MY PARENTS WERE RATHER POOR — not with the poverty one finds in the worst of the world’s slums, but poor by North American standards. My Dad was a pastor. Before I was born, still at the end of the Great Depression, Dad took around a little wagon of food that had been collected one Christmas for the poor, and then came home to the flat my parents rented, where the only food for Christmas dinner was a can of beans. My parents gave thanks to God for that — and then even as they were doing so, they were invited out for a meal. I can remember many instances, as I was growing up, when our family prayed that God would meet our needs — huge medical bills when we could afford no insurance, for example — and he always did. When I left home to go to university, my parents scrimped and saved; that year they sent me ten dollars. For them it was a lot of money; for myself, I was financially on my own, and worked and studied. Many times I went two or three days without food, drinking lots of water to keep my stomach from rumbling, asking the Lord to meet my needs, fearful I would have to put studies aside. God always met them, sometimes in the simple ways, sometimes in astonishing displays.
Today I look at my children, and recognize that although they face new sets of trials and temptations, so far they have never had to face anything resembling deprivation (not getting everything they want doesn’t count!). Then I read Deuteronomy 11, where Moses makes a generational distinction: “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched are; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country” (Deut. 11:2-3; see Deut. 11:5). No, it wasn’t the children. “But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done” (Deut. 11:7).
What then does Moses infer from this generational distinction? (1) The older generation should be quick to obey, because of all that they have had the opportunity to learn (Deut. 11:8). Here I am, wondering about my children’s limited experience, when the first thing God says is that I am the one with no excuse. (2) The older generation must systematically pass on what they have learned to their children (Deut. 11:19-21); again, the prime responsibility is mine, not theirs. (3) More broadly, God’s provision to the people of the blessings of the covenant, here focused on the land and its bounty, depends on the first two points.