instantaneously. The are introduced to a powerless, weak god that is not the God of the Bible.
The knowledge of God as the Almighty Creator must be made known to generations to come. Our children need to know that the God of Scripture is mighty and powerful and able to put into action His sovereign will by the power of His word.
Preservation – Not only in the act of creation is His strength displayed, but also in His preservation of the works of His hands. We read concerning the strength exercised by the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:3:
The God of Israel needs nothing to sustain Himself, but sustains everything He has made by the mere word of His power. This is true of His saved people as well. He will never let go of the works of His hands, as that would demonstrate in Him a weakness and expose Him as a fraud. John 17:12 displays this truth: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power…”
Control – There is nothing in heaven and on earth that can run rampant and do as it pleases. Only that which God allows in His sovereign will, is allowed to happen. He exercises absolute control over everything. We see this especially in the area of evil and suffering. Where Satan and his minions are out to destroy the works of God, especially man, God restrains them. A behind the scenes view of Job shows us that what happened to him, was under God’s control. We also see of the same Job that God used this whole process to bring about virtues in Job that was needed. In this, the strength of God is displayed. He changes, utilizes the bad in order to accomplish the good. Through this we come to understand Romans 8:28 as an exhibition of his strength. He controls what happens, when it happens, and why it happens. He is able to even change the original evil intent into good for those who love Him.
Salvation – “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him” (John 17:2). The death of Jesus was not a result of a mob of angry people running around uncontrolled seeking to kill someone. It was God’s sovereign will being actively fulfilled and worked out by His mighty strength. Therefore Jesus could say “… I lay down my life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17). Death had no control and power over the Son of God. Paul explains this display of God’s power in Ephesians 1:19-20: “and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…” (ESV Translation). The psalmist refers to the deliverance from Egypt as a display of God’s strength, and Nehemiah picks this up in his prayer to God: “Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand” (Nehemiah 1:10).
Protection – God’s strength is also a protection for His people. Paul writes that in our battle against the dark world of Satan, the strength of God is our ground: “… be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). Only then can we start putting on the armor and be able to battle the evil world. Not in our own strength and power, but in His strength. Psalm 25:7-8: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed.”
– His Wonderful Works
This refers to the miraculous deeds performed by God through His strength. The psalmist takes his people through the deliverance from Egypt and reminds them of all the miracles performed by God to effect their salvation. His miracles is part of who He is and displays His power to overrule the laws of nature that He Himself has set in place. He is not the deistic god that is bound by them.
In the New Testament, John writes in his version of the Gospel that Jesus’ miracles are meant to proclaim Him as the Son of God, as the Messiah, God Himself:
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Even the miracles concerning our Lord Jesus Christ is important. In this regard the virgin birth, His resurrection from the dead and His ascending into heaven a major miracles that stand out as testimonies to His identity and life.
The practical implication of these truths to be transferred is enormous. As a parent you are always transferring information and life experience, whether it be biblical or non-biblical. You have to realize that you will always transfer to your children what you either do or don’t believe. There is never neutral ground where you can make an excuse that you either did not know about your role in teaching them or that they have to make up their own minds as to what they want to believe. What you believe or not about God and how you live before Him (whether in praise or rejection) is transferred to and shapes their lives from a very early age. In a very real sense, your “theology” and how it impacts your personal life forms them and determines their relationship with God.
Verses 7-8 gives us the result of transferring our faith to the next generation. The logical inference from this is that if it is not obeyed, then the very consequences against which the psalmist warns, will come about. They will forget their God and disobey His word. They will become a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation with a crooked and perverted heart, and whose spirit is not steadfast with God. These are the results of parents not conveying the truth about God and life in Him to their children.
We live in an age where God’s Word—and for that matter God Himself—as the source of truth, is being disregarded. This is only going to get worse. The danger is very real that in coming generations there will be a famine of God’s Word, as described in Amos 8:11. The biggest mistake that we as parents can make, is to assume that everything will be fine with our children, regardless our effort to teach our children or not. This is a lie that the enemy would have us believe in order to create a generation of rebels not grounded in God and His Word. It is a fact that every generation is responsible to walk with God, but when they rely on their parents’ walk with God for their own spiritual wellness, they will fall into either religiosity or total licentiousness because they have not committed themselves to obeying the Word of God and to hope in Him. Verses 6-7 wants the generations to come to take what they have learnt from their parents and put their hope in God. This is the final result hoped for in transferring our faith to them, that they might put their hope in God, grounded in His Word – and then start the process all over again of transferring their faith to their children.
The premise from which all of this flows, is that our current generation has set our hope in God, in other words, that we have a living relationship with God, knowing Him in His fullness, His strength and His wonderful works. The psalmist states that every generation has historical knowledge of God, but also current knowledge of Him as He is a living God working in each generation to make Himself known as the One True God. This does not mean new revelation, new extensions to the Word of God. This means knowing God as He revealed Himself in history afresh in the current time. Knowledge of God is never outdated, and is always rooted in His revelation in His Word. But we walk with Him now, today. Therefore the psalmist indicates it as “which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us” (verse 3) and “that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (verse 7).
This is where the important question arises: Why do we need to transfer these truths to the next generation? The psalm answers this for us in verse 5. It is God’s command that His commandments be taught to the generations to come. It is not because we are so in love with our wonderful culture; it is not because we have found it beneficial to us to know God’s Word (although this is a secondary motivation). The primary reason is that we are obedient to God who commands us to do it. The issue at stake here is one of authority and obedience, and I think we see a big lesson to the current generation in this. Remember that the current generation teaches from a position of authority and demands obedience from the children. If you give your child a task to do, you expect him / her to perform that task without questioning your authority. The moment they question it, disobedience is on the table and you need to deal with it. If you do not deal with it, it will result in a child that does not honour authority and operates from a perspective that he / she is free to do whatever he / she wishes, even if it means disregarding authority.
God expects us as parents to be obedient to His command to teach our children His truths. He expects us to obey without questioning His authority. The problem is, that we are often times so skilled in our questioning of authority that we disobey His command and neglect to teach our children as He commands us to do. If we have shun His authority, we will not be able to transfer to our children what they ought to know about God and by this we are creating a vicious cycle that results in a rebellious generation prone to disobey God as we do.
The purpose of this Psalm is to awaken in the current generation the call to obedience to God’s command to train and teach the next generation, and thereby be instrumental in creating a next cycle of transferring truths about God.