Bible Study with Jairus – Deuteronomy 6
Why do Christian Nations Fall?
Deuteronomy 6 raises some troubling questions. Why did the second generation of Israel fall after they arrived in the land of Canaan? By the same token, why do Christian countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States—which have been greatly used by God in the past—face widespread degeneration of their faith? Why do second-generation and third-generation Christians often abandon their faith?
Deuteronomy 6 gives us insight into this question. I believe that Christians begin to stray away from God, degenerate in their faith, and worship idols when they treat God’s grace and God’s word as commonplace. Instead, we must keep God’s word in our hearts, continue to learn His word, and experience the truth of His word. We must teach God’s word to our children through our lives and actions. If we just lecture our children with surface-level rules but never internalize God’s word or experience His words personally, they will sense our hypocrisy. This will cause the next generation to inevitably stumble.
The Consequences of Apathy
In Deuteronomy 4, Moses previewed the future apostasy of the second generation of Israelites. He said, “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger.” (ESV, Deuteronomy 4:25). The second generation of Israel would turn away from God and worship idols because they had “grown old in the land.” In other words, God’s blessings had made them apathetic, arrogant, and proud. They needed God to change their environment to remind them to repent. Jeremiah 48:11-12 mentions the same concept: “Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so, his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed. ‘Therefore, behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces.’” Because the wine was not constantly poured back and forth from jar to jar during the wine-making process, the lees had settled. In the same way, Moab had settled in ease and apathy. The lack of trials in their environment meant shortcomings and fallen nature were never challenged.
Is there hope? Can the second generation overcome the natural apathy of “growing old” in their Christianity?
Standing on the Shoulders of the First Generation
As we’ve discussed in previous lessons, the first generation of Israelites learned from the previous generation’s failure of faith. Rather than doubting God like the first generation did, they entered the promised land with faith.
However, they did not so easily learn from the first generation’s failures in the area of idolatry. They inherited the baggage of their ancestors’ idolatry. As second-generation Christians today, we should actively inherit the abundant heritage that our predecessors left to us. We need to “stand on the shoulders of giants,” as the saying goes. We should build on what they left behind. Their ceiling should be our floor. We need to not only inherit their positive abundance, but also avoid their mistakes.
Not all second- and third-generation Christians walk away from God. Historically, many second or third-generation Christians have been greatly used by God. For example, when I read the biography of Andrew Murray, I was deeply inspired. Andrew’s uncle and father were both pastors. As a child, Andrew was sent to Holland with his brother to study theology, Hebrew, and Greek. After receiving a good education and training, he went to South Africa to become a pastor. There, he was greatly used by God. He knew the Bible very well and was spiritually mature.
When I compared my own biblical heritage to Andrew Murray’s, I realized that I had very little Biblical foundation. I was a first-generation and had received no Christian inheritance from my family. I was born into a family of idolaters. Before I was saved at age 27, I experienced the entanglement of sin and the flesh. Rather than receiving a deep Christian education, I was educated in the ways of the world. I felt gypped. I was deeply envious of Andrew Murray’s experience. I thought, “If I could have been born into a Christian family and received a spiritual education as good as Andrew Murray’s, I might be more useful in God’s hands.”
But that wasn’t the life path God chose for me. I later realized that God’s wisdom allowed me to experience these trials and tribulations so that I could better empathize with Christians who fall into sin. I realized that it was not too late to study the abundant heritage passed down to me through Christian books and resources from those who had gone before.
God wants us to pass on our spiritual heritage to the next generation, so that they can have a better starting point. We must share our experiences of faith and even our failures so they can learn from our example. We must learn how to teach the next generation well.
Lead the Next Generation by Example
I once saw a movie about a second-generation American Christian who rebelled against the hypocrisy she saw in her parents. Though the parents claimed to be generous when in church, they showed their true colors when at home. They refused to give a penny toward God’s work. Frustrated, the daughter donated the entire education fund left by her parents to the pastor. When her parents found out, they became very angry and tried to find a way to get the money back from the pastor. The pastor was also a money-grubber. He refused to return the money. He told the parents, “The money donated to the church is given to God and cannot be taken back.” The daughter did not see a positive Christian testimony from her parents.
Later, the daughter met some unbelieving friends who were involved with a homeless outreach. She began volunteering with her new friends. The message of the movie is that unbelievers, including homosexuals, demonstrate more true love than Christians. When I watched this movie, I sighed. Unfortunately, this portrayal of American Christian society and family is not far from the truth.
In light of the sad condition of American Christianity, we must pay close attention to Deuteronomy 6. God commanded the Israelites to focus on his word and always keep it in their hearts. Only in this way could they pass his word on to their children. The formula portrayed in this chapter is: First study God’s word for yourself, and then pass it on to your children.
Deuteronomy 6:1-2 records the words that Moses taught the second generation of Israelites. “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it.” Then Moses addresses the teaching of the next generation: “That you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.” This command encompasses both the second generation of Israelites and their children. Throughout the chapter, Moses first tells the second generation of Israelites how to obey and study the word of God, then instructs them about how their children and grandchildren should act.
Deuteronomy 6:5-6 says, “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.” In these verses, Moses is addressing the second generation of Israelites. But in verse 7, he says, “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.”
In verses 8-9, Moses continued to speak to the second generation of Israelites: “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.” Forgetting God’s word is the first step toward our spiritual downfall. In verses 10-11, Moses reminded the people that their houses, fields, and produce in the land of Canaan were results of the grace of God, not their own effort. Moses reminded the second generation of Israelites in verse 12, “Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” In verses 6:16-19, Moses continued to remind the second generation of Israelites that they should not put God to the test, like the first generation of Israel did in Massah. Moses reminded them that if they obeyed God’s law, He would drive out all their enemies before them. In verses 20-21, Moses continued to talk to them about how to teach their children. He said, “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.’”
This structure continues throughout the chapter. Moses first taught the second generation of Israelites, who were about to enter the land of Canaan, to obey the law of God. Next, he reminded them to teach their descendants. In my previous readings of this chapter, I had never noticed this generational structure. Now, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I noticed the way this passage is arranged and the truth it points to. Just like the second generation of Israelites, we need to study, understand and obey God’s word so we can teach our children to know and obey God’s word.
Abraham and Jacob: Two Generations Experience God in Different Ways
Moses knew that the second generation of Israelites would not study the law or obey it. He knew they would not teach their children well. Instead, they would fall into idolatry and turn away from God. Does this mean there is no hope?
I believe that there is hope for the second generation, even when they wander away from God—just like there was hope for Abraham’s son, Jacob.
Like Abraham, many first-generation Christians hear the call of God, leave the land of idolatry, and enter the Promised Land. However, second-generation Christians often have the reverse experience. Like Jacob, they start out in the Promised Land but later leave and return to the land of idolatry. Only there do they come face to face with God’s presence. It is normal for second-generation Christians to fall away, and God will arrange their circumstances so that they have an opportunity to turn back to Him. Each individual’s faith journey is unique. But each generation is cared for by God’s loving sovereignty. All things work together for good to those who love Him.
Like Abraham, I am a first-generation Christian who was saved from a land of idolatry. Abraham lived in an idol-worshiping city east of the river, but God called him to leave his homeland and follow Him to a place he did not know. Abraham followed God’s guidance by faith and finally entered the land of Canaan that God had prepared for him and his descendants. Like him, many first-generation Christians are entangled in sin, idolatry, and worldliness. But God’s presence attractively woos them out of sin and into the Promised Land of hope.
However, later generations of Christians often have the same experience as Jacob did. Although he lived in Isaac’s house and received his blessing, he himself did not know God. The God of Abraham and Isaac was not the God of Jacob. Jacob tricked his brother and stole his birthright. He then fled from his hometown and went to live with his idol-worshiping uncle. Years before, Abraham’s servant had brought Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, from Abraham’s idol-worshiping hometown. After Jacob went to live with his uncle Laban, Jacob’s wife Rachel stole Laban’s household gods. Clearly, idols were still being actively worshiped in Laban’s household.
Jacob left to the land of promise and returned to the land of idols. He left God’s blessing in the land of Canaan and entered a land of oppression where he would be mistreated and deceived by his uncle for many years. But it was only through these unfortunate experiences that Jacob met God. In the vision of a ladder on the way to his uncle’s house and in his experience of wrestling with God on his way back to the land of Canaan, Jacob came face to face with God Himself.
Each of us has a different experience with God. Like Abraham, some people start out in the land of suffering and idolatry, then meet God and enter the land of Canaan. However, others are born in the land of Canaan. Without a personal relationship with God, they walk away from his blessings and return to the land of idols. But God never leaves them alone. He is always with them, waiting for them to return to Him so they can truly know and experience Him.
Like Abraham, first-generation Chinese Christians suffer because of their sins and the oppression of idols and evil spirits. Then they encounter God and are set free.
Like Jacob, some people are born into Christian homes in Christian countries. They do not know God personally through experience. They fall into sin and walk away from God, but his mercy is still watching over them. Like Jacob, they will meet God in a dream and will wrestle with Him at the ford of Jabbok. He will bring them back to Himself.
A recent report by the Pew Research Center stated that at the current rate of decline, the percentage of Christians in the United States will drop below 50% of the population by 2070. This statistic has a far-reaching impact on American politics and society. The article argues that only a great revival can change this downward trend. When Steve Bannon shared the article, he asked a question: “Will the Great Revival change this trend?” When I reposted the link, I stated that I believe it is possible. I firmly believe that a great revival in the United States is coming; God has revealed this to me many times through prophetic dreams. I believe this downward trend will definitely reverse.
We must remember this truth: It was when Jacob was alone and miserable in the wilderness that he met God. In the United States, there are countless second- and third-generation Christians, and those whose families have been believers for many generations. Even if they turn away from God, His mercy toward them will never come to an end. They will eventually come face to face with their loving Savior.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.