This is the very first article that I have written since my son, our first child, was born. As my wife and I train him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the most important thing that we will teach him, outside of Scripture, is history.
We will be teaching history not only so that he will know where he and his family and his church and his country came from, but also so that he can learn to see the hand of God governing in the affairs of men, as Psalm 135 describes. This is the main reason that we teach history, and it is why history teaches us to hope.
Right now my wife and I are reading him the book of Genesis, a book that entirely focuses on the history of God’s people at the very beginning of His relationship with them. At two weeks old, little James does not comprehend much, but we think that it’s important he begin hearing the Word of God early. As my wife and I have been reading about the patriarchs and their interaction with God, there are several things that we have noticed.
First, we see God’s assurances and promises to them, and His presence with them. Second, we see how encouraging those promises were to men who, despite being the first of God’s chosen people, often found themselves in very, very difficult situations. And third, we see that no matter how disobedient or problematic those first families of Israel were, none of their sinful actions destroyed God’s plans – all of their actions ultimately brought God glory.
Take for example, the story of Joseph. We all know how Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. This very sinful betrayal, and all the difficulties that Joseph suffered in captivity afterwards, were the springboards that God used to elevate him to a position of great honor in Egypt. And more importantly, Joseph’s trials and later his honor in Egypt enabled him to bless not only his own family, but also all the surrounding nations that were affected by a brutal seven-year famine.
God uses even terrible circumstances “to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) And Genesis also shows how God is often very merciful to those who hate Him! Joseph’s brothers committed a number of horrific sins, including murder and incest, besides the betrayal of their own brother. But in their story, there is also repentance, forgiveness, and God has specific honored roles for the twelve tribes of Israel afterwards, in spite of these sins. He allows the sons of Levi to be the line of the priests, and Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, comes from the descendants of Judah.
In later books of the Bible, God continues to relate the history of His relationship with His people. As we read through the histories of Scripture, it’s easy to see God’s hand at work, because He Himself provides a running commentary of what He thinks and why, and what He does and why.
Today, the canon of Scripture is closed, and as we study more recent history, it is more difficult to interpret the hand of God at work. We don’t have the inspired, revealed word of God telling us what was happening and why, during World War II, or the Reformation, or Alfred the Great’s reign. But we know that God does not change, and He is just as sovereign today as He was when He directed the paths of Joseph. The principles that we see in Scripture have not changed either, and so we can apply these principles to modern times and recent history to determine what is right and what is wrong, and why.
In the two weeks since my son was born, we have seen a brutal school shooting targeted at Christians. We’ve seen terrorism, bombings, and war throughout the world. We’ve seen the judges of our own country continue to disregard God’s law about marriage and even punish those that stand up for it. We’ve seen a gaggle of uninspiring presidential candidates debate their man-centered plans for our family. With events like these making up the history of the 21st century, it would be easy to despair of the future that my son will grow up in.
But if we believe the words of Psalm 2, history teaches us to hope. It’s important for us to understand that God is the author of history and that God’s hand is at work in the lives of men. We can see this in His Word, and if we believe His promises to His church, we can see this in all of history.