Psalm 78 champions the truth that the older members of God’s community are called to pass their faith to the next generation. Asaph’s Psalm carries this idea of passing the baton of faith to children who then teach their children as well so that they should hope in God and remember His works. Asaph wrote:
We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments. (Psalm 78:4-7).
In the home and the church, the heart of this Psalm finds room to breathe, as older believers pass their faith onto the next generation. When this beautiful vision is fleshed out, the fruit is evident in the text itself: the next generation will know God’s commands, they will set their hope in God, they will remember God’s works, they will obey Him, their hearts will remain steadfast, and their spirits will prove faithful to God. Is this not our prayer for young people today?
This Scripture not only provides the foundation for families and churches focused on passing faith in the Lord to the next generation; it also guards the church against spiritual abandonment by a younger generation. We fight against the tragic testimony of Judges 2:7-10 when we embrace a ministry rooted in the truths of Psalm 78. In Judges chapter two, the author notes Joshua’s death and then a sort of spiritual amnesia that arose with the next generation. We read the heartbreaking words: "There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord" (Judges 2:10).
The Israelite families served God as long as Joshua and his elders were alive. This was the generation who walked through the parted sea and ate the manna. As long as they lived, Israel knew the Lord. They remembered God and worshiped God. When Joshua and his elders died, however, there arose another generation. These families “did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done” (Judges 2:10).
Timothy Keller notes, “The word ‘knew’ probably does not mean that they did not know about the Exodus, the Red Sea, the crossing of the Jordan, and the walls of Jericho falling, but rather that the saving acts of God were no longer precious or central to them…In other words, they had forgotten the gospel.”
The unbelief of the new generation is explicit in the next verse as “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (see Judges 2:11-12). This abandonment made the “new generation forget all about the Lord and instead serve mini-lords.” All of this evil came when a younger generation forgot the gospel. Oppression and distress immediately followed.
David Keehn notes the tragedy of Judges 2:10, calling it a “spiritual apostasy.” Keehn concludes, “God desires for each generation to be mentored because the adage is true that the church is just one generation away from extinction.”
The opposite can also be true, however. The older generation can have the needed influence on the spiritual state of young people today. Family Worship and Family Ministry within the Church create opportunities for older adults to pass their faith to the next generation, leaving a legacy of faith.
John Piper preaches this opportunity as seen in Psalm 78: “It is important for all of us in the church — married and single, old and young, men and women, boys and girls — to understand the biblical teaching…from Psalm 78: ‘That the next generation might put their hope in God.’”
Leading teenagers and children to follow Jesus is not only a biblical call, but it is also an incredible privilege. These young years are ripe for a spiritual harvest. Just as Asaph “teaches the next generation about the greatness of God” so that “they might set their hope in God,” we can create opportunities for older believers to teach the next generation about the Lord and His Gospel so that they too might find their hope in Jesus Christ.
Jonathan Williams is the founder of Gospel Family Ministries, the author of Gospel Family: Cultivating Family Discipleship, Family Worship, and Family Missions, and the senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, TX. He lives in Houston with his wife and three children, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Family Ministry through the School of Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
Timothy Keller, Judges for You, (United Kingdom: The Good Book Company, 2016), 30.
David Keehn, “Youth Ministry from a Family Perspective,” A Theology for Family Ministries, (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2011), 230.
John Piper, “Educating for Hope,” a sermon on Psalm 78:1-8. Preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 8, 1986. Accessed online, March 15, 2018: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/educating-for-hope