The History Lesson

History has much to teach us about the past and more to teach us about the future.

You have probably heard the phrase, “Those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it.” It’s a common warning, maybe so common that it is cliché, but that does not make it any less true. A few weeks ago, I met two people who endured WWII as children from inside Germany. The first told a story of her town as it wrestled with tensions and the need for conformity. She remembered as a little girl the day that Hitler paraded through their streets. The sides of the roads were crowded with people waving flags and saluting with a loud “Heil!” In my mind, these were only blurry images from an old documentary, but her words brought them to life as she described her childhood scene. Although the sights and sounds of that day were quite clear, as a child she was not aware of what was really happening until many years later.

Our second acquaintance was also born in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party. His family chose to flee the country and head to Guatemala in hopes of a better life as coffee growers. The war eventually found them. They were rounded up like many other Germans and the family was torn apart. The father was placed in a camp in North America and the mother was forced to return to Germany with her four children. When they arrived, they were marked as deserters for leaving Germany years earlier. No one would give them a job or a place of their own to live. This mother of four was left to fend on her own. They did what they could to survive, living off rations and whatever food they could find. A year later they ran into their father who had been exchanged for an Allied POW and returned to Germany. The story of this man’s family and what they went through was captivating and heartbreaking.

As I listened intently to these two sharing memories of days past, it struck me as both concluded with, “You won’t hear that in school.” My wife, a history teacher, nodded in agreement. Such personal stories and details do not often make it into the classroom. Knowing that my wife is a teacher they continued to talk about the ever growing need for students to learn history. Without history we lose stories, we lose a part of who we are, and we lose the lessons that history can teach us.

I recently finished reading through Joshua and Judges. If you ever flip through the pages of Judges you will find a reoccurring phrase, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” The people got themselves stuck in this revolving door of history. They would stray from God and go after idols, as a result another nation would oppress them, they would cry out to God, He would rescue them despite their disobedience, they would obey God for a time and then lust after idols again. When you read the book, you feel like throwing up your hands at Israel yelling “Again? Really? Come on!” It seems so obvious to us that the root of Israel’s suffering is their disobedience and yet they keep putting themselves in the same situation.

Why does this happen? Why did they get stuck in this cycle? I think it’s because Israel forget a pivotal instruction that Moses gave the people.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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.”

The people of Israel failed to pass on the commandments they had been given. Moreover, they failed to pass on the history of their people to their children. They had all these practices that would ensure a recounting of God’s graciousness and love for Israel. How He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and had given them the Promise Land. Yet Israel lusted after other gods and so those practices either no longer held their weight or were forgotten all together. The recounting of Israel’s history and God’s love was ignored and the children were doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents.

The solution seems so clear as we read the book of Judges and we are prone to criticize Israel for their unfaithfulness. That is, until we hold a mirror up to our own lives. How often do we ignore history, only to find ourselves making mistakes that could have been avoided? How often do we read about the shortcomings of others in the Bible only to ignore the lessons and doom ourselves to repeating them? Are we not prone to following in the footsteps of the Israel of the Old Testament?

As Christians, we need to be reminded of God’s love every now and then. We need to refocus from the business of life onto His love which transcends all life. We need to hear the Gospel over and over again, so that we may not forget His grace that rescued a sinner like you and me through a loving sacrifice like none other. His amazing love moves us to joyful faithfulness and we desire all the more to learn how to love the Father in return. Thankfully we don’t have to blindly figure out how to love Him. He has given us His Word and He has given us the experiences of others. Rather than ignoring these lessons from our history, we must seek them and pass them on. We do not want to destine ourselves or others to a habitual cycle of mistakes. We desire God’s love to be passed on to others, not regret. We must learn from history that we might make a better future, for ourselves and future generations.


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