The Education of Israel
The system of education established in Eden centred in the family.
Adam was "the son of God" (Luke 3:38), and it was from their
Father that the children of the Highest received instruction. Theirs, in
the truest sense, was a family school.
In the divine plan of education as adapted to man's condition after
the Fall, Christ stands as the representative of the Father, the
connecting link between God and man; He is the great teacher of mankind.
And He ordained that men and women should be His representatives. The
family was the school, and the parents were the teachers.
The education centring in the family was that which prevailed in the
days of the patriarchs. For the schools thus established, God provided
the conditions most favourable for the development of character. The
people who were under His direction still pursued the plan of life that
He had appointed in the beginning. Those who departed from God built for
themselves cities, and, congregating in them, gloried in the splendour,
the luxury, and the vice that make the cities of today the world's pride
and its curse. But the men who held fast God's principles of life dwelt
among the fields and hills. They were tillers of the soil and keepers of
flocks and herds, and in this free, independent life, with its
opportunities for labour and study and meditation, they learned of God
and taught their children of His works and ways.
This was the method of education that God desired to establish in
Israel. But when brought out of Egypt there were among the Israelites
few prepared to be workers together with Him in the training of their
children. The parents themselves needed instruction and discipline.
Victims of lifelong slavery, they were ignorant, untrained, degraded.
They had little knowledge of God and little faith in Him. They were
confused by false teaching and corrupted by their long contact with
heathenism. God desired to lift them to a higher moral level, and to
this end He sought to give them a knowledge of Himself.
In His dealings with the wanderers in the desert, in all their
marchings to and fro, in their exposure to hunger, thirst, and
weariness, in their peril from heathen foes, and in the manifestation of
His providence for their relief, God was seeking to strengthen their
faith by revealing to them the power that was continually working for
their good. And having taught them to trust in His love and power, it
was His purpose to set before them, in the precepts of His law, the
standard of character to which, through His grace, He desired them to
Precious were the lessons taught to Israel during their sojourn at
Sinai. This was a period of special training for the inheritance of
Canaan. And their surroundings here were favourable for the
accomplishing of God's purpose. On the summit of Sinai, overshadowing
the plain where the people spread their tents, rested the pillar of
cloud which had been the guide of their journey. A pillar of fire by
night, it assured them of the divine protection; and while they were
locked in slumber, the bread of heaven fell gently upon the encampment.
On every hand, vast, rugged heights, in their solemn grandeur, spoke of
eternal endurance and majesty. Man was made to feel his ignorance and
weakness in the presence of Him who hath "weighed the mountains in
scales, and the hills in a balance." Isaiah 40:12. Here, by the
manifestation of His glory, God sought to impress Israel with the
holiness of His character and requirements, and the exceeding guilt of
But the people were slow to learn the lesson. Accustomed as they had
been in Egypt to material representations of the Deity, and these of the
most degrading nature, it was difficult for them to conceive of the
existence or the character of the Unseen One. In pity for their
weakness, God gave them a symbol of His presence. "Let them make Me
a sanctuary," He said; "that I may dwell among them."
In the building of the sanctuary as a dwelling place for God, Moses
was directed to make all things according to the pattern of things in
the heavens. God called him into the mount, and revealed to him the
heavenly things, and in their similitude the tabernacle, with all that
pertained to it, was fashioned.
So to Israel, whom He desired to make His dwelling place, He revealed
His glorious ideal of character. The pattern was shown them in the mount
when the law was given from Sinai and when God passed by before Moses
and proclaimed, "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious,
long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." Exodus 34:6.
But this ideal they were, in themselves, powerless to attain. The
revelation at Sinai could only impress them with their need and
helplessness. Another lesson the tabernacle, through its service of
sacrifice, was to teach-- the lesson of pardon of sin, and power through
the Saviour for obedience unto life.
Through Christ was to be fulfilled the purpose of which the
tabernacle was a symbol--that glorious building, its walls of glistening
gold reflecting in rainbow hues the curtains inwrought with cherubim,
the fragrance of ever-burning incense pervading all, the priests robed
in spotless white, and in the deep mystery of the inner place, above the
mercy seat, between the figures of the bowed, worshipping angels, the
glory of the Holiest. In all, God desired His people to read His purpose
for the human soul. It was the same purpose long afterward set forth by
the apostle Paul, speaking by the Holy Spirit:
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit
of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall
God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." 1
Corinthians 3:16, 17.
Great was the privilege and honour granted Israel in the preparation
of the sanctuary; and great was also the responsibility. A structure of
surpassing splendour, demanding for its construction the most costly
material and the highest artistic skill, was to be erected in the
wilderness, by a people just escaped from slavery. It seemed a
stupendous task. But He who had given the plan of the building stood
pledged to co-operate with the builders.
"The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name
Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I
have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding,
and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship. . . . And I, behold,
I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of
Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise-hearted I have put wisdom,
that they may make all that I have commanded thee." Exodus 31:1-6.
What an industrial school was that in the wilderness, having for its
instructors Christ and His angels!
In the preparation of the sanctuary and in its furnishing, all the
people were to co-operate. There was labour for brain and hand. A great
variety of material was required, and all were invited to contribute as
their own hearts prompted.
Thus in labour and in giving they were taught to co-operate with God
and with one another. And they were to co-operate also in the
preparation of the spiritual building--God's temple in the soul.
From the outset of the journey from Egypt, lessons had been given for
their training and discipline. Even before they left Egypt a temporary
organisation had been effected, and the people were arranged in
companies, under appointed leaders. At Sinai the arrangements for
organisation were completed. The order so strikingly displayed in all
the works of God was manifest in the Hebrew economy. God was the centre
of authority and government. Moses, as His representative, was to
administer the laws in His name. Then came the council of seventy, then
the priests and the princes, under these "captains over thousands,
and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over
tens" (Numbers 11:16, 17; Deuteronomy 1:15), and, lastly, officers
appointed for special duties. The camp was arranged in exact order, the
tabernacle, the abiding place of God, in the midst, and around it the
tents of the priests and the Levites. Outside of these each tribe
encamped beside its own standard.
Thoroughgoing sanitary regulations were enforced. These were enjoined
on the people, not only as necessary to health, but as the condition of
retaining among them the presence of the Holy One. By divine authority
Moses declared to them, "The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of
thy camp, to deliver thee; . . . therefore shall thy camp be holy."
The education of the Israelites included all their habits of life.
Everything that concerned their well-being was the subject of divine
solicitude, and came within the province of divine law. Even in
providing their food, God sought their highest good. The manna with
which He fed them in the wilderness was of a nature to promote physical,
mental, and moral strength. Though so many of them rebelled against the
restriction of their diet, and longed to return to the days when, they
said, "We sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the
full" (Exodus 16:3), yet the wisdom of God's choice for them was
vindicated in a manner they could not gainsay. Notwithstanding the
hardships of their wilderness life, there was not a feeble one in all
In all their journeyings the ark containing the law of God was to
lead the way. The place of their encampment was indicated by the descent
of the pillar of cloud. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle,
they remained in camp. When it lifted, they pursued their journey. Both
the halt and the departure were marked by a solemn invocation. "It
came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, Lord,
and let Thine enemies be scattered. . . . And when it rested, he said,
Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel." Numbers 10:35,
As the people journeyed through the wilderness, many precious lessons
were fixed in their minds by means of song. At their deliverance from
Pharaoh's army the whole host of Israel had joined in the song of
triumph. Far over desert and sea rang the joyous refrain, and the
mountains re-echoed the accents of praise, "Sing ye to the Lord,
for He hath triumphed gloriously." Exodus 15:21. Often on the
journey was this song repeated, cheering the hearts and kindling the
faith of the pilgrim travellers. The commandments as given from Sinai,
with promises of God's favour and records of His wonderful works for
their deliverance, were by divine direction expressed in song, and were
chanted to the sound of instrumental music, the people keeping step as
their voices united in praise.
Thus their thoughts were uplifted from the trials and difficulties of
the way, the restless, turbulent spirit was soothed and calmed, the
principles of truth were implanted in the memory, and faith was
strengthened. Concert of action taught order and unity, and the people
were brought into closer touch with God and with one another.
Of the dealing of God with Israel during the forty years of
wilderness wandering, Moses declared: "As a man chasteneth his son,
so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee;" "to humble thee, and to
prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep
His commandments, or no." Deuteronomy 8:5, 2.
"He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling
wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the
apple of His eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her
young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her
wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with
him." Deuteronomy 32:10-12.
"He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant. And He
brought forth His people with joy, and His chosen with gladness: and
gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the
people; that they might observe His statutes, and keep His laws."
God surrounded Israel with every facility, gave them every privilege,
that would make them an honour to His name and a blessing to surrounding
nations. If they would walk in the ways of obedience, He promised to
make them "high above all nations which He hath made, in praise,
and in name, and in honour." "All people of the earth,"
He said, "shall hear that thou art called by the name of the Lord;
and they shall be afraid of thee." The nations which shall hear all
these statutes shall say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and
understanding people." Deuteronomy 26:19; 28:10; 4:6.
In the laws committed to Israel, explicit instruction was given
concerning education. To Moses at Sinai God had revealed Himself as
"merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness
and truth." Exodus 34:6. These principles, embodied in His law, the
fathers and mothers in Israel were to teach their children. Moses by
divine direction declared to them: "These words, which I command
thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them
diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest
in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest
down, and when thou risest up." Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.
Not as a dry theory were these things to be taught. Those who would
impart truth must themselves practice its principles. Only by reflecting
the character of God in the uprightness, nobility, and unselfishness of
their own lives can they impress others.
True education is not the forcing of instruction on an unready and
unreceptive mind. The mental powers must be awakened, the interest
aroused. For this, God's method of teaching provided. He who created the
mind and ordained its laws, provided for its development in accordance
with them. In the home and the sanctuary, through the things of nature
and of art, in labour and in festivity, in sacred building and memorial
stone, by methods and rites and symbols unnumbered, God gave to Israel
lessons illustrating His principles and preserving the memory of His
wonderful works. Then, as inquiry was made, the instruction given
impressed mind and heart.
In the arrangements for the education of the chosen people it is made
manifest that a life centred in God is a life of completeness. Every
want He has implanted, He provides to satisfy; every faculty imparted,
He seeks to develop.
The Author of all beauty, Himself a lover of the beautiful, God
provided to gratify in His children the love of beauty. He made
provision also for their social needs, for the kindly and helpful
associations that do so much to cultivate sympathy and to brighten and
As a means of education an important place was filled by the feasts
of Israel. In ordinary life the family was both a school and a church,
the parents being the instructors in secular and in religious lines. But
three times a year seasons were appointed for social intercourse and
worship. First at Shiloh, and afterward at Jerusalem, these gatherings
were held. Only the fathers and sons were required to be present; but
none desired to forgo the opportunities of the feasts, and, so far as
possible, all the household were in attendance; and with them, as
sharers of their hospitality, were the stranger, the Levite, and the
The journey to Jerusalem, in the simple, patriarchal style, amidst
the beauty of the springtime, the richness of midsummer, or the ripened
glory of autumn, was a delight. With offerings of gratitude they came,
from the man of white hairs to the little child, to meet with God in His
holy habitation. As they journeyed, the experiences of the past, the
stories that both old and young still love so well, were recounted to
the Hebrew children. The songs that had cheered the wilderness wandering
were sung. God's commandments were chanted, and, bound up with the
blessed influences of nature and of kindly human association, they were
forever fixed in the memory of many a child and youth.
The ceremonies witnessed at Jerusalem in connection with the paschal
service,--the night assembly, the men with their girded loins, shoes on
feet, and staff in hand, the hasty meal, the lamb, the unleavened bread,
and the bitter herbs, and in the solemn silence the rehearsal of the
story of the sprinkled blood, the death-dealing angel, and the grand
march from the land of bondage,--all were of a nature to stir the
imagination and impress the heart.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or harvest festival, with its offerings
from orchard and field, its week's encampment in the leafy booths, its
social reunions, the sacred memorial service, and the generous
hospitality to God's workers, the Levites of the sanctuary, and to His
children, the strangers and the poor, uplifted all minds in gratitude to
Him who had crowned the year with His goodness, and whose paths dropped
By the devout in Israel, fully a month of every year was occupied in
this way. It was a period free from care and labour, and almost wholly
devoted, in the truest sense, to purposes of education.
In apportioning the inheritance of His people, it was God's purpose
to teach them, and through them the people of after generations, correct
principles concerning the ownership of the land. The land of Canaan was
divided among the whole people, the Levites only, as ministers of the
sanctuary, being excepted. Though one might for a season dispose of his
possession, he could not barter away the inheritance of his children.
When able to do so, he was at liberty at any time to redeem it; debts
were remitted every seventh year, and in the fiftieth, or year of
jubilee, all landed property reverted to the original owner. Thus every
family was secured in its possession, and a safeguard was afforded
against the extremes either of wealth or of poverty.
By the distribution of the land among the people, God provided for
them, as for the dwellers in Eden, the occupation most favourable to
development--the care of plants and animals. A further provision for
education was the suspension of agricultural labour every seventh year,
the land lying fallow, and its spontaneous products being left to the
poor. Thus was given opportunity for more extended study, for social
intercourse and worship, and for the exercise of benevolence, so often
crowded out by life's cares and labours.
Were the principles of God's laws regarding the distribution of
property carried out in the world today, how different would be the
condition of the people! An observance of these principles would prevent
the terrible evils that in all ages have resulted from the oppression of
the poor by the rich and the hatred of the rich by the poor. While it
might hinder the amassing of great wealth, it would tend to prevent the
ignorance and degradation of tens of thousands whose ill-paid servitude
is required for the building up of these colossal fortunes. It would aid
in bringing a peaceful solution of problems that now threaten to fill
the world with anarchy and bloodshed.
The consecration to God of a tithe of all increase, whether of the
orchard and harvest field, the flocks and herds, or the labour of brain
or hand, the devotion of a second tithe for the relief of the poor and
other benevolent uses, tended to keep fresh before the people the truth
of God's ownership of all, and of their opportunity to be channels of
His blessings. It was a training adapted to kill out all narrowing
selfishness, and to cultivate breadth and nobility of character.
A knowledge of God, fellowship with Him in study and in labour,
likeness to Him in character, were to be the source, the means, and the
aim of Israel's education--the education imparted by God to the parents,
and by them to be given to their children.
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