By Joshua Spurlock
We’re really good at remembering the “good ol’ days,” the days when times were supposedly better; the golden ages past. But do we remember our blessings? Be careful, lest your memory bring discontent and misery rather than the power that comes from using it the right way.
Not only does remembering the “good ol’ days” run the risk of ruining the present, if you’re not remembering the blessings, you run the risk of losing sight of where you are today. And if you need a lesson on history and how it’s “His story”, look no further than Parashat Devarim (Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1- 3:22).
Moshe (Moses) is about to deliver his last sermon to Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel). So where does he begin?
Back to the Beginning
It’s not an exposition on the nature of HaShem (the LORD) or the ethics of a new society—not that those aren’t important—but Moshe starts with some history. He knows that to see where we’re going, we have to know from where we’ve come.
“Beyond the Jordan [HaYarden], in the land of Moab [Moav], Moses [Moshe] undertook to explain this law [Torah], saying, ‘The LORD our God [Eloheinu] said to us in Horeb [Khorev], ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites [HaEmori] and to all their neighbors in the Arabah [Aravah], in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb [Negev] and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites [HaKenaani], and Lebanon [HaLevanon], as far as the great river, the river Euphrates [Perat]. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham [Avraham], to Isaac [Yitzhak], and to Jacob [Yaakov], to give to them and to their offspring after them.’”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:5-8, ESV
The last great sermon of Moshe Rabeinu (Moses our teacher) begins with the meeting of Yisrael with HaShem at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai, also known as Horev). It begins when Yisrael became a kingdom unto HaShem and swore allegiance to Him (Shemot/ Exodus 19:4-8, 24:3-8).
And furthermore, Moshe even goes back further by recalling to memory HaShem’s covenant to the forefathers, Avraham (Abraham), Yitzhak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob). As much as we should live in the present, we also must remember that we’re the next link in a long chain of HaShem’s faithfulness.
The truth is, the universe didn’t begin with us and it doesn’t end with us. Remembering where we come from and how good HaShem has been to bring us here is a necessary part of having a grateful heart. Considering how true that is for the genetic descendants of Avraham, I am so grateful as a Gentile disciple of the Lord Yeshua to be grafted into the family of Yisrael by HaShem!
As Shaul (Paul) says,
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles [goyim] in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ [Mashiakh], alienated from the commonwealth of Israel [Yisrael] and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God [Elohim] in the world. But now in Christ Jesus [Mashiakh Yeshua] you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ [Mashiakh]. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
– Ephesians 2:11-14, ESV
Isn’t it wonderful to remember how HaShem has chosen us in His grace?
For the physical descendants of Yisrael, it was through loving covenants with ancestors that HaShem kept through Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ), despite His people’s unfaithfulness. For the Gentiles, HaShem used those same covenants to graft them in through Yeshua HaMashiakh when they had no other hope of reaching G-d. Together, we are all saved by grace through faith—what a gift!
How can we respond with anything other than gratefulness for that? How sad if we should forget our humble origins and the great love of HaShem poured out upon us through Mashiakh Yeshua!
Remember Those Victorious Blessings
Moshe’s history lesson also follows the journey of Bnei Yisrael, including the battles they just finished fighting against the armies of Sikhon (Sihon) and Og. While that memory is still fresh, Moshe wants to emphasize it—because Bnei Yisrael are going to need to keep it in mind.
“And I commanded Joshua [Yehoshua] at that time, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God [Eloheikhem] has done to these two kings. So will the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God [Eloheikhem] who fights for you.’”
– Devarim 3:21-22, ESV
Yehoshua will hear that memory lesson again, because later, when he leads Am Yisrael (the People of Yisrael) in a miraculous journey through the Yarden (Jordan) River, HaShem has him mark the momentous occasion.
“Then Joshua [Yehoshua] called the twelve men from the people of Israel [Am Yisrael], whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua [Yehoshua] said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God [Eloheikhem] into the midst of the Jordan [Yarden], and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel [Bnei Yisrael], that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan [Yarden] were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan [Yarden], the waters of the Jordan [Yarden] were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel [Bnei Yisrael] a memorial forever.’”
– Yehoshua 4:4-7, ESV
So where are your stones of remembrance? Do you recall HaShem’s blessings of days past? Do you remember the miracles He’s done in your life? You should.
“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”
– Tehillim (Psalms) 77:11-12, ESV
“Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered.”
– Tehillim 105:4-5, ESV
But not all remembering is about recalling the best things in life. Sometimes, we have to remember the bad times as well.
Live in Humility, Not Guilt
Moshe doesn’t only recall happy reminders of HaShem’s promises and blessings. Remembering what HaShem has done for us must be comprehensive, so Moshe also narrates a brief summary of everything that happened since Sinai—including Yisrael’s worst mistake of that time.
Moshe recalls the sin of the spies, when Yisrael didn’t trust HaShem enough to take the Promised Land. This generation should know the story well, as their parents’ sin resulted in the punishment of wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.
But Moshe restates it anyway. Why? Later in Devarim, Moshe explains why we recall our past errors: history lessons are good lessons, remembered in humility.
“Know, therefore, that the LORD your God [Elohekha] is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God [Elohekha] to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt [Mitzrayim] until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD [HaShem]… Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”
– Devarim 9:6-7, 10:15-16, ESV
The human inclines toward pride, and our past mistakes can be powerful reminders of what we are capable of and keep us on track. As Shaul notes in his instruction to the servants of Messiah Yeshua from among the nations, we are to recall our humble beginnings in order to better recognize HaShem’s lovingkindess and our debt to Him.
Indeed, Shaul notes that we should be especially wary of arrogance, and remembering can help us avoid that pitfall.
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith [emunah]. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God [Elohim] did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”
– Romans 11:17-21, ESV
Shaul, who himself is a physical descendant of Avraham, and therefore a “natural branch”, took time to recall his own past sins to emphasize what HaShem had done in his life.
“For I am the least of the apostles [Shlikhim], unworthy to be called an apostle [Shaliakh], because I persecuted the church of God [Kehillat Elohim]. But by the grace of God [Elohim] I am what I am, and his grace [Khen] toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God [Elohim] that is with me.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, ESV
We should also remember, however, that the repentant are not defined by our past sins and HaShem doesn’t condemn His people who repent (Cf. Romans 8:1). Furthermore, Shaul says his focus is not on the mistakes of the past, but on the future.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God [Elohim] in Christ Jesus [Mashiakh Yeshua].”
– Philippians 3:13-14, ESV
Remembering our past should make us humble, grateful, and repentant. But it should never cripple us with guilt or regret. It also shouldn’t make us discontent today.
Don’t Envy the Past
Not all remembering is created equally. Sometimes, our memories play tricks on us, and we can even be discontent with the present as we look back fondly on the past. This is dangerous and foolish.
“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
– Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 7:10, ESV
Furthermore, if we are remembering all of HaShem’s goodness, contentment should be the result—not a mistaken longing for the days of old. We have the best we could want—HaShem and His promises; especially the reward of the Life of the World to Come.
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 13:5, ESV
So use your past and don’t be used by it. Remember HaShem’s goodness, His blessings, and His miracles. Recall the victories He has wrought in your life thus far and use them as encouragement for the battles ahead. And don’t forget from whence you came.
But don’t let the past leave you wistful and sad today, whether by envy or regret. HaShem offers you the Life of the World to Come, which begins now.
“And this is eternal life [Khayei Olam], that they know you the only true God [Elohim], and Jesus Christ [Yeshua HaMashiakh] whom you have sent.”
– Yokhannan (John) 17:3, ESV
May you call to mind HaShem’s faithfulness by HaShem’s Ruakh (Spirit) to inspire you every day, and may you continually mark new memories for good through the grace of our Lord Yeshua.