I AM AFRICAN
Some people have a problem with history. They will learn or read anything but history. In fact they don’t want to hear anything about history. And so, to their loss, they interpret current events with current events and get mistaken conclusions. This explains why modern Africa, loath to learn even its own history, is treading water.
Yet history is one subject that God expressly instructs human beings to study and not to forget. In the Bible, God is very particular about history and its learning, because the Creator of the World knows that history makes the world go round. As we go along in this piece, I will show you why in the Bible God instructs us so.
But before we go to God, let’s consider what some African, European, and other thinkers have said about history. George Orwell, the English writer and journalist (whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair) had a most profound view of history: “Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the future, controls the present.” Please take note of Orwell’s sequence. He starts from the past, jumps to the future, and lands in the present.
Orwell’s next punchline was even deeper: “The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,” he said.
Let’s spend a bit of time with Orwell before moving on, for he captures the essence of history so beautifully than most people. “Who controls the past, controls the future.” Therefore, unless you control your past, you will not or cannot control your future. That is what Orwell is saying. If you control your future, you will control your present.
So our root or foundation is our past. It guides and guards us to the future. Imagine: The foundation of a tree that grows and grows for hundreds and hundreds of years is its roots – its past. Without roots, no tree can grow or stand. Do you see why Africa, rid of any knowledge of history, including its own history, is finding it difficult to stand?
Orwell jumps from the past to the future. He who controls the past, he says, controls the future. Not the present. You can only control your present when you control your future. Otherwise forget it. If you can’t control your future, don’t expect to control your present. Here too, Africa is caught in the jigsaw. We are a continent of no national plans, so we can’t control our future and therefore our present is not in our own hands, and subsequently we are treading water. Because if you control your future, you will know how to live in the present. Christians who want to inherit eternal life, or know their future is eternal life, know how to live in the present. They don’t live anyhow.
Then Orwell climaxes it by this profound truth: “The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Can you see yourself and your country and continent in this logjam? What is our “understanding”, as Africans, of our own history? The most effective way to destroy the Africans (I am now paraphrasing Orwell) is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history!
Our history has been denied and obliterated, not only the understanding of it, and so we are destroyed. Some Westerner had even the audacity to claim that the African had no history! That is why I pity the African who does not want to hear anything about history.
Today, we are being urged, again by the same usual culprits, to study STEM, the newfound magic bullet that will take us to El Dorado. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Dear Africa, let’s add History to STEM to make it HSTEM, otherwise the stem cannot stand. Have you ever seen any stem of a tree or of anything able to stem by itself without the support of the roots – the foundation?
Yet Africa is being urged to study STEM. Everywhere it is STEM, STEM, STEM. But no history. Scholarships and bursaries are being given for STEM. But not for history – a subject that God says will embed you solidly in the ground, Yes, for all we do, let’s study STEM, but as wise people, let’s add History to STEM as part of the compulsory subjects we need in this life. Because we will forever stand destroyed if our own understanding of our history is denied and obliterated. Does it make you want to cry? I want to. So please get me out of here.
Let’s catch up with Winston Churchill, the man voted as the greatest Briton who ever lived. He said: “A nation that forgets its past has no future.” Can you see Orwell in Churchill?
And then there was Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, politician, and teacher, who said: “Study the past if you would define the future.”
In 1992, the Right Rev John Taylor, Archbishop of St Albans in England, added his bit: “A nation that forgets its history is a nation that has got problems.”
Michael Crichton, the American best-selling author and physician who died in November 2008, said: “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”
Did you get Crichton’s drift? I will return to it, but remember, you don’t know anything, Dear Africa, if you don’t know history, says Michael Crichton. “You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” What else can anybody say that will drive us or shame us to take history seriously?
J.F. Kennedy, the assassinated president of America (and the Americans, civilised as they say they are, did assassinate quite a few presidents, can you imagine), had a motto that said: “Forgive your enemies but remember their names.” That is history.
Prof F.I.D Konotey Ahulu, the Ghanaian medical doctor and pan-Africanist author/campaigner in the UK who, now on retirement, calls himself “the self-appointed spokesman for Africa on clinical epidemiology”, says: “History is head over shoulders above Science in the elucidation of certain vital truths.”
Let me repeat: History is head over shoulders above what? – Science in the elucidation of certain vital truths. When studying STEM, remember that there is something above science in the elucidation of certain vital truths. So reach out for that higher thing above science – history!
To me, the best elucidation of history has come from Ayi Kwei Armah, the Ghanaian novelist and Egyptologist. In his book, The Eloquence of the Scribes, he writes: “Whoever knows the history of a country can read its future… One need not be a reader of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic texts to know that people trapped in penitential identities, labouring under names they do not understand, unable to connect with more than a few generations of their history, are helpless chaff in the hurricanes of global history.”
Man, that is deep. We are helpless chaff in the hurricanes of global history, if we are not able to connect with more than a few generations of our own history.
So what is history? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “The whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing.” Or “The past considered as a whole.” But to me, this African from Ghana: “Anything that happened one hour ago is history.” I will return to this as we journey along.
But as Zimbabwe is a Christian country, in fact the first country I have actually seen to have almost, and I mean almost, no Muslim presence, let me take you to the Bible. My old pastor, now deceased, Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder and general overseer of the US-headquartered Worldwide Church of God, who died in 1986, had a profound revelation:
“Mankind was put on this earth for a purpose,” he once wrote. “And the Maker of mankind sent along with the human product of His making an Instruction Book [the Bible] to reveal that purpose and to guide man in happily, enjoyably fulfilling that purpose. But the human race has rejected the revelation and the guidance and has preferred to stumble on in the darkness of its own futile reasonings.
“About one-third of that Instruction Book [the Bible] is devoted to basic education – revealing to man the basic foundational knowledge otherwise undiscoverable and unknowable [and this is about]: knowledge of what man is, why he is, where his destiny may lead, how to reach it and live happily along the way, revealing knowledge of the true values as distinguished from the false; knowledge of the way to peace; happiness, abundant wellbeing. In otherwise, the most necessary of all knowledge – the foundation on which to build discoverable knowledge.
“Another approximate third of the Bible is devoted to history – to those events and experiences fulfilling the master plan of God on man’s mortal journey during the first four millennia of the world, as examples for our admonition and guidance today.
“And then approximately a third – grasp this! – an entire third of the Bible is devoted to prophecy – writing the history of future events before they occur. These foretold future events reveal the great purpose [of God’s master plan] being finally worked out – being brought to its completion.”
Let’s break this down. H.W. Armstrong defined “prophesy” as “writing the history of future events before they occur.” Writing what? The History of future events!
So, by his reckoning, if you add the one-third of the Bible which is prophecy – (defined as “writing the history of future events before they occur”), to the one third of the Bible which is the history of the events and experiences of the first four millennia of the world, you get two-thirds of the Bible being made up of HISTORY. And yet there are some Zimbabwean, nay African, Christians who don’t want to hear anything about history. They are oxymorons, aren’t they?
Now, as I promised, let’s look at how God sees history. This is critical. The joy of my joy is that Zimbabwe is a Christian country, so I can take the whole nation to the Bible. So please come with me.
At Exodus 16:31-34, we read that during the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, God rained manna for them to eat in the desert, and then God asked Moses to tell them: “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.’ So Moses said to Aaron. ‘Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.’ As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept.”
Here, God was so clear about the purpose of keeping the manna: So that Israel’s future generations will not forget their history.
Again, at Exodus 28:9-13, God commands: “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth – six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings, and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord…”
Here, again, God instructs the Israelites that the memorial should not only be forever, it should also sit within golden settings and carried by the first high priest, Aaron, on his shoulders whenever he appears before God and the people.
What is a “memorial”? It is history in physical form. It can take the form of statues, buildings, books, pieces of cloth, knowledge, and so on and so forth.
God goes on to instruct Moses at Exodus 28:15-30: “Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions – the work of a skilled craftsman. Make it like the ephod: of gold and blue, purple and scarlet yarn …
Verse 21: There are to be 12 stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of the 12 tribes … Verses 29-30: “Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord.
Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.”
Some versions of the Bible use “the breastpiece of judgement” in place of the NIV’s “breastpiece of decision”.
So God is saying here that the piece of history, the everlasting memorial that Aaron will carry “over his heart” whenever he enters the Holy Place is the means of making decisions or judgement. Therefore to God, to be able to make proper decisions, a person, a ruler, a president, or a people must bear in mind their history!
That is what the 12 stones bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel encased in the breastpiece of decision are meant to do. To teach history to the nation of Israel and its future generations!
At Verse 29, God explicitly commands that Aaron should always bear the means of making decisions “over his heart”. To God, “the heart” drives everything.
The Oxford English Dictionary has four main definitions for “heart”. Under Definition One, there are four sub-definitions, of which Sub-Definition One says: “The HEART is regarded as the centre of a person’s thoughts and emotions, especially love or compassion.”
Thus the “heart” as used in the Bible means “the centre of a person’s thoughts and emotions”, not the physical heart that pumps blood as Bible scholars and pastors have erroneously made their congregations to believe.
Therefore, when God says keep my words and commands in your “heart”, he means keep them at the centre of your thoughts and emotions, not in the physical heart. The physical heart does not have the capacity to store words and commands.
God knows that no serious decision can be taken without proper thought, so his instruction to Aaron to bear the “means of making decisions and judgements” over the heart was God’s way of linking history to thoughtful and proper decision-making.
(We shall continue this discussion next week)
This is made abundantly clear at Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
The Amplified version says: “Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.”
King James is even more direct: “Keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”
The issues of life cannot be dealt with without thoughtful decisions that come from “the heart”, the centre of one’s thoughts.
Then at Joshua 4:2-8:
God tells Joshua, who has taken command of the Israelite nation after the death of Moses, to lead them across the Jordan River to take possession of the land he had promised to their forefathers.
Here again, God parts the waters, like he did to the Red Sea, and make the Israelites walk on dry land. He then tells Joshua: “Choose 12 men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.
So Joshua called together the 12 men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them: ‘Go over before the Ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, what do these stones mean, tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the Ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’ So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them.”
Here, we see how important history is to God. He did not want the people to forget the remarkable experience of the Jordan crossing. So he instructs Joshua to erect a memorial for “the generations to come” at the spot where they were camping for the night after the crossing. What is a memorial? It is simply history in physical form.
But the African does not know his history. He is encouraged to study everything but not history! So that he will forever be “helpless chaff in the hurricanes of global history”, the “leaf that does not know that it is part of a tree”.