Over the last several weeks, we’ve focused our Lenten reflections on the warnings Paul gave to the believers in Corinth to “not crave evil things, as [the Israelites] also craved.” He talked about the idolatry, the immorality, and the grumbling the Israelites did in their desert wandering between Egypt and the Promised Land, reminding us that because of these things, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”
Now I’d like to go back to the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10, when the story Paul leads with makes us think his message is going in a different direction:
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
If I didn’t know what comes next, I would think Paul was about to tell us how blessed our ancestors were, how we should be like them and receive these same miracles, provisions, and guidance from the Lord. Because truly, God had done great things for Israel. Moses used this same argument in trying to get the people to obey and follow God:
“Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done.” (Deuteronomy 11:1-7, emphasis mine)
There’s one word in Moses’ speech that all the rest hinge on. Without this one word, obedience is unlikely, love is half-hearted, and faith is impossible. What is the one word upon which all these others rest? Remember. Because the Israelites didn’t remember what God had done for them, most of them never found their way out of the wilderness.
How could Israel forget waking up to rivers of blood, locusts covering the whole earth, and the other plagues God brought down on Pharaoh for their freedom? How could they forget the blood on the doorposts and the agonizing cries of the Egyptians as the Israelites gathered their own living children and fled from Ramses? How could they forget walking between those towering walls of the Red Sea and seeing Pharaoh’s army swept away into the sea when the water suddenly swept back at the mercy of gravity once again?
They forget God’s miracles in their lives the same way we forget His miracles in our own: by focusing only on the circumstances and crises of today. Forgetfulness blinds us to God’s miracles, while remembering gives us a glimpse of God we might otherwise miss.
But there’s more to remembering than just looking back. The word translated “remember” in Deuteronomy 11:2 actually is וִֽידַעְתֶּם֮ (wî·ḏa‘·tem), which is translated “to know” in other translations. It means to “know by experience,” or “to be acquainted with.” It’s the same word used in Exodus 6:7, when God promised Moses that he was going to get the Israelites out of Egypt and out from under the heavy hand of Pharaoh.
“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”
So when Moses asks Israel to remember that God has done great things for them, he’s not only asking them to recall the blood and the locusts and the Red Sea. He’s asking them to remember the God they know. The God who did these things for them, under a lasting covenant, because of love.
So on this fifth Wednesday of Lent, as you ask yourself, “What miracles is God performing in my life?” don’t just look around. Look back. Look deep into the heart of the God you know and who knows you. Recall the times when God has done great things in your life in the past. What circumstances did you attribute to coincidence or serendipity that you can now trace to the hand of God? What miraculous timing or provision or comfort did God provide? What suffering have you endured or crisis have you weathered in the past that God was not present for?
In my own life, I think of jobs offered and taken, diagnoses made and endured, friends who showed up at just the right time, and even envelopes of money that appeared when I needed them the most. Were they miracles, according to some strict definition? Maybe not. But were they my Red Sea, my blood on the door post, my relief from slavery? Absolutely. And if I don’t make myself remember and see then I’ll likely forget and continue to be blinded from all God is doing in my life even now.
Even now, God works on our behalf, his invisible hand moving heaven and earth to accomplish his purposes. Even now, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and mediates on our behalf. Even now, the Spirit lives within us, a source of power unlike any other given to us and for us to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
Even now, we can remember and see that the God who has done great things for Israel and great things for his church is the same God who does great things for us. We can remember and see and believe.
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Artwork by James Tissot, public domain.