Some time ago, I saw former England star footballer David Beckham interviewed on a talk show. He was speaking about his children’s involvement in football and was recalling a particular match that he attended for one of his sons. The referee did not arrive and so the parents all looked to Beckham to assume the role. He told of a particular act of foul play in which his son was involved and how, as an impartial referee, he was forced to penalise his son, much to the chagrin of the parents of his son’s teammates.
As he spoke, he kept talking about “our team” and then correcting himself, remembering that he was supposed to be the impartial referee. In his role that day, and in retelling the story, impartiality was essential.
The same is true when it comes to modern sensibilities surrounding history. Historians are meant to strive for impartiality, merely relating the facts of what happened. It is, of course, almost impossible to do that because every historian approaches his or her subject matter with a particular perspective and, yes, bias.
Biblical historians did not face this struggle. Indeed, history as a discipline in the ancient Middle East did not hold impartiality in the high regard that we hold it today. For ancient Middle Eastern historians, their historical recollections were intended to be didactic. That is, they told history as a means of teaching. That is why, for example, the historical records of the same people in Kings and Chronicles often seem to emphasise different aspects of the person’s life. The goal of the writers was not to offer simple, unbiased historical fact, but to use historical events as a teaching mechanism.
The writer of Psalm 78 captured the intent of biblical history well when he uttered “dark sayings from of old” as a means to instruct his readers “so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:1–8). As a historical Psalm, Psalm 106 has the same purpose.
As we saw in Psalm 105, Psalms 105–106 are a historical couplet, the former reflecting on God’s faithfulness to his people and the latter reflecting on his people’s faithlessness to him. The writer of this psalm does not intend to set forth a comprehensive list of historical occurrences. He carefully selects his material, omitting what is unnecessary for his purposes, in order to instruct his readers. He does not, for example, focus on any of the acts of covenant faithfulness, but opts to highlight instances of disobedience in order to remind his readers of the consequences of unbelief and exhort them to belief instead.
History has always been a bit of a hit-and-miss subject. The reality is, we all like history—just not the same parts of history. You may have hated World War history or dreaded learning about the Voortrekkers in school and yet find other historical figures and events fascinating. Whatever form of history you enjoy, remember that, as it is envisioned in Scripture, history should teach. We should learn from historical events and figures in such a way that we don’t repeat their errors. Specifically, Christians should learn from history how to trust Yahweh, remember his kindness, keep his commands, and not fall into the sins of their forebears.
As you head into a fresh day, be thankful for the lessons that you can learn from history. Commit to consider historical people and events with a view to growing in your faithfulness to our faithful God.