Today is my mother’s birthday. The older I get, the more I see reflections of her show up in me. I do not forget the many lessons that she taught, and am trying to instill those same values in my daughter. I’ve had the opportunity to write an article on her life and legacy this year. It was an emotional and difficult piece to complete. So many memories flooded back to my mind, and I was reminded again of how much I miss her. We all miss her. Though she is not with us in body, I know that her love, teaching, prayers, and devotion will continue to bless our family for many generations to come.
When reading through the Old Testament, I am often reminded of Israel’s history and Moses’ command to remember. As mentor and teacher, I reflect on his requirement of the older generations to teach the younger generations so they would not forget the character and power of their mighty God.
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deut 4:7-9 NIV)
This is the requirement of the mentor, to teach and instruct the next generation in the ways of the Lord because they are sanctified or set apart to serve him in this world. We do this because there is none like our God who is worthy of our praise and devotion. We must not forget! As Moses, the leader and mentor of an entire nation, laid out the commandments for the Lord’s people, he informed them of the general understanding that obedience to God prompted his blessing, and disobedience required his righteous judgement. We are created to worship God. When we don’t worship God, we most certainly will worship a lesser being or thing not worthy of our worship. That practice is called idolatry, and when Moses lays out this command for the people, he informed them of God’s words, reasoning, and standards:
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not now down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation for those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
As a hermeneutical note, it is important to understand what God is not saying here. God not saying that he will punish children for the things their parents have done if the children have done nothing wrong. This passage presents practical theology and understanding that as children, a lot of what we learn is “caught” rather than “taught.” Generally, we know that children often walk in the ways of their parents be it good or bad. My mother was a loving and compassionate person; she served the church and her community. As I grew into adulthood, these became some of my same passions and aspirations because that was a natural part of my upbringing. Likewise, when children are raised in a home where there is alcoholism or domestic abuse, apart from the grace of God, they are prone to sin in the same way. When children take on either the righteous or corrupt actions of their parents, the Word of God says that God will respond to those actions accordingly.
The grace of God is evident even in these verses. There appears to be a limitation concerning the passing of sinful or evil generational practices (some would call “curses”) to the third or fourth generations. (Of course, the blood of Jesus can destroy every yoke regardless of a person’s generational history. We must name, confess, and ask God for the desire and power to denounce and repent of the sin that plagues us.) These verses also remind us that the Father responds with love for thousands of generations to those who obey him and keep his commandments. We observe this promise fulfilled all throughout the Old Testament. There are occasions when the younger generations sin against God, but because of the faithfulness of former generations, God exercises his grace. God’s gracious response to Solomon in light of the faithfulness of his father David is a clear example of this truth.
I am forever thankful that my mother, my first mentor, modeled for me what it means to live a life of godliness. Moses did the same for his people. It is my hope and prayer that my daughter will “catch” the same love and devotion of God from me, no matter how imperfectly.
The holidays are a great time to consider how you can model a life of worship and devotion to God for those who are in your family and extended family. This is a prime opportunity to consider the legacy you want to leave for the next generation even when you don’t see them regularly. What will your mentoring legacy be?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015