Does History Repeat Itself?

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing. Ezra 1:1


Have you ever wanted to do something, yet you were faced with all kinds of obstacles? If you answer, “Yes!” then you can relate to one of the greatest of all Old Testament characters, a man by the name of Nehemiah.


To understand the difficulties confronting him, we need to go back in history to the fifth and sixth centuries before Christ. In the ’90s, the world’s attention was focused on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In the sixth century before Christ, the world’s attention was focused on the same country–then known as Babylon – and its leader, Nebuchadnezzar, who, incidentally, was Saddam Hussein’s great hero. Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? Both Nebuchadnezzar and Hussein considered the same race of people to be their enemy–Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, though, was a lot more successful than his twentieth century mimic in dealing them a severe blow.


Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and it eventually fell. In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar took the spoils of the city, including many of the finest of the young men, back to Babylon, and they served as slaves and conscripted government scribes and officials.


But what Saddam Hussein never learned is that men rise and fall, and nations come and go. A few years later, in 538 B.C., Babylon was overthrown by the Medes and the Persians, and the Persian king whose name was Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. You read about this in the first six chapters of the Old Testament book of Ezra. In 536 B.C., work started on the temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Then the work was stopped before the temple was finished. Then in 520 B.C., the work was completed. It was a far cry from the majestic beauty of the temple built under Solomon.


A few years later, in 480 B.C., the balance of power shifted again. The Persian fleet was defeated by the Greeks in the battle of the Aegean Sea. What a sight that must have been, with the ships maneuvering in battle and the hand- to-hand combat which eventually left the Persians defeated and ushered in the glory of ancient Greece. But Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, went home to nurse his wounds–and about that time, Esther became the Queen.


Now enters a man by the name of Nehemiah, one of the greatest of all time. Nehemiah, of course, was Jewish, probably born in Babylon or Persia to descendants of those who trekked across the desert wastes in chains from Jerusalem. As cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah was in a position to do something for his brethren back in Jerusalem. In identifying with them, he risked everything he had. But he did it.


At the right moment, he laid his concern before King Artaxerxes, and the king gave him letters of authority which allowed him to go back and begin rebuilding the wall of the great city.


Possibly you are thinking–what does the life of a man who lived so long ago have to do with our generation, or, even closer to home, with my life? While 2600 years have come and gone, things haven’t changed that much. Mediocrity is still clothed in comfort, and gain hemmed in with risk. Had Nehemiah played it safe, he could well have reasoned, “This isn’t my fight!” but in recognizing that he was in a position to do something about a great need, he turned his back on comfort and became a great tool, mightily used by the Lord. Furthermore, he anchored his place in history.


God, give us more men and women who will turn their backs on the easy life to walk the hard path and accomplish something lasting.



Resource reading: Nehemiah 1:1-20