On Forgetting and Remembering: Reflections on Psalm 106

The Scriptures often call on believers to remember the Lord, or to recall the works and character of the Lord. This recall, this remembrance, serves to help believers obey, endure, and hope in the face of trial and temptation. Our security is not, however, in our remembrance but in His.

Psalm 105 and 106 are all about remembrance. The consecutive Psalms actually build upon a similar theme of remembering the Lord’s works of redemption and preservation. Psalm 105 is a call to remember God’s active work of redemption in the Exodus. The Psalm delineates God’s rescue of Israel from bondage in Egypt and his overthrowing of the Egyptians on their behalf. They are called, in verse 5, to “remember the wondrous works he has done.” Of course the Lord rescued them, we are told, because he “remembers his covenant forever” (v. 8; see also v. 42). Israel is called to remember what He did for them, God did it because He never forgets His promises.

Psalm 106 picks up this story and moves it forward, highlighting more of Israel’s story, particularly the wilderness wandering. What’s interesting in this Psalm is that it details Israel’s failures in bold color. Verse 6 states plainly:

Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.

The psalmist spells out that wickedness stating specifically that they did not “consider your wondrous works” and that they did not “remember the abundance of your steadfast love” (v. 7). They forgot the Lord and His deeds, and it is this forgetting that is the chief sin the Psalmist mentions.

The Israelites are also said to have “forgotten” the Lord when they made a golden calf. Their idolatrous worship is rooted in this forgetting (v. 13). They forgot God when they were in Egypt (v. 7) and then they forgot him after they were released from Egypt. Lest we think that context dictates our response to the Lord, both before and after redemption they quickly grow ignorant of the Lord and His deeds.

There is a reason the Bible often uses that word “remember”. It’s a call, a command, given to those who are so prone to forgetting. We are quick to get distracted, misplace our priorities, or simply ignore God. Yet, God continues to be gracious to such forgetful people. In particular, God shows His grace towards us by constantly remembering us and the covenant promises He has made.

Psalm 106 begins early with a focus on God’s remembering. The Psalmist actually prays that God will remember him. Just before he delineates Israel’s forgetting he prays:

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them (v. 4)

Though the Psalmist may be prone to forget, he asks that the Lord remember him. “Don’t forget me when salvation comes, O Lord.” This is our only hope. Our faithfulness to God is not what saves us, rather it is His faithfulness to His promises which saves us. He remembers; we forget.

The bulk of the Psalm is a description of Israel’s rebellion, failure, and forgetting and, as result, God’s punishing them. He allows them to reap all kinds of consequences for their idolatry and abandonment. Forgetting does not come without consequence. But none of these divine consequences will result in the ultimate end of God’s chosen people. No, “For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (v. 45). God remembered His covenant and did not destroy Israel. They were saved because God does not forget His promises.

What at tremendous comfort it is to reflect on the surety of God’s promises. What He says is what He will do (Num. 23:19). We are prone to forget, and that is why the Bible often calls us to remember (ex: Eph. 2:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:8; 2 Peter 3:2; Jude 1:7). We must strive to keep the central matters of the faith before us, to keep the central person of the faith before us. Yet, in the end we are saved and persevere in the faith not because of our consistent mental capacities. We are saved and persevere in the faith because God never forgets! He never forgets His Son, He never forgets His gospel, He never forgets His promises, and He never forgets His children (“for their sake he remembers”). Fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), but rejoice that God always remembers.

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