Solomon wrote, “The things that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). As one considers the lives of men and their impact while on this earth, it does not take long to comprehend that mankind works in cycles. Man has been going through the same cycles for centuries. We may have found new and innovative ways to go through them, but they are the same cycles nonetheless. One such cycle considers man’s relationship with God. Often called “the cycle of man,” it is shown in Scripture as a consistent representation of how man’s generations rise and fall in their relationship with God. The greatest evidence of it is seen in the book of Judges, for within this book of history the cycle is presented on multiple occasions as God deals with the children of Israel.
There are five elements to the cycle of man as seen in the book of Judges. They include: 1) Rest, 2) Rebellion, 3) Retribution, 4) Repentance and 5) Reconciliation. As each of these elements is considered individually, the continuation of this cycle in the lives of men today will be readily apparent.
Rest. The cycle begins with the children of Israel at peace in their relationship with God. The book of Judges introduces the people at rest after having taken the promised land in the days of Joshua (Jud. 2:7). Israel is walking with God, following His commandments and living as they should. Any time man and God are working together in unity, there will be rest.
Rebellion. The second element in the cycle begins when man decides he doesn’t need God’s laws and ordinances any longer. It is here that all the trouble starts as far as man is concerned. Judges 2:10 states, “and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” There comes a time after Joshua and the elders of his generation die that the people do not know the Lord and rebel against his commands, (Jud. 2:11). It is not that they do not know who God is, but that they refuse to acknowledge his authority. The Israelites begin to believe they do not need God, and that belief leads to their downfall.
Retribution. This third phase reveals God’s reaction to the children of Israel after their rebellion. Seven times in the book of Judges, God allows the surrounding nations to oppress and rule over the children of Israel. God does not allow Israel’s ignorance and arrogance to go unpunished (Jud. 2:14-15). His retribution is swift and consumes every aspect of Israelite society. Their freedoms are removed and they are found at the mercy of those who have never acknowledged God as their own.
Repentance. The fourth element in the cycle is found in the repentance of the children of Israel. Unfortunately, it often takes Israel until they have hit bottom and are at their most desperate before they recognize why they are in their present condition and turn back to God. The amount of time it takes for Israel to repent is varied based upon the callousness of their heart, but eventually those in Israel remember from whence their blessings come. Their hardships always remain until they show repentance and look to God for help.
Reconciliation. In the final phase of the cycle God reconciles his people back to him. He sends deliverers in the form of the judges, to release them from their oppressors (Jud. 2:18). God is always willing to forgive Israel and bring them back, but it never occurs without a change of heart and direction by the people first.
The cycle of man is not just something seen in the lives of the Israelites. Historically it is continuously observed in the rise and fall of the nations of this world. It is even being seen in our country today. This country was founded on the principles of faith in God, family, and freedom to pursue our livelihood to the greatest degree possible.
But instead of following after God, our nation has rebelled against God on a societal level. We have removed God from the public venue, denied God’s presence in the teaching and training of our children, and turned from God’s Word when it comes to considerations of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness.
Now we sit back and wonder why we are in a country that is collapsing from the inside out. We are collapsing economically because we have long ago left behind sound values of stewardship. Our families are collapsing because God is simply too old fashioned and not progressive enough for our “enlightened” society. Our freedoms are dissolving on a daily basis because without God, there is no standard of justice and principled equality in society.
If we take the lessons from the cycle of man and apply them to our own times, we readily understand that for this country to once again be the nation of freedom and prosperity we desire, it will require repentance on our part. Not the simple statement, “I’m sorry,” but a return in every level of society to the principles and teachings of God. Without that, we will continue to spiral downward until we hit bottom, as Israel did so many centuries ago.
Americans need to learn from the cycle of man. God has clearly defined the path that leads to rest, both on this earth and in all eternity; but until man determines to stop trying to make his own path, he will continue to wander as a blind man through a forest: stumbling, falling, bruising, and harming himself with no guide and no hope.