Two of my passions are grandchildren and the Old Testament. That may seem like an odd pair, but that also seems to be the case for Psalm 78. So it was a natural to include a study on that Psalm in our Grandparenting LifeGuide (the third study, if you are counting).
psalmist urges people to listen intently to what he’s going to teach–the “things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation” (vv. 3-4). The very things they heard from their fathers and grandfathers is what they are going to teach their children.
And what’s the content going to be? “The praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children” (vv. 4-5). Here the psalmist is looking back to Deuteronomy where Moses commanded the people repeatedly to teach God’s commands to the next generation (Dt 4:9-10; 6:7-9; 11:19; 31:12-13; 32:46).
The psalmist has a long view in mind. That’s where the grandchildren come in. “So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (v. 6). He’s thinking generations into the future.
And why is this so important? So “they would not be like their ancestors–a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him” (v. 8). He doesn’t want his grandchildren or their grandchildren to make the same mistakes Israel did in the past.
what were those mistakes? Well, that’s what the rest of the psalm is about (vv. 9-72). It recounts the history of Israel from Moses to David–how the people forgot the miracles in Egypt that freed them, how they complained to God for leaving them in the desert without food or water, and worshiped other gods, so that he punished them.
But here’s the kicker. If we don’t know the Old Testament (and it is largely, sadly, neglected among Christians), we can’t teach it to our grandchildren.
emphasize the Old Testament? Well, first, because God does. It is his inspired revelation to his people. That’s what Psalm 78 says we should teach. We ignore or minimize it at our peril. The Old Testament has things to teach us on its own, even apart from the New, that we need to hear. After all, that’s how Jesus viewed it. The Old Testament was his Bible. If he considered it authoritative, the source of light and truth, can we do any less?
Second, we really can’t understand the New Testament without the Old. As I say in Mark Through Old Testament Eyes, “The New Testament writers echo, recall, paraphrase, and sometimes quote the Old Testament because they saw themselves as part of the same story: the story of God and his faithfulness to his people, from Abraham to Moses to David to the prophets. For them, the story of Jesus–his life, death, and resurrection–was part of that one ongoing story of God and Israel, the story of how God would bless all the nations through the seed of Abraham. It’s the story of God’s ongoing faithfulness that is completed in Jesus. For them–and for us–there is no story of Jesus apart from the story of God’s one plan to redeem and restore the world he created and all of us in it” (p. 16).
So teach your children well, and to teach your grandchildren well. Learn and teach not just the old, old story, but the older story.