If we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are destined to repeat them. Perhaps, that is why there are so many reminders of the past in the word of God. For example, after rehearsing a bit of Israel’s unfaithfulness in the wilderness, Paul goes on to say, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon who the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). We must learn from the past mistakes of others.
But, we can also learn from the good example of others, even those who have long-since passed from this life. James praises the ancient patriarch, Job, saying, “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:10–11). Many such examples abound in the pages of God’s word. These are heroes, bright and shining in their examples of virtue and faithfulness. Yet, they are also heroes often beset with weakness—at times, failing miserably in their struggle against sin.
But, God felt it important for us to learn from both the triumphs and shortcomings of those who have gone before us. For we cannot fully appreciate their mountaintop experiences of faith without also seeing their dark hours in temptation and sin. A profound, somewhat unexpected, evidence for the inspiration of the Bible is the fact that its heroes are presented with complete transparency. This is not the usual light in which they are portrayed by history. We tend to gloss over weaknesses, highlighting only that which is positive and, thus, turning an amazing life into somewhat of a fairy tale.
There is a lesson in this for modern man. We cannot change our past through modern-day editing—passing judgment outside the bounds of historical context and erasing an important part of history—a history we should examine with objectivity, looking at both the positive and negative aspects of what took place in the past. Learning from the past frees us to launch into the future with renewed optimism and a sense that we have learned something from the past—something which will make us better people for having learned it.