Hebrew actually and logically speaks of the past as what lies in front of us so that we can see it and of the future as what lies behind us so that we cannot see it; it understands life as like rowing a boat, with our eyes on where we have been and our back to the invisible future.John goldingay, Models for scripture, p. 292
When I came across this passage, I immediately thought of Psalm 22, the psalm famously on Jesus’ lips as he’s dying on the cross in the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark. The psalm opens with the line,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As we might expect, the next twenty-one verses include descriptions of the poet’s present suffering and pleas to God for help. But less expected, for me, are the lines between these complaints and petitions, lines in which the poet remembers God’s faithfulness:
“In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame” (vv. 4-5)
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.” (vv. 9-10)
How valuable memories of God’s faithfulness can be to us when we are struggling. Our back is to the future; we cannot see it. It’s opaque and fickle, subject to uncertainty and change. But, the past lays spread before us, in our memory. And when we recall God’s past faithfulness, it reminds us that the same faithful God sits in our boat today and will again prove faithful as we row into the future.