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Bible verses about History Repeats Itself
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 3:15

Ecclesiastes 3:15 is an illustration that shows the breadth and depth of God's sovereignty over time and the events of life. To picture this more clearly, we have to perceive time as a moving reality. It is as though it is coming toward us and moving away from us simultaneously.

Though time is involved in this statement, the emphasis is more on the events that happen within time rather than time itself. We can perhaps understand this verse better as saying that what is happening right now, already happened in the past, and what will happen has already happened. It is a way of saying that, in one sense, time cannot be broken into parts. Time and the events happening within it of and by themselves are a whole. Thus, Solomon is essentially saying, “Past, present, and future are bound together.”

In what way is this so? Time and the events happening in it are parts of a continuous stream. Solomon's point is again that only God is in perfect control of both time and its events, and He can seek out and bring back into existence in the present what happened in the past. Thus, Solomon's comment in Ecclesiastes 1:9 is a parallel: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (ESV). In plainer language, history repeats itself.

Names, personalities, ethnicities, locations, dates, languages, clothing, and weapons change, but the core of the events is essentially the same. We can learn from history what works and what does not. Thus, we have the saying by George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This makes the Bible an even more valuable source of guidance in wisdom and right conduct because God gives true accounts of what happened, not ones embellished by men's prejudices.

One might wonder why God would essentially repeat what is said in Ecclesiastes 1:9 just two chapters later. The reason is that there is a major difference in the contexts. In Ecclesiastes 1:9, the statement is used negatively, suggesting life is nothing but repetitious vanity. In Ecclesiastes 3:15, though, it is mentioned explicitly within the context of God's sovereignty—He is in control, and He makes positive use of history repeating itself for mankind's benefit.

Many alternative renderings of the last phrase of verse 15, “God requires an account of what is past,” are quite hopeful:

» The New International Version: “God will call the past to account.”

» The Revised Standard Version: “God seeks what has been driven away.”

» The American Standard Version: “God seeks again that which is passed away.”

» The New English Bible: “God summons each event back in its turn.”

» The Amplified Bible: “God seeks that which has passed by.”

Though each translation is somewhat different, each has two elements in common: God is looking for something, and it involves time, an event that occurred in the past. Why is He doing this? What instruction is there for us here?

We tend to think that former days are gone forever. However, Ecclesiastes 3 shows that this concept is not totally true because history keeps repeating itself. In fact, we are learning that God causes this repetition. Verse 15 confirms this fact once again, but it adds a positive twist to it. Why would God do this?

A prominent theme in Ecclesiastes is judgment. The book ends with the statement that God will bring every deed into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14), pointing directly to a reason why everything matters. It is obvious that God, who is in control, brings up the past for His purposes. God always does things with good purposes in mind. In this verse, the language is quite positive: He does not bring the past up for the purposes of condemnation but for redemption. Our Savior God is a Redeemer.

He is seeking to help those who have truly made a mess of their past—that includes all of us. This verse provides evidence that by His grace He is seeking to recover and restore what seems from our point of view to be forever lost. Earlier in the chapter, Solomon says that the work of God endures forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14). This verse suggests that, since we are God's work, He will use His powers to make sure that our labors are not in vain. He will make things beautiful in His good time by enabling us to profit even from our messes.

This is not to suggest that those messes will be completely resolved, and everybody is happy, happy, happy! No, but He has the power to bring experiences from our past to mind, facilitating us to sort through them with a great deal more clarity than we had when they originally happened. Thus, He helps us recall incidents with honesty that helps us learn what we should and should not have done or said, and resolve to conduct ourselves far better going forward. He helps us to grasp whether repentance should occur if a similar situation happens again.

Should we forgive and forget? Should we be more patient and kind? Should we sacrifice our pride? Should we be firmer, insisting that godly actions be done to uphold righteousness? He may reveal to us how an event's outcome could have been far more profitable for all concerned.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

The story flow is translated in a choppy manner, but it goes like this: A young man born without wealth, who even spent time in prison, unexpectedly rises to power. As a young king, he listens well and rules well, but in old age, he becomes proud, losing his throne to a younger man. By this time, the kingdom was large and powerful, but Solomon forecasts that the new king's fame will not last long. He, too, can expect to lose his office, and the people who formerly cheered for him will cease appreciating him.

Solomon does not dwell on why the original king became hardened to his counselors' advice. Nevertheless, he closed his ears to their advice, and his rule ended in some degree of disgrace. Solomon gives the impression that he thought the original king foolish because he lost the support of those who originally helped him to power and the nation to prosperity.

The overall subjects of these four verses are a subtle warning about pride, and more obviously, the instability of political power and the fickleness of popularity. He makes the point in the last part of verse 16 that the younger man who replaced the original king will in turn discover history repeating itself, and his career will run much the same course as the man who preceded him. He will find that the time will come when the citizens no longer accept him either, and he will be removed from his leadership position and replaced by another.

Therefore, one must understand that public life contains a significant downside that can render life turbulent. Fame is fleeting, and everybody is expendable. A second, related lesson shows a cause of the instability: The public is fickle. Because of the self-centeredness of human nature, most people operate toward their leaders on the principle that “I believe you were good in the past, but what have you done for me lately?”

One of the items Solomon describes here touches to some degree on the frequent changes of leadership that our election system produces. Each administration begins with the citizens hopeful for its success, but by the time the next election occurs, those hopes are largely forgotten. Each election gives the citizenry an opportunity to express their accusations, creating, at times, significant emotional, social, and economic disturbances in the culture, as people vent their dissatisfaction with the current administration. During the next election, the nation endures the same process, but rarely does anything change for the better in its quality of life. Instead, history overwhelmingly shows that matters of quality of life, which involve morality to a significant degree, grow worse. The public quickly forgets that previous elections changed little or nothing.

Solomon may have had Joseph, son of Jacob, and his experiences in Egypt in mind as his illustration. One can draw parallels from elements of Joseph's life in Egypt, during which he spent time in prison (Genesis 41). At Pharaoh's command, he was released from prison and placed in authority over the entire nation (Genesis 41:37-46). He received great acclaim because of his leadership during the difficult circumstances of the famine. However, the final note of his story is what Solomon writes, “Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him.” Moses states in Exodus 1:8, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” We know this affected the plight of the Israelites, or God would not have acknowledged it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 




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