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Remembering and forgetting… these are two words that appear in the Bible often. In fact, to many who have grown up in the church or read the Bible for years, we tend to ignore these without asking the obvious questions that we should be asking. God forgets and needs to remember? In our English language, we view “remembering” as a focus on recalling or bringing certain thoughts, memories, or ideas back into our mind. We would probably describe “forgetting” as a failure to bring certain thoughts, memories, or ideas back into our mind.
In Genesis 8:1 we have one of those moments where God has to remember. “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” Did God wake up and slap himself on the forehead, suddenly realizing he left Noah out bobbing around on the waves? The answer would be yes, according to our western definition of remembering but the Hebrew word for remember (zakhar) is best defined by “do a favor for”, or “come to the aid of”. Every time we read in the text that God remembered it is an action, in Noah’s case God acted on the promise he made that Noah’s family and the animals would be rescued from the flood.
Genesis 30:22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. Again, “remember” focuses on the action, not the mental activity. God paid attention to Rachel’s needs, listened to her prayer, and answered it. He intervened (remembered)
Forget (shakach) is also broad in definition meaning to ignore, neglect, or disregard a person or covenant, or to not act on a request. Deut 4:23 Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. The emphasis is on the action, be careful not to disregard, neglect, or ignore the covenant of the Lord your God, it is not focused on the mental activity of literally forgetting the covenant!
Let’s look at Jeremiah 23:39 Therefore, I will surely forget you and cast you out of my presence along with the city I gave to you and your ancestors. God is saying he will disregard his people, he didn’t actually fail to recall they exist. Interestingly, forget is almost never used in combination with sin. Often it does say that God will not remember (take action on) our sins, or in some cases, he does remember (take action on) sin. Hosea 9:9 They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.
This takes us to a conversation on forgiving and forgetting. Choosing to forgive and forget an action someone took against you really involves a choice to forgive and then disregard or not act upon what they did to you. Maybe it is to ignore what they did because let’s face it, when horrible things happen to us at the hands of another person, especially another Christian, we can never truly erase it from our minds.
And sometimes we feel guilty about that…
But maybe it is not about erasing our mind because that would be a real Western mindset, maybe it is about the Hebrew idea of forget… to disregard it or even more important not to act upon it…
Not seeking payment or revenge for sins committed against us
Trusting God is hard, it shouldn’t be but it is…
When he has shown his love over and over again I still find it a hard lesson to learn. And then I am reminded of Joshua and the Israelites. In Exodus God rescued them from the Egyptians by allowing them to cross the Red Sea. In Exodus 14:16 God tells Moses “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” This only required a little bit of faith on behalf of Moses and the Israelites, Moses raised his staff and all night long the wind blew the water back so Israel crossed on dry ground. This is a case where God moved first.
When we come to Joshua 3 something different happens. The Israelites have been on the move for 40 years and are finally about to enter the promised land by crossing the Jordan river at Jericho when the river was at its flood stage. Many thousands of Israelites are traveling up the Kings Highway, and people knew that they had several victories as they traveled through the desert. Now they face a barrier, a river at flood stage. While the Jordan River is not very wide, it goes from about 1500 feet above sea level at is beginning to 1400 feet below sea level when it reaches the Dead Sea, it is a fast-moving river, especially during the flood season.
Joshua 3:15-16 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.
Did you catch that?
The priests had to put their feet in the water before God acted. In the area across from Jericho it is not a nice sloping bank where you can dip your foot in, you have to go all in… a fast-moving, flooded river where the water is above your head as soon as you step off the bank. And God says step off first. If they hadn’t, they never would have entered the promised land to be a people who were called to a different life. A people who were to be his witnesses to the world, to live according to his ways so that the world could see what it looked like to live for God with all their hearts.
God is not only bigger than the desert that the Israelites wandered in for 40 years, he is bigger than the Red Sea, the Egyptians, and the Jordan River but have we made God the Lord of everything?
What are the Jordan Rivers in your life, the barriers that keep you from following God’s will for your life? What step of faith is God asking you to do in order for him to act?
Being present is something I think our culture struggles with every day. We are in a conversation but our minds are elsewhere, or we are in a meeting at work and our minds are distracted. We are so overwhelmed with information and media and busy schedules that it can be difficult to focus on the task at hand, even for me.
Think about it…
Have you ever been in a situation where you are constantly thinking about being somewhere else other than where you physically are? I began a new book by Lois Tverberg “Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus” and came across an interesting thought on a passage from Exodus.
In Exodus 24:12 God has summoned Moses up to the mountain. “The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” While we look at this as Moses going up to the mountain to wait, rabbinic commentary on this would read more like “Come up to me on the mountain and be here.” Oddly enough one would think that Moses is already there if he came up to the mountain. Our English would translate it as “stay here” or “wait there”.
Rabbi Mendel, a nineteenth-century rabbi, had spun a sermon from this passage. He commented “If a person exerts and ascends to the summit, it is possible to reach it, while not being there. He stands on the summit of the mountain, but his head is somewhere else.” It is possible to go somewhere and not really be there. It is entirely possible to spend a lot of money and time to get to a destination while your thoughts remain at the original point of departure. The rabbi imagined God telling Moses not only to come up Mount Sinai but to be there fully, with complete attention and concentration. As if on this momentous occasion of giving Moses the covenant, God wanted Moses to be there in body, mind, and spirit.
This is great advice for our own time and culture…
As Tverberg points out, “this is very helpful advice for reading the Bible. As you read, do your best to be there. In our cellphone-saturated world, some of us need to go into airplane mode and detox so our heads quit buzzing, just so we can think straight.” As hard as it is, we have to be present in our walk with God. It doesn’t “just happen”. It takes intentionality and purposeful decisions to stay engaged with our heavenly Father.