Summary: God's chosen people must recount His mighty acts among themselves.
“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Dt. 4:1,2). Keeping the law was to be Israel’s fame among the nations. Israel was not to be known for its wealth (although Solomon’s riches were immense); not known for its military power (although David was a fearsome warrior); not know for its diplomatic muscle, physical prowess, beauty, or culture. None of these was to define who Israel was as a nation. Israel was called to be a people of obedience, of observance, of “wisdom and understanding.” They were called out of all nations to be God’s own: “For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance” (Dt. 32:9). When Israel prays, their God is near. God always loved His people. And He gave the Law to help Israel love Him and be faithful to Him. Old Testament scholar (and fellow Anglican) Peter Craigie put it this way: “The life of the Hebrews as a nation would depend on the law, not in a totally legalistic sense, but in that the law was the basis of the covenant, and in the covenant rested their close relationship to their God” (Craigie, 129).
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely” (Dt. 4:9). Israel must watch closely, must keep their hearts pure and blameless. That same word translated as “keep” in verse 2 (“but keep the commands of the Lord you God that I give you”) and and “observe” in verse 6 (“Observe them [the decrees and laws] carefully”). Keep the commands and keep yourselves.
But it is easy, too easy, to forget the deeds of God. “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor” (v. 4). “Only be careful…so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your hearts” (v. 9). What happened at Baal Peor? It was there that the Israelites joined with Moabites in worshiping Baal, engaging in fertility rites, and God sent a plague that killed 24,000. To give some perspective, that would be like 2 million people in the United States dead. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami left 230,000 dead in its wake. Baal Peor was a tragedy etched into the mind of the nation. But like the 2004 tsunami, hurricane Katrina, or September 11, the memory fades year by year.
So too I know God’s work in my own life, but I must constantly recall it and fight to hold on to and keep fresh the memory. For Satan bombards us with diversions and irrelevancies and “urgent” thing, so that what is truly important we forget. Like Martha, we easily become “worried and upset about many things” when only one thing is needed (Lk. 10:41). We must choose the better part.
We must constantly recall the great deeds of God. This attitude pervades the Psalms. “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds. So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name” (Ps 63:3,4). “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:11,12). “Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God” (Ps. 86:8–10). We need to remember the great wonders, awesome deeds, fearful acts that God has done.
Do you remember a great thing that you did or that happened to you? A trip, party, a present? How do you keep that memory fresh? How do you keep it alive? You recount the event. You write about it in a journal to preserve the details while they are still fresh—we have the Bible and the Lives of the Saints. You tell your children and your grandchildren about it, and anyone else that will give ear. This keeps it fresh in your mind and instills the memory in others—we have Sacred Tradition, the “good deposit of faith that was entrusted to us” (2 Ti. 1:14).
Saints, we are not here to bury the Church! God is not dead. “Faith of our fathers living still / in spite of dungeon, fire and sword: / O how our hearts beat high with joy, / whene’er we hear that glorious word: / Faith of our fathers, holy faith, / we will be true to thee till death.” The faith of our fathers still lives in us, and we plant the seed of life in others. Man apart from God is dead, at best in the process of death and decay. We are here to take the talent that we were given and pass it on to our children, and that with interest.