Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.
Just before Moses ascended Mount Nebo to see the promised land and then die, he sang a lengthy song to Israel. In this song Moses set forth the faithfulness of God. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (v. 4). But then in contrast, Moses spoke of the unfaithfulness of Israel, unfaithfulness that had manifested itself already in the wilderness. Moses also demonstrated how the Lord would chastise Israel through affliction and then have compassion on them after they humbled themselves before God.
The verse that we consider for this mediation is found at the beginning of this lengthy song. These words were addressed to the younger generation of Israel, including the children. They were to remember the days of old and consider the years of many generations. The idea is that they were to remember and consider the works of salvation God had performed and the revelation God had given in the days of old. To that end, they must ask their fathers and elders who would show and tell them. The unstated purpose is that they may know Jehovah, His gracious works, and how He deals with apostasy so that they remain faithful.
We consider this passage in connection with the beginning of another school year and catechism season. Although this passage is addressed to the younger element in the church, it implies a calling to all the members of the church. The children are to ask their fathers and elders about the glorious works of God in the past. And the older generation is to show and tell of the days of old. Although this passage has broader application than our Christian schools and catechism classes, it does set forth the principles that stand as the basis for our Christian schools and the catechism program. And that is good to consider as both are about to begin.
“The days of old” and “the years of many generations.”
This refers, first, to the works of salvation that God had performed in times past.
For Israel at this time, the days of old were rather limited. They included God’s leading Abram out of Ur into Canaan, and then the wonderful covenant promises given to Abraham and his seed. There was God’s preservation of Israel in Egypt, followed by His gracious works to deliver Israel out of Egypt, preserve them during the forty years in the wilderness, and finally bring them to the border of Canaan.
As the history of the covenant progressed, there would be more works of God that belonged to the days of old and the years of many generations. There would be the work of God to chasten Israel in the period of the judges. These would include the work of God to establish the house of David as kings in Israel. There would the work of God to destroy an apostate Israel and to chasten an unfaithful Judah through captivity. Later, there would be the work of God to send Jesus Christ into the world to secure the salvation of the church by His death and resurrection—works that were only hinted at and prefigured in the Old Testament. And there would be the work of God to bring salvation to the Gentile world.
The days of old and the years of many generations also include the revelation of God given through the prophets, through Jesus Christ, and also the apostles. God not only performed great works of salvation, He also explained them through divine revelation. In the Old Testament He did that by the prophets, who explained how God’s great works of salvation looked ahead to greater works to come. In the fullness of time God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish these greater works of salvation and explain what He was doing. After Jesus’ exaltation He raised up the apostles who completed His revelation concerning the works of salvation in Jesus Christ.
All this revelation has been infallibly recorded for us in the Bible by divine inspiration.
All these works and the revelation of them are included as we consider the days of old and the years of many generations.
Remember and consider.
There are many things that happen that we forget. To remember them is to retain them in our memory so that they are constantly before us. This we are to do with the works of God’s salvation as revealed in Scripture.
Implied here is the need of having a thorough knowledge of God’s saving works in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. One cannot remember what he does not know. But then, knowing, we must also remember. It is good to examine ourselves in this. There are many things we remember and often speak about, for example, the death of a loved one, the behavior of our children, sports, wrongs done to us, etc. How much is the revelation of God and His salvation on our mind and in our memory? How often do we speak of it?
But we are also to consider these things. To consider has the basic idea of distinguishing one thing from another. It emphasizes the idea of discernment, perception of how things are related to each other, and thus, of understanding. Joined to remembering, considering emphasizes that you analyze and understand what you know and remember. This also is what we must do with the revelation of God in Scripture. We must be students of Scripture, so that we come to an ever-clearer understanding of its teachings and how they relate to each other. And we must also apply these teachings to our lives.
“Show” and “tell.”
This passage speaks of fathers and elders.
The term “father” can refer to one’s biological father or grandfather. It can also refer to one who has had great influence on others, either providing for their care or shaping their perspective. A teacher was called a father. Probably father is used here in the sense of one’s biological father or grandfather.
Next, there is elder. The term “elder” can refer simply to older people (both male and female). But it also was used to identify those who held an office of authority, a position held because of age and experience. In these senses, there is probably no limitation on the term elder in this passage.
The younger generation is to ask their fathers and elders. They are to ask them to show and tell about the saving works of God from time past.
To show means to bring something to the foreground so that it is conspicuous before a person. Usually it refers to something previously unknown. The younger generation in the church is to ask their fathers and the elders in the church to make known in a very clear and conspicuous way the great works of God revealed in Scripture.
To tell is the common word for speaking and emphasizes that this showing is to be spoken.
In this connection there are two questions.
First, why must the younger generation come to the older generation with their questions? The answer is, because they have the experience and wisdom to show and tell the younger of the great works of God.
Secondly, why must the younger generation come not just to their fathers (and mothers) but also to others, especially the elderly members of the church? The reason is that no father has all the gifts necessary to provide for the proper instruction of his children; they must receive the instruction of others as well.
Moses indicates that the fathers and elders will show and tell the younger generation that asks. They will do this because of their love for the youth of the church and for the sake of God’s covenant.
Implied here is a calling to fathers and elders. Make sure that you have the knowledge to show and tell what the younger generation asks and needs to know. Make sure that you make the time for this show and tell. And be approachable. Cultivate a good relationship with the younger generation, so that they are encouraged to ask about the days of old and the years of many generations.
How is this show and tell to be done?
This is to be done by fathers and mothers teaching their children in the home. Repeatedly, parents are commanded to teach their children the realities of the covenant and of salvation. It is the parents’ obligation to instruct their children in the home; there first of all is where the children ought to be asking for show and tell. This is also on the foreground in this passage.
This is also to be done by mothers and fathers teaching their adult children who are raising their own families. According toelderly women must “be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children….” Let adult children ask their parents concerning the days of old and the years of many generations. And let their parents continue to show and tell.
This asking and telling can be done through Bible study societies. There is value to having the old and the young together in Bible study groups. This becomes a natural way to implement the principles of this passage.
This asking and telling is to be done in the catechism instruction given by the church to her children. The church has a calling to instruct her youth. This is done in the catechism room where the pastor and elders show and tell the youth of the days of old.
Finally, this asking and telling is done in the good Christian schools. The Christian school movement arose out of several principles.
First, our covenant children need to be instructed in many disciplines that parents are ordinarily not qualified to provide. We must be in the world, but not of the world.
Second, our covenant children need to be instructed in these disciplines from the viewpoint of Scripture. This is especially true if they will be not of the world.
Finally, the entire covenant community is responsible for this instruction—not just the fathers but also the elders.
Out of these principles arise our Christian schools, which have been a great blessing to our children.
To be faithful!
The song of Moses in which our passage is found was a warning against apostasy that would arise in Israel’s future. At the beginning of this warning, Moses instructed the church to remember, to ask, to show, and to tell. This is God’s prescription to faithfulness in the church. Israel’s subsequent history demonstrates this. Repeatedly Israel departed from the Lord. Invariably, it was the result of a lack of remembering, asking, showing, and telling.
Let us take this to heart and be zealous to heed the exhortation of this Word of God. We see apostasy abound also in the church world today and the church is under God’s judgment for it. This apostasy is rooted in an appalling ignorance of the Word of God. For the sake of the faithfulness of our future generations, let us heed the instruction of this Word of God.