We are hurtling into a largely unknown future and we are living in very troubled times. This statement is true today in Israel and it could easily have been said with equal accuracy in previous millenia. The Bible shows that God well understands the insecurity of living in tumultuous times with threats growing on every side, and has some great counsel for us to follow. Judaism itself has incorporated some of God’s principles about dealing with future-phobia into its very fabric. As we read the news and see tensions picking up pace, let’s consider what the God of Israel has to say about facing the future.
The ideal woman that Lemuel king of Massa’s mother recommends to him in Proverbs can “laugh at the days to come” (31:25). How does she do that? She doesn’t even know what’s coming? Does she? How can she be so confident?
The Hebrew language has a peculiarity when it comes to the looking back at the past and facing the future – it has the two concepts switched up entirely. The word for yesterday, אתמול (etmol) is connected to the concept of being opposite to, or facing something. We are facing and looking directly at the past, not the future. Equally, the word for tomorrow, מחר (machar) is connected to the concept of being behind or after.
The future is behind our backs. We cannot see it. We have our back to the future, so to speak. We can see clearly what has happened in the past, and God wants us to do that. But we are forbidden from trying to see what’s coming. Like people walking backwards, we cannot see what we’re walking into. It’s unsettling. The only thing we know is what has already happened. But there is so much hope and confidence to be found in this God-given system, as the Proverbs 31 woman has obviously discovered.
Finding out your future is forbidden
When God lays down the law, he lists the sin of divination right along with that of child sacrifice in Deuteronomy 18:10 –
“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer.”
It is utterly evil in his sight. When king Saul seeks out his fate through the services of a witch, God reminds us that “rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Samuel 15:23) Also in the New Testament, we see strong instruction to stay clear of guessing games about the future:
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:13-17)
Of course there are matters relating to the future that God has revealed through his prophets, but in general, we are asked to steer clear of any attempts to discover what lies ahead through omens, divination or fortune telling. We must take the prophecies that God has given seriously, but accept the boundary that he has laid and not try to peer beyond what has been given to us. It is forbidden and is equal to witchcraft.
Remembering the past is commanded
However, the opposite is true about looking at the past. Judaism is full of devices to remember the past, indeed, it is commanded. They had to remember their ancestors, the covenants, and how God dealt with them:
Take time to remember
Why not make a point of remembering what God has done for you in your past? Recall his faithfulness to you, and maybe even write it down. If you keep writing it all down for yourself in a book, it will be a great help to go back to and remember his goodness in the future when you need encouragement.
Why not remind God of his promises to Israel? Bring before him the covenants he has made, and remind him of his love for his people and promises to save them. Using God’s word in our prayers is powerful and effective. God loves it when we remember his words, character and faithfulness as he commanded us to, and bringing his word before him in prayer delights his heart. He loves to fulfill his word and is eager to keep his promises.
This is how we can face the future. As the saying goes, we may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. We so easily forget who God is – what he is capable of, how faithful and how loving he is. We desperately need to keep reminding ourselves of these facts from our own experiences of him. He has always looked after us in the past. We can trust him and put ourselves in his hands, and God knows that we need constant reminders of this. This is how the Proverbs 31 woman can laugh at the days to come. She knows God is there too, waiting there for her. She remembers well that he has always been an ever present help in times of trouble, and he will be the same yesterday, today and forever.