I am somewhat of a forgetful person. If you want me to remember something you’re currently telling me a year from now, then you must tell me twice. Or maybe even thrice. Once would almost never do. I may remember you saying you were going to travel, but forget where exactly you said you were traveling to. And while I might remember that you said you paid such and such an amount of money for this or that item, I probably would forget the amount paid. So, I often need to be told something twice before it sticks, and I have found myself needing constant reminders about the things that matter the most to me.
A study I did on the tenth and eleventh chapters of Deuteronomy, in preparation for a sermon I recently delivered, has had a tremendous effect on me. In those two chapters, Moses gave a speech to the nation of Israel as they prepared to finally enter Canaan after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
While many themes stood out in that unforgettable speech delivered by Moses to God’s people, what I have been unable to forget—what has stayed with me days after I have closed the text and even read other parts of the Bible—is Moses’ constant reminder to the Israelites to not forget who God was and his place in their story. One of the central messages Moses had for God’s people can be summed up in a sentence: You shall not forget.
In both chapters, Moses was telling them not to forget who God was. For Moses it was important that Israel remembered that it was God who set his heart in love on their fathers, and that it was God who chose them—the children of Abraham—to become his people (10:15). Moses didn’t want them to forget that God is just, he is not partial, and he can never take a bribe from anyone (10:17). It was important for them to also remember the greatness of the God who had done many terrifying things that they all had witnessed (10:17,21).
Moses was telling Israel not to forget what God had done. He had multiplied them and made them as numerous as the stars of heaven (10:22), delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh (11:3-4), and was about to bring them into a land that flowed with milk and honey (11:10-12). They were to love and serve this God with all of their hearts, souls and might.
Moses was spurring Israel to a loving obedience to God, strengthened by their knowledge of who God was and what he had done for them. If Israel had been searching for reasons to lovingly obey God, Moses gave them two really good ones—they were to do so because of who he was and what he had done for them. The prophet urged them to lay up his words in their hearts and their souls, binding them as a sign on their foreheads and frontlets between their eyes (11:18).
They were not to forget. They were to try their best not to forget. They were to consciously set their hearts on the great truths that Moses had brought their way. They were to seek opportunities to remind themselves of those precious words.
But the Old Testament is proof that Israel did forget. And whenever they forgot the truths about God and his deeds, revealed to them through his prophets, they plunged themselves deeper and deeper into sin and disobedience. They followed the pattern of their neighbors and worshipped idols. They disregarded God’s law and embraced false prophets who told them that all was well when it wasn’t. Their forgetfulness led to their disobedience.
I wonder if most of our sins and acts of disobedience today are not born out of forgetfulness. I often forget who God is and how he saved me. Many times I lose sight of how much grace I have received from God. And in those moments, I act like Israel. I embrace thoughts of returning back to Egypt. I sometimes long for the days of captivity, simply because the Christian life seems too difficult.
Reading Moses’ speech made me realize that he had been teaching Israel how they were to keep themselves in obedience. And he teaches us also. He teaches us not to forget who God is and who we are. He implores us not to forget the work of grace that God has done in our own lives. Moses asks us not to lose sight of God.
There are many days when we don’t feel like obeying God’s word, and that is no secret. There will be moments and seasons when we will experience such spiritual lows that the things of God would seem tasteless to our tongues and dull to our hearing. But when those days come, we should remind ourselves of what is important. We must keep God’s word close to our hearts.
If Moses had lived on the other side of the Cross, he would have said to us: “Do not forget the Gospel.” There is safety in not forgetting the Gospel. Let us not be disobedient as they were or bow to other gods as they did. Let us not forget God as many of them did.
Moses teaches us to keep the precious truths found in God’s word very close to our hearts. I’m sure we can find more than enough reasons why we should lovingly obey and serve God revealed to us within. And when we find them, let us try not to forget. Our forgetfulness weakens our obedience.