Remembrance in the Old Testament

How important is remembrance and not forgetting in Scripture? In the Old Testament, memory for the Israelites was essential as are the Sacraments.

"To remember" occurs in the Old Testament 232 times. This may seem insignificant, but "remembering" occurs in .96% of all verses in the Old Testament. While I will not argue that word occurrence determines the weight of topics in Scripture, the idea of remembrance is an idea the Biblical writers placed emphasis upon and did so frequently.

Forget Not! 

To further illustrate the importance of remembrance, one only needs to look to the antithesis of memory – forgetting. The Hebrews were repeatedly exhorted to "not forget" the Lord or the doctrine of the Torah. The Hebrew word most commonly translated “forget” or “forgot” occurs 102 times or in .41% of all the verses of OT Scripture. Together with “remember,” the topic of “remembrance” occurs in 1.37% of all OT Scripture.

To put these statistics into context, the term for "covenant" in Hebrew occurs 284 times, compromising 1.14% of OT Scripture. “To remember” and “to forget” are important, repetitive themes in OT Scripture.

Psalms Call to Remembrance 

 I would argue that the faithful Hebrew was called to remembrance very frequently – perhaps as frequently as the Psalms were sung, chanted or meditated upon. The Psalmist took special notice of both remembering and not forgetting by his frequent repetition of these words 83 times in the Book of Psalms. “I will delight myself in your statues; I will not forget your word” (Ps. 119:16). I believe it is for this reason, in part, that the Jewish schools developed such a rigorous devotion to "learn by heart" the Scriptures.

Remembrance Begins with God 

 It is of important note that the first act of remembrance in Scripture does not begin with man, but rather with God remembering man, “Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Gen. 8:1).

The Rainbow 

In God’s mercy to man after the flood, He did not create an invisible “spiritual” sign, but a physical reminder to man that could be visually grasped of an intangible covenant, “… and I will remember my covenant which is between Me and you. …The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant …”(Gen. 9:15a, 16a).

While the text states that the rainbow is to "remind" God, the sign of this covenant is meant for our benefit as God “… will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them” (Dt.4:31). God’s remembrance is assured, although at times it may feel, according to difficult circumstances, that the Lord has forgotten His covenant people as is found in various places in Scripture. But it is in faith that we have this assurance, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you” (Is.49:15).

The Word of God Written on the Heart 

Why was there such an emphasis on remembrance? For the Hebrew, it was not an act of "parroting" Scripture, but in remembrance of the works of the Lord for His people in history so they would not slip into apostasy. In remembrance of the Words and works of God, the faith was passed onto the next generation, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Dt. 4:9).

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