Marriage and Family: Principles for Family Life in Deuteronomy

Can 3,000-year-old literature be expected to provide any relevant guidance for 21st-century family life? If inspired by God, yes. Deuteronomy was written to guide God’s people in a life of happy fellowship with their Lord. This involves recognizing God’s right to our total allegiance. As a young father, I have been impressed by Deuteronomy’s teaching that one way to display that loyalty is the manner in which we order our families.

Parallel Protection

The opening chapter has a beautiful expression of God’s care and protection for His people. He reminds them of the wilderness, “where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son” (1:31, NAS). We would expect the analogy to work the opposite way, as an exhortation: “Fathers, carry your sons as the Lord carries you.” But the expression assumes something innate about the way a father carries his son – a divinely-implanted order.

What picture does your mind draw from this comparison? It is a father delighting in protecting, leading, and providing for his son. The Spirit balances this with a similar expression in chapter 8, reminiscent of Hebrews 12:5-11. He tested them, taught them the importance of His Word and their need to trust Him, and ensured they were not spoiled, though they never lacked care. “Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son” (8:5, NAS). These two verses provide a helpful balance for parents. They remind us that loving parenthood involves both tender care and godly discipline.

Persistent Communication

The language of Deuteronomy is striking for the ardor with which it conveys the need to teach God’s principles (4:9; 11:19; 17:20; 32:46). Here is one clear example: “You shall teach them diligently to your sons, 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 up . . . You shall write them on the doorposts of your house” (6:7 NAS). Our homes and our lives are to be marked by the Word of God. Deuteronomy 17:20 implies there is a stability in family life generated by the reading and practicing of God’s truth. We can’t rely upon a one-hour per week Sunday school to provide the teaching of the Scriptures to our children. With wisdom, there is surely a way to encourage children to learn the Scriptures in the home without its being like the forced labor of a prison camp. It may require a mother’s carefully thought out creativity, but isn’t it worth it? God’s commandments are valuable to life and His words are vital for eternity. Timothy’s usefulness to God was partly a result of Lois and Eunice’s following the pattern of Deuteronomy. While a particular challenge in the busy life of urban centers, we should make a diligent effort at having at least one meal per day together as a family, at which time there is a brief Scripture reading, coupled with a relevant explanation.

Protective Separation

An interesting principle underlies the exhortations (12:31; 18:10) that God’s people should not follow the example of those who burned their children as an offering to their false gods. Do our children ever give evidence that we have burned them, not at religious altars, but at the altars of entertainment and consumerism? I recall a quote from a previous generation when a Christian sadly said, “Many Christians left the world for Christ . . . but have gone back into it for their children.” Indeed there is a balance to be achieved. Separation is not isolation. If we are going to prevent our children from being involved in things that other children of the neighborhood spend time at and enjoy, then it is incumbent upon us to spend time with them and have fun together, but without offering them to the world.

Pleasurable Participation

The twelfth chapter teaches a beautiful principle. We are to be in the place where the Lord chooses to place His Name and in that place we are to “rejoice before the Lord your God, ye, and your sons and daughters” (12:12). The family is to share in spiritual activities and to rejoice together in them (see also 12:18 and 16:14).

In our conversations with our children, and in conversations that our children hear, do we rejoice and speak happily about the Lord’s gathering center? Do they get the impression we are happy to be a part of that local church? Is it clear to them that the meetings of the assembly are important to me and a source of joy to attend? I am naive if I think murmuring against the assembly and a sluggishness in attending its meetings will not negatively impact my family. But how beautiful the picture of a family unitedly enjoying the things of God! It is demonstrated in New Testament history in Acts 16:34 after the Philippian jailer and his family believed and were baptized – “he … rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”

Deuteronomy assumes that children see the importance of spiritual things in their parents’ lives and will naturally ask questions. Deuteronomy 6:20 says, “And when thy son asketh thee in time to come…” They feel comfortable in asking questions of their parents. And the parents are surely comfortable in recounting the story of redemption and explaining that it is “for our good always” (6:24) to fear the Lord. How heartwarming when God’s Word, His faithfulness, and His goodness in our experience are part of the conversation in a home! By this, the children will learn the value of a life lived in happy fellowship with the Lord.