Picture this: you have just spent six grueling weeks ascending the slopes of Mount Everest to reach the top. You have a head-ache and feel nauseous because of the thin air at an altitude of 8.5km. You and your two friends eventually reach the summit and fall down on in the snow – satisfied and thankful, yet feeling miserable. You only have a few minutes to drink in this moment in the light of the rising sun with the spectacular view of the Himalayan peaks, and you think: “this is the view God must have of the our world”. You know you will probably never have this experience again, but thankfully you brought your camera. Handing your camera to the Nepalese Sherpa (trekking guide) you and your friends strike a pose to capture this memory. After an awkward silence your smiles change into unbelief and frustration when the Sherpa announces in his flat, broken English “batteries dead!” You take the camera from the guide, fiddle with it for a few minutes but after a while you realize that the exercise is pointless – the batteries expired in the extreme weather conditions and now you will have nothing to capture the moment, no proof that you have climbed the highest peak in the world. You will have no transferable memory that you can show to your friends and family, nothing you can post on Facebook and no story you can leave for your children in your family album.
Throughout our lives time keeps on ticking away; nothing distinguishes once second from another. But in the course of our lives there are moments which are precious, others that are crucial, others moments are hilarious or awful. These events become the stories we cherish and retell; so that these moments become the memories that are transferred to coming generations – they become “the story of my life” and eventually “my life lesson”. These unique moments are the matter that folk tales or legends are made of. And there these the stories that make up the pages of the Bible – memories that “were written for our learning, that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
One way in which memories are made and transferred in the Bible is by setting up memorial stones or monuments. In one such instance (around 1150BC) the prophet Samuel called the whole nation together at Mizpah to sacrifice to God and worship because the Ark of God was brought back to Israel. The Philistines heard about it and wanted to take opportunity of the vulnerable worshipers, but the nation cried out to God. God intervened with thunder so loud that it confused the enemies and the Israelites had a great victory that day. Samuel set up a memorial stone there and then calling it Ebenezer saying “Thus far the Lord has brought us” (I Samuel 7:12). This monument was meant as a reminder to the nation and coming generations that the Lord had heard their cries and delivered them from annihilation that day. The life lesson transferred to those who see the stone and hear the story is “God hears and saves from impossible situations!” The story stirs hope and faith in God to whoever hears it.
Other such stone memorial is at Bethel where the Lord visited Jacob and made covenant with him (Genesis 28:18-19), as well as the heap of stones next to the Jordan river, where all of Israel had crossed over on dry foot (Joshua 4:1-7). As in Joshua’s account, the purpose of such memorial stones are both to provoke inquiry and to remind that “This is what the Lord has done – right here in this place!”
Another way in which memories are cherished in Israel’s history is by feasts. Most of Israel’s annual feasts were to serve as a reminder of an event where God intervened. For instance, every week the Sabbath is honored by not working, a day to celebrate and remember that the Israelites were slaves but the Lord delivered them from slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15). Likewise the Passover is celebrated annually to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 13: 3), and more specifically that the Lord spared their first-born children from the tenth plague – the night in which the angel of death “passed over”. Much later Queen Esther instituted the feast of Purim as a reminder that the Lord had saved the Jews from annihilation by Haman’s schemes (Esther 9:19-22).
Communion is celebrated in the same way – “in remembrance” (Luke 22:19). All of these feasts are meant to be merry-making – celebrated in memory of something the Lord has done. A time to retell the event and celebrate the goodness and might of God in joy-filled thanks.
One several occasions the Bible records songs being written to celebrate (and propagate) some intervention or deliverance of the Lord. Moses and the Israelites composed and sang a song in celebration of their escape from the Egyptian army and their dry-footed passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), followed by another song by Miriam (Exodus 15:19-26).
The judge Deborah composed and sang a similar song after God granted them victory over Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army (Judges 5:1-31). The beloved King David composed several songs retelling the faithful deliverance of God from his enemies, of which Psalm 18 is a good example.
The Psalmists of Israel understood that songs were a good instruction and reminder of the faithfulness of God to successive generations, and composed psalms such as Psalm 78 and 136 as reminders of God’s faithfulness in the history of Israel, as they sang then at their feasts and in their local synagogues.
Paintings of memorable events work the same way to remind coming generations of God’s faithfulness. The church through the ages have decorated the insides of cathedrals, monasteries and churches with images of Biblical accounts and heroes of the faith as visual sermons to stir faith and inspire believers to emulate their examples.
The Bible as book is delivered to us as a record of God’s relations and dealing with his covenant people. It is the compiled memories of what the Lord has done and said in the past, and it is skillfully recorded and graciously preserved so that we may learn of what God has done for others, so that we may trust in his faithfulness and love . The aim of such memoirs is that we may build on their lives and walk in their legacy, as Asaph recorded “Tell the coming generations the glorious deeds of the LORD, his might, the wonders that he has done… to set their hope in God… not forget his works; but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation…” (Psalm 78:3-8)
Likewise, the memories we transfer to others shape their understanding and affection of God. Moreover, these memoirs will bring comfort and hope in hardship as the readers recall that the Lord has brought others through similar challenges (Romans 15:4).
In this season for merry-making, gather friends and family around the fire or table and relive the great memories that brought you here. Celebrate it properly! Record it in pictures or in writing, in poetry or a song . Set these up somewhere as a “memorial stone” that it may provoke coming generations to ask “What is this?”. Then you can tell them “This is what the Lord has done – He can do the same for you!”