Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
It’s been said that there are three signs of old age: the first is memory loss… and I forget the other two.
While it’s healthy to laugh at our occasional forgetfulness, the humour can mask the distressing reality of those who suffer with memory problems, both for the person themselves and for their relatives and friends. Writing about his mother’s loss of memory, the film director Luis Buñuel says: ‘You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all… Without it, we are nothing.’
Significantly, theologian John Swinton’s book on dementia bears the subtitle ‘Living in the Memories of God’. It’s not what we remember about ourselves that matters so much as what God remembers about us. Our being remembered by God provides our ultimate source of identity and hope.
In this is great comfort: for all that we might forget, God remembers.
The first two chapters of the book of Exodus cover a period of over 80 years. God is barely mentioned, but a turning point comes at the end of chapter 2 in the verses cited above. Spot the verbs: God heard, God remembered, God looked, and God was concerned, or (as the English Standard Version translates) God knew. Some of the words are picked up in Exodus 3:7-9 when God commissions Moses, and reaffirmed in 6:5 when God says: ‘I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.’
God remembered – as he did with Noah (Genesis 8:1) and Abraham (Genesis 19:29) and Rachel (Genesis 30:22). It’s not that he had forgotten. It’s that he is now ready to act. God’s ‘remembering’ gives the exodus a significance beyond the immediate predicament of the Israelites. God is now making good on a prior commitment – his covenant with Abraham, his plan for the salvation of all nations, a plan in which we by his grace are included.
Along the way, we might sometimes find ourselves wondering where he is and what he’s doing. But he hasn’t stopped listening to us, he hasn’t forgotten us, he hasn’t closed his eyes to us. Wherever we are this week, and whatever we’re going through, he hears, he remembers, he sees, and he knows.
Our brand new Bible study resource, Exodus: Freedom to Serve God is written by Antony Billington and available to pre-order now.