Biblical Advice About the Future, Hidden in the Hebrew

God well understands the insecurity of living in tumultuous times, and has put some great counsel for us to follow in His word. Judaism and the Hebrew language itself have incorporated God’s remedy for future-phobia into their 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.

Mystery woman

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:

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever”. (Exodus 32:13)

They had to remember the amazing journey God had taken them on, by literally re-living it every year in the festivals of Passover and Sukkot (booths or tabernacles):

Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. (Exodus 13:3)

You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:42-44)

They had to put up reminders for themselves around the place and even as part of their clothing to help them remember what God had said

And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD (Numbers 15:39)

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates….take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:6-12)

In fact the word “remember” is mentioned 234 times in the Bible. Some of the remembering is done by God – remembering his covenant, his promises, or his faithful ones who are patiently waiting, but mostly it is his people who must remember. The Psalms are full of memories of the wonders that God has done in the past, and encouragements to trust on the basis of these facts. We can call to mind the faithfulness and miracles of God, and have confidence that we are in good hands.

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.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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