Read Psalm 106.
Like several other psalms, Psalm 106 is a retread of Israel’s history and the people’s failure to trust fully in God. A Top Ten List of the worst details might look something like this:
When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles. (v. 7)
In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test. (v. 14)
In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the LORD. (v. 16)
At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal. (v. 19)
They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt. (v. 21)
Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. (vv. 24–25)
They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods. (v. 28)
By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD. (v. 32)
They did not destroy the peoples as the LORD had commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods. (vv. 34–36)
They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves. (v. 39)
It’s a tough heritage for anyone to be born into, but the psalmist owns his family history. He neither ignores it nor softens it. His retelling is honest and fair.
The past has a way of holding on to us. When we’re born, we step into a story already in progress. Crimes were committed long before we arrived. Some of us reap the benefits; others continue to pay the price. But in truth, we all experience some measure of both. We inherit a mixed bag of blessings and curses.
This is the case for the psalmist. He speaks to God during a time of exile, praying, “Save us, LORD our God, and gather us from the nations” (v. 47). It’s an exile caused by the collected faithlessness of generations, not just his own. At the same time, He is able to cry out to Yahweh with knowledge of the truth, because of men like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David. These saints, while not perfect by any stretch, trusted the Lord and carried out His plan of redemption in their respective days.
The psalmist owns his history, but he is not owned by it. He can look back and acknowledge the myriad ways his people went astray, but he does not fall into the trap of hopelessness, and he doesn’t allow himself to be consumed by the past. Instead, he stands on the shoulders of those who went before him. His faithless ancestors reveal his need for humility and dependence upon God, while his righteous forebears show him the narrow path to faith and freedom. From that vantage, he can lift his eyes up, past the surrounding hills, to heaven above.
Describing the new covenant Jesus would usher in, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’” (Jeremiah 31:29). In other words, no longer will children be responsible for their parents’ or grandparents’ sin. This shouldn’t surprise us, because Christ came to set people free. There can be no freedom if we’re locked up by the past.
To quote the wisdom of Gandalf the Grey, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Were injustices committed by past generations that you can help rectify? Then do so. Are you wearing the shame of your father or your father’s father? Take it off immediately; it’s not yours. Most of all, look to God. Make the most of the time that is given you—and follow Him.