This past week my wife met an elderly gentlemen in the store. Kind as usual, and sympathetic because of caring for her own elderly father, she struck up a conversation with him. He introduced himself as Bobby Bacon and offered that she had probably heard of him. When she politely stated she did not, he asked if it was okay if he mailed us something. A few days later, a package arrived with a signed copy of LIFE magazine’s cover from June 12, 1964. Turns out, 48 years ago famed Vietnam War photographer Larry Burrows snapped a photo of him leading a South Vietnamese unit on a patrol. My wife said, “it’s as if he didn’t want to be forgotten.”
They forgot. That’s what happened in Judges 2:10 when another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. One reason why we study the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, is so that we won’t forget. But we must adopt a better concept of what it means to forget – and what it means to remember – than what our modern, Western mind thinks when we hear these terms.
Judges spans approximately 330 years of Jewish history (circa 1380-1050BC). Depending on your perspective there were 17 Judges from Joshua to Samuel (some say there were 12, like the tribes of Israel, and so don’t count Joshua, Samuel and a few others). To me, much of Judges is about the preservation of the Messianic nation in the Promised Land, despite Judges 2:10, until the arrival of the Messianic family – the House of David (which is what Ruth is all about). Of note along the way, we meet Othniel (Caleb the spy’s younger brother); the left-handed, sword-toting Ehud; oxgoad-wielding (like a boss) Shamgar; Deborah/Barak and the “sleeper” of a story surrounding the demise of a Canaanite army commander; Gideon’s rise from wheat thresher to “mighty warrior”; and Jephthah’s stunning vow for victory (hint: “victory is costly”).
We also meet Samson. Famous for a lot of things, what I find interesting are his parents. His mom was barren until “the angel of the Lord appeared to her” and gave her the news that she would have a son. Upon telling her husband, he offers a great prayer that could be a model for many Dads and mentors: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” (Judges 13:8) Now that’s a prayer! When the angel of the Lord does in fact return so that Manoah can see Him, notice how there were no new instructions. The angel simply repeated exactly what He had told Manoah’s wife. That reminds me of how God’s truth doesn’t change, we just need to experience His presence for ourselves. Pay close attention too to the use of “I am” in verse 11. Sound familiar? Anytime I see those two words in the Bible, that’s a huge flag that there’s more to the story than a casual reading usually affords. The punchline comes in verse 18: “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding” (cross reference Revelation 19:11-16 sometime for the ‘rest of the story’).
There’s a pathetic end to Judges centered around the tribe of Benjamin but symbolic of all Israel’s “forgetfulness.” The writer (many say it was Samuel) sums it up best in Judges 21:25: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Sounds a lot like our modern world. What led to this less-than-stellar settlement of the Promised Land? You can say idolatry, marrying foreign wives or any number of things but Samuel himself put his finger on the exact disease that caused these symptoms. In 1 Samuel 12:9, he states: “But they forgot the Lord their God.” What Moses warned them about in Deuteronomy 8 had in fact come true.
Usually when the word “forget” is used in Hebrew, there is a much higher level of meaning than our, “oh, I forgot my cell phone” understanding conveys. To forget in the context of the Old Testament is to annihilate, obliterate or destroy. That’s what we want when the Lord says He will forget our sin but not what we want when someone screams at us, “forget you!”. To use the word in this context is to act like the thing or the person no longer exists. Ouch!
On the contrary, the use of the word “remember” in the Bible ties it with action. It is a huge, transforming event in the past that results in a transforming present. It is not a thought in the brain but a Truth lived. When the Bible says, “God remembered Noah,” it wasn’t that God went, “oh, yeah! Noah, I almost forgot.” It was God acting on the fulfillment of a promise made. When the “Lord remembered Hannah” it wasn’t Him thinking back to that time in the temple when Eli thought she was drunk, it was Him fulfilling His commitment to her for a son, Samuel. And what do you think happened to the thief on the cross when he asked, “Jesus, remember me when You enter your Kingdom”?
Now with our new appreciation for forgetting – what it means to forget – and remembering – what it really means to remember – let me ask a question. Since most of us have settled in our own promised lands, have eaten and are fairly well-satisfied…have we forgotten God? Every Christian has a “redemption story.” Do we live the reality of that past redemption in gratitude and obedience even as we are being presently redeemed?
Here are three challenge for the week:
Matthew 5:23-24 When we remember we have ought with our brother, “put right what we know is not right in our life.”
Galations 2:10 When your day intersects with the poor (let’s redefine poor as those who are ‘extraordinarily vulnerable’ regardless of economics), remember them in a practical way like my wife did through a simple conversation with a stranger.
Luke 22: 19-20 To properly remember a sacrifice made for us is simply to make our own sacrifice on behalf of others. He gave and was poured out. Let’s go and do likewise, in remembrance of Him.