It was the kind of spectacle you or I are not likely to see in our lifetimes. For 430 years, the Israelite people had lived in Egypt, grown into a nation and gone from being welcome saviors of the land to oppressed slaves. For reference, that’s longer than the United States has existed by almost 200 years.
And now, God had decided it was time to leave. He had promised, long ago, that Abraham’s children would receive the land of Canaan, and the time was right to begin that process. As we’ve seen, Pharaoh was unwilling to lose his labor force, and so God sent plague after plague of devastating impact to strong arm Pharaoh into changing his mind.
You or I might have been convinced at the start. Even before the plagues when Moses did the miracles of the staff to snake and his leprous hand, we might’ve been, “Okay you’re clearly sent by a higher power, you can go.” But not the Pharaoh. Signs and wonders and nine plagues of him and his people suffering, and he still would not relent. It may seem excessive, but if you look throughout scripture this is exactly how God operates. Sometimes God is subtle in orchestrating our lives. But when God wants to make a point, he makes sure that he does something in a way that the only possible explanation is that God did it.
And so last week we looked at the tenth and final plague. So utterly specific that it could have been nothing other than God’s power. The firstborn of every human and animal, only the firstborn, was struck dead. Except the houses that carried out God’s instructions and sacrificed the lamb for the house and painted the doorframe with the blood. In those households, the firstborn lived. There is no natural explanation for what happened that night. It could only be God.
And it was both God’s judgment against the Egyptians, against Pharaoh himself and it was God’s mercy on the Israelites who believed his directions. The end result: Pharaoh said, go. So a nation of people packed up their stuff and left. Now, leaving turned out to not be quite as easy as that, which we’ll see in weeks to come, but for right now, in the midst of this life-changing event, God has a message for the people that he speaks through Moses:
Remember this day when you came out of Egypt, where you were slaves. For by the strength of his hand the LORD brought you out from there. Nothing with leaven may be eaten. 4Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5So when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites—the land he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to perform this ceremony during this month: 6Seven days you must eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there is to be a festival to the LORD. 7Unleavened bread must be eaten throughout the seven days. No leavened bread is to be seen among you. No yeast is to be seen among you, anywhere in your entire territory. 8On that day you are to explain this to your son, “It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” 9This will serve as a sign for you on your wrist and a reminder on your forehead so that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a mighty hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 10You must keep this regulation at its appointed time from year to year.
This is the first of two major commands we’re going to look at today, and the first of many that God would give the Israelites in the days ahead. They were to remember this day by celebrating it for a week every year. For one week they were to make bread without leaven in it to remind them of this time, and then at the end of the week they were to have a special feast that would re-enact what had taken place this past night. If God had not explained we might pause to ask, “Why?” Surely what they’d just been through was something so impressive they’d remember it all their lives, right? Well, we’ll get to that.
But God says, this is to be a sign, a reminder, a remembrance for you, something that reminds you with more than just your memories, it works in your hands and in your mind, it’s a physical thing you do that drives remembrance so that even if you do forget for a while what this was like, when you go to do these things out of tradition you are reminded of what they mean. And not only you but someday your children who weren’t there so you can impress upon them just how powerful the Lord your God truly is and how important it is to remember that he alone saved us.
In a similar way, God commands another remembrance in the next section:
11When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites—just as he swore to you and to your fathers—and gives it to you, 12then you must dedicate the firstborn of every mother to the LORD. Every firstborn of your livestock, the ones that are males, will belong to the LORD. 13Every firstborn donkey you are to redeem with a lamb. But if you do not want to redeem it, then you are to break its neck. However, you must redeem all the firstborn among your sons.
14In the future, when your son asks you, “What is this about?” you will say to him, “By the strength of his hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, where we were slaves. 15When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. That is why I sacrifice to the LORD the firstborn of every mother, the males, but I redeem every firstborn of my sons.” 16It will serve as a sign on your wrist and a symbol on your forehead. For by the strength of his hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.
In a very real way that evening, God spared the life of every one of their firstborns. And so, God said that in the future all the firstborns must be dedicated to the Lord. For some this meant a sacrifice. For some, it meant a sacrifice on their behalf. Either way, it was another, constant reminder just like the yearly festival. When it was done it sparked memory of that fateful night. It was a sign by doing and remembering of what the Lord did for them. And when it was done and the children asked why, it again became a moment of teaching to impress upon them the power of the Lord God who saved them.
So while we’re here then, let’s circle back to the question of why. Wouldn’t you think something so life-defining as what they’d been through that night would stick with them? That there could never again be a question of who was God and that they needed to absolutely obey him? That they would be forever grateful for his grace and mercy in freeing them and saving them from the angel of death that night?
Yeah. You’d think so.
But perhaps more than anything, the story of the nation of Israel as a whole exists as a cautionary tale for us of how quickly and easily God can be forgotten, or ignored, or misshapen by poor teaching and bad memory. As the story of Exodus continues, we’ll see how quickly these people lose their gratitude and forget their faith in God or forget their fear of God.
And that’s to say nothing of their children after them.
All this was WITH the benefit of the remembrances God established. And it wasn’t just these, he had more to come later. But so many forgot so quickly. So many lost faith so quickly. How? Why?
Perhaps before we dive into the how and why we should first ask ourselves: do we really have any cause to look down on these people for forgetting? Do we do any better remembering what God has done for us?
Look back and ask yourself: Who is it who has gotten you through all the troubles in your life so far? Who is it that bled and died in your place so that you could be spared eternal suffering? Who rose from the dead to show you that your sins are truly forgiven forever? Who took a heart that hated God and turned it into a heart that loves him, that wants to serve him? And so who is it that you owe your life to?
It’s all the Lord. It’s all God. He’s saved you in a way far more profound than leading you out of a nation that used you as a slave. He has watched over you, cared for you, loved you and in his power brought you to this day in faith.
So… why do we forget him so quickly? Why when the next trouble strikes do we panic? Do we tremble? Do we do like we’ll see the Israelites next week and cry out in fear? Or if you’re like me freeze in anxiety? Or do we hold fast to God’s saving love, knowing that we are built on a rock that can weather any storm? And when those around us, especially our children, struggle… what do we use to comfort, support and build them up? Is it world wisdom and platitudes… or the same certain truths of God’s love?
I’m going to guess you don’t bat 1000 on this one. In fact, I’m going to guess that our reaction in the moment of troubles is to forget God more often than not. This brings us back to the most important question. After everything God has done for us: why? Why do we forget?
My friends, because faith in God is not like any other fact you learned in school or knowledge about a book you read long ago. I still remember basic math skills, and I still remember my brother’s birthday, and I still remember the plot of Hamlet, even without using those things day to day. But faith in God is different.
Your faith, your trust in God to save you is something special that God gives you through the Holy Spirit. It is a new creation planted in your heart. But it exists in a hostile environment. The old you, that hated God, is still there. And every day it’s there clawing away at that faith trying to destroy it. That new self, that trust, faith, and knowledge of God needs daily support to stay strong and it doesn’t need it from you, it needs support from the same place it came from: from God.
It is God’s promise that in his Word and in his sacraments we are fed, we are nourished and we are connected to his power in a way that keeps our faith alive and strong. And the sacraments are another kind of remembrance God has given us, one directly connected to his power that also engages the senses in ways scripture does not. But staying connected to God’s Word doesn’t HAVE to mean that we are only reading and studying our Bibles. We absolutely SHOULD, don’t think I’m saying otherwise, but it doesn’t have to be limited to JUST that. God’s word is anything that conveys to us the saving truth that we are sinners who need a savior, and that God provided that savior in Jesus Christ.
A song can remind you of that. A painting can remind you of that. A cross on the wall can remind you of that. Lights on a Christmas tree, lilies at Easter, anything you choose can remind you of that and bring those truths back to the forefront of your mind. And at the same time, can provide moments to teach the next generation why.
Our own worship space is filled with them. There are reasons behind almost everything in our setup, from the altar, to the pulpit, to the symbols, the banners, to the way the Pastor doesn’t step up to the altar at the start of the service. It’s all carefully designed remembrances so we remember our God, remember Jesus and have the opportunity to teach when someone says, “Why do we do this?”
Friends, my simple truth, my simple call to action this week is this: Remember the Lord in many ways. Look around your life and ask yourself: What have I put in place in my life to remind myself regularly of my God’s love for me? Of what he has done for me? Of what he continues to do for me daily? Do I use the remembrances I have? And more importantly: what more remembrances can I establish so I never forget, and so my children never forget exactly what God and his salvation mean for us all?
Ultimately, let those remembrances drive you back to his Word, to study, learn, and grow your faith. God has done and continues to do amazing things for you. There is an enemy within that wants you to forget these things. Give yourself every advantage every day to remember, to connect to the Word, to build your faith constantly so that you never forget.