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A Christian Perspective on the Study of History

A Christian historian by definition is an historical determinist. History in God's hands is moving towards a pre-determined end. One of the most exciting things about the study of History is to see through its pages the unfolding of the Will of God for humankind. If anyone for a moment doubts the validity of the scriptures then study History, which repeatedly, and time and time again, reflects the truth behind our Biblical natures. - Malcolm Davidson


One spring morning about eight years ago my mother was giving me a history lesson. My father walked in the room and asked her why she was teaching my brother, sister and me history. He told her that it was a waste of time and that she ought to teach us something useful. His reaction to the subject made me ask the question, "why do we study history?" It's a bunch of numbers and facts about lost time and dead people.

It wasn't until I started studying the Bible more in-depth that I understood the importance in the study of history. I came to the understanding of two major purposes in the study of history. The first reason is out of obedience to God. The second reason is to promote society and the church.

God said to study history. Deuteronomy 4:9 states: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." He is telling them to remember what He had done for them and then to teach those things to future generations. He repeats the same command in the following verse. In chapter 11 of Deuteronomy, the Lord tells the people all the great things He will do for them, but there is a qualification. That qualification is that they do not for get what He has done for them and that they pass it on to their children. He warns the people that if they forget what He has done for them they will fall into sin and He will not bless their ways. Basically God says history is unraveling before your eyes and you had better make sure this history is taught to you ancestors and not forgotten. He tells them that if history is forgotten they will sin and be judged.
When one reads the Bible they will notice that Israel sinned a lot and was judged for it. Israel often repented and was shown mercy by God. The interesting fact is that when God gives a reason for the sin and judgment, He usually says that they fell into sin because they forgot what He had done for them. An example of the repentance that comes after that sin is in the case of King Josiah. When the Book of the Law was found Josiah studied the history and repented. The nation was still judged, but Josiah was shown mercy. Another example is before the Jews even made it to the Promised Land. They fell into sin and that generation was not allowed to go in. The people of that generation were faithless. Why were they faithless? It was because they did not know their history. They had ungodly fear because they had forgot what God had done for them and their ancestors. In Deuteronomy 32 God gives Moses a song to give to the people. This song is a history lesson. It starts with praising God and telling who He is. It then goes on to state that the people are so foolish for forgetting who God is what He did for them. A list of ancestors who trusted in God are listed and a number of situations where God directly dealt with them. God rejected them because they had fallen into sin. The reason for that sin is stated as the forgetting of what God had done for them. After Moses finished the song, he told the people "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you-they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." Judges 3:7 states that the people forgot the ways of the Lord and did evil in His eyes. I Samual 12:9 says that "they forgot the Lord their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them." The book of Psalms stresses the importance of remembering. An example is the history lesson given in Psalm 106. There are many Scriptures that make the point very clear that God wants us to remember what He has done for us and for our ancestors. That is history. History is the study of events that have happened in the past. God commands us to study those events.

God tells us to remember, but why? What is the purpose in studying the past? The purpose is so that our faith in God will be strengthened and so that we will know who He is. Another reason that is related is to advance society and the church. There are numerous places in the Bible, especially Proverbs, where we are told to seek wisdom, discernment, understanding, and knowledge. By seeking and gaining those attributes we can make our society and the church more productive and useful. I propose that one of the strongest ways to gain those traits is through the study of history. The Bible says to gain the counsel of the wise. We can learn about the things we need to do from those who have encountered it in the past. That is history. History can be learned from the events of one who lives in our generation, or by studying the life and facts of those who have lived in other generations. We can learn great things from these people or events that we could not have possibly learned on our own. Certain things that we can learn on our own are learned much easier by studying what others in those same or similar situations have done. We can learn positive things from them and we can also learn to avoid the pitfalls that they encountered. Through the study of the past, we can be more productive individuals in our families, workplaces, schools, churches and in society in general.

The study of history is a necessity. We can learn many things from those who came before us, whether it is learning skills, theories, or just avoiding pitfalls. All kinds of lessons of all subjects can be learned through history. One can learn about math, science, literature, music, and basically any field through the study of history. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. But the most important reason to study history is because God told us to. As Christians, we ought to be studying the history of the church and of Israel. Study of other nations can also prove to be beneficial. If we remember what God has done for us, our faith will be increased and the Lord will bless us. If we forget what He has done for us, we will have little faith and will fall into sin. As a result we will face His judgment. History is a very important and beneficial subject and students of all majors should be well versed in history. I no longer view history as just a bunch of numbers and facts about lost land and dead people. History is alive!
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