Learning from the Past
James Montgomery Flagg may not be a household name, but his work is iconic. The image of Uncle Same sternly pointing his finger at the reader with the inscription, “I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY,” debuted in 1917 as part of a propaganda effort. Propaganda is material or information used to advance a cause. Wars in the modern era engage the enemy on an entirely different front when you consider propaganda.
Chronicles could be considered a form of propaganda. The children of Israel have been in captivity for roughly 70 years. They have paid the time for their disobedience. A fledgling number of Israelites return to a nearly uninhabitable homeland—the scars of their past. Because of Israel’s spiritual infidelity, they lost everything. The writer of Chronicles endeavors to encourage the people to learn from their past.
This is why you read of David’s misstep in 1 Chronicles 21. David commissions a census in order to mobilize for war. We are not given the details as to why David wanted this numbering of the people. History indicates David has had several victories and he was accumulating many resources to make the Temple “exceeding magnifical” (1 Chronicles 22:5). Maybe David had good intentions to target a formidable enemy in order to secure peace for his people and fill the storehouses with more supplies. Whatever his intentions, his pursuit was not centered on the Lord and His leading. He was not relying upon the Lord, but his own cunning, strategy, and recognizance. This misplaced confidence painfully cost the nation seventy thousand men. David has an opportunity to repent of his sin. At Ornan’s threshing floor, David builds an altar and sacrifices to the Lord. This would later be the location for the Temple.
As you read through 1 Chronicles 22, David has learned from his mistakes and counsels Solomon and Solomon’s advisers, “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19). The propaganda of Chronicles could be summarized by this one statement. Give yourself over to one pursuit—the Lord your God! David is remembering Moses’ advice, “Beware lest thou forget the Lord…If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 6:12; 4:29). Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years earlier that Israel had ceased seeking the Lord, “For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, Neither do they seek the Lord of hosts,” but three times in the same message Isaiah emphasizes God’s mercy, “But his hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 9:12, 13, 17, 21).
When Jesus walked this earth, he instructed his disciples to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). We still need good propaganda to remind us of God’s desire. He wants you! He wants a relationship with you. He wants you to find His best through faithful service to Him. Yet, just like Israel, we seek our own kingdoms. We forget the Lord in our abundance. Like David, we are paying the price with broken homes, inept churches, and a divided country.
Wake up, Christian! It’s time to learn from the past.