American philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is, of course, unlimited debate as to what he meant and whether or not it is actually true. War is one prime example that is marshalled as evidence of the inevitability of making the same mistakes over and over again.
But, does that argument support, or debunk the adage? Some say that war proves that no matter what we try to learn from it, we are condemned to have future wars—it’s simply in our nature. On the other side, some say that war is testimony that we didn’t learn from our previous experiences.
It almost appears that Joshua was about to make the same mistake that Moses made. He sent spies into the land before crossing the Jordan to take the land. When Moses did that, the spies rejected God’s call to go forward and Israel spent the next 40 years as a generation died. Surely history would not repeat itself.
It didn’t. Instead of returning frightened and intimidated, these spies returned confident. They heard the stories of God’s actions from 40 years earlier and how it left the occupants of the land terrified of Israel’s presence. The people of Canaan clearly learned from history. They knew of God’s exploits, and they were frightened. Israel, on the other hand, knew of God’s power and were made more confident.
For believers, being reminded of God’s past actions is a faith builder. God’s care for His people and God’s faithfulness in the past create confidence in His actions in the future. So, because we can remember the past, we are made confident in our future.