It was a wise man who first noted that there is nothing new under the sun. Sadly, Solomon seemed to sigh his way through this observation, wistfully longing for something new. We, if we were wise, would rejoice in this truth. That there is nothing new under the sun, while it won’t probably be found in any of the great classic works on biblical interpretation, is a critically important principle of sound biblical interpretation.
Evangelical modernists here struggle with competing allegiances. As evangelicals we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We reject the liberal view that suggests that the Bible is man’s word about God. We reject the neo-liberal view that affirms that the Bible contains, somewhere in there, the Word of God. No, we affirm with boldness that it is all the Word of God and therefore all true in all that it teaches. That’s all good.
As modernists, however, we somehow think that the world we live in is completely different from the world into which God spoke His Word. God spoke truth, but He spoke it to a primitive people who lacked our sophistication, our understanding, our wisdom. When we come, then, to the words of the prophets, we experience a profound disconnect. We think that because we don’t worship in the temple, with the blood of goats and bulls, that we have escaped the problem of idolatry. We believe that because we feel poor rather than rich, that we have escaped the problem of greed. We conclude that because we lift our arms and sway along with the praise band that we have escaped the problem of hearts far from God. These problems, the ones addressed by the prophets, are not for us.
This approach is, of course, far older than the modern era. It has been taught to us from the beginning by the anti-prophet, the Serpent. When he approached Eve in the garden his goal was simple enough — he wanted to be certain that Eve would not believe the word from God. There is nothing new under the sun. And so still the Serpent seeks to seduce the church, the second Eve, the bride of the second Adam, not to believe the Word of God. If he can persuade us that the Bible, however true it might be, does not speak to us, we are left trying to figure out what to do on our own. We lean on our own understanding. If our circumstances are so different from their circumstances, then while God may have been speaking to our spiritual fathers, He isn’t speaking to us.
It may well be that the reason there is nothing new under the sun is simply this: that in whatever era, in whatever circumstance, we will find sinful people. In order to understand how the ancient prophets apply to us, all we need to do is realize our part in the story — we’re the sinners. When the prophet begins to speak and you find yourself wondering how it is relevant to you, remember that simple principle — we are the sinners.
Having discovered our role in the story, what are we called to do? John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the old covenant prophets proclaimed the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand. In our circumstance the kingdom of God has come. That shift, however, does not change our calling. Our response to the coming of the kingdom is fitting. Because we are the sinners, we do what sinners are called to do, we repent.
If we read through the writings of the prophets we get something of a glimpse of the scope of the kingdom of God. The prophets warned against false worship. They thundered against political abuses. They chastened the people of God for their worldliness. In like manner, it is important that we recognize the scope of the kingdom of God. That which we seek first, the kingdom of God, includes political and economic issues. It encompasses our labors and the arts. The kingdom of God is profoundly concerned that we think rightly about every issue. The kingdom of God is that place where Jesus reigns, especially where that reign is recognized and honored.
That said, however, we would in turn be wise to remember the first calling of those who would first seek the kingdom of God. To be outward- looking citizens and soldiers of the kingdom of God, to be about the business of making known the glory of the reign of Christ, to be fulfilling our own prophetic role to the watching world, we begin by repenting. Before we come up with a strategy to take back Washington, before we set about on a course to scale the ivy walls of Ivy League universities, before we seize the engines of entertainment in Hollywood, we have something far more important to do, something far more powerful to do, something far more world-changing to do. We must heed the call of the prophets, get on our knees and cry out to He who reigns over all things, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
The more things change, the more they stay the same. God’s people were sinners then, and God’s people are sinners now. The joy in the unchanging nature of reality is this: then and now, those who confess their sins, He is faithful and just to forgive their sins. These same He promises to cleanse of all their unrighteousness. This is how the kingdom comes. God calls us to repent. God blesses us with repentance. God forgives our sins. God gives us life abundant. God calls us to be His prophets, to call the world to repent. And He moves from faith to faith, from victory to victory, until all His enemies are made a footstool.