This is part three on the v’ahavta and part four on the Greatest Command.
The V’ahavta begins with an abstraction (love the Lord your God with all your heart) and moves to more and more concrete realizations of the idea. How do we love God? Teaching the commandments, lessons, wisdom, and words of God are part of how the love of God works itself out in the world.
But first, don’t miss this principle from Genesis: We reproduce after our own kind.
Those of us who don’t have literal children still have children, those who are being influenced and formed by us. Children can be people we’re intentionally discipling, but they might be people we’ve never even met.
Here’s another principle from Genesis: Children take after their parents. We are the children of whomever we are imitating. This is why the Master could say to certain Pharisees that they were children of vipers. If you act like a viper, you’re showing yourself to be the child of a viper. If you lie, you’re showing yourself to be the child of a liar. On the flip side, if you are expressing God in the earth realm, you are rightly identified as a child of God. If you’re a child of Abraham, you do as he did. If you love a child, you love the parent and vice versa.
This leads to a question: Who’s your daddy?
That is to say, who’s the greatest influence on your behavior?
Jesus always did what he saw the Father doing and always said what he heard the Father speaking. He is the Son of God, the express image of God, our Father in heaven.
Keeping those in mind, let’s look at this next line of the V’ahavta.
You shall teach them diligently to your children… Deut. 6.7
The words that were on your heart are going to come out of your mouth because we speak out of what’s on our hearts. And once those enter our mouths, where’s the first place they go? They go into the next generation. They go forward in time, affecting those who come after you. Yikes.
The word diligently, shanan, means with teeth or sharply. I think this speaks to being intentional. Our words are going to affect the next generation. Sharp words seem purposeful. They were sharpened in order to go the distance. Some teachers and preachers hone their words, sharpening them for effect. Then they let the word go, and it pierces right to the heart. Yes, that’s the Holy Spirit helping, I’m sure, but a sharp saying just about knocks me off my seat.
Here’s an example from a preacher I listen to online. He’d asked the congregation to think about what it would look like if every prayer they’d prayed for their home city had been answered. And then he paused and said in his slow, fatherly, somber voice, “Are you sure your prayers are worthy of a God who can do the impossible?”
That was a sharp saying in my life that changed how I thought about prayer.
We teach with words, we teach by example, we teach by attitude, but we do indeed teach. If God is always teaching us, we are little teachers, too. He teaches us while we sit in our houses, when we walk on the way, when we lie down, and when we arise. We are never out of his reach.
Looking at the rest of the line, we get more motion:
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Then the list moves to where you are and what you’re doing. Talk of them when you sit in your house: the atmosphere of your house is permeated with these words, participating in the kingdom of God right in your own home. Talk of them when you walk by the way–this is the first hint that your religious convictions are not private, personal matters. They’re coming out of you as you walk, wherever you go.
People often get concerned about where they should go, if God wants them to go here or there. That’s fine, but he doesn’t leave or forsake us, and sometimes he sends people to dark places to light them up and speak the words of God there. We change the atmosphere where our feet take us.
There’s another way (many ways, surely) to interpret that: speak of them when you are walking in accordance with the good and holy will of God, walking by the way–His way, his righteous path. Speaking the words might have more impact when the speaker is in the process of walking in that good way right then, demonstrating it. Selah.
When you lie down and when you arise, bookending the day, evening and morning. Each day is a lifetime in miniature: speak the words of God when you arise, right away in the morning when you’re energy is bright and you’re full of life and lots of self-control. But also speak them when you lie down, when you’re spent, exhausted, without strength, full of regrets, and can’t keep your eyes open. Speak them at the end of your life, and speak them at the beginning of your life. Since the order is lying down and then arising, I always think of the resurrection at this verse, death and new life.
There’s a prayer said in Judaism upon waking in the morning, the Modeh Ani. Although the Shema is the prayer that is thought to fulfill this command of speaking the words when you arise, the Modah Ani is the first thing out of many mouths, and I wonder if it was the first thing out of Lazarus’ mouth when we came out of the grave. It goes like this:
I offer thanks to you, living and eternal King,
for you have mercifully restored my soul within me.
Great is your faithfulness.
May these words be on our lips when–after we have lied down–we rise.