When Moses delivered God’s Law from the mountain he told the people of Israel they were to teach God’s words to their children at all times. It was not sufficient for the law to merely exist on stone tablets and parchment scrolls, and it was not sufficient for the law to be preserved by the hands of a few, God demanded that every person in the nation should learn his ways beginning in their youth and continuing until old age. God wanted his law transmitted from one generation to the next in both written and oral form.
With a written form God assured there would always be a standard to which everyone could refer. When doubt would inevitably creep in about what God actually said, the people could easily to return to a hard copy of his words to affirm or adjust their understanding. With an oral transmission, God assured that both teacher and student would become occupied with his ways, setting a standard for behavior and transforming the mind. For it is by committing God’s ways to memory and speaking of them with others that believers are strengthened and encouraged to become the people God wants them to be, and this not only in the present generation, but future generations as well.
But, a brief study of Israel’s history tells us the law became lost and the people forgot to keep their end of the bargain. All talk of God’s ways seems to have disappeared, being replaced by the older generations transmitting their sinful proclivities and activities to the younger generations. The land became filled with idols and the people indulged in all sorts of abominable behavior.
It was into this silent vacuum that God sent his prophets to call his people back to himself. But even though they seemed to say the right things, in the end their repentance was not enough: God gave them over to their sinful behavior and they were exiled to a foreign land with no indication of how long it would be before they could return to their land of promise.
In those days of Israel’s exile, Asaph’s words in Psalm 78 rang true. He told Israel to remember how God requested his words be taught to each generation. He reminded them that God’s covenant was not a one way street, it required their obedience. They were to remember God’s works as well as his words and remember that in those times when things grew tough God was their rock and their redeemer. They needed to remember that their present state was a direct result of their own forgetfulness and disobedience. Asaph’s words reminded them of all these things, but his words were not solely to written to them. He words also ring true to this present generation of people to tell us there is still time to follow God’s plan.
There is no situation, no matter how badly things have gone, that God cannot redeem. There are no circumstances so badly destroyed which limit God’s word and his work. But, we must realize that our part in God’s redemption of our lives requires us to remember God’s words and dwell on them daily. Some would say it isn’t the frequency of our times in the word, it is the depth, but I think Asaph’s message in Psalm 78 tells a different story. It was because the people had forgotten God’s words and because they had neglected to communicate God’s words and works to the next generation that the nation had fallen. It wasn’t that they didn’t perform the rituals, (though I’m sure there were times when those became neglected), and it wasn’t that they didn’t go to temple regularly that their nation drifted, it was because God’s word was no longer in the heart and on tongues of his people. Thus, in the absence of God’s words, sin crept into the lives of his chosen children, a truth which is no different today.
Each of us has access to God’s word, which he has seen fit to transmit to us, through time and by the hands of men, and we must not neglect them. We must never stop plumbing the depths of his word to catch glimpses of God. His words and his works have been given to us as a guide, a standard if you will, and should we stray from this standard, it will not be long before we are much like the ancient Israelites who left the law to decay in a neglected temple. And so we must not stop speaking his words to other people. I don’t mean merely as an act of evangelism, though that is important, but I mean when we sit down to dinner, when we walk in the garden, when we find ourselves with time on our hands and a friend with whom to share it. It is in those times when we must remember the words of God and dwell on them so that it will not be written of us that we were “a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”