The fourth chapter...
I remember listening to a sermon series called “Pause” by Andy Stanley, a pastor in Georgia, a few years ago. Actually, I only listened to one sermon, but I have never forgotten the title, “Pause.” During the one sermon I did listen to, the speaker discussed temptation. In this presentation, the solution to all temptation was this idea of pausing (long enough to consider God), considering the consequences of temptation, and considering the power of God’s word in that situation. Pause. Slow down. Consider. Reflect.
Pause. I am not sure that word has ever made it into my vocabulary. I remember my progress reports through my elementary school years commenting that I was a “good student, but need[ed] to slow down;” “delight to have in class but need[ed] to slow down doing [my] work;” “hard worker but ha[d] a tendency to hurry through all work. Need[ed] to slow down.” Not much has changed over the years. I drive fast. I walk fast. I live in a hurry. My kids slow me down a bit, but instead of welcoming that change, I tend to respond in impatient leanings. I have seen this tendency to hurry in my spiritual life, too. If only I could pause, slow down, consider before rushing into an anger burst, slow down long enough to consider God before I launch into a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty in my situation. Too often, my hurry is just a lack of faith expressed in independence and selfishness. I want to do what I want to do. Hurry is just the face. So, by pausing, I could see both God in His splendor and as the delight to my soul. I must pause long enough to remember God in my situations. I am convinced that remembering will save me/us from so much sin. And, unfortunately, I am not alone. Let’s see what God was trying to accomplish in the Old Testament.
The Israelites had made it through forty years in the wilderness, and they were standing on the edge of the promised land. Year after year, they had sacrificed animals, banished goats, fasted and feasted, all with the intention of remembering God. The generation of doubters died, except for Joshua and Caleb, and Moses recounted all the laws to the new generation in the book of Deuteronomy. The word “remember” is used 14 times in this book. Remember that you were slaves. Remember God. Remember and do not fear. Remember. He exhorts them to remember. In Deuteronomy 32:45 “. . . when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” Take to heart truly means, allow your remembering to affect your life.
Remember. It is your life.
And when Joshua took over the leadership of the Israelites, the first thing he said was, (you’ll never guess) 13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’”
They unanimously said that they would remember. They would follow God’s laws. They would be different. And they did, I guess. They marched into the land. They trusted God. They destroyed the enemies, at least most of them. At the end of Joshua’s life, he exhorted them to serve the Lord as he and his house would do. Choose you this day whom you will serve, and they chose God. At least that generation did.
It didn’t take but a generation for these children to forget God. Consider these indicting words:
“11And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.
12And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger.
13They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.
14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.”
That doesn’t sound like remembering.
They forgot. They got plundered by neighboring tribes. They cried out to God who gave them a judge to deliver them. They remembered temporarily until the judge died. And then they forgot God and followed the other gods of the land. More than once it is said of this generation, “They did what was right in their own eyes.” So much for the Passover feast and the Day of Atonement and countless other festivals. So much for the Law of life and following after God. So much for remembering God.
It doesn’t get much clearer than Judges 8: 34: And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.
Brutal. Ouch. Done.
The Israelites ended up blaming God. They say they needed a king, like everyone else. They did not realize that God was and is their King. If they would have just remembered Him, they would have been blessed. God would have cared for them. They would have it made. But, God is gracious. He gave them a king. But, Saul, the first king, did not remember God. He bowed into the pressure of the people, made excuses for his disobedience and eventually lost his life. David remembered God. David was a man after God’s own heart. In the Psalms, you will find David remembering God’s beautiful law. Psalm 103 captures his heart to remember.
“1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. . .”
“5I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. 6I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah.”
But, he too, forgot long enough to kill another man and commit adultery.
Solomon, the third king, had it all, but he forgot God amidst money, women, and power. His words from Ecclesiastes summarize his sad epitath: Ecclesiastes 12:1–2 “1Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” The kingdom unraveled soon thereafter and this led to a shattered nation of forgetters. The twelve nations were split. The north, Israel, made up of ten nations, had nineteen kings over the next generations and none of them pleased God. In the south, Judah, made up of two nations, had twenty kings and only eight remembered God.
The prophets painted the picture of their lack of remembering during these times of rebellion and the consequences therein.
Listen to Isaiah:
“10For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, 11though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.”
“1The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
2‘Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem,’ thus says the Lord, ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
3Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the Lord.’
4Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel.
5Thus says the Lord: ‘What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
6They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’’”
“32Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.”
“43Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things, therefore, behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord God. Have you not committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations?”
“3‘O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!
4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
5O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.’
6‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Prophet after prophet, spoke for God, pled with the people of God to remember, but they refused. They plugged their ears and just plain forgot. Spiritual amnesia to their peril.
Even the prophets sometimes forgot God and his love for the nation. We see this clearest in the life of Jonah. When God called him to Ninevah to preach the gospel to this corrupt nation, he went the other way. It took a few days in the fish for him to come around.
“7When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”
Because the Israelites forgot, God scattered the northern tribe to Assyria and allowed the southern tribe to be captured by Bablyon. The northern tribe were forever scattered but He remembered his covenant with Judah and after seventy years of bondage, they came back to the promised land in three waves. Things were not looking too good at the end of the Old Testament, but God was not through, yet. He gave two hints as to how he was going to solve this problem of forgetfulness.
The first is found in a prophecy and promise in the book of Malachi, that 400 years later, there would be a forerunner, a prophet, who would help people remember the words of Moses. God was initiating the process to help his people remember by bringing someone to prepare the way for Jesus.
“4‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.’”
Second, a promise from Ezekiel 36:24–28.
“24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
God is going to do a special work to help us remember, but I will discuss more (a lot more) on this later.
Let me just say this: it is clear that had the Israelites paused a bit more to remember God, as He commanded, they would have saved themselves a lot of heartache. God commanded and pled with the Israelites from day one to remember Him. And what we see written throughout the 39 books of the Old Testament is what happens when a people forget their Maker.