When I was a young kid, my dad used to repeat Proverbs 26:11 to my siblings and I. The verse says, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”
With a dog or two always around the house, there were many chances to remind us of this valuable lesson as we watched one of the foolish dogs lap up what he just regurgitated. The Proverb illustrated to us that a fool will not learn from their mistakes but will actually repeat it. Like a dog who re-eats the “poison” his body just got rid of, a fool forgets the mistakes that were made before them and actually repeats it.
Likewise, a people, a nation who forgets their past, simply cannot learn from the mistakes made before them. And so they are like a dog to its vomit, like a fool to his folly. Lacking wisdom and discernment, the arrogant fool cannot learn from the past and therefore, simply repeats it.
However, those who possess wisdom, humbly remember the past and seek to learn from it. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about those who are wise in contrast to those who are foolish. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Fundamentally, in order to fear the Lord, what must you do? You have to remember God! Those who are wise do what? They remember God’s Word and apply it to every area of their lives. On the contrary, those who are foolish do what? They forget God’s Word and choose to play the part of god instead. And as the Proverb says, fools actually despise wisdom and instruction. They do not want to learn from those who came before them and offer them instruction.
Just like the Bible has a lot to say about wisdom, so too, does the Bible have a lot to say about remembering and forgetting. The two actually go hand in hand. One of the first things we learn throughout Scripture is a lesson about God’s own memory. Does God ever forget his people? Of course not! God always remembers His people. This is a part of God’s character. He honors His covenant that He made from the very beginning.
What’s a current physical reminder that we have today that shows us that God remembers His covenant between us and every living creature? A rainbow in the sky! In one of the first stories of the Bible, we read of God “remembering” Noah and all the living things. After Noah and his family exit the Ark what does God do? He provides the sign of a rainbow as a reminder to Himself and His people. God said, “I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 9:15)
Over and over again, the Bible talks about God remembering His people and the covenant he has made with them. God remembered Abraham when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by saving Lot. (Genesis 19:29) God remembered Rachel and opened her womb to have a child. (Genesis 30:22) When the children of Israel groaned because of their bondage in Egypt what happened? The Bible says, “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked up on the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.” (Exodus 2:24-25)
After Moses’s first attempt to get Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, Moses is discouraged. He asks God why He has sent him. What did God say to Moses? He reminds Moses by saying, “And I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.” (Exodus 6:5)
So over and over again, God remembers. And guess what? Because we are made in His image, He expects and commands us to remember Him and His covenant as well. We don’t get a free pass nor does God take forgetfulness lightly. A great example for us to look at is the eighth chapter in the book of Deuteronomy. The entire chapter by Moses is dedicated to encouraging the Israelites to remember the Lord.
The chapter begins by telling the Israelites that they must be careful to observe every commandment that God has given so that they can “live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-2)
By keeping God’s commandments, the people are doing what? Remembering God! They are remembering that He commands them to live a specific way. And what happens when we are obedient to God? He pours out His blessings.
However, Moses quickly warns the Israelites saying, “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes, which I command you today…” (Deut 8:11). What will happen if they forget? Curses. Moses then goes on to provide a long list of curses that they will experience if they fail to remember God’s Word and are disobedient.
As Moses concludes his speech to the Israelites he says,
“And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God.”
Now fast forward. Before Moses dies, God tells Moses to do one more thing. God said, “Now, therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 31:19) So before Moses dies, God wants him to teach the Israelites one more song. Why does God command Moses to do this?
God explains by saying, “Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them.” (Deuteronomy 31:21) God knew that the Israelites were a forgetful people and that they were inclined to be unfaithful. And what better way to remember, to etch into one’s memory, than the power of a song.
So in Moses last act before he died, he spoke all the words of this song to the people of Israel. (Interestingly, on the same day that Moses spoke the song to the Israelites, the Lord told him to go up to Mount Nebo to die.) The sole purpose of the song was to remind the Israelites not only what God has done for them but what He will continue to do for them as well.
Like all of us, the Israelites needed to be reminded. Moses reminded them that they were a perverse and crooked generation. He even had to remind them of a very basic belief, that God is their Father. Moses said, “Is He not your Father, who brought you? Has He not made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32:6) He then tells them, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you….” (Deuteronomy 32:7) Remember, God has been with them the entire time, guiding, protecting and providing for them and we can’t help but wonder how could they forget about God?
But these people have constantly complained against God and against Moses, (even suggesting at times that they were better off in Egypt as slaves). What would a nation of ungrateful people remember? The trouble they had. The times they didn’t have any water to drink. The times that they didn’t have any meat to eat (remember God daily provided them with manana daily that wasn’t good enough). Or maybe the time they were afraid to enter Canaan and cried out that it would have been better to die back in Egypt or in the wilderness.
Ultimately, when the Israelites complained against Moses and against God, what did they forget? They forgot what God had done for them. They forgot that it was God’s grace that brought them out of Egypt. It was God’s grace that separated the Red Sea so that they could escape the pursuing Egyptian chariots. It was God’s grace that provided their daily needs.
They forgot to be thankful for what God had done for them. Instead of looking at life through the lens of grace and thankfulness, the Israelites were an unthankful people. Truth be told, it wasn’t that they didn’t remember that God brought them out of Egypt, rather, it was just that they held a distorted view of it. They believed that God had failed them, that they knew better than Him and that they would have been better off if they would have stayed in Egypt as slaves.
It wasn’t that the Israelites as a nation were all experiencing deteriorating memories because of their aging brains. They would have been better off for that to happen! Rather, their forgetfulness was due to their inability to look at their lives, to look at their past, and to see God’s sovereignty as something to be thankful for. Forgetfulness is a direct result of being unthankful.
When the Israelites forgot what God had done for them, when they forgot that God had orchestrated their Exodus out of Egypt (they couldn’t have done it themselves), that God fed them (He provided daily manana), that He protected them (Who departed the Red Sea?), and so on, they were ungracious to God. They complained. They moaned. They turned their back on God and sought gods made by mere men.
Over and over again, they had to be reminded of God’s sovereignty, of God’s omniscience, of God’s providential hand working in all things. They forgot that God was in control. They forgot who He was. They were a forgetful people and their forgetfulness caused them to stumble. In fact, the consequence of a forgetful Israelite generation was perishing in the wilderness instead of entering the land flowing with milk and honey.
Later on, what happens in the book of Judges in the Bible? What happens over and over again? The Israelites forget about God and obeying His commandments. They turn their backs on God. Consequently, God becomes angry and brings in a pagan nation to oppress the Israelites. After they endure suffering, they suddenly regain their memory of the one true God. They call out, pleading for His mercy to deliver them. This happens over and over and over again.
Now look at our culture today. We, too, have forgotten God. We have forgotten what He commands us in His Word.
But why? Why have we forgotten? Because we have failed see how God has providentially orchestrated all things in our own personal stories. In times when we have experienced comfort, wealth, health and success we become cocky and arrogant. We believe it was due to our own efforts, not by the grace of God.
When our stories experience a period of heartache, trial or tribulations, we complain and groan against God, acting as if we know better than Him. We shake our first at God. And again, we fail to acknowledge how God has providentially orchestrated all things in our lives.
There is no doubt in my mind that it was painful for the Israelites to hear Moses recall their failures. But their failures were a part of their story. And God commanded Moses to not only recall their story, reminding them of where they have come from and where they are going, but to consciously teach the Israelites so that “it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants.” (Deut 32:21) By hearing of their failures, of their adultery with foreign gods, of “forgetting the God who fathered you” (Deut 32:18), Moses was teaching them to learn from their past mistakes.
Therefore, like the Israelites, we too, are to remember the past so that we can learn from it. As Christians we are called to remember the past to constantly remind ourselves of God’s grace. Even when we recall the hardships and trials that we’ve endured, we take great comfort in knowing that God is sovereign and in control of all things. We are thankful for His providence. We are thankful for what God has done in our lives.
As a Christian, I can look back at my past, my families past, and remember that I serve a sovereign God. I can learn from psalm writer, Asaph, who cries out to God because he is troubled. In the beginning of the Psalm, Asaph asks if God’s mercy has ceased and if His promise has failed. However, what does Asaph say? He says,
“But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph….”
So what should we do? Remember God’s wonders of old. Remember God’s commandments. Remember what God has done for you. Remember that God is in control of your life, your story.
In all areas of life, remember God and His Word. Teach your children and grandchildren your stories so that they can see how God has worked in your life and theirs. Talk about God when you are enjoying a meal together, working in the garden, or riding in the car. Talk about God and His word, lest you be like the Israelites, who failed to remember.
Take time to remember God and all that He has accomplished in your life. Take time to remember what God has providentially done in your parents and grandparents lives. Remember the road that God has brought you to in this specific time and place right now. Remember God’s covenant that He has made with you, His people.
Lastly, share your story with other people. Interlaced in your life story are reminders of God’s sovereignty. Pass them down to the next generation, helping them to remember God lest they forget.