Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ This realistic view of the world might be deemed somewhat pessimistic and depressing by some, but as someone who loves history, I soon came to understand its truths. Each generation may feel innovative and ingenious (and clearly can be!), but there is a sense in which ‘same old, same old’ also rings true. People’s actions and reactions don’t really change; ‘progress’ is not a relentless linear march forward, but is peppered by factions, jealousy, rivalry, selfishness… and sin.
Acts 24:1-27 continues the story of what happened to Paul when he arrived in Jerusalem. He has got into trouble with the Jews there who accuse him of breaking their laws by bringing a Gentile into the temple area reserved for Jews alone and has faced mob lynching and a plot to kill him before being brought to Caesarea to face trial before the Roman governor, Felix. Some may find this part of Acts repetitive and boring, but it’s a vivid reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. The resistance of Jews to the message of Jesus led to His crucifixion; the resistance of Jews to the message of Jesus as Messiah and resurrected Lord continued to mean persecution, imprisonment and sometimes death to His followers. Once more (this time at the hands of a trained lawyer, Tertullus), Paul is accused of being a ‘cult leader’, which would lead to his religious freedoms being revoked, and thus he would no longer be able to preach the gospel under the protection of Rome. A similar charge had been levelled at Paul in Corinth, but Gallio had thrown it out of court (Acts 18:12-17). There is a singular lack of originality in the charges against Paul, but this did not make it any easier for him!
Each generation tends to feel that its problems and its challenges are unique. History teaches us otherwise – or at least, that there are common threads to the problems and challenges (which is why the past can teach us so much, dealing with principles which are universal.) Most of us, for example, have never faced a pandemic before, but even a cursory glance at history shows us that plagues and pandemics have occurred frequently in the past, often with devastating consequences, but at least reminding us that this is something not quite as unique as we may have believed or as frightening as we may think (Covid-19 has a good recovery rate when compared to some previous plagues, for example!) History is there to teach us, to show us good practices and also to point to ways that are perhaps not so good so that we can avoid these and save ourselves much trouble. We do well to look back and to learn. Far from being depressed by there being nothing new under the sun, we can find ways of dealing with situations from the examples of others and can learn to trust God by seeing how He has cared for people since the beginning of time. He does not change and therefore we can have hope in every situation.