Moses was about to die. His 40-year journey in the wilderness with the Israelites had undeniably proven God’s people needed a circumcision much deeper than the flesh. They needed a circumcision of the heart—a fundamental revolution of their innermost being that was resistant to loving God (Deut. 10:16). This need would echo throughout the Old Testament until the Savior came, followed by the powerful indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
As Moses laid before the people of Israel “life and death, blessing and curse” (Deut. 30:19) he made sure to not leave the future generations of Israelites without testimonies of God’s holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. He promised that the day would come when “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). But until then, he called three lasting witnesses against Israel’s chronic unfaithfulness: heaven and earth (Deut. 31:28), the Book of the Law (Deut. 31:26), and . . . a song (Deut. 31:19).
The centrality of God’s Word
The Book of the Law, which Moses wrote down at God’s direction, was to be put alongside God’s very presence—the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31:26). It was to be read aloud by the priests to the whole congregation of Israelites every seven years at the Feast of Booths “that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God” (Deut. 31:12). God also instituted this tradition for the sake of the children who didn’t yet know God’s Word (Deut. 31:13).
The community commitment to hearing God’s Word wasn’t only a concern every seven years. God had called Israel to “teach them diligently to your children” inside and outside of the home (Deut. 6:7). The Word of God was to be central in the life of his people—“it is no empty word for you, but your very life” (Deut. 32:47). It was vital that God’s people passed down the testimonies of his redemptive work in Egypt and his faithfulness in the wilderness from generation to generation.
The Song of Moses
And how would these testimonies get passed down from one generation to the next? The Song of Moses. God told Moses:
Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give. (Deut. 31:19–21)
Though this song’s stated purpose was rather bleak, it ended with a triumphant proclamation of God’s future restoration of his people (Deut. 32:43). And this word of warning and judgment and hope would find residence in the mouths of generations of Israelites, carried on by a melody.
God and the arts
God created the arts. He is, of course, the greatest artist of all time (and before time). Nature—God’s general revelation of himself—undeniably communicates his power and creativity (Ps. 19:1–6). And the Bible—God’s special revelation of himself—undeniably displays even more profound aspects of his creativity and glory (Ps. 19:7–11).
The Bible is one grand story of God’s incredible redemptive work in history, which centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. And this grand story is communicated through various text types, from law to discourse to narrative to poetry. Just as God didn’t communicate his Word solely through the Book of the Law but through the Song of Moses, God didn’t communicate the truth of who he is and what he has done through one literary genre. He filled the Bible with various literary masterpieces, which help us to feel, experience, and remember his glory.
The art we create in the Body of Christ, then, isn’t meant to replace Scripture’s centrality in our lives. Rather, the arts are meant to help us emotionally connect to the words of Scripture. Whether visual or poetic or storytelling or musical, the arts help bring color to our imagination as we read the Bible. They help us engage our senses in such a way that we feel we can almost embody the text.
Do you remember how you learned the alphabet? I bet it was through a song. By putting melodies or rhythm and rhyme to Scripture, memorization becomes much easier. The Song of Moses illustrates this, as do the Psalms.
Children and the arts
But of course, any Sunday School or elementary school teacher could have told you the importance of the arts in their curriculum. When I had the privilege of teaching during Sunday School for four to six year-olds for about five years, I learned that what especially stuck with them were the songs (with a few dance moves thrown in there), the chants, and the storytelling through visuals and crafts.
Now that I’m a mom of a five-year-old, I’m learning once again that it’s not my lectures about God’s Word that she tends to recite later on. It’s the storybooks and the YouTube animations that retell Bible stories and, of course, the songs. Apparently, children still learn best by singing, as they did in Moses’s day.
How can we faithfully teach God’s Word to our children and the next generation? Moses tells us, “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. 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” (Deut. 6:7–9).
In other words, make the Word of God your constant meditation, conversation, and yes, song. Utilizing the arts and the gazillion children’s Bible resources out there, share his Word with the little people in your life.