By Rick Ezell
Scripture’s clarion call is to remember God. God told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15, English Standard Version). God’s name and his acts are to be remembered forever. “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (Psalm 105:5).
Many of the Psalms describe God’s actions. The prayers of the saints recall God’s work. The sermons in Acts recount God stories. Tangible reminders like the scroll of remembrance (Malachi 3:16), phylacteries (Exodus 13:9), and trumpet blasts (Numbers 10:9, 10) ensured that the Israelites would not forget God.
Today, the Bible, worship services, traditions, and prayer serve as remembrance tools.
We forget what we do not call to remembrance. Samuel Johnson was right: “Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.” Let us, therefore, remember God.
Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the Past
Our faith requires a disciplined remembrance so we can interpret our present circumstances in light of God’s faithfulness in the past. When people had a fresh knowledge of God’s mercy and faithfulness, they responded with wholehearted obedience. In fact, failure to remember resulted in problems. In Judges we read, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth” (Judges 3:7).
During the 19th century, many Irish people immigrated to America. A young Irish boy stowed away on an American-bound ship. At sea, the ship struck an iceberg, beginning to sink. Safely aboard a lifeboat, the captain looked back at the ship, seeing the young stowaway coming out of hiding. The brave captain ordered his lifeboat back to the sinking ship. He rescued the boy, putting him in the seat the captain had vacated—the only available place in the lifeboat. As the lifeboat pulled away from the sinking ship a second time, leaving the captain to go down with his ship, he yelled out to the boy, “Son, never forget what has been done for you today!”
I suspect he never did.
In like manner, we are to remember what God has done for us. The psalmist wrote, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5). Dr. Dennis Kinlaw observed, “Disciplined remembrance is institutionalized in biblical faith because we are called to interpret our present circumstance in light of God’s known faithfulness in the past.”
Remembering God’s Relevance in the Present
Reverence for God’s work in the past is merged with his relevance in the present. Through various festivals and celebrations the Jews were reminded of God’s accompanying presence. These feasts served as reminders of God’s work in the past while affirming his significance in the present.
The Sabbath was a reminder of the Lord’s rest at the end of the creation week. God commanded his people to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath reminds us that God is our Creator.
The Old Testament highlights four annual Jewish festivals: Passover, The Feast of Weeks, The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Each memorialized significant events and mighty acts of God.
During the Passover meal and on the eve of his death, Jesus looked at the bread he had broken and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul recorded the words of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). The word remembrance means to make vivid, to make real, to recall and make contemporary the reality of the deed. In this case, remembering Jesus’ words, life, deeds, and death brings life to us.
At sunrise on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, 350 Japanese war planes flew through a mountain pass on the island of Oahu and rained death and destruction on Pearl Harbor. Thousands of servicemen were killed or wounded. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the day of the sneak attack, “a day of infamy.” The national battle cry with which the United States entered World War II was “Remember Pearl Harbor!”
The Lord’s Supper, like the Jewish festivals, is not a battle cry, but a call to remembrance. The Lord’s Supper is more than a meal; it is a memorial. When we share in the bread and cup we have not only the responsibility of receiving but also remembering. Jesus was saying “Never forget what has been done for you on the cross.”
Remembering God’s Direction in the Future
Dr. Kinlaw notes, “The Hebrew was called to walk, as it were, backwards into the future.” When Joshua and the Israelites came to the Jordan River, the Israelites stared as turbulent water raged past them. The river was at flood stage, eating away at the shoreline.
Joshua halted their fears, ordering the priests to step out into the water. The water peeled back, piling upstream. Millions of Israelites walked across. After the crossing, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight’” (Joshua 4:2, 3).
Each priest lifted a huge stone and hauled it from the riverbed to the new camp in the new land. These stones would serve as a reminder, a signpost among the people. Whenever their children would ask, “‘What do those stones mean to you?’Then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (vv. 6, 7).
Remembering God’s might and faithfulness would see Israel through the rough waters and tough crossings. The stones reminded them that God was faithful in the past, he was with them in the present, and, he would direct them in the future. As God had come through before, he would come through again. Remembering gave them the confidence to move on.
Memorials, like Joshua’s stones, become tangible memory aids that help us regain access to the reality of God’s manifest goodness and power in the past as we continue our life’s journey into an unknown future.
W.T. Purkiser, editor of Herald of Holiness, wrote, “Let us determine to make the past a steppingstone and not a stumbling block, a compass with which to chart the course and not a pier at which to dock the vessel.”
A sad and poignant refrain runs throughout Scripture: “My people have forgotten me.” How sad to be forgotten. Do we remember God? May we never forget him—his faithfulness in the past, his reality in the present, and his direction in the future.
Rick Ezell is a minister and freelance wrier in Naperville, Indiana.
Old Testament Times of Remembrance
Passover commemorated the final plague on Egypt when the firstborn of the Egyptians died and the Israelites were spared because of the blood smeared on their doorposts.
The Feast of Weeks was celebrated seven complete weeks, or 50 days, after Passover (Leviticus 23:15, 16, Deuteronomy 16:9); therefore, it was given the name Pentecost. This celebration credited the Lord as the source of rain and abundant harvests (Jeremiah 5:24).
The Day of Atonement came on the 10th day of the seventh month. It was the day the high priest entered the inner sanctuary of the temple to make reconciling sacrifices for the sins of the entire nation.
The Feast of Tabernacles combined the ingathering of the crops of the field (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:39), the ingathering of the produce of the threshing floor and winepress (Deuteronomy 16:13), and the dwelling in booths (Deuteronomy 16:13), which were to be joyful reminders to Israel (Leviticus 23:41, Deuteronomy 16:14).
(This information is adapted from Holman Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.)