A Father as a Historian

The father that Asaph is advocating in Psalm 78 is a man of history and he tells the stories. He inclines his ears to “the things our fathers told us.”

In God’s economy, what fathers say matters. The things they say are represented in v2 as “dark sayings of old”, and “a parable”, which means, “a story from the past.” The drama of redemption in human history contained in the stories from the past are important to men who are teaching the next generation. It is not the next new thing that matters. Its not the next new movie that is important to the health of the next generation, but the stories of old.
Fathers are God’s appointed historians for the next generation. When fathers do their jobs well, their children will have a sense of their place in history.
They have two major advantages.
First, their children can look back on 6,000 years of history and see God’s power. They have dozens of real life examples in history to draw from. They are not alone in their troubles. Nor are they alone in their deliverances. One of the blessings of being “the people of God” is that we know who we are because we can recall the things our fathers told us about the past. Our faith is a historical one. Children need to learn history under the teaching of their fathers.
This is why the prophet Joel says, “Tell your children about it,, Let your children tell their children, And their children another generation (Joel 1:3)
Second, their children can look back on their family history to see vivid illustrations of God’s sustaining power in times of trial. For example, when Hezekiah recovered from his sickness, (Isa 38) he reflects on it. It hits him that this sickness had a purpose. It actually had a positive purpose for children. It is a picture of an honest man before God, living according to the knowledge he has. He is in pain, interacting with God in the midst of the difficulty. This is one of the blessings of the Bible. It gives us pictures of real man real problems and real consequences of real sin. It shows them in joy and sorrow in sickness and in health and riches and property. Everyone has troubles, and everyone learns something from their troubles. Troubles always change you. There is a process that you go through in your thinking and feeling and acting. There are conclusions that you arrive at. Here is one of Hezekiah’s conclusions,

“The living, the living man, he shall praise You, As I do this day; The father shall make known Your truth to the children” (Isa 38:19).

It is important that we know how our troubles have changed us. Fathers should seek an understanding of history on three levels: biblical history, church history, and family history. The most important kind of history is biblical history, because it contains everything that is profitable for life and godliness, and is really the only sure basis for teaching the other two.
If men would break bad patterns from the past, they need a strong focus on communicating the ancient words to his children that God has delivered to His people.

Fathers are God’s appointed historians. A brilliant example of this is seen two years after the Exodus from Egypt, when Moses was reporting on the status of the households of Jacob in Numbers 1-3. These people were historically astute enough to recite their family history. The story shows that Moses carefully documented the numbers of fighting men over age 20 who came from each of the sons of Jacob. It is thrilling to notice that each son of Jacob had 30,000 to 75,000 fighting men alive at the time of the Exodus. This shows how powerful one household can be in future generations.
For example, He gathered the entire congregation of Israel, and they
 “recited their ancestry by families, by their fathers houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and above, each one individually” (Numbers 1:18-19).
An ancient book

It is noteworthy that God wanted His people to have an ancient book with time worn stories. God wants us to ponder lessons from the past. This history is meant to be in the mouths of our fathers. God is commanding them to use “the things our fathers told us”, to guide them in the future. He calls his people to look back to a standard. From these stories we are charged to learn lessons and bring ourselves in line with them. Some of the stories in scripture are inspiring and present wonderful patterns, while others are despicable and are there for a warning. We see an example of this in Judges 21:25 at a time when, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Many of the stories in Judges communicate the penalty for failing to pass along the knowledge of God from one generation to the next.
From the example in Numbers 1:18-19, we see a model for how to think of children and of the dynamic legacy they can leave. Two things jump out at us from this story in Numbers. First, these children were good enough historians that they were able to recite their ancestry. This is in sharp contrast to our age of extreme individualism, where most people can only think as far back as their grandparents.
This should instruct us not to be so individualistic and contemporary. We are better off if we look back to our genealogical heritage and the content that it has delivered to us in the form of “the dark sayings of old,” and the “parables of old” that “our fathers told us.”
Second, notice how this illustrates the tremendous latent power that existed in families. It is startling to read of the many thousands of warriors produced by these families – in some cases there were 30,000 -75,000 fighting men.
This is an important point, because it shows us the significance that God places on remembering family history. Ex 12;26 tells us of a time in Israel when fathers DID tell their children,

26 And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 28 Then the children of Israel went away and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.”
However, salvation is not guaranteed. A man may tell the stories of the greatness of God, but it will not guarantee that his children will turn to the Lord. That does not change the command to speak, but it should give fathers a realistic understanding of what may happen. Matthew Henry speaks of Hezekiah’s experience,
“It is the duty of parents to possess their children with a confidence in the truth of God, which will go far towards keeping them close to the ways of God. Hezekiah, doubtless, did this himself, and yet Manasseh his son walked not in his steps. Parents may give their children many good things, good instructions, good examples, good books, but they cannot give them grace.[1]

Fathers are God’s appointed historians. I was a history major in college but you don’t need a BA in History to be a historian for your family. You only need to know your Bible… and communicate the rich contours of the history of the world from God’s perspective. Don’t let your children leave home without it.

[1] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1149). Peabody: Hendrickson.