Historically and traditionally, among the Hebrews, the real center of education was the home. In short, Jewish education is homework! Ancient Israel had a limited system of formal education for children. Hence, the home was the center of education and the major source of learning. The parents played the key role in instructing children. Life itself became the child’s school and the family the primary education institution. Swift (1919) concurs, “Throughout the entire history of the Hebrews the family was regarded as the fundamental educational institution”.
Religious education does not isolate one age group or season of life, but should be from the cradle to the grave. The emphasis in this lesson is on childhood education. The author’s cultural setting involves global missions, specifically in the area of Bible college education. Bible school faculty can be instrumental in promoting, preparing and proclaiming Christian education in local church settings. Additionally the principles derived in this lesson extend to the Bible school classroom and are applicable there as well. Education should begin at the earliest age possible. But it is considered life-long:
The early Hebrews stressed the idea of education as a continual process to be carried on literally from the cradle to the grave functioning at all times and in all places. For the Hebrews, education was definitely a lifelong affair and did not cease with graduation. Every Hebrew, be he rich or poor, young or old, was obligated to study the Torah every day. (Schoeman, 1997, 422).
A Jewish father would take his baby and dip his finger in honey and place it in the baby’s mouth. This reinforced that God’s Word is sweet. It became second nature—like the air one breathes. It’s always there. However, these words were strange in the midst of cultures that worshipped hundreds of gods.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, ESV).
This section of God’s Word, called the Shema, speaks directly to the family. It was to be observed in every aspect of life, taught diligently to children, and reinforced with constant reminders. God’s Word was to be continually in the midst of the family. The Shema or “Hear, O Israel” was used in both morning and evening prayers. It echoed the monotheistic message that God is One. As soon as a child began to speak, he was taught to repeat the words of the Shema. The verses (or at least the first several words) were the last words used before dying and in times of danger.
Gordon Dryden and Dr. Jeannette Vos (1999) in their book The Learning Revolution explained, “Fifty percent of a child’s ability to learn is developed in the first four years of life. This makes parents the world’s most important educators” (31).
The NIV translates verse 7 as “Impress them on your children.” Small children are like wet cement. It is easier to make a lasting impression. Older children become like dried cement. It is more difficult to make an impression. The mold has been cast. When should Christian education begin? Now!