It’s funny–“remember,” like “thank,” is also a transitive verb (see last Sunday’s post). We need to remember something for the word to have meaning.
Many people remember blessings this time of year. We Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, where we remember the good things that have been a part of our lives during the past year, and we sometimes remember the Pilgrims and their thankfulness to Squanto and to God for helping them through that first horrible winter; other cultures have harvest-related festivals as well. The ancient Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths every year. Many Jews still celebrate it by building little shelters out of natural materials to help them remember how God provided for their ancestors as they wandered in the desert after being saved from slavery in Egypt.
Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (www.promisedlandministries.wordpress.com)
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a special time of remembering for a group of formerly exiled Israelites. Like the Pilgrims who arrived with very little, the small group who returned to Jerusalem had struggled to rebuild their homes and to protect themselves. But now, safe and sound, they gathered around the scribe, Ezra, to listen to him read from the Torah (one of the first five books of the Christian Bible, also called the Law). As they heard and remembered what God’s Word said, they wept. They had not truly been worshipping God as he desired, and his Feast of Tabernacles had been ignored. Nehemiah, however, implored them to celebrate and enjoy a feast, because now they understood! It was a sacred day!
If you think about it, it might have been just as easy for the people to remember, not God’s blessings and return from exile, but instead, the long years of slavery, being chased by Pharaoh, eating manna for forty years, or all the battles to win the Promised Land, or the time of exile and being far from all that was familiar. But in Nehemiah’s day, remembering brought a wave of tearful worship and sorrow at having been distant from God. They remembered God’s miracles, his provision, the land that he had given them, his faithfulness from generation to generation–and they were thankful! Nehemiah 8:12 says that the people celebrated with great joy and they shared what they had with those who had nothing. Listening to God’s Word prompted the formerly exiled Israelites to remember, to be thankful, to worship God, and to serve.
Do you have an exile story? I remember living in Tokyo twenty-five years ago, and rediscovering my love for the Bible through a small Bible study I attended at my church there. Lonely and surrounded by foreign ways of doing things, I learned to depend on God’s presence in a new, more intimate way. Like the Israelites who listened to Ezra read from the scroll that day, by the time I returned home to the United States, I was so thankful and full of joy for the way God had been with me and prepared me for the next phase of my life that the desire to serve and worship him has never faded. Like I’ve said before, it is the only reason why I write.
“Thank” and “Remember” are two powerless words unless attached to something significant, like remembering God’s rescues, blessings, and Word, and thanking God for the same. What is your exile story? How has remembering and thanking God changed your life? Share it in the comments!