The Biblical Basis for Family Worship (Part 2)


Read the series.

To the Heads-of-Households in Israel

There are a number of passages in the book of Deuteronomy that give parents, especially fathers, the responsibility to teach their children the ways of God. We will confine ourselves to the primary passage in 6:4-9. Verse 4 begins with an imperative: “Hear, O Israel.” That’s not a command to passively allow the sound waves to vibrate the ear drums. That’s a command to believe! Moses is calling upon the Israelites to hear and to believe and to confess the following truth: “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one [the idea is, ‘Yahweh is the only one’].” This great truth was to be the very heart of the Israelite’s faith. And how would their commitment to the one true God manifest itself in their lives? Note the next verse: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 5). In Galatians 5:16, Paul tells us that genuine faith works through love. Where did Paul get that idea? He got if from Moses. “Hear, O Israel! Confess Yahweh to be your God, and let your faith manifest itself in whole-hearted devotion to Him.”

But Moses doesn’t stop there. He continues to expand upon the idea of heart-felt devotion to God. Verse 6 begins, “These words ….” A commitment to God always entails a genuine commitment to His word. You can’t be devoted to God unless you’re also devoted to His word! And this devotion must not merely be outward: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” God wants His word to have a place in our heart—not just in our heads, but in our hearts! He wants us to love the Bible. “I delight to do your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:8). If we don’t love God’s word, then our profession of faith is meaningless. It does us no good to confess the God of the Bible if we do not love the Bible of the one true God.

Moses continues to expand upon this idea of whole-hearted devotion to God. Not only will we ourselves love God’s word, but we will labor to promote the same kind of devotion in our homes:

You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:7-9).

The Hebrew word translated “diligently” is used elsewhere to describe the repetitive action of sharpening a knife. Thus, some translate the passage, “You shall repeat them to your children.” Or “you shall impress them upon your children.” In any case, the idea of repetition is included. We are to bring God’s word before our children on a continual basis. Moreover, I don’t think we should limit the practice commanded in this passage to one set-time of formal instruction. As Peter Craigie remarks in his commentary,

The commandments were to be the subject of conversation both inside and outside the home, from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. In summary, the commandments were to permeate every sphere of the life of man.6

In other words, I’m not to limit the religious instruction of my children to just 30 minutes a day. There is a sense in which I am to teach them all the time. On the other hand, this passage does not preclude such a set, formal time of instruction. Moses is not commanding us to do “either … or,” but “both … and.” Indeed, I have yet to find a good teacher who only teaches his pupils informally. Even the Lord Jesus Christ took blocks of time to sit down with His disciples and formally to teach them the meaning and application of God’s word (cf. Matt. 5:1ff). Consequently, we should teach our children God’s word both formally in family worship and also informally at all other situations of family life.

Fathers, we must do the same with our children. If we confess to believe in the one true God—if we truly love Him and His word with all our heart and soul, then we must manifest our faith and devotion by faithfully and repeatedly teaching His commandments to those He has entrusted to our care.

Joshua—“As for Me and My House”

Having successfully led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, Joshua gathers them together and issues the following exhortation:

Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Josh. 24:14-15).

Joshua was firmly resolved: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” What kind of “service” did Joshua have in view? At the very least, I believe Joshua was determined to insure that he and the members of his household lived outwardly moral lives in conformity with the Ten Commandments. But I’m also convinced Joshua intended to do much more than merely raise an outwardly moral family. I say this because the Hebrew word translated “serve” (‘bd) is often used for “religious worship.” Here are a few examples:

And [God] said [to Moses], “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship [‘bd] God at this mountain” (Exod. 3:12).

Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship [‘bd] the LORD, as you have said (Exod. 12:31).

You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship [‘bd] Him and swear by His name (Deut. 6:13).

With this religious connotation in mind, note again the context of our passage. Joshua commands God’s people and commits himself and his household to “serve” Jehovah, as opposed to “serving” the gods, which their fathers served beyond the Jordan and in Egypt (v. 14). The context suggests more than just a commitment to raise moral families that abide by the Ten Commandments. The context suggests a commitment to lead one’s family in the worship the one true God.

Practically speaking, what does that entail for those of us who are heads-of-households? First, it means that we require our entire household to attend the public means of grace. Joshua no doubt required his household to attend the “holy convocations” (Lev. 23:3), and we parents should not be afraid to require our children to attend church while they are under the roof of our home. Second, I agree with George Whitefield who preached a sermon on this text entitled, “The Great Duty of Family Religion.” In that sermon, Whitefield argues that heads-of-households are responsible to lead their family in worship.7 And since Whitefield used to read Matthew Henry’s commentary in preparation for preaching, it’s probably safe to assume that Mr. Henry influenced or confirmed his interpretation. Here’s what Matthew Henry has to say about this passage:

Joshua was a ruler, a judge in Israel, yet he did not make his necessary application to public affairs an excuse for the neglect of family religion. Those that have the charge of many families, as magistrates and ministers, must take special care of their own.8

As you can see, Matthew Henry applied this passage to family worship. And I think it’s safe to say that he was influenced by another man before him. He alludes to this in a biography he wrote about his father, Philip Henry.

Besides [praying in secret and praying with his wife], he made conscience, and made a business of family-worship, in all the parts of it; and in it he was uniform, steady, and constant, from the time that he was first called to the charge of a family, to his dying day; and, according to his own practice, he took all occasions to press it upon others. His doctrine … from Joshua 24:15, was,–that family-worship is family-duty. He would say, sometimes, if the worship of God be not in the house, write,–Lord, have mercy upon us, on the door; for there is a plague, a curse, in it….

How earnestly would Mr. Henry reason with people sometimes about this matter, and tell them what a blessing it would bring upon them and their houses, and all that they had! He that makes his house a little church shall find that God will make it a little sanctuary.9

Parents, wouldn’t you like your child to grow up like Matthew Henry? If not a commentator, at least a soul who loves and studies the word of God? If so, then I suggest that you make your house a little church, like Philip Henry. Determine that as for you and your house, you shall worship the Lord. And may God will make your home into a sanctuary!


6 Deuteronomy in NICOT, p. 170.

7 Printed in The Godly Family: Essays on the Duties of Parents and Children, pp. 30-47.

8 Commentary on the Whole Bible, 2:117.

9 J. B. Williams, ed. The Lives of Philip and Matthew Henry, 1:72-73.

Bob Gonzales Bio

Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.