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Learning from the Past

When I was in school, history was never my favorite subject.  Now that I am older, there are few things that I enjoy more than learning about the past.  My affinity for history has changed over the years partially because I have become more mature, but mostly because I now see history for what it really is – the story of people.  Rather than perceiving history as a mundane litany of dates, documents, and impersonal events (as it was presented in government public school), now I understand that history is about men and women who were the same as you and I.  This makes history intensely interesting and extremely valuable.

The most interesting and most valuable history that we can learn is that which is contained in the Bible.  This blessed book contains not only a history of man, but also a history of God Himself.  These Scriptures were inspired by God (2Tim. 3:16) and give us insight into God and ourselves that we could not otherwise have.  Let us understand that the Bible is not intended to be a complete history of the world through the first century, but rather it is the story of Jesus Christ – the purpose and promise of His coming, the record of His life and teachings, and the promise that He will come again.  Because Christ is the source of our salvation from sin, every word of His story, the Bible, is desperately important to us.  Every event of the Bible’s history is relevant and significant to all of us, so it behooves us to apply ourselves to learn it as best we can.

One of the great benefits of studying Bible history is to learn of the great glory and power of our God.  The events recorded in the Scriptures reveal God as the Creator and Sustainer of the world.  They show His sovereignty over the world and His control over world events.  They also show His great mercy and grace toward man.  Through these records, we learn reverence, love, and trust for God.  We learn what God will do for us today by considering what He has done in the past (and He does not change – Heb. 13:8).  Most of all, we learn faith in Him, and it is that faith that will lead us to salvation (Rom. 5:1; 10:17; Eph. 2:8; Heb. 11:6).

To demonstrate this, let us consider Psalm 78.  This psalm is a great exposition of God’s dealings with Israel, and its opening words declare the purpose of rehearsing this history:

“Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.  We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.” (vv. 1-4)

If this history is not told, then how will successive generations come to know God?  How will they know Jesus Christ?  If they do not know Jesus Christ, then how will they obtain salvation?  If we would know God and have others to know Him also, then the Bible’s old story must be told over and over again.

Not only does Bible history teach us the glory and power of God, but it also presents the successes and failures of man.  The Scriptures provide countless examples of men and women just like us who were faced with the same kinds of choices that we have.  By considering their choices, both good and bad, we better prepare ourselves to make our own decisions.  Paul wrote, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  In many New Testament passages, inspired men referred to Old Testament events and characters to demonstrate good, bad, right, and wrong (Acts 7, 1Cor. 10:1-13; Heb. 11; Jas. 5:17-18).  Jesus Himself spoke of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jonah, and others.  Without knowing the history behind these references, it is impossible to understand the lessons they teach.  Without understanding these lessons, we fail to benefit from their examples, and we doom ourselves to repeat their mistakes.

Therefore, let us diligently study God’s holy book so that we may know this wonderful, rich history.  Understand that the God of the Bible is the same God whom we serve today.  He still possesses and exercises the same power, knowledge, justice, and grace as He did when the events of the Bible took place.  When you read about the people who once lived on this earth, understand that they were same as we are.  Learn from their stories, avoid their mistakes, and repeat their successes.  Imitate the faith of those in that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) who served God in their lives and now wait for us that we may all together receive what God has promised.  The word of God should not be viewed as a collection of trivia, but rather it should be embraced as a field guide for how to live victoriously in this world.  With that in mind, let us live by the Bible, and thus leave a good history of our own lives and an eternal legacy with our Lord.

Stacey E. Durham




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