Remembering Success as well as Mistakes

The men in charge of the work were diligent, and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it. When they had finished, they brought the rest of the money to the king and Jehoiada, and with it were made articles for the Lord’s temple: articles for the service and for the burnt offerings, and also dishes and other objects of gold and silver. As long as Jehoiada lived, burnt offerings were presented continually in the temple of the Lord.

  • 2 Chronicles 24:13-14

This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates, the officials of Trans-Euphrates, sent to King Darius. The report they sent him read as follows:
To King Darius:
Cordial greetings.
The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and placing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and is making rapid progress under their direction.
We questioned the elders and asked them, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information.
This is the answer they gave us:
“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.
“However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God.

  • Ezra 5:6-13

“In The Life of Reason (1905), the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Santayana’s naturalistic approach means that he sees knowledge and belief as arising not from reasoning, but through interaction between our minds and the material environment. Santayana is often misquoted as saying that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and this is sometimes understood to mean that we must do our best to remember past atrocities. But Santayana is actually making a point about progress. For progress to be possible, we must not only remember past experiences, but also be able to learn from them; to see different ways of doing things. The psyche structures new beliefs through experiences, and this is how we prevent ourselves from repeating mistakes.
“Real progress, Santayana believes, is not so much a matter of revolution as of adaptation, taking what we have learned from the past and using it to build the future. Civilization is cumulative, always building on what has gone before. In the same way that a symphony builds note by note into a whole.”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

Indeed, most of us meld the concept of learning from our mistakes and Santayana’s famous quote and we think he meant that we are condemned to repeat our mistakes.  Maybe using the word “condemn” was too strong.  If we strictly looked at our successes, we would love to keep pressing the “success” button for the rest of our lives, hardly condemnation at all.  But what success is truly worthwhile?

You wonder about those old singing groups that are now only remembered when someone produces their version of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time.  Did those people simply luck into one song and then nothing else worked?  Did they rest on their instant fame and forget the hard work it took to produce that one hit?  I have read articles about such one-hit wonders and their careers after the one hit seem to fall into several categories, from thinking too highly of themselves to self-destruction to additional hard work without success until the band split apart, frustrated that the hard work was for nothing.  The point is that to attain progress, you must have continuity.

Look at the Scriptures above.  Joash became king at the age of seven years old.  He decided to rebuild the temple after Athaliah and her wicked sons had used the Temple of God to worship Baal.  It does not state when this happened, only that it was “some time after” Joash had become king.  He might have been an adult by then.

The reason why I paired these two Scriptures is that if you did not have context and only looked at the two verses that mentions the “progress” in the rebuilding of the temple, you would think that they were talking about the same construction project.  Those statements are highlighted by bold text.

George Santayana (1863-1952) could have easily written a Bible study about the discontinuity between these stories and the bookend events in the history of the Temple of God.

If you look at some charts of good and bad kings of Judah and Israel, you will find all the kings of Israel listed as bad kings, but in Judah, you have a period of many years of good kings with one ugly stain near the middle.  Asa, king of Judah, reigned for 41 years and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  His son, Jehoshaphat reigned 25 years and was a good king.  But trouble was brewing.  Overlapping the end of Asa’s reign and the beginning of Jehoshaphat’s reign, King Ahab reigned in Israel.  Really, his wife, Jezebel, was pulling the puppet strings.

Why bring up what was going on to Judah’s north?  Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram married King Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah.  Jehoram, like his father-in-law in Israel, did what was evil in God’s sight, doing what their wives told them to do, worship false gods.

God had enough of this.  The descendants of Jacob had been hardheaded and rebellious from the start.  Elijah, the Tishbite, the prophet God sent to King Ahab and Jezebel was burned out.  God gave him a path forward, to anoint the foreign king who would kill king Ahab, to anoint Jehu, an Israelite warrior, to rid Israel of Jezebel and her offspring and King Jehoram of Judah, and to anoint Elisha to be the prophet that would take Elijah’s place.  God’s judgment was carried out.

Thus, Jehu killed Jehoram, throwing his body into Naboth’s field as a reminder of Ahab’s sin, and Jehoram’s son, Ahaziah became king but only for about a year.  Being a grandson of Ahab, Ahaziah was killed by orders of Jehu.  Ahaziah’s mother, the daughter of Ahab, pronounced herself queen and started killing anyone who might challenge her position on the throne.  The priests hid the baby, Joash.

But then, once Athaliah was killed after a six-year reign, Joash, at seven-years-old became king.  Joash was followed by three more good kings: Amaziah (29), Uzziah (52), and Jotham (16).  Some of these years of reign are probably wrong (a poorly written chart where the years do not equal the dates), but my point is that other than a point of about 15 years over more than 200 years, Judah had continuity of good kings, but the people easily fell into corruption.  In that fifteen-year break where the evil of Ahab and Jezebel influenced Judah, they had defiled the temple.

But after the reigns of Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham, the people did not learn.  Ahaz, a bad king followed, and afterwards Hezekiah reigned as a good king, but the die had been cast.  Although Manasseh repented late in life, he was one of the evilest kings of Judah up to that point.

The people of Judah, and the household of the king, did not learn from either their successes or their failures.  And God’s judgment was soon to follow.  Thus, Ezra and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem.

I think one of the hardest lessons to learn is what Paul said in Romans 8:28, that all things work for the good for those that love the Lord.  First, this only applies to those who love the Lord.  And second, they may not seem “good” at that moment.  Thus, we fail to follow the philosopher’s teaching because we remember the pain from that “good” thing and we remember the “pleasure”, no matter how temporary, of the bad thing.  So, even when trying to learn from our successes and our failures, we often make the mistake of going down those wrong paths yet again.

It sometimes takes repeated mistakes to realize that the momentary enjoyment does not last, and the aftermath is far worse than the enjoyment.  We keep pressing that “enjoy” button, and we worry about the consequences when they are upon us.  Some people may read substance abuse into what I have said, or other bad habits, but it could apply to business decisions that – oh, let’s be honest and realize that Jesus would not have done that.  It might not be illegal, but did it cause you to lose sleep, or should it have?

This discussion could simply be about where our desires are.  It may not lead to actions at all.  What is the caveat of Romans 8:28?  For those that love the Lord.  When we are promised that God will give us the desires of our heart, what is the caveat?  Seek God first and His kingdom.  In other words, desire God.  Thus, when we desire the things of this world, even things that might be good, are we taking our eyes off Jesus?

The only continuity that ties the philosophy of George Santayana with the Scripture above is that we must continually keep our eyes on Jesus (God for the OT, the promise of Jesus).

Or … we will be condemned to repeat the errors of thousands of years of our ancestors, ignoring God.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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