By Lim Chong Teck
“Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish.” Deuteronomy 8:19
One of the blessings of being a Christian is to be able to have fellowship with one another on various occasions. On the 29 April, Steven Chan, Hooi Ling, Shirley Lee, Jacine, Julie, Bobby together with my family, celebrated the birthdays of Steven, Jacine and Bobby. We had various lovely aromatic curries for our lunch, the names of which we tried to pick up in the Tamil language. As we tucked in the food, we were happily talking about various subjects concerning the well-being of our personal lives and the church in general.
A topic of great interest was that of the history of the church of Christ in Klang. We talked about missionaries and preachers who came our way to help and some of the brethren who were pioneers in the Klang congregation. The Klangchurch began somewhere around the late 1960s or early 1970s ; sisters Julie and Jacine were among the very few early ones who was added into the church, even before bro. Steven.
It was as if the Klang congregation’s history was re-enacted as these brethren recounted stories from the old days. It is sad that some of those early brethren are no longer faithful and some have gone to a different faith altogether, whether of different gods or without God even. This discussion remained in my mind for a while.
Bible classes have a way of awakening some thoughts for unanswered questions. One of these is can a child of God forget God? Phrased in another way, what makes a Christian jettison his faith? Deut 8:19 quoted on a Friday bible class got my attention, especially the words “if by any means you forget the Lord your God”. “By any means” means just that: by any means, whether intentional or unintentional, of being oblivious or being influenced. Some of the brethren I mentioned earlier have forgotten the Lord their God. He was once their God but is now no longer.
Moses in his parting words warned the people of Israel that there was a possibility that they can forget the Lord their God. It will do us good to heed the warnings that he highlighted so that we are well informed and equipped with the knowledge of how we could avoid coming to a state of forgetting the Lord is our God. The following are some points to take note.
1. The Israelites were privileged to see the wonders of God in their midst and that proved to them there is no other God beside the Lord.
“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him. Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.” Deut 4:32-36
God not only worked great miracles before them, but he also spoke his words to them. Because they were afraid as God directly spoke to them, God gave them his commandments, statutes and judgments through Moses. (Deut 5: 24-33)
“But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it. Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” (Deut. 5:31-33)
Moses was to teach them all the commandments, statutes and judgments of God and they were to keep them that it may well for them, that God may bless them abundantly. Moses warned them to take heed lest they forget the miracles that God has done for them (Deut 4: 9, Deut 6:12) and lest they forget the covenant (Deut 4:23) and do the things that God had forbidden them.
He told them to be careful to observe the commandments (Deut 5:32, 7:11). He told them to be diligent to keep the commandments, that is to know and do them. He told them to take heed lest they forget.
“Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee.” (Deut. 6:17)
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” (Deut. 4:9)
One cannot fail to read how many times these were mentioned repeatedly so as to ensure they do not forget.
The New Testament also exhorts us to be diligent and take pains to study and learn from God’s word and to teach others.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15 NKJV)
Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Tim 4: 11-16NASV)
There is a need for conscious, deliberate, constant effort to remember Him and His word. There is a need for diligence and carefulness in learning, keeping and doing His will.
And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. (Deut. 5:1).
If we are regularly speaking, hearing God’s word, to learn them, and keep and do them, we would take heed not to forget the wonders God had done in the past and through Christ to save us and be diligent and careful to keep His word.
We cannot be oblivious and indifferent to His word and still be in danger of forgetting Him. And as the Israelites, the end result is we will perish if we forget Him ( Deut8:19).
2. The lack of teaching results in one forgetting God. They were exhorted to not forget and to teach their children and children’s children of it. This does not refer only to pulpit or congregational teaching. However the gathering of God’s people to read and understand the word was so neglected that almost the whole nation had forgotten God’s law.
At the time King Josiah (2 Kings 23: 1-3), a revival was needed to educate the people of God’s law. At the time of Nehemiah it was repeated again. (Neh. 8). The lack of constant reminders and persistent teaching may be the reason one forgets. We need to constantly find and create opportunities to teach each other so that we do not forget.
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deut. 6:6-7)
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” (Deut 4:9)
This also applies to teaching correctly as God forewarns in Deut. 4:1-2: “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”
“But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it. Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” (Deut. 5:31-32)
3. The worldly influence was great from the surrounding nations. God gave them instructions not to intermarry among the nations because He knew these nations would influence the Israelites to leave God. We see the consequences in King Solomon (Neh. 13:26, 1 Kings 11: 1-8) in how his heart was turned from God.
We need to be careful of the sphere of influence in our lives. Some of the pioneer brethren had a change of heart after they left Klang to other places for studies and work. Situations and people can influence our faith in God. The parable of the sower reminds us of this (Matt 13). Is the word of God growing in influence in our lives as compared to others?Are we careful with whom and what we allow to influence our lives? The New Testament constantly reminds us:
“Be not deceived: bad company corrupt good habits.” 1 Cor. 15:33
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? andwhat communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:14-18)
4. The relevance of God in their lives was like no other nation. While God had given His general providential blessings on the surrounding nations (Deut 4:19, Acts 14:15-17), yet to the people of Israel, God proved Himself to them by mighty powers that there was no other Gods beside Him (Deut 4:32-36, 6 20-25). On the flip side, the surrounding nations too could have well learned it if they were to accept that there was no God like the Lord. Unfortunately they themselves had hardened their hearts to accept it as did King Pharaoh (Exo.8 :28-32).
The Israelites were forewarned that when they had grown rich and plenty, they were not to be lifted up and grow in pride by attributing their success to themselves rather than God. Any of us can fall into this trap of self-glory.
Some of these brethren have done well but have forgotten and have attributed their success to themselves or karma rather than God. God is no longer in the picture. If God is not relevant to us in our success, we will forget Him. Perhaps we have already forgotten Him. If God is not the source of help when we face challenges, then we have forgotten how great a God we serve and live in unnecessary fear.
In Deut. 7:17-26, the Israelites were reminded of what God had done for them and told not to be afraid but to depend on Him to overcome their enemies. David said with confidence in Psalms 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Our prayer life would be dry and meaningless if God is not relevant. There would be little thanksgiving and few or no cries for help. It is not possible to maintain a relationship with God in the absence of prayer. We would soon forget the Lord is God.
Many of us do not plan to forget our God, but as the word “forget” suggest, it is seldom a planned thing. However if we do not take constant effort to be reminded, we will soon forget. Let’s keep encouraging and exhorting each other with the word of God and pray unceasingly lest we forget the Lord is our God.