By Josh Dyson
The subtitle from the ESV editors for Psalm 78 is “Tell the Coming Generation”. In a handwritten note to the side, I have labeled it simply “Education”.
Perhaps John Milton Gregory could have based his famous (at least in the CCE world) book, The Seven Laws of Teaching upon this chapter. Maybe he would have written it something like this:
1st Law—Law of the Teacher. The teacher must know before he can teach. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us (78:2-3).
2nd Law—Law of the Learner. The learner must be attentive to what is taught. Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth (78:1).
3rd Law—Law of the Language. The language must be common to the teacher and the learner. Striking the right balance between speaking the language of the learner while calling them to a higher way of speaking requires wisdom and a skillful hand. This can be seen by the Davidic Messiah in the last verse, as he has the wisdom to lead his people. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand (78:72).
4th Law—Law of the Lesson. The lesson must lead from what is known to what is unknown. God demonstrates this in his great patience with Israel as he sends plague after plague upon Egypt, He guides them through the sea, and provides food for them. He doesn’t expect them to trust and believe him “zero-to-sixty”. He adds work to work, piece to piece, brick to brick. But it is their stubbornness that refuses to listen still. In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe (78:32).
5th Law—Law of the Teaching Process. The teacher must arouse the minds of the student. What better way to arouse the minds of your students than this! In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers (78:12-16).
6th Law—Law of the Learning Process. The learner must do the work of thinking. It is not clear whether they did the work of thinking or not, but it is clear that they did not believe the Lord. …because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power (78:22).
7th Law—Law of Review. The material must be reviewed until it is reproduced by the learner. As educators we are called to remind our students of Truth and truths over and over and over again. They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe (78:42).
So maybe it would have been a bit of a stretch for Gregory to pull the 7 Laws from this psalm, and I myself have to admit that some of the above feels a bit forced and contrived. But as I evaluated this psalm on education in light of what we do as classical educators, it was helpful to evaluate it according to the 7 Laws of Teaching. The tenor of much of this psalm is one of failure. There was a failure in the education of Israel’s children—not just once, but time after time. This is a terrifying prospect as I consider the education of my own children and students. If we are basing our pedagogical model upon what we see in Scripture, which I hope we are doing, then when we look at the biblical educators, we can’t avoid the glaring problem: they fail. They fail over and over again.
How do I respond to this? Part of me responds in pride, “Well, I can do better. I won’t make the same mistakes they did. I won’t lose vision.” But when my pride is broken, as it should be, I find myself falling into the ditch on the other side of the road: despair. “If they continued to fail in educating their children, I am destined to fail!”
So what is one to do? Should we choose pride? Should we choose humility? Is the answer in some kind of mean between the two? No, the Christian virtue, of course, is humility. So if humility, then how do we avoid despair? The answer to this question and the hope for classical Christian education itself is found at the end of this Psalm.
The hope is in God’s election. He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves (78:67-68). As much as we love classical Christian education and believe in the pedagogy (and rightfully so), we must recognize that it is not the “silver bullet”. Classical Christian education is not the hope for this nation. The hope for this nation and for our children is in God’s sovereign election through His chosen Messiah—He chose David his servant (78:70). No pedagogical or philosophical approach to education can be a substitute for what God alone can do through David’s Son. Classical Christian education is the most responsible and effective way to train up the Lord’s children, but we must continually be on guard against what we read in verse forty-two: They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe (78:42). What a joy it is to serve the elect of God through classical Christian education! Soli Deo Gloria!
Mr. Josh Dyson is in his third year as the Director of Operations at CSW. Prior to joining the CSW family, Mr. Dyson served as the Chaplain, as well as teaching Bible and Latin at Houston’s First Baptist Academy. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Languages and Christianity from Houston Baptist University in 2007. Additionally, he has done graduate work at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and at Houston Baptist University. Mr. Dyson and his wife, Julie, have been married for 10 years. They have three children, and another on the way: Deacon, a first grader at CSW; Noelle, 4; Daisy, 2 and another daughter, expected any day.