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Lest We Forget: Remembering God
The Lessons of History
It was writer and philosopher George Santayana who famously said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And yet we in the 21st-century seem to have neglected this warning. More and more people are forgetting history and the lessons that it offers. And that is a dangerous mistake.
An alarming example of this is the Holocaust. A recent survey has found that one-fifth of America's Millennials ( i.e. 22 percent) either have never heard of this horrendous time period in the 20th century in which 6 million Jews were killed during World War II, or aren't sure if they've heard of it.
Of those who do know of it, 41 percent believe that 2 million Jews or less were murdered. And sadly, two-thirds of Millennials could not identify the network of concentration and extermination camps operated in occupied Poland by the Nazis known as Auschwitz.
There are those who have speculated whether Hitler could have been stopped before the bloodshed of World War II. Could they have seen the signs early enough to put a stop to him before he got so powerful? But the real question is, are there new Hitlers on the horizon and can they be stopped before it's too late? But we can never answer that question if nobody remembers that the Holocaust ever took place.
How quickly we forget the past that has made us what and who we are. That is why holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the 4th of July are so important to our National well-being. They are not simply holidays we use as an excuse for celebration and picnics, or the gathering of family and friends. They are times of remembrance to remind us from where we came and to cause us to contemplate where we are going as a nation. They also allow us to remember those who have given up much for our freedom and the precious ones who have given all in dying for our country.
In looking back at the past, it's as if the people of history are calling out to us: "Don't forget what happened here!" Don't forget the price we paid for you!" "Learn from our mistakes!" "Learn from our victories!" "And please don't lose what we gave up our blood, sweat, and tears for you to possess!"
I. God's Salvation History
If human history is of great importance, God's salvation history is important beyond measure for it is of eternal value. From before the foundation of the world up until now, God's plan of redemptive history for mankind has been in his mind and has been unfolding. We see a small glimpse of it in the Garden of Eden when God promised to crush the head of Satan in Genesis 3:15. And we can read how it worked it's way through history with the saving of the righteous Noah and his family from a worldwide judgment by way of a flood (Genesis 6-9).
And then there is the Lord's choosing of Abraham through whom he started a nation and a people for his name. He made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. This passage states:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
It was to Abram, later to be called Abraham, that the Lord promised a land and a seed. The size of Abraham's descendants was to be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore (Genesis 15:4-5; Genesis 22:16-18).
Through the Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob, we see God's promise expand with the 12 Tribes of Israel and also his saving of his people from starvation through one of those 12, Joseph, whom he put into Egypt as the second in command to Pharoah himself to make sure they were taken care of properly (Genesis 25-50).
It was by the hand of Moses, who was given the Law and charged with the job of leading his people of Israel, that the greatest salvation event recorded in the Old Testament took place. The Lord delivered the people of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt to take them on a 40-year journey into the Promised Land. However, it was because of their disobedience that a whole generation missed the opportunity to receive God's promise.
When the new generation entered the promised land, the people went through cycles of disobedience leading to oppression by outside nations. They cried out to God who sent Judges to deliver them over and over in the book of Judges.
A major change in the life of the people of Israel occurred when the monarchy began. After the first King Saul was replaced for disobedience, King David who was a man after God's own heart was chosen. To him, the Lord gave what has become known as the Davidic Covenant in II Samuel 7. In it, there are seven promises. They included:
- A sure land for Israel forever
- No more affliction from nations forever
- A Davidic kingdom forever
- The fatherly care of God forever
- A Davidic house forever
- A Davidic throne forever
- An eternal covenant
It is not until the New Testament that we find out that it is through the Messiah, Jesus that all of these promises found in the Davidic Covenant will be fulfilled. He is the King who will reign upon the throne of his father David forever. And it is he who will bring salvation history to its long-awaited conclusion.
II. The Past As Prelude to the Future
Unless we understand the past, given to us in the Old Testament, we will never quite comprehend where we are now as God's people, the Church, or where we will be in the future. The past is a prologue to what will be and a key to knowing how God will be working in our future.
Because of disobedience and a refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah who was to come, Israel has been temporarily set aside (Romans 9-11), making way for what Paul has called the Mystery in which Jews and Gentiles are being saved by grace through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and placed in one group called the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; Ephesians 4:1-16). We are now living in that period of time which will end at the Rapture or Catching-up of the Body of Christ to be with him forever (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), and the continuation of the fulfillment of the prophecies given to Israel. Paul teaches that all Israel, meaning national Israel, will ultimately be saved (Romans 11:26). They will finally accept Jesus as their Savior and Messiah and will be united under him as their Sovereign and Lord.
The final destination of all redeemed humanity is the New Heaven and the New Earth in which Jesus will reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for eternity (Revelation 21:1). Those who don't will be eternally condemned and separated from God and his Christ (Revelation 20:11-15).
III. The Past As Our Tutor
The people of Israel were warned many times about the consequences of forgetting their God and his care for them. Even before they entered the promised land after leaving Egypt, the Lord warned:
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).
It is easy centuries later to judge Israel for their failure. However, to learn from history is not to condemn them as much as it is to allow their failure to be a warning to us. What was written has been placed there for our learning, according to the Apostle Paul (Romans 15:4). It is so easy today to worship the gods of success and materialism rather than the one true God and to think that we have gotten the wealth on our own. We are that generation today who are in danger of forgetting God.
A major lesson that we can learn from the past is that God is faithful in rewards for our faithfulness and obedience. He is also just in meting out consequences or judgment for disobedience. For those who don't know Christ, this means the tragedy of an eternity separated from the one true God. For the Christian, it means a loss of rewards and the shame of standing before God and seeing parts of our life burned up as useless wood, hay and stubble before our eyes at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:12-15).
In the end, it is not just the people of the past that are calling to us. It is God himself. He is saying: "Don't forget what happened here!" Don't forget the price I paid for you!" "Learn from the mistakes of my people in history" "Learn from their victories!" "And by all means please don't lose what I gave up my blood, sweat, and tears for you to possess!"
The choice is ours. Let us remember the past, remember God and choose to follow him into a brand new future. And when all is said and done, perhaps it will be others looking back to us as role-models for our service to Christ in history. Lord make it so!!
© 2018 Jeff Shirley