It is often stressed in running, that one keep their eyes focused on what is in front of them, not on what is behind them. That is certainly good advice in running a foot race. However, there are times when it is profitable for us to look back in order to know how to go forward. In the book of Hebrews, the writer refers to many in the past who, having seen the promises of God to be in the future, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb. 11:13). Peter referred to the saints to whom he wrote as “strangers and pilgrims” (I Pet. 2:11). The idea of being a pilgrim is that of one just passing through, having not yet reached their real home. In this journey through life, it is really important that we look back and learn from those who have traveled this road before us. Paul said that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scripture might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). After bringing to mind the failure of many who escaped Egyptian bondage only to fall in the wilderness, Paul told the Corinthians, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (I Cor. 10:11). So what might we see when we look behind us?
We can look to the garden of Eden and see the results of disobeying God. They were told not to eat of a certain fruit in the garden and that if they did they would die (Gen. 2:17). They disobeyed God’s command and died spiritually that day and began their physical death as well. They died spiritually by being separated from God in being cast out of the garden and they began physical death by being separated from the fruit of the tree of life. Many other examples of the destructiveness of sin can be found when looks back. Sin is still just as destructive. Sin still separates man from God. Peter wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (I Pet. 3:12). And, the wages of sin is still death (Rom. 6:23; II Thess. 1:7-9).
We can look back to the first two humans born of woman and learn that one cannot hide from God. After Cain had slain his brother in the field, the Lord said unto him, “Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen. 4:8-10). Cain may have been able to hide his evil deed from others, but he could not hide it from God. Jonah tried to hide himself from God (Jonah 1:3), but God knew he was hiding in the bottom of the ship bound for Tarshish. “The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (Jonah 1:4). Let us learn the lesson well, you may hide from man, but you can never hide from God. The Psalmist said, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God” (Psalm 14:2). And the Hebrew writer said, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
Another lesson that we need to look back and learn is that no matter how good or noble our motive is for what we do, if it is not what God said to do, it is sin. King Saul tried to use the excuse for bringing back that which God had told him to destroy, that they did so in order to offer them as a sacrifice to God (I Sam. 15), but God rejected him for his disobedience. Uzzah had nothing but good intentions when he put his hand to the ark of the covenant to keep it from falling, but it was disobedience to the commands of God and he died on the spot (II Sam. 6:6). Let us not turn from that which God has authorized and commanded for that which we like or think should be done in the name of Christ. Sincerity does not equal right. Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). Just being religious and even zealously religious, does not make one right. Paul said of his fellow Jews, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3).
Many other much needed lessons can be gleaned by looking back; lessons that are absolutely mandatory if we are going to know how to go forward. If we blindly go forward we will be as those Jesus spoke of, “they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). But, if we will learn from the mistakes in the past, and walk in the light as he is in the light (John 1:7), we should safely reach our eternal home.
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