Today is the 95th Anzac Day commemoration. The motto of this remembrance of what the Diggers did is “Lest We Forget”. The phrase comes from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem “Recessional”. We use it of other important historic events, including the Holocaust.
It is an important principle, and very biblical. Both Testaments warn us constantly of not forgetting, and exhort us to remember. The main references are about what God has done on our behalf. The book of Deuteronomy uses this idea on numerous occasions.
Deut 4:9 for example says, “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. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
The context here is the covenant God had made with his people at Horeb forty years earlier. As Eugene Merrill comments, “Thus Moses urged that his people take utmost care lest they forget what they had seen with the result that the whole episode and its meaning completely escaped their memory. And this must be an ongoing reflection, one that remains part and parcel of the experience of that generation and every one to follow.”
Memory and obedience are always linked in these passages. As P.C. Craigie states, “Religious life did not consist, however, only in remembering the experience of God in the past; memory, rather, functioned in order to produce the continuing obedience to the law of God.”
Consider also Deut 6:10-13: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
The blessing of God can become a curse if it results in God’s people forgetting God and becoming reckless in their faith. As Chris Wright comments, “There is no embarrassment in Deuteronomy in anticipating the abundance and richness of life in the land that lay ahead. God’s desire for the people of God was (and still ultimately remains) a full life, enjoying the gifts of creation. But equally there is no illusion regarding the likely behaviour of the people; in the enjoyment of the gift they might forget the giver.”
The many calls to remember, to take heed, and to remain obedient were very important indeed. But sadly Israel seldom took such warnings seriously. As J.A. Thompson notes, “The later history of Israel is replete with instances of a people who failed to heed this warning.”
A similar thought is found in Deut 8:10-14: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Wright explains why forgetting is so tragic: “Forgetfulness is not merely a matter of amnesia. To forget the Lord involves at least two things. . . . First, it means forgetting all the history of what God has done for them, both the lessons of the hard times (vv. 2-5) and the blessings of the good times (vv. 7-9). . . . Secondly, forgetting God is defined in verse 11b as moral disobedience, as failing to observe God’s commands.”
The New Testament also calls us to recall what God has done, and to take seriously what has happened in the past. A key passage here is 1 Cor 10:11-12: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
The reference to the ages to come reflects Paul’s understanding of believers living between the ages: the old age is still with us, but the new age has broken in. Anthony Thiselton reminds us of some practical implications concerning this notion of living in two ages:
“Because Christians still live within the continuing world order, they must guard against presumption and heed moral exhortation; but because they belong to the new age, they have access to a definitive disclosure of God’s will and access to divine grace in Christ. Their relation to the old underlines the need to take warnings seriously (v. 11b); their relation to the new addresses doubt and anxiety on the journey of pilgrimage, self-discipline, and growth.
We get this two-headed approach of course as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper: we look back to what Christ has done for us at Calvary, and we also look forward to his final consummation of all things and being reunited with him.
Today we are all encouraged to recall the sacrifice of those brave young men who gave their lives so that we might enjoy freedom. In a more important manner, we are exhorted to daily recall the saving acts of God which came at great sacrifice, so that we too might be free.
We are all too prone to be forgetful here, and to quickly overlook or ignore all that has gone into our tremendous salvation. We must keep in mind what Christ has done for us, and regularly exhort one another about this. A.W. Tozer offers this apt closing word:
“Let me remind you of the journey of Jesus Christ to immortal triumph. Remember the garden where He sweat blood. Remember Pilate’s hall where they put on Him the purple robe and smote Him. Remember His experience with His closest disciples as they all forsook Him and fled. Remember the journey up the hill to Calvary. Remember how they nailed Him to a cross, those six awful hours, the hiding of the Father’s face. Remember the darkness and remember the surrender of His spirit in death. This was the path that Jesus took to immortal triumph and everlasting glory, and as He is, so are we in this world!”