I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “History has a habit of repeating itself.” It sounds a lot like another familiar idiom we toss about rather cavalierly, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” It might surprise you to know that this last one is actually from the Bible. It was written by King Solomon, one of the wisest and wealthiest men who ever lived, and is found in the book of Ecclesiastes. What he actually said was, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV). In other words, according to Solomon, history is simply a series of reoccurring events, featuring a different set of actors, but following the same basic plot line – over and over again. Kind of like today’s sit-coms or CSI TV shows.
It seems that even though we, as a race, pride ourselves on all the technological, scientific, social, educational, and governmental advances we’ve made over the years, we still wrestle with the same old problems of greed, pride, anger, injustice, war, oppression, selfishness, racism, and idolatry. We pride ourselves that we no longer live in the Dark Ages, but are we really any more enlightened than they were? We simply have more sophisticated ways of doing the same things. Our weapons are more effective and destructive. Our education system has made more of us smarter, but few of us any wiser. All our technological advances have resulted in everything from cell phones and laptops to microwaves and GPS systems, but have also left us more stressed out and in need of rest than ever before. We can grow more crops than ever before, but still live in a world where starvation and hunger are at an all-time high. Communication and travel have improved dramatically, shrinking the world, but not diminishing the number of wars and conflicts taking place around the globe. We have simply improved the art of not being better off.
It was Winston Churchill who said, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Being the great wordsmith that he was, Lord Churchill found another way to say the very same thing and solidify his point. “The past is the lamp that illuminates the entrance to the future.” As an avid student of history, he understood the truth behind what Solomon had written. There really is nothing new under the sun. Yes, new nations rise to power. New despots and dictators vie for control, hoping to expand their kingdoms and rule the world. But it has always been so – ever since the fall of man. Sin has always been the common denominator – the great motivator of man’s actions. It was behind Eve’s desire for forbidden fruit, Cain’s murder of Abel, Lot’s love of Sodom, Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Israelites, Jacob’s cheating of Esau, Samson’s obsession with women, Amnon’s rape of Tamar, Absalom’s rebellion against David, Herod’s killing of the newborns, Judas’ selling out of Jesus, Peter’s betrayal of Him, and Saul’s persecution of the church. The Word of God is filled with powerful proofs of man’s inhumanity to man. We get to see sin lived out in real life through the actions of men and women who lived centuries ago.
Writing in regard to the history of the Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness, the apostle Paul tells us, “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age” (2 Corinthians 10:11 NLT). We can learn from their mistakes. We can benefit from their failures. But if the truth be known, most of us would rather repeat their mistakes than learn from them. Which, according to the great Albert Einstein is nothing short of insanity, which he defined as “repeating the same thing and each time expecting a different outcome.” We live just like the people we find in the Scriptures, following their examples, but expecting different results. Why? Because we mistakenly view ourselves as sophisticated, highly cultured Christians who are better educated and spiritually better equipped to handle the rigors of life on this planet. But not if we ignore the lessons found in the Scriptures. God’s Word is a mirror reflecting back to us our true condition, and revealing to us just who we really are – all through the lives of the individuals it vividly portrays on its pages. The Word of God is His revelation of Himself to men. In it, He gives us an intimate glimpse into who He is and how He relates to mankind. We get to see His character displayed – His love, mercy, grace, righteousness, holiness, justice, power, patience, all-pervasive presence, sovereignty, and faithfulness. And in stark contrast to God, we see the character of men and women who display faithlessness, fear, rebellion, greed, ingratitude, injustice, and unholiness – time and time again.
He delivers them. They deny Him.
He loves them. They prove unfaithful to Him.
He guides them. They turn away from Him.
He chooses them. They reject Him.
He sends His Son to die for them. They refuse Him.
A Learning Experience.
A number of years ago, our church did a study called “B.C. Lessons for A.D. People.” It was a journey back in time – over 4,000 years back – in order to discover some valuable lessons from the lives of some little-known characters in the Bible. We explored the lives of men and women like Nadab and Abihu, Deborah, Balaam, Jonathan, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Mephibosheth and Hosea. Our goal each week was to look beyond the characters to the context of the story. We wanted to see what God was doing behind the scenes. In doing so, we discovered that these are not isolated tales with disconnected plot lines. They’re each part of a much larger narrative. In fact, each of these individuals was a bit player in that bigger story where God is not only the author, but the main actor on the stage. In other words, He’s the star. It’s all about Him and always has been. Biblical history is the story of God’s interaction with man – a story of redemption and restoration, rebellion and rejection, faithlessness and faithfulness. It’s about promises made and promises fulfilled. It’s about a chosen people who chose to live according to their own will, and a loving God who chose to faithfully keep His commitments and carry out His divine plan – in spite of them.
The lessons we can learn from the lives of these individuals are many. But only if they point us to God. Only in as much as they foreshadow and foretell the desperate need mankind has for a Savior. The point of these stories is not to try and live my life differently than they did. It is not to attempt to improve my condition by modifying my behavior. It is to realize man’s helpless and hopeless condition as he battles a sinful disposition before the presence of a holy God. Man cannot save himself, change himself, redeem himself, or restore himself to a right relationship with God. It is impossible. The stories of the Bible prove that to us time and time again. They teach us the truth of another familiar saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Without God’s undeserved, unmerited favor I am unable to live a life that is any different than what I see revealed in the pages of Scripture. I am doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and painfully hope for different results. I am destined to try and rehabilitate myself and somehow earn favor with a God who demands nothing less than perfect holiness. But the real lesson to be learned is that God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He provided a way for us to be made right with Him. He came up with a plan that would pay the penalty for our sin and provide a declaration of righteousness in place of a sentence of death. He gave His Son as our sin substitute on the cross. His sinless Son lived the life we could never live. He died the death we deserved to die. All so that we might be made right with Him.
Churchill was right. The past is the lamp that illuminates the entrance to the future. The Bible gives us a glimpse of the past, all the way back to the very creation of the word when we see God’s creative power on display. It unfolds a timeline revealing man’s rocky relationship with God, from the first sin all the way up to the coming of the Son of God, the very One who would resolve that relationship and restore order to the chaos caused by sin. But the lessons don’t stop there. The Bible gives a glimpse into the future of God’s redemptive plan when He will restore all things to their original splendor and remove the pervasive presence and power of sin from the world once and for all. And from cover to cover we see our faithful, promise-keeping God at work. We learn what happens when we fail to trust Him. We discover what to expect when we turn away from Him. We are taught just how faithful He has been even in the face of man’s unfaithfulness to Him. The lessons of the Bible are lessons about God, not man. They are revelations about His character and His unfailing love. They teach us about who He is, what He has done and what He is yet to do.