Lessons from Israel: No.20 : Remembrance
Ex 13:3-6 Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites–the land he swore to your forefathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey–you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD.
At first sight you may be tempted to think we are covering the same ground as we have covered in a previous meditation, for we have previously considered Israel’s instructions to pass on the memory of what has happened to their future generations. Here, however, we focus much more on the need to remember. A much missed truth about Christianity is that it is a faith that is built on history and that is true of the Jews and Judaism as well. Thus we find the Lord, and later the prophets, continually speaking about the past. We have already seen the Lord at the burning bush describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, i.e. the One who had had dealings with those men, dealings which had been passed down through the generations. It was vital therefore to remember those things.
One of my favourite sayings, and I don’t know who said it originally, is “the one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing”, i.e. we are notoriously bad at learning from the past. History was never a favourite subject of mine at school, although I have came to appreciate it much more in latter years, especially so as I have come to realise its importance as far as the Christian faith is concerned. The truth is that God has revealed Himself to us through history and that history is recorded in the Bible, and it is very important therefore that we read it and remind ourselves of what is in there, again and again. That, really, is the purpose of these meditations.
Speaking of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Moses is instructing the people to “commemorate this day,” i.e. remember it and celebrate it in the future. At the moment they are just on their way out of Egypt, but he is looking forward to the time when, “the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites,” i.e. when they eventually enter the Promised Land. In the verses above he spells out what they are to do – hold a seven day feast when they don’t eat any bread containing yeast: “Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders,” (v.7). Then he explains why they are to do it: “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” (v.8) That is the essence of why they are to do it, so that it will act as a reminder to them and to future generations that, on that day in the year, they left Egypt so hastily that they had not had time to properly prepare bread, letting the yeast rise in it.
Thus ‘unleavened’ bread or bread without yeast became the symbol or reminder of the haste of that exodus. He continues, “This observance will be for you like a sign ….For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.” (v.9) Israel existed as a nation because the Lord had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and made them into a special nation. When He gave them the Ten Commandments, they were prefaced by, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2) Yes, there had been dealings with the Lord with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the big issue as far as them being a nation, was the fact that the Lord had come down and delivered them from being slaves and made them into a unique nation through whom He could reveal Himself to the rest of the world.
Without any doubt, the history of mankind has been one of gradual development and we have had to go through each previous stage to get where we are today. If you stop and think about it, the world could not have suddenly had nuclear energy two thousand years ago, say, because to create such energy requires an incredible amount of knowledge and technology, and both have been developed gradually in the human race. Now the same has been true in a large measure, in respect of the revelation of the Lord. He has revealed Himself to us through history but that has been a gradual process. At certain points in history there have been specific things that gave a great leap forward in our knowledge of Him. His encounters with Abraham brought some knowledge, but this period of history with the bringing into being of the nation of Israel is a major leap forward. The coming of Jesus, the Son of God from heaven, was the biggest revelation, but our understanding of Him has continued to grow as the centuries pass, as we come to take hold of His word and see more and more how it applies to our lives and to this world. We are STILL learning what it means to be to be the children of God, the church, and that is evidenced by the many weird and wonderful expressions of church that there are around the world. The counter to these are to go back to His word and check out what we find there. We don’t add man’s traditions or our own bright ideas!
Again and again we must go back to our history as recorded in the Bible and, even, check it against how the church over the past two thousand years has sought to apply it. Only thus do we learn what it means to be the people of God. We need continual reminders, we need to be continually provoked by the past that we may learn how better to live in the present. No wonder Moses went on, “You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.” (v.10) No wonder, again and again, he says, “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (v.14) It is all about remembering what God has done and learning what it means for us today, for He is the same today as He was yesterday (Do you remember the sixth meditation, ‘The Eternal One’?) Don’t despise history; we need it. Don’t mutter when your preacher brings the same teaching again and again; we need it! Let’s learn from history!