This past month, I spent a lot of time working on a theology of Messianic anticipation through the Old Testament. As I saw how God laced this theme through the stories of men like Noah, Moses, David, Hezekiah, and Ezra, I also began to notice another theme that continued to pop up in each story. I’m going to call it a Theology of Reset Failure.
Creation Reset Failure.
One of the earliest reset failures in the Bible is the Flood. After the Fall in Genesis 3, it only took two chapters for things to become completely awful: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:6). So, God determines to hit the reset button: “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land” (Genesis 6:8). The word “blot out” has the idea of wiping a plate clean. God is going to reset Creation by washing it clean with water, and things will be all better, right?
And we all know how the story goes. Noah builds an ark. Forty days, forty nights of rain. A year floating in an ark while the earth is wiped clean. As readers, we might be fooled into thinking the Flood has fixed the wickedness and sin that filled the earth. But just as we get our hopes up, God makes this promise: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).
The Flood was a reset failure. God flooded the earth to show us that even if he flooded the earth a thousand times, sin would come charging back because sin is pent up in the heart of man. Re-Creation needed to start in the heart, a place no world-wide flood could ever wipe clean.
Generation Reset Failure.
After 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, God rescued his people and brought them through the wilderness to the banks of the Jordan River. In one year, they had gone from hopeless slaves to standing on the edge of the Promised Land. However, after a poor report from ten spies, the people blamed Moses, Aaron, and the Lord for bringing them to the land of Canaan to be slaughtered. In complete faithlessness “they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt!'” (Numbers 14:4).
So, God decided to hit the generation reset button: “Your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness…but your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected” (Numbers 14:29, 31). So, forty years and twelve chapters later, the entire old generation was eliminated. Moses took a new census of the people: “But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai, for the LORD had said of them, ‘The shall die in the wilderness'” (Numbers 26:64-65). The generation was reset, surely this would fix the rebellion and disobedience, right?
God brought this new generation back to the banks of the Jordan. As Moses prepared the people to cross over, he said something strange: “But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:4). They did enter Canaan and conquer the land. However, in Joshua’s final speech, he was brutally honest: “You are not able to serve the LORD…” (Joshua 24:19). And he was right. Just two pages over in Judges 2, we read, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:11-12).
God hit the reset button to prove that no matter how many times he wiped out an entire generation, the next generation would fall right back into the same rebellion and sin. Moses knew that the only solution was for “the LORD your God [to] circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all of your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6).
Zion Reset Failure.
After many years of sin and wickedness, God finally did what he had promised: He sent his people out of the Promised Land and took them into exile in Babylon. The city and the Temple were leveled. For seventy years, the land rested from sin and evil. God was hitting the reset button on Mt. Zion.
God brought the exile to an end when he commissioned Nehemiah to bring exiles back to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He empowered Ezra to reset the Temple and the Levitical priesthood. Everything was starting fresh. The people reentered Jerusalem, the priesthood was re-purified, the covenant of Moses was reinstated.
Ezra and Nehemiah had barely finished getting everything reset before problems began to creep back in. The people began to intermarry with the pagans in the land, and “there were found some of the sons of the priests who had married foreign women…” (Ezra 10:18). The people began to defile the Sabbath, again. One of the priests began to rent out a room in the temple like a condo. It was found that the chief priest’s grandson had married the daughter of Sanballat–the mortal enemy of God’s people!
God hit the reset button on Mt. Zion to demonstrate that no matter how many times he flattened the city of Jerusalem and no matter how many times he destroyed the Temple and re-purified the priesthood, sin and pollution would quickly return. He could exile his people a thousand times, but each time he brought them back, they would fill the land once again with sin.
The Anticipated Messiah.
These are just three examples. There are countless more instances where God hit the reset button to prove that hitting the reset button was never going to work. God wasn’t surprised by any of these failures. He didn’t hit the reset button for his sake. He did it for ours. The only way we could see how desperately we needed the Messiah was to show us all of the ways that wouldn’t work. Flood–not gonna work. Kill off the generation and start over–not gonna work. Wipe out Jerusalem and temple and rebuild it–not gonna work. Our anticipation only grows as we see that every attempt to clean the outward parts of mankind will never last. The Messiah must come and bring a re-creation of the inward part of man. He must circumcise the hearts of this generation. His royal priests will only be able to draw near to Mt. Zion “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, [after having] our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).