For the week of October 1, 2005 / 27 Elul 5765
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20
Haftarah: Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-17


Learning from Mistakes

They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, 'Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?' (Devarim / Deuteronomy 31:16,17)

Near the end of Moses' life, God yet again appeared to him to reveal what the people would do following his death. God then told him to write a song that the people and their descendants were to learn as a reminder to them of what God has said.

God's prediction of the people's future was not a good one. After all they had gone through, after all they had seen and heard, it would not take long after Moses' death before they would turn away from God. The rest of the Bible contains the fulfillment of this prediction. The history of the people of Israel is, for the most part, one of rebellion against God and his ways. There were exceptions, of course: leaders, teachers, judges, kings, and prophets, who had a heart for God, and called others to live godly lives. It is through these exceptions that we have the greats truths we encounter in the Scriptures.

But God did not intend for us to learn only through those few good exceptions. Bible study is not about searching for hidden gems of goodness. We have a written account of much failure, so that these bad examples would serve to warn us, in order that we would avoid the consequences of this kind of living.

Not much has changed since Bible days. It seems to me that most people continue to ignore God and his ways and as a result face the consequences of bad choices. But, thankfully, we have the witness of Scripture to warn us of the danger of ignoring God and provide us an explanation of the state we find ourselves in.

Years ago, when I was taking a Biblical languages course, my professor used to get excited about our mistakes. "Good, you made a mistake!" he would exclaim. "That's how you learn." He was only half right, I think, because mistakes do not automatically teach us anything. That should be obvious by the way we continue to make the same mistakes in life, whether as individuals or societies. Mistakes can become the opportunity to learn only if we would do certain things in response. First, we must acknowledge that we did indeed make a mistake. Many bad choices we make are never acknowledged as such. Either we refuse to admit that our behavior was bad, or we avoid responsibility for our doing such things. Second, we need to grasp the true results of our actions. Even if we can admit that a particular action or attitude was inappropriate, until we can see how negative those things really are, we will never have sufficient motivation to avoid them in the future. Third, we need to see these things in relation to the quality of life designed by God. God never intended that life should only be the avoidance of wrong. We need to be giving our energy and attention to the things assigned to us by our Creator and Lord. Right and wrong living is more about relationship with God, than it is in figuring out impersonal life principles.

It is not for no reason that the Bible contains far more examples of wrong living than right living. Like the people of Israel of ancient times we need warning after warning of the consequences of wrong choices. Do not our newspapers tell us the same story? No matter how much we try to justify our modern lifestyles, the consequences of our actions still testify against us. Still, wrong living is not inevitable. God, like my professor, is not discouraged by our mistakes. Rather he so desires that we would learn from them.

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