God’s Use of History to Teach His People About Faithfulness
As I present my case concerning the importance of faithfulness, I’d like to use a way that was often used by the prophets and apostles–a discourse on the record of history. The Bible itself is an historic book. It’s the story of how divinity has communicated with humanity. It describes the relationship between God and his people and how he desires that they would remember what he has done for them. This is one of the reasons why he commanded the Israelites to institute festivals and holidays. (It’s similar to Americans celebrating the Fourth of July or Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday.) These special days would be a way for the Jews and their children to remember the miracle of the Exodus out of Egypt.
And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Exod. 14:14; KJV)
Joshua recalled Israel’s history at the assembly at Shechem. When he was through recalling the history of God’s relationship with his people, he asked the people to serve the Lord in sincerity and truth and to choose whether they would serve him or the gods of the surrounding nations.
Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Josh. 24:14-15, KJV; italics added)
Joshua’s recollection of God’s power, as displayed in history, must have been very convincing because right after his speech, the people cried out, “God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods” (Josh 24:16; KJV)
After the wall was rebuilt at Jerusalem, the Levites called a great assembly and recalled the history of Israel to the people. Over and over, their sin of unfaithfulness was recalled to them. (Neh. 9:5-31) while God reminded them of his constant mercy and faithfulness toward them. Yet their forefathers had responded with pride. They “withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear. Yet many years didst thou forebear them, and testified against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.”
After recalling the long history of Israel’s unfaithfulness, the leaders acknowledged their sin:
Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly. (Neh. 9:33, KJV; italics added)
In Psalm 78, the psalmist also records the history of Israel. He says the history was given so that the Israelite children would see the wondrous works of God and that they “might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation . . . that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God” (Ps. 78:8; KJV). The Lord also spoke through the prophet Isaiah and recalled the history of Israel (Isa. 43:16-21), and when God spoke to Jeremiah the prophet, he recalled his faithfulness to Israel by causing the Israelites to remember their history:
Where is the LORD that brought us up out of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through and where no man dwelt? (Jer. 2:6; KJV)
The prophet Ezekiel was also used by the Lord to remind the Israelites of all the ways they had forsaken God and had been unfaithful to him. Ezekiel’s words in chapter sixteen are especially instructive to us because Israel’s history is used to show how a beautiful bride turned away and became an adulterous woman. He describes how he found Israel a baby and lifted her up and cared for her and made her beautiful, yet she used her beauty to pursue other lovers and betray God.
But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out they fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. (Ezek. 16:15, KJV; italics added)
In the New Testament, Stephen is called before the high priest to give a defense against the accusation of blasphemy. In his defense, he recalled the history of God’s relationship with Israel. After this speech, the scripture records that the members of the council were “cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54; KJV).
History can be an effective teacher. It’s something that can expose evil. God used it as a way to teach his people where they had been faithful and where they had rebelled and gone astray.
Since the time of Christ, the church has had a history also. For nearly two thousand years, those who carry God’s name have had a record of both faithfulness and unfaithfulness. It’s this history that I hope can be used to teach the church about the heart of God in the same way that God used history to teach Israel about what he desired.