I listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying, for he speaks peace to his people, his faithful ones. But let them not return to their foolish ways. - Psalm 85:8
The pessimist says, “If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that it doesn’t teach us anything!” Depending on your point of view, this could be a statement condemning history to the garbage can and to all those who teach it to redundancy. Or it could be a sad statement concerning human obduracy and stupidity. Whichever way we interpret the aphorism, we need to reject its conclusion, because history rightly taught and properly learned is a repository of great truth that has immense value. For example, the person who believes that God is active in the affairs of men sees history as “his story” and learns through it valuable lessons from him. History is all about the ways that the great Creator and Redeemer has acted, intervened, worked out his purposes, and revealed his true nature as years have succeeded years and centuries have rolled by into millennia.
It is certainly the case in God’s historic dealings with Israel that there are lessons to be learned. Those who have “eyes to see” can clearly discern the ways in which God was in control, even in the dark days of Israel’s history. As a result, students of Israel’s history, having looked back and pondered God’s activities in the past, have been equipped to look forward and anticipate his activity in the future. The psalmist, for example, wrote joyfully about God’s historic dealings: “You have poured out amazing blessings on your land! You have restored the fortunes of Israel. You have forgiven the guilt of your people—yes, you have covered all their sins” (Ps. 85:1-2). This was not wishful thinking and idle speculation on the part of the psalm writer. It was historically verifiable fact. God really had done all those things. Of this they could be sure—and they were!
Because the psalm writer was clear about the past, he was confident of the future. So he sang, “Now turn to us again, O God of our salvation. . . . Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you?” (Ps. 85:4, 6). How could he possible ask this of the Lord? Because God had done it before! What God had been he would continue to be, and what he had done he would continue to do.
The psalmist had learned an important lesson: The God of history is the God of today—and of tomorrow. So confident was the psalm writer that his prayers would be answered that he began to speak of them as if they had already been fulfilled. “Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed!” (85:10). With great confidence he added, “Our land will yield its bountiful crops” (85:12). He had learned God’s ways from history, and he could see what was coming.
History is not an endless succession of meaningless events, nor is it a continuous cycle of empty repetition. It is the story of the God of heaven at work on earth! And it is a treasure trove of wisdom for those who learn its lessons.
For Further Study: Psalm 85
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