Here’s a short paper I wrote two years ago for my Old Testament Biblical Theology class that is worth sharing. It is a subject I began to study a long time ago.
In Deuteronomy 4:9-10 Moses encouraged the Israelites, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live . . . Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God . . .” The exhortation to “not forget” or “remember” is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament. Yahweh, through the words and writings of the patriarchs, psalmists, and prophets, constantly reminds His people to remember what He has done in the past, which will enable them to trust Him in the present and future. Whenever the word “remember” is used, the implication seems to be more than just mentally recalling information; it always implies some kind of action in response to that information. Let us examine how this theme is presented.
The word “remember” is found early in the Law, in Gen. 9:15-16. After the flood, Yahweh said that when the rainbow appeared, He would remember his covenant. This visual reminder of God’s everlasting mercy was probably given more for the benefit of His people than for Him. As Yahweh was preparing to deliver His people from Egypt, we see that He intended them to tell their children and grandchildren so that succeeding generations would remember what He did so that they would know that “I am the Lord” (Ex. 10:2). He instructed them to celebrate the Passover for this very purpose (Ex. 12:14). After crossing over the Red Sea, they recalled in song God’s deliverance (Ex.15); when they crossed the Jordan, they set up memorial stones (Jos. 4:7). “God is revealed through what he does and through the recital of the mighty acts of God that shaped the nation. God’s actions in history were remembered in confessional statements such as Deuteronomy 6:21-25, 26:5-9 and Joshua 24:2-13” (Routledge 2008, 35).
We see this pattern repeated many times in the Prophets as well, where they remind the nation to not forget their covenant obligations. Yahweh speaking through Isaiah exhorts his people because they have forgotten that He is comforter and creator (Isa. 51:12-13). Jeremiah also condemns Israel for their unfaithfulness, in that they “have forgotten the Lord their God” (Jer. 3:21); he says, “You have forgotten Me and trusted in false gods” (Jer. 13:25). Ezekiel echoes the same concern: “And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord” (22:12).
This theme is clearly found in the books of the Writings also. “Memory plays a key role in the Psalter . . . Many hymns and laments call to mind God’s past acts of deliverance. Such reminders build confidence in God. He has shown himself in the past to be a reliable savior; he will do so in the present . . . Examples of this genre are Psalm 78, 105, 106, 135, and 136” (Longman and Dillard 2006, 250.) David extols the value of actively remembering God’s Word, as well as his acts, in Ps. 119:52, 55, 61, 93, and 176. Another illustration of this is found in Neh. 9, which describes how the post-exilic nation gathered together to confess their sins, listen to the Book of the Law (which they had forgotten), and recommit themselves to the covenant.
In closing, let us discuss some practical application. At the Last Supper, Jesus broke bread with His disciples, and stated, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). New Testament believers are exhorted to regularly look back to God’s mighty act of deliverance from bondage to sin through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross in the same manner as the Israelites always looked back to Yahweh’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. In addition, I have found that when we forget to remember God’s Word and His presence, it is easy to sin. Furthermore, it is easy to get discouraged when going through various trials; when one intentionally remembers God’s love and faithfulness it gives one hope (Lam. 3:19-22).
Longman III, Tremper, and Dillard, Raymond B. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Routledge, Robin. Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.