Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 21

“We’ve Been Here Before!”

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

As a country, we’ve been here before! One hundred years ago, America wrestled with a pandemic that infected millions of people and is estimated to have killed almost 700,000. There was no cure for the virus and people were told to wear masks to control the spread. That demand was met with a variety of responses. Honestly, this is nothing new.

But I would like to bounce back another 30 years, to a time period that has been labeled, “The Gilded Age.” The Gilded Age was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870’s to around 1900.

During this time, the United States grew in industrialization and urbanization. The railroad was the driving force in connecting all parts of the country as never before. The railroad drove economic growth. Certain entrepreneurs became extremely successful. One might categorize them as the “Big Five.” Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in steel. Cornelius Vanderbilt built his empire in shipping and the railroad, John D. Rockefeller in oil, William Randolph Hearst in publishing and newspapers, and JP Morgan in finance and banking. During this time, an elite aristocracy was growing (the rich one percent), so also the working poor. Farming and agriculture were struggling and growing deeper in debt. Money was to be made if one was a skilled laborer. But a wave of over 3 million immigrants flowed into the country in less than five years, looking for a brighter future. Two economic depressions hit during that era that created up to 20% unemployment across the country. Unrest was growing with the common laborers as they felt forgotten and left behind by those experiencing prosperity. Groups began to organize, raising the issue of inequality. The country was wrestling with progress and poverty. The country was also wrestling with democracy and capitalism. Does any of this sound familiar?

As I listened and learned about this time capsule in American history, it was like I was slapped across the face. We are still wrestling with many of these same issues. We have been here before!

Rather than the railroad driving the connections around our country, now it is the internet as our digital railroad. Rather than entrepreneurs building their empires around steel, railroads, oil, newspapers, and banking, today, the “Big Five” have been driving their empires electronically with such names as, Bezos, Zuckerburg, Buffet, Jobs and Gates (you can throw in Walton if you’d like). Skilled laborers can make a healthy living, but common laborers are still living paycheck to paycheck. Immigrants are wanting to enter our country due to the historical reasons of religious persecution and poverty. Groups are growing to address the issues of inequality. The country continues to wrestle with progress and poverty. And the country has still not really come to terms with a democracy that calls for equality – each one, votes one, and a capitalist system that tends to give rise to inequality whereby the rich become more wealthy and more powerful.

Much truth can be found in the quoted words of John Adams that democracy without morality is dead.

So, what does this have to do with faith? I was reminded of King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”

King Solomon wrote these words over 3,000 years ago. I find both hope and challenge in his words. I find hope, for if we have faced similar situations before and have found a way to survive, surely we can do so again. But they are also challenging words because it means that we continue to repeat the same patterns and pitfalls that cause the same pain and problems as in the past.

When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, he cautioned the people not to forget from whence they had come. God had provided and protected them for forty years in the wilderness. They were to trust, follow and obey God’s direction and commands. If they did so, God would bless them mightily. And if they passed this teaching on to their children and the following generations, they would experience peace and prosperity at the hand of God.

But the Israelites were unable to obey. They continued to follow a cycle that would repeat itself over and over again for hundreds of years during the period of the Judges.

Judges 3:7-11 summarizes the path that Israel followed:

Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. They forgot about the Lord their God, and they served the images of Baal and the Asherah poles. Then the Lord burned with anger against Israel, and he turned them over to King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim.[a] And the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim for eight years.

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raised up a rescuer to save them. His name was Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he became Israel’s judge. He went to war against King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram, and the Lord gave Othniel victory over him. 11 So there was peace in the land for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died.

The following is the pattern of the cycle that the Israelites would wrestle with over and over again:

  1. Israel Disobeys
  2. Israel is Oppressed
  3. Israel Cries out to God
  4. God raises up a Deliverer (a Judge)
  5. Israel is Delivered
  6. Israel is at Peace.

Unfortunately, when the deliverer died, the nation of Israel would fall back into a time of disobedience, and the cycle and pattern would be repeated.

Reading and learning about Israel’s repetitive cycle is painful yet within the pain, there is a promise. It is painful because Israel is unable to consistently walk in obedience to God. Yet there is a promise that brings hope because when they finally cry out to God in their pain, God comes to their rescue.

This repetitive cycle during the era of the Judges lasted for roughly 400 years. They definitely took, “Been there, done that” to the extreme. When the era of Judges moved on to the period of the Kings, a familiar cycle of disobedience followed. But it is interesting that God spoke a word of promise to King Solomon after he finished constructing God’s Temple in Jerusalem. God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

God gave King Solomon a message for all of God’s people. When times are hard and pain is close at hand, when people come to realize that they have been down a troublesome highway once again, there is a pattern worth repeating: Humility, Prayer, Seek God and Turn from evil. When people take this action, the crooked road will straighten, the rocky road with become smooth, and the narrow road will widen. God will hear! God will forgive! And God will bring healing!

Today, the Christian church, in many ways, is traveling a similar road to that of the church during the Gilded Era. The church was facing many new changes and challenges. People were leaving the church. There were challenges to its doctrines. People were looking for something new. They wanted to believe in the improvement of human nature. Does this sound familiar? The church was challenged with trying to address and respond to changing needs in the midst of a changing culture. The Christian church today is traveling down this same road. But honestly, it has been down this road before.     

King Solomon made the statement that there is nothing new under the sun. And it is true. Yes, we will face problems that we have faced time and time again. But let us remain steadfast knowing that whatever is ahead, we face it with the repeating promises and provisions of God. He will deliver us! He will defend us! And He will delight in us! Because we will humble ourselves, pray and seek Him and turn from any of our evil ways.

“God, who calls you is faithful, and He will do this!” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark