Our memories are too short. Too soon the recent and urgent replace the former important things. God knows this and encourages his people to learn to remember. He establishes systems that make sure this happens. The festivals or feasts such as Passover are one example. Sometimes God tells the people to set up physical monuments as a reminder. Stories were very important in passing this national memory from generation to generation. Eventually the stories were written down. The Jews became a people of the book.
And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand Jehovah brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that Jehovah slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast: therefore I sacrifice to Jehovah all that openeth the womb, being males; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem. Exodus 13:14-15
Moses helps the people learn to remember their deliverance from Egypt by getting them to tell the story, and by setting up a system that requires them to make an offering to redeem (buy back) their first-born. Deuteronomy 6 commands this institutional remembering:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.
The Jewish people have survived deadly persecution and widespread geographic dispersion. Yet many other nations have come and gone with little trace. John Patrick MD presents a lecture called “Why are there no Hittites on the streets of New York?” that helps explain this. For years the Hittites were dismissed by experts as a figment of the Bible, until more modern archaeology revealed their large Middle Eastern empire. But now the Hittites are gone. You will not find any living example of their race or language or culture in New York or elsewhere. Why did they disappear and the Jews survive?
Dr. Patrick says the Jews survived because they are a people of the book, the Torah, and they kept the command for fathers to teach it to their children. The family function of passing the knowledge in the book, and the virtues it taught, from one generation to the next worked. It didn’t matter where they lived or what language they spoke as long as they learned the book. Learning the book allowed them to promote the virtues that are necessary to maintain a nation. Being a people of the book let them continue as a people.
Think about America today. Do we have such a book? If we were uprooted and taken captive elsewhere, would our culture survive? Once we might have said that the Bible was our book, providing a common story, virtues, and purpose, but that is no longer true. The closest thing we have today are TV and the movies. Would they allow us to pass along America as we know it? I don’t believe, taken as a whole, that they teach the virtues that are necessary for our nation to survive.
What are you doing to remember? Start by learning the Bible and its virtues. Teach it to your children. And don’t forget to set up your own memorials to remind you of how far God has brought you (I Samuel 7:12).