"That Ye May Know...And Fear"

There are many warnings in the Bible against altering God’s message. A few such passages are Deuteronomy 4.2, 12.32, Proverbs 30.5-6, and Revelation 22.18-19. Perversion of God’s word can occur in many ways. The word can be perverted in the manner in which the serpent did in Genesis 3.4, when the word “not” was added to God’s message to Adam. The prophet Balaam perverted the message of God in a more subtle manner when he gave counsel as to how God’s people could bring his wrath upon themselves through disobedience (Revelation 2.14). Yet another method of perversion is seen in the example of the old prophet at Bethel in 1 Kings 13, who lied about receiving a message from God that resulted in the death of a younger prophet. A common thread in all of these examples is that of impure motives. Impure motives are not always behind the perversion of God’s message. It often occurs through simple neglect and carelessness. It is unintentional, yet the damage is just as great.

In Joshua 4.4-7, the people are about to enter the Promised Land. They cross the parted waters of the Jordan and the Lord directs the people after they have crossed with these words: “Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them, ‘Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God in the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, “What do these stones mean to you?” Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, when it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. And these stones shall be a memorial to the children of Israel forever.’

In Joshua 3.10 and 4.24, we have the significance of these procedures stated by Joshua: “Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you…that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of Jehovah that it is mighty; that ye may fear Jehovah your God forever.

God wanted the men to take time to make a memorial for the purpose of drawing their children’s attention and questions. When the children asked, “What do these stones mean to you?”, God wanted the grownups to take the time to answer the question with wisdom and knowledge. The significance of these stones needed to be passed down to future generations. If not, the worship of God would lose significance. Carelessness in teaching is also a form of perversion. It is mishandling God’s word. It will reap what it has sown — disrespect toward God.

The greatest opportunity for the parent to teach the child about the significance of serving God comes from the child’s questions. A careful reply will remain in the mind of the child throughout his life. It will be the determining factor in times of decisions about obedience or disobedience to God’s will. Be prepared to answer with diligence so the child will “know…and fear” God. Remember, the time is opportune then. To delay or defer an answer is to lose that opportunity. It may never come again. The reply needs to bring out the significance of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice. Don’t diminish the significance of God’s will with a careless answer.

Let us return to the story of the twelve stones. How would the children’s worship be affect if, over time, the story was carelessly related? What if, instead of stating the proper reason for the stones, another version was told? Then, to spread it further, what if those children who had been told the altered story related only what they had been told? What if this kept happening over a period of generations? For instance, let’s say that a child was told that some river other than the Jordan, or a number of stones other than twelve were used? Perhaps more or less than twelve men were involved, or something other than the ark of the covenant was involved. What would happen to the significance of the event? What if the story, in years to come, was like this: “A long time ago, Joshua had some of the people get some rocks out of a river and erect an altar like they did when they crossed the Red Sea years earlier. I forget exactly where they were, and why they did this, but it had something to do with how they worshiped back then. That is why we have an altar today in our worship, because that's the way Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa did.” I believe the effect would be obvious. However, consider the effect on a child nurtured “in the chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4).