“We will not hide them from their children,
But tell to the coming generation
The glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
And the wonders that he has done.”
The extent of loss and hardship during this time is beyond measure. I don’t know what you are enduring right now, whether it is the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, depression from isolation, a struggle to cope with an addiction…need I go on? Even those who have skated through this pandemic without major losses are possibly, even probably, struggling emotionally or motivationally.
In the Bible we see a common response when things are not going well for the people of God – they look back on other times when God delivered people from difficulty. In other words, God’s people rehearsed their history.
History might feel like a bad word to you. It can be a reminder of school days, having to memorize dates and names that you haven’t needed again. One of my children’s history teachers simply made them copy paragraphs from their textbook into their notebook. No explanation and no application. History teachers that have made people hate history should be ashamed of themselves! Knowing our past can be a source of rich learning, inspiration, and even renewal. The Bible gives us history and records others remembering history and being renewed by it.
The telling of history is not merely an academic exercise; it is rehearsing the acts of God so that others will set their faces towards the God who works in all of history. The historical Psalms of the Bible (ex. 78, 105, 106) recount the faithful works of God in the history of God’s people.
This history-telling performs several functions. First, it is an act of worship to remember the “glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps. 78:4). Second, it also offers a warning, as we are reminded in Psalm 78 that we are prone to forget that it was God who has delivered us faithfully (cf. 78:7, 11, 42). Third, telling the story of God at work through the ages is also part of the discipleship of the next generation. This is so “that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God” (Ps. 78:6-7a).
We not only have the biblical record of God at work, we should also remember the mighty work of God throughout the last two thousand years! I recently co-wrote a book recounting the history of Christianity in Asia (if you want to check it out, you can here). The challenge was to keep the book short. There was far more than could be told in one volume or even in multiple volumes. God has been working in the hearts of millions in Asia:
It can be conservatively estimated that there are 400 million Christians in Asia today, with the number rising. Only two continents boast more Christians: Africa and Latin America. At the beginning of this book we noted that Asia was the birthplace of Christianity and for a thousand years was its heartland, along with North Africa. Today, Asia has the potential to be the heartland of Christianity once more. (p. 217)
The same God who delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt is the same God who has built his church around the world, even in the face of violent opposition. Let that be a point of encouragement for us.
But even more so, that God entered human history by sending his son to live among people as a real, historical person. This he did because he knew that we are in bondage in much the same way as Israel was in bondage to slavery. Our bondage is to our sinfulness. Here is how God responded: “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins” (Eph. 1:7, NLT). As we look back on history and see God at work, we can be assured that this same God is at work and promises to deliver us through Jesus, the Savior. It is high time that we rehearse our history in order to move forward.