Remembering and forgetting… these are two words that appear in the Bible often. In fact, to many who have grown up in the church or read the Bible for years, we tend to ignore these without asking the obvious questions that we should be asking. God forgets and needs to remember? In our English language, we view “remembering” as a focus on recalling or bringing certain thoughts, memories, or ideas back into our mind. We would probably describe “forgetting” as a failure to bring certain thoughts, memories, or ideas back into our mind.
In Genesis 8:1 we have one of those moments where God has to remember. “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” Did God wake up and slap himself on the forehead, suddenly realizing he left Noah out bobbing around on the waves? The answer would be yes, according to our western definition of remembering but the Hebrew word for remember (zakhar) is best defined by “do a favor for”, or “come to the aid of”. Every time we read in the text that God remembered it is an action, in Noah’s case God acted on the promise he made that Noah’s family and the animals would be rescued from the flood.
Genesis 30:22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. Again, “remember” focuses on the action, not the mental activity. God paid attention to Rachel’s needs, listened to her prayer, and answered it. He intervened (remembered)
Forget (shakach) is also broad in definition meaning to ignore, neglect, or disregard a person or covenant, or to not act on a request. Deut 4:23 Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. The emphasis is on the action, be careful not to disregard, neglect, or ignore the covenant of the Lord your God, it is not focused on the mental activity of literally forgetting the covenant!
Let’s look at Jeremiah 23:39 Therefore, I will surely forget you and cast you out of my presence along with the city I gave to you and your ancestors. God is saying he will disregard his people, he didn’t actually fail to recall they exist. Interestingly, forget is almost never used in combination with sin. Often it does say that God will not remember (take action on) our sins, or in some cases, he does remember (take action on) sin. Hosea 9:9 They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.
This takes us to a conversation on forgiving and forgetting. Choosing to forgive and forget an action someone took against you really involves a choice to forgive and then disregard or not act upon what they did to you. Maybe it is to ignore what they did because let’s face it, when horrible things happen to us at the hands of another person, especially another Christian, we can never truly erase it from our minds.
And sometimes we feel guilty about that…
But maybe it is not about erasing our mind because that would be a real Western mindset, maybe it is about the Hebrew idea of forget… to disregard it or even more important not to act upon it…
Not seeking payment or revenge for sins committed against us