Summary: The Israelites soon forgot their marvellous deliverance in the Exodus from Egypt - just as we today forget God’s mercies - which is why a Remembrance Day is a necessary challenge to remember what we were, what happened and what we should be.
REMEMBRANCE DAY -THEN AND NOW
What does Remembrance Day mean to you? For some who lost loved ones in the wars of the 20th century it will have very special memories, but for most of us it’s a very necessary reminder of suffering and sacrifice by ordinary men and women in the interests of their nation and its cherished values. We commemorate this unique event every year. Perhaps we should pause to ask the question "Why?"
The trouble is we forget so soon. That’s why even small communities have a memorial column; that’s why we in Britain wear our Poppies, as a reminder, so that each generation of men and women should not forget what was done on their behalf. These memorials are there to help us to remember; they are there as visual aids to remind us of how, in the mercy of God, we’ve been delivered from tyranny ... “lest we forget”.
The Israelites had the same problem of forgetfulness. They, too, had passed through a great liberation experience. The story is well known. They had become enslaved in Egypt and were enduring harsh treatment as forced labour, probably building the now famous pyramids. Jehovah, the God of their forefathers, heard their cries of misery and desperation.
Moses was chosen by the Lord to lead the people out of Egypt in a great national deliverance that we know as the Exodus. But do you know, incredible as it seems, they were so caught up with the minor difficulties of the journey that they soon forgot that red-letter day of their deliverance from their enemy by the hand of Jehovah. They forgot that they had an obligation to God who had so miraculously saved them from a life of slavery. How like human nature to be ungrateful.
You remember how God had given Moses that moral code we know as the Ten Commandments. In the years that followed he often repeated them in stirring addresses to the young nation and there we find the words of my text for Remembrance Sunday: "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deut 5:15). The call is to "Remember". That’s why Remembrance Day is so important; it’s kept year after year so that we have the opportunity to reflect on its significance.
The words of our text are repeated 3 times in the space of a few chapters as if to emphasize the importance of the fact. They were to "remember" the past so that they might be better in the present and the future.
REMEMBER - WHAT WE WERE
At all costs the people of Israel were to "remember" what they were. They were slaves. God had done something wonderful for them; he had liberated them. It wasn’t something they had accomplished by their own efforts: they were entirely dependent on someone else’s intervention on their behalf; they were indebted to God, if only they would acknowledge it, for what he had done.
Some of us are old enough to remember wartime experiences. People of many countries occupied by hostile forces have been reduced to slavery, compelled to work under grim conditions; others, more fortunate, were not slaves, but were captives in their own countries,
enduring a virtual imprisonment under armed guard. Others served in the Forces and were captured as prisoners. It still happens today. We do well to remember them.
Captivity or worse takes place, not only in a physical sense, but, even worse, spiritually as well. We all know from our own experience that we are fallen beings. All of us have sinned; that is, we’ve fallen short of God’s standard. The Bible is the definitive source of information as to what is our state before God, using phrases like "dead in your transgressions and sins ... you followed the ways of this world ... gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts" (Eph 2:1-3).
The basic tragedy of humanity is that the people who were created by God and for God should now be living without God. Of course there are degrees of depravity. That who perpetrated atrocities had sunk lower than most, but that doesn’t excuse our captivity to anything which is alien to God’s standard. Haven’t we all got to confess that we’re tainted with the dread disease of sinfulness?
It may show itself in the more open sins of the flesh, the sort of thing the newspapers like to expose, or the more secret sins of heart and mind, of being selfish or deceitful. Yes, if we’re honest, we’re all captives in spirit in the same way as the Israelites and those caught up in war situations. But thank God the story doesn’t end there, as we follow the instructions of Moses to call to remembrance.