Perry Coghlan’s note of Facebook this morning reminded me of this piece I wrote a few years back.
Memory is very important in realizing who we are. As we grow older, loss of memory becomes one of our major concerns. Our bodies may deteriorate to the point of difficulty in performing even the most menial tasks, but sharpness of mind and memory remain essential to us. The reason for this is simple. Who and what we are is closely connected to our past, and it is our memory that makes that connection. The way in which that past is remembered determines who we are. As our memories falter, parts of our past are lost. Remembering past achievements and gains, and building upon them, is what allows us to continue in a forward progression, instead of constantly re-inventing the wheel. Forget your history, and you quite easily forget just who you are. Forget where you’ve been, and you can’t remember where you are going.
Scripture also speaks of the importance of remembering. In passages too numerous to list here, God’s people are constantly admonished to remember the Lord, remember His works, remember His commandments, and remember His covenant. One of the major themes of Scripture is the fact that God’s people are to be a people of great memory, as they think on the wonders of their sovereign God and contemplate His goodness to them.
It is the covenantal relationship between God and His people which defines the people of God. As the covenant is re-established and revealed throughout Scripture, we see what is required of God’s people. It is through the covenant that God tells His people what it is to be holy as He is holy. The requirements of the covenant, codified at Sinai, show us what is required to be a friend of God. Regarding a chosen people, it is the covenant which should remind us who we are. It is the covenant and the works of God in establishing it that we are to remember. As we look at our memory of the covenant, we are told to remember three things – the works of God, the commandments of God, and the person of God.
After the ten plagues, Pharaoh agreed to let the children of Israel leave Egypt. God had heard their groaning as they suffered in Egyptian bondage, and He remembered His covenant promise to Abraham. As God prepared to deliver them, He made Passover, the act of deliverance from the final plague, an annual ceremony of remembrance. It was in connection with this ceremony that Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten” (Exodus 13:3). The observance of Passover and the following week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread were to remind the people of their deliverance by the hand of God. At least once a year they would be reminded of the mighty works of God as the story of their deliverance was retold.
How do we remember the commandments of God? In the old administration of the covenant, before Christ’s birth, God gave the people a unique way of doing just that. In Numbers 15:37-40 we read, “Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.'” God, knowing how easy it is to forget, gave the people a visible reminder. Just as the visible sign of circumcision reminded them of the seal of God’s covenant, so the addition of tassels would constantly remind the people of God’s commandments.
The commandments of God were given to instruct His people in the ways of the Lord. As a mirror, they reflect the image we, as God’s people, must show forth. They reveal to us what is required of the friends of God. The commandments are to be an integral part of our lives, as we meditate on them daily. Just as the tassels were always to be on the garments and in the sight of the people, so the commandments of God are to ever be before the eyes, and in the hearts, of God’s people. This aspect of remembering the covenant is so important, that God spoke of it just before the close of His direct revelation known as the Old Testament. In Malachi 4:4 we read, “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.” Even during (or especially during?) the period of Greek occupation, when direct revelation in Scripture ceased, the people were to remember the covenant and the commandments associated with it. The Messiah was coming, as God had promised, but the people had to wait, and to remember.
Lastly, God’s people are to remember God Himself. Deuteronomy 8:11-20 records the words given to Moses to speak in preparation for entering the promised land. Here Moses warned the people not to “forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes” lest they think their own power had gained the wealth which they were ready to enter the land and possess. They were also to remember that it was God who gave them the power to prosper. God knew that prosperity often brings forgetfulness, as men see the many things they have accumulated. It is easy to turn our sights away from the One who provides all our needs.
James wrote in his letter that all good gifts come down to us from the Lord. These words of Moses warn against forgetting this important fact. Just as forgetting the works of God and forgetting the commandments of God are to be avoided, so is forgetting God Himself. It is only by His creative act that we exist, and it is only through the works of His providence that we remain in existence. Without God nothing that is would exist. That is a thought which many today have not wrestled with sufficiently. It is because God is who He is that we are His people, and we are who we are. As God’s people, we are commanded to daily remember Him and His total provision and care for us.
So, how are we to make sure that we remember these things? By what means do we pass on the important things of God? In His providence, God has given us a way of doing this, and it can best be explained with these words – teach, teach, and teach. We pass on the important things of God as we teach them to others. Let’s look at two aspects of this teaching, as found in Scripture.
In His plan of salvation, God incorporated the office of priest into the old administration of the covenant. In this office, a man was chosen by God for a special set of duties. He represented God to the people as he spoke the words of the Lord and as he blessed the people. At the same time, he represented the people before God as he offered sacrifices and prayed. Also, on the day of atonement, the high priest was the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies and approach the presence of God. As the representative of the people, he would go before the Lord annually, to atone for their sins.
Teaching was another requirement of the office of priest. In Leviticus 10:9-11, God spoke to Aaron and said, “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.” God required that His priests be teachers. They would be the ones within the community and the nation who would best know the things of God because of their constant working in the tabernacle. They were required to pass on those things which they had learned. They were the authorities. This aspect of the priestly office can also be seen in Ezekiel 44:23, where God says, “And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.” In God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophets, and in Christ’s words to the scribes and Pharisees, this aspect of their office came to the fore many times. God was angry, because the priests refused to teach the people. They were too involved with their own traditions to teach the people the ways of the Lord.
Another aspect of teaching presented in Scripture involves parents, and especially fathers. As the covenant head of the family, it is the responsibility of the father to, in some ways, perform the duties of a priest. As a representative of God, he is to speak the word of the Lord to his family, and instruct them in the ways of the Lord. Also, just like a priest, he is to represent his family before the Lord, as he carries them before the Lord in his prayers. The importance of teaching one’s children can be seen in the case of Abraham.
Genesis 18 records the visit of God to Abraham just prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In reference to this coming destruction we read, in verses 17-19, “And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.'” God chose Abraham as the father of His people, so that he would teach his children. As the father and leader of this newly called people of God, Abraham would faithfully train his children and his household in the ways of the Lord as God gave him knowledge and ability.
The importance of this instruction is also seen in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. In a passage which has become a favorite of many parents in the covenant today, we read in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Here parents are told how to instruct their children. It is to be a continuous thing, as they sit, walk, lie down, and rise up. There is actually no time which is not right for teaching children the things of God. During their time in our care, we are to take every opportunity to relate our daily lives to God, and to show that relationship to our children. It is only as we do so that we truly teach them the things of God. This command to teach the next generation is repeated in Psalm 78:5-8: “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Teaching the next generation – passing on the promises and requirements of the covenant – is one of the most important duties of faithful parents. It is through this process that God has chosen to teach His people.
Having shown parents and others how to pass on the things of God, Scripture shows one glaring example of what happens when we don’t teach. In Judges 2:10 we read, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” This passage comes after two other very important passages. As stated in Deuteronomy 6, it is the duty of parents to teach their children the things of God. In Joshua 24, the covenant is renewed at Shechem, just prior to the death of Joshua. In verses 1-13, Joshua retells the story of the covenant, from the calling of Abraham to the deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of the promised land. A reading of the covenant story here takes only about two minutes. This is the story the parents are to pass on to their children. This is what they are to teach. However, Judges 2:10 tells us that they did not teach as they were instructed.
The Book of Judges has been called the saddest book in the Bible, and for good reason. It is a never-ending cycle. The people forget who they are, and they sin against God. God brings chastisement and punishment upon them, and they repent. God sends a deliverer, and the people are saved. They thankfully praise God for His care, but they soon forget who they are and sin again. As we read these stories we can’t help but ask why the cycle is not broken. Because they were not properly taught, the people do not remember the works of God, the commandments of God, and the person of God. They had no foundation upon which to build as they advanced in the kingdom of the Lord. Forget your history, and you quite easily forget just who you are. Forget where you’ve been, and you can’t remember where you are going. Remember to teach to remember.