Remember not to Forget!
Sometimes we hear the antithetical instruction, “Remember not to forget!” That is because it is human nature to remember things that should be forgotten, and to forget things that should be remembered.
The words remember and forget appear with some frequency in Moses’ instruction to the Children of Israel, found in Deuteronomy chapter 8. For example, we find both words in verses 18-19, where we read, “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.”
We have all heard of various ways to improve memory. Nutritionists suggest that eating certain foods such as fatty fish, dark chocolate, and blueberries may help. Studies indicate that physical exercise is beneficial. You may have heard that tying a string around your finger will assist you in recollecting something important. Noticing the string will supposedly cause you to remember why you tied it on your finger, which will then help you recall what you wanted to remember. However, we do not see many people with strings tied around their fingers, so that technique must not be very helpful. Most of us probably make notes to ourselves or put reminders on our phones when we need to remember something.
While certain actions may help us remember, how do we forget what should be forgotten? That may be more difficult than remembering! However, there is a solution. Since it is very difficult, if not impossible, to think about two things at once, the next time something God wants you to forget comes to mind, replace that thought with a memory of what God wants you to remember—something you are thankful for! If we occupy our minds with gratitude from our hearts, it will be difficult to simultaneously entertain thoughts that are contrary to a spirit of thanksgiving.
The Israelites’ problem: a heart condition
Reflecting again on Moses’ admonition about remembering and forgetting, a case could be made that the Israelites suffered from memory loss. The Psalmist put it this way: “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea” (Psalm 106:7). The Israelites provoked God multiple times after that as well, when they failed to remember His goodness.
However, Israel’s problem was not with their memory. It was a heart condition rather than a mind condition. We read in Numbers 11:5-6 that the people remembered what they should have forgotten. They said, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.”
At the same time, they had forgotten what needed to be remembered. They had forgotten how hungry they had been, and the day they stepped out of their tents in the morning and found “upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14). The “small round thing” was God’s provision for their nourishment. They did not know what to call this food the Lord had given them to eat, so they called it manna. Although that manna had sustained them for almost four decades, they forgot God’s blessing in supplying it for them.
They also forgot the suffering they had endured back in the land of Egypt. Exodus 1:13-14 relates that “the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.”
They forgot that when they cried out to God, in His love and mercy, He heard their cry from Heaven and sent them a deliverer. They forgot how they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, and how God had slain Pharaoh’s army that followed them. They forgot how God led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, gave them water from the rock, and fought for them.
Moses—an example of remembering
Moses stands in contrast to the Israelites, who had problems properly remembering and forgetting. At the age of 120 years, Moses had no such problem. As the people were about to cross Jordan into the Land of Canaan, he reviewed their history, including the Law that God had given on Mount Sinai. With clarity and courage, he helped the Children of Israel remember what they had already been taught. He had not forgotten, and he did not want them to forget. He admonished them, “All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do” (Deuteronomy 8:1).
Moses was speaking to a new generation, many of whom had not been born when the Children of Israel met with God at Mount Sinai. Those who were nineteen years of age and under at Sinai no doubt had memories of that quaking mountain and the fear-inducing experiences of that day. They remembered when Moses came down from the Mount and his face shone so brightly that he had to cover it with a veil. Moses wanted those who had witnessed it to remember it, and those who were too young to understand it or had not been born yet, to remember what they had been taught.
It is important for us to remember what we have been taught as well. You may or may not remember the first time you came to church. Many in our congregation are blessed with a godly heritage that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Some in this service today have no memory of the first time they came to the house of the Lord because they were carried here as infants. If you do not remember your first church service because you were young at the time, that is a blessing for which you should thank God! However, whether or not we have a heritage in the Gospel, each one of us have current blessings for which we should be grateful.
What we want to remember
We want to remember the commandments of God. Jesus summarized them for us in the New Testament when He said, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). To love in that manner is to comply with the first four Commandments, while loving our neighbor as ourselves fulfills the remaining six commandments. We want to remember these every day!
We want to remember the day we experienced salvation. God offered us the opportunity to pass from death unto life; we offered Him our unconditional, non-negotiated surrender. There were no terms attached on our part. However, there were terms on God’s part. He required that we yield to His way, confess and forsake our sins, and turn from the world toward Him. When we came to the point where we gave our whole lives to God, such as they were, what a transformation He made in us!
We want to remember the consecrations we made subsequent to salvation. As we continued to seek the Lord, we promised Him that we would go anywhere, do anything, endure any hardship. Even if we did not use those exact words, that was the purpose of our hearts. We were determined to stick with the Gospel, and by the grace of God, we want to remember our commitments to God, and do our best to fulfill them day by day.
We want to remember the challenges that God has taken us through. Moses told the Children of Israel to remember the way God had led them through the wilderness. We can look back at times we faced difficulties that seemed like “wilderness” experiences. Perhaps at the time we could not see how we could get to the other side, but here we are! Even if we face another wilderness today, as we look back and remember the fact that God helped us in the past, we will be strengthened to believe that He will do it again. We want to remember God’s mighty deliverances!
We want to remember that God has promised to guide us. The Children of Israel had the pillar of the cloud by day and a fire by night to lead them. Jesus has promised that the Holy Ghost will be our Guide, and the Word of God will give us direction. We do not have to go through this life alone. The Lord will continue to lead and guide as He has done in the past.
We want to remember our destination. God promised to bring the Children of Israel into a good land. We read in verse 10 of Deuteronomy 8, “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.” We have a destination that is far better than Canaan. There are battles to fight and challenges to face before we get there, just as there were for the Israelites. However, we want to remember them only because God gave us the victory.
Why we must remember
It was important for the Israelites to remember the leading of God because the time would come when their children would ask, “What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you?” (Deuteronomy 6:20). The elders among them would be able to respond with a history lesson, explaining what they remembered from their past or what they had been told by their grandparents and great-grandparents. Like the Children of Israel, we want to remember what God has done for us so we can pass it on to the next generation.
Moses exhorted the Israelites to “remember the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 8:18). As we begin a new year, let us remember God—the One who saved us and who has taken us through from the day of our salvation until now. Let us recall how God has helped and guided us. There is great blessing in reflecting on His goodness, His mercy, and His provision for us, and giving Him thanks!