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In Remembrance

If God “remembers” does that mean He forgets?

Throughout the Bible there are many occasions where we’re told that God remembers. But if God remembers does that mean He forgets? As Paul the Apostle would say, “certainly not!” It’s impossible for the Creator of the universe to forget anything unless He willfully chooses to do so (as He does with our sins when we repent and trust in Jesus Christ). So, what then? Unlike our modern concept of remembering, in Scripture and Hebrew thought remembrance isn’t linked to forgetfulness but rather to action. After all, the Hebrew term for “remember” (zāḵar)[1] is a verb (which is an action word).[2] To illustrate, let’s look at ten times God remembers and then acts in Scripture.

1. Genesis 8:1

This is the Bible’s first use of the verb “remember” and here God remembers Noah and the passengers stranded on the ark in the midst of the flood. God never forgot about Noah. But God’s remembrance is connected to His act—which was to drain the floodwaters from the earth.

2. Genesis 19:29

Here, God remembers (zākar) Abraham and acts by delivering his nephew Lot out of the destruction of Sodom and the other surrounding cities of the plain. By the way, “By linking Lot’s rescue to the Lord remembering Abraham (v.29), the narrator alludes to the recurring motif [in Genesis] that through Abraham others [i.e., Jews and Gentiles] will be divinely blessed.”[3] This, of course, refers to Jesus Christ (the offspring of Abraham) who came to save both Jews and Gentiles.

3. Genesis 30:22

After the barren Rachel had watched her older sister Leah bear six sons and a daughter, God remembers (zākar) Rachel and acts by opening her womb and giving her her first son Joseph. Just as the divine blessing through Abraham is a common motif in Genesis so to is childlessness, “especially in light of God’s promise in 3:15 that salvation will come through the offspring of Eve”—again, that’s Jesus Christ. Thus, “The divine gift of children to those who are barren takes on added significance…”[4]

4. Exodus 2:24-25

By this time, Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years and God “remembered” (zākar) them and began to act upon His covenant/promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—see Genesis 15:18-21; 17:8; 26:2-5; 28:13-15; 35:11-12).

5. Numbers 10:9

Now set free from the Egyptians, Israel was on her way to the Promised Land and God declared to them, “When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” The phrase, “And you will be remembered” is that same Hebrew word (zākar). When Israel sounds the alarm, God will remember and act and save them from their enemies.

6. 1 Samuel 1:19

In this passage we have another example of barrenness. And just as God remembered (zākar) Rachel and opened her womb, he also remembered (zākar) Hannah and did likewise. There are several scenes in the Bible like this in which “God intervenes miraculously to produce a deliverer or leader for His people.”[5] As we saw before, Rachel had Joseph who delivered his people from famine and Hannah had Samuel who became one of the greatest leaders Israel had ever seen. And when we get to the New Testament we see this theme continued.

7. Luke 1

In this passage Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth are childless and they are well advanced in age and way beyond childbearing years. Just like Abraham and Sarah of old, they long for a child and God delivers. And like the other miraculous births in the Bible, their son—John the Baptist—would play a critical role in God’s plan to bless and restore humanity. God had promised centuries earlier through His prophets Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1, 4:5-6) that there would be a herald that would come before the Messiah to prepare His way and to make His paths straight. Here, in Luke 1, God remembers that promise and remembers the heart cries of Zechariah and Elizabeth and opens her womb. And while this passage doesn’t seem to explicitly say that God remembered as in the other examples we’ve looked at, it is there. But it’s hidden. Where? In plain sight. It’s found in the Hebrew name Zechariah which literally means “The LORD remembers.” In fact, his name comes from that same Hebrew word for remember that we’ve been looking at—zākar—as in Zechar-iah. God remembered Zechariah and Elizabeth and gave them a son. To take it one step further, notice that the name John means “the LORD has shown favour” or “the LORD is gracious.” So putting the names Zechariah and John together we have: “The LORD remembered to show favour and grace.”

8. Acts 10:4,31

In the book of Acts we see how God remembered and acted upon His promise to Abraham all those years ago that all the nations of the earth (not just the Jews) would be blessed through him. That is to say, both Jews and Gentiles could now find saving grace through Abraham’s descendant Jesus Christ—who was and is God incarnate. And while this blessing technically became available to all upon the death and resurrection of Christ, God especially threw the door open to non-Jews in Acts 10. Here we read about a Roman centurion named Cornelius who the Bible describes as “devout and God-fearing” and one who “gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” Well, God took notice of this because Acts 10:4,31 records that his prayers and gifts to the poor came up as a memorial offering (or a remembrance) before God. The Greek word here is mnaomai (pronounced mnah’-om-ahee)[6] which is the equivalent to the Hebrew zākar. Indeed, the Septuagint (a pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) translates zākar as mnaomai. God remembered Cornelius’ faithfulness and acted by sending the apostle Peter to lead him and his family into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s very fitting that in the book of Acts God acted on His promise.

9. Revelation 16:19, 18:5

While God’s remembrance is always linked to action on His part, it doesn’t mean that action is always positive. As one scholar puts it, “When God remembers, he acts for judgement…or blessing.”[7] We see such judgment in Revelation 16:19 and 18:5 where God remembers Babylon’s crimes and will eventually act by releasing His wrath. It’s a wrath that will be unleashed on the whole world for its sin. And that’s really bad news. But the good news is that God provided a way for us to not be subject to that judgment of wrath. And that brings me to the tenth and ultimate example of God remembering and acting.

10. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Etc.

Beginning all the way back in Genesis 3:15 God promised a Saviour that would deliver humanity from the ravages of sin and death. And, by the way, all these Biblical scenes of miraculous births point to and prefigure this ultimate Deliverer. And in the New Testament we see how God remembers that promise and acts on it by bringing forth Jesus Christ—God Himself in human flesh—to live the sinless life that we never could and then die in our place and rise again so that anyone who puts their trust on Him “shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

So be encouraged. God hasn’t forgotten about you. On the contrary. As we’ve witnessed through these passages, God had you in mind and remembered you and acted to restore you to Himself. The only question now is, will you act and choose to accept this free gift of God? Keep in mind that we’re all going to die and stand before God one day. And there are only two possible destinations for us: eternal life in Heaven or eternal death in Hell. These are very real places but for those who’ve repented and placed their faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation are saved for eternity and are spared from the death penalty their sins deserve. As Paul the apostle puts it in Romans 10:9: “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Ryan Hembree is a daily co-host, speaker, and writer of Bible Discovery. He also hosts a YouTube channel that shows the unity of the Bible and how science and Scripture fit together. Ryan also has an honorary Masters of Ministry in Creation Science from Phoenix University of Theology.

[2] For a more Jewish perspective on God’s remembrance watch the second episode of Jess Cantelon’s This is Israel here:
[3] T.D. Alexander, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on Genesis 19:27-29.
[4] T.D. Alexander, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible,Note on Genesis 30:22-24.
[5] John D. Currid, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on 1 Samuel 1:1-20.
[7] Richard S. Hess, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Note on Genesis 8:1.

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