The book of Deuteronomy contains four separate commands to Christian parents to teach and train their children. These precepts are important to the Christian homeschooling family because they provide explicit Biblical support for the duty of parents to teach their own children. However, the covenantal setting for each of these commands is frequently not understood or appreciated. First, Deuteronomy itself is structured in the form of a covenant — containing a preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, sanctions, and provisions for the continuity of the covenant. Thus, the education of children by their parents is an integral part of God's covenant; and the command to teach the children must be understood in the context of that covenant. Second, although the four specific commands to parents to teach their children are similar in wording, the setting within the covenant structure where each command appears is different. The import of this is often overlooked, and the repetition of these precepts is simply seen as a restatement of a fundamental duty. Rather, we should see that each command is placed where it is in Deuteronomy in order to emphasize four vital aspects of the training of children for the progress of God's covenant.
The significance of these four commands in Deuteronomy for Christian homeschooling will be explored here. In so doing, it is our hope that both the Biblical basis and the covenantal importance of homeschooling will be evident, providing both encouragement and a clear demonstration of the high calling of Christian parents in regard to the advancement of God's covenant in history.
1. The Christian homeschool enables parents to give an important covenant witness (Dt. 4:9).
The command of Deuteronomy 4:9 "to teach them [all this law] thy sons, and thy sons' sons" appears in the concluding part of Moses' first address to the nation where he calls the people to obedience based on the lessons of Israel's history. In 4:5-9, Moses exhorts the people to careful obedience to the law of God for this is their wisdom in the sight of the nations, i.e., obedience is essential to their witness to the perfection of God and his covenant. Israel's covenant with God is what makes them a great nation. Because of this covenant, God has delivered them from Egypt, revealing his love; and because of this covenant, God has given them his law, revealing his righteousness. By faithfully keeping God's law, Israel will walk in wisdom, enjoy God's presence, and will have peace and prosperity as individual families and as a nation, thus giving powerful witness to the glory of God and his covenant to the world. In 4:9, Moses states that this witness can take place only if: 1) they take heed to themselves to keep God's law, and 2) they teach God's law to their children. In other words, Moses emphatically states that the ongoing testimony to the greatness of God and his covenant to the world is directly tied to the faithful training of the covenant seed.
Therefore, Christian homeschooling parents must understand that the thorough teaching and training of their children in God's word is an essential part of their witness to the greatness of God and his covenant. There are two aspects to this witness. First, by obeying God's law in its extensive instructions concerning the teaching and training of children, Christian parents will raise up wise, disciplined, godly, mature, productive, and joyful children. What a contrast these children will be to those raised according to the wisdom of the world by ungodly parents! Parents who have obeyed God's wisdom in raising their children will be considered wise and understanding parents and give witness to the superiority of God's covenant and law. Second, by obeying God's law in regard to training their children, they will raise up a new generation with knowledge of and a commitment to God's word that will demonstrate the superiority of God's covenant in their homes, churches, and communities. In other words, when homeschooled children reach adulthood, they themselves will be a powerful witness to God's covenant through their wise and productive lives.
2. The Christian homeschool enables parents to fulfill their covenant duty (Dt. 6:7).
Deuteronomy chapters 5-11 set forth the basic stipulations of the covenant. In 6:1-5, Moses summarizes the covenant requirement that the people fear the Lord and keep his statutes and commandments — the first and greatest commandment being that they love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength. Then in 6:6-9, Moses declares that to love God and keep his commandments requires three things: 1) to engraft God's law into your heart; 2) to inculcate God's law into your children's hearts; and 3) to establish God's law as the standard of truth for all of life. The command in 6:7 to teach God's law diligently to your children calls upon parents to teach the word of God in an incisive fashion, impressing the truth of that word upon their minds by frequent repetition and with penetrating power. According to verses 7-9, parents are to teach the word of God in both formal and informal settings with the goal of relating all knowledge to God's truth and bringing all spheres of thought under God's authority.
The context, therefore, of this command indicates that parents who are in covenant with God have an unalterable responsibility to teach their children God's law and how it applies to all of life. God's covenant places the duty of educating children squarely on their parents, not on the church or on the state. The Christian homeschool is ideally suited for the fulfillment of this covenant duty.
3. The Christian homeschool operates in view of God's covenant sanctions (Dt. 11:19).
Deuteronomy chapter 11 comes at the end of the section that establishes the basic stipulations of the covenant. Moses here summarizes the requirements of the covenant and gives a call for the renewal of the covenant. Interspersed throughout Moses' call is the promise and threat of covenant sanctions (11:14-17, 26-29). Deuteronomy 11:18-21 is nearly identical in wording to Deuteronomy 6:6-10. Both texts are intended as summaries of our covenant duty, and both contain the specific command to parents to teach God's law to their children (6:7; 11:19). However, in Deuteronomy 11 the command is directly related to the covenant sanctions by the word "therefore" in verse 18, and by the explicit declaration of blessing and cursing in the verses immediately following. Thus, the covenant duty of parents to train their children according to God's law is enforced by the promise of blessing for obedience and the warning of cursing for disobedience.
Christian parents must understand that God's commands concerning the training of their children are not idle suggestions, but law backed by definite sanctions — personal and corporate (cf. Dt. 28:4, 18, 32, 53ff.; Pr. 10:1; 17:21, 25; 19:13; 22:6; 29:17). By failing in their covenantal duty of education, Christian parents elicit God's curse on themselves and their children. Therefore, in view of God's covenant sanctions, Christian parents ought to act in the fear of God and earnestly strive to obey God's law concerning the education of their children. The Christian homeschool must believe in God's promise of blessing and tremble at God's threat of cursing.
4. The Christian homeschool is vital for the continuity of God's covenant from generation to generation (Dt. 32:46).
A central aspect of God's covenant is that of continuity. Accordingly, God makes provision in Deuteronomy 31:1-34: 12 for the perpetuation of his covenant from generation to generation. The command of Deuteronomy 32:46 that "ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law" indicates the central importance of training the covenant seed for the continuity of God's covenant in history. This command is given at the close of the public ministry of Moses (32:44-47) as part of his final words to Israel. After exhorting the people to set their hearts to keep all the law of God, he solemnly charges them to command their children also to keep the law of God. By being part of the last words of Moses the principal importance of covenant parents teaching their covenant children the word of God is further established. The context indicates that this teaching is crucial for the continuity of the covenant.
It is interesting to note the significant variation in this command to parents. The three previous commands were to teach your children. Here, however, the mandate is to "command them to keep. . . ." Not only does this indicate that the goal of teaching the law is obedience, but the context of covenant continuity suggests something more. It suggests that the teaching and training have been faithfully carried out, and that the time has now come to give a solemn charge to the child not only to remember what has been taught but also to keep (guard and obey) it. Although parents are regularly to command their children to keep God's law, the setting implies a formal charge given at the time when they leave the home or when the parent is facing death (even as Moses charged the nation to keep God's law prior to his death). As the next generation, they are enjoined to carry on the Faith and keep God's covenant law. The Christian homeschool plays a vital role in the perpetuation of God's covenant from generation to generation; it looks to the day when sons and daughters go forth with the solemn charge to hold fast what they have been taught and to carry on the work of the covenant people in the world for the glory of God.
- William O. Einwechter
William O. Einwechter serves as a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is also the vice president of the National Reform Association and the editor of The Christian Statesman. He can be contacted at [email protected].