The Bible is full of admonitions for us to remember. This isn’t a matter of simply mental cognition, but of a calling to mind the things that have been taught to us. And the purpose of such calling to mind is that we might live presently in light of situations in the past. Psalm 78 is an extended song that calls us to remember and thereby not repeat the sins of past generations. As George Santayana would later remind us in the early 20th Century, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Remembering the Mighty Works of God
The Psalmist, as he reflects on the importance of remembrance, says that it was precisely that their fathers had failed to remember the mighty works of God that they walked in rebellion. What were those mighty works of God?
- The dividing of the Red Sea (vs 12-13)
- The protective pillar of cloud & fire (vs 14)
- The provision of water from the rock (vs 15-16)
- The provision of Manna (vs 23-25)
- The provision of quail (vs 26-29)
- The judgment of Egypt (vs 44-51)
- The rescue from Egypt (vs 52-53)
- The giving of the Promised Land (vs 54-55)
Remembering our Rebellious Nature
But that is not all that the Psalmist reminds us of. It would be one thing if all these mighty acts of God were in response to the holiness and obedience of the people of Israel. Far from this, the people were in constant rebellion and forgetfulness themselves. Listen to how many times the Psalmist reminds us of their rebellious nature:
- The Ephraimites turned back in the day of battle (vs 9)
- They rebelled against the Most High in the desert (vs 17)
- They questioned God’s power to provide (vs 18-20)
- They still sinned, not believing (vs 32)
- They lied to God, flattering Him with their lips (vs 36-37)
- They turned away and acted treacherously (vs 56-57)
- They gave themselves over to idolatry (vs 58)
Why is it that the Lord consistently showed loving-kindess to such a rebellious people? We are told that it was because God remembered. While His people refused to call to mind the power and faithfulness of God, God called to mind his covenant (vs 37) and the frailty of humaity (vs 39). What was the basis of God’s redeeming work? God’s compassion. Though they deserved His wrath, He atoned. Though they deserved destruction, He showed them steadfast love.
Our Need to Remember
What should we learn from this? 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 references these same incidents in the wilderness and helps us understand their importance for us. What do stories tucked away in books of the Bible that most people ignore (Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) mean for us? They took place and were written down so that we might not desire the evil they did, but rather learn from their mistakes. If we don’t remember these stories of history, we are destined to repeat them.
What does it look like to remember? First, we must listen. Verses 1-4 are a call to listen and learn. We cannot remember what we have not heard. How often we fall into the same sins of the fathers because we don’t take time to listen! Are you regularly listening to the voice of the Lord in His Word? Second, we must pass these stories on to coming generations. The Psalmist understood the necessity of a corporate memory. Verses 5-8 include at least five generations in the passing on of these stories and their moral truths. It isn’t just that we should pass them on to our children (this is a must!), but that as we do so, we should have an eye, not only for our yet-to-be-born grandchildren, but even the children they should have. Am I teaching coming generations the Word of the Lord with conviction? Third, we need to actually believe these stories and the truths that they communicate. Verses 21-22 reveals that though the people of Israel knew these instances of God’s power and provision, the “did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power.” Wow. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much theology we know if we are not trusting in God and His saving power. Let’s face it, our kids pick up on whether or not we really believe what we are saying. Am I believing in God and His saving power today?
As Robert Robinson so memorably put it:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
May we tremble at His Word!