Do You Remember? Will They Remember?
For the first time in the history of the world a memorial was set up before the event that it commemorates occurred. In Exodus 12 Moses instructed the people concerning what the Lord God would do to the Egyptians, how they would celebrate a feast even as it was happening, and how they would keep this day of remembrance for all ages.
We know that the final great plague was the smiting of the firstborn of all Egypt. (vs. 12) God would bring this tenth and most horrible plague of judgment on the Egyptians to compel their hardhearted Pharaoh to let God's people go. This plague would come on every man and beast of the land, except those households who put the blood of a lamb on their door. Those houses, and only those houses, would the Lord "pass over." (vs. 13) In preparation for this night the people would have seven days of preparation. These days would begin and end with a holy convocation, (vs. 16) and the whole week would be marked by eating unleaven bread. (vs. 15) The people would forever commemorate deliverance from Egypt with a similar preparation and feast. (vss. 17-20)
For those who observed the first week of unleaven bread and Passover the meaning couldn't have been clearer. Moses himself instructed them on what to do and the need for it. (vss. 21-23) Having just seen the nine preceding plagues, the people would have been no doubt of God's power and intent to do just as was told them. For them to observe this week of preparation and feast was not simply a matter of national deliverance, but very literally a matter of life and death. For probably the only time in all of Israel's existence, there was universal obedience. "Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did." (vs. 28)
For this first generation the meaning, procedure, time, and purpose of the unleaven bread and Passover was clear. The events of that night were so important to them as a people and the night's results so stunning (before daybreak they were headed out of a century of slavery with all the spoils of Egypt (vss. 31-38)), they could never forget it. After this night they would never again see the place of their childhood. Never again would they be under the dominion of another. Never would they even be in the same country. No, they could not forget the feast of the Passover or its meaning. But would their children and their children's children remember?
From the very inception of the Passover, Moses recognized the propensity of men to forget across generations. Memories are not genetic. I do not have any recollection of things that did not happen to me. I know of the days before indoor plumbing only as history or by brief foray to the backwoods on camping trips. My mother did not have indoor plumbing until she was in the 7th grade. She knows what this means by experience. I only know the story. I don't know if my children will know or care about the story or not. Similarly I never experienced plowing with mules, traveling by horse and buggy, log cabins, heating by wood burning stoves; hand pumped wells, or any number of other things that my forbearers knew. I know of these things only by history, but hopefully in knowing I will learn some lessons about hard work, hardship, privilege, blessings, appreciation, and the like. The aged are always sad when such accounts are forgotten for the lessons contained in them are lost on the young. If such is true in life lessons from family history, how much more sad if spiritual lessons from sacred history are forgotten?
Moses, knowing that just such a thing would happen to the children of Israel, said "And it will come about when your children will say to you, 'What does this rite mean to you?'" (vs. 26) Even with an event as formative as the deliverance from Egypt, the story would have to be told again so that the next generations would know and remember it. Moses gave instruction to teach everyone who did not know: "you shall say, 'It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'" (vs. 27)
Is it the fault of the young that they do not know? Sometimes it is, for they have not taken the time to learn the lessons taught them by their ancestors. A wealth of wisdom of available to those who would search to find it - or even just soak it in from listening to their elders. At other times the fault lines in the older generations as well, for they may not have learned these things as they should so as to pass them on, or they may have not considered such lessons vital enough to make them part of the heritage of the next generations. The old warning was "We are only one generation away from complete apostasy." Why? Because one untaught (or uncaring) group was enough to forget all that had been passed down.
How quickly can things be forgotten? A new Egyptian king arose "who did not know Joseph." (Ex. 1:8) Can saving a country from famine and being the second man only to the king be forgotten? Of course it can. Just try to name the 44 U.S. Presidents. Or name even 10 Vice-Presidents. Anything can be forgotten if it is not taught - no matter how important or serious. Joshua knew that one day "children will ask their fathers what do these stones mean?" (Josh. 4:21) Do you know what they meant? They commemorated Israel coming across the Jordan on dry land. Who could forget something like that? Those that were not taught could.
Because of the continual danger of forgetting, we are told repeatedly of the need to teach others what we know and to keep learning ourselves. The great commission included the command to "teach them to observe all that I commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) Timothy the evangelist was told to "entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." (1 Tim. 2:20)
Man is to often distracted by what is new, present, exciting, "happening," or is currently considered "relevant." What was taught in the past is often not considered to be compelling enough to capture our attention. "We already know that!" is the bored man's cry. But we are not fed a good spiritual diet when we follow fads or the latest theories. The pagan spirit of "spend[ing]... time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new" (Acts 17:21) has infected to many. What's "hot" and what's true are seldom the same. We must feed on "every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4) To some that is stale bread, but to those who are striving to know and follow the will of God, it is the very "bread of life." The true is abiding. Truth is as old as first announcement and as new and fresh as it latest application.
So many often want a newer spicier dish, but the scriptures warns against this. "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'" (Jer. 6:16) We can rest assured that these people's children would not walk in it either. Such lack of knowledge and care is the ruin of the multitudes. But the Hebrew writer even warned those who were making some effort "we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." (Heb. 2:1)
The need to be reminded and to remind others is an important and continuing need. If you cease to hear the old truths, how will you abide in them? If you cease to teach the old truths, how shall the young learn? If you cease to live the old truths, who will illustrate them to the world? "Do not move the ancient boundary Which your fathers have set." (Prov. 22:28) Remember where God has placed those landmarks - and teach your children that they might always find them as well.
By Jay Horsley
From Expository Files 7.10; October 2000