Don't Ask, "What Happened?"
Have you asked yourself, "What happened?" Maybe about yourself. Maybe about a friend. A family member. I remember asking this about myself. I remember struggling to come to grips with "what happened" to get me to be so proud, so angry; to get me to the point where I had built up so many walls around my heart because I hated to have everyone see what I truly was. "What happened?" I am sure a lot of people who knew me asked this question. I had, by outward standards and appearances, been a fine Christian girl. Saved as a twelve year old. Going to church. Raised in a good family. Going to Bible college.
So, what happened? How did I get to the point where I became entrenched in anorexic behaviors, deceitful lifestyle choices, and selfish thinking? The short version answer lies in the truth that I forgot God.
I have said many times, and will continue to say so, that reading through the Old Testament has made me realize how like the Israelites I am. And, today was no different. I have been reading through Deuteronomy and came to the passages where Moses is re-iterating all the events leading up to the Israelites' current status of being ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses reminds them about God's commands and rules and desires for the Israelites as his people. He also reminds them of all the ways God provided for them, guided them, showed his power to them, punished them, had mercy on them, saved them from destruction, and so much more. Moses reminds them, too that God chose them, not because of anything amazing they as a people had done, but because He loved them (see Deut. 7:7-8). As you read through these chapters (Deut. 1-11), you will find over and over and over again Moses giving them warnings: "Take care"; "watch yourselves"; "beware"; "be careful"; "remember"; "know". And, these warnings, particularly, "take care" is repeated several times in these chapters. What is Moses telling them to "take care" to do? In each of these instances, he is admonishing the people to "take care" so they do not forget God and his works; so they do not forget his covenant and his rules and commands; so they do not let themselves be deceived.
Why is this phrase so important? A short read through the book of Judges or the minor prophets will give you a glimpse as to why this command (and the others) was so important. Israel forgot God. Easily. They would see glimpses of his amazing power on one occasion and the very next story relates how they are grumbling or complaining or following other gods. You read these stories and think, "What happened?"
They forgot God. They forgot to remember his commands. They forgot to remember his mighty works in their lives. They allowed the pride of their hearts to deceive them. They followed other gods. And, the same thing is true of me. How prone I am to forget all God has done for me! How easily I complain about the weather or my kids' bad behavior, or the bills, or my body, or my desires not being met, or whatever it may be at any given moment. And, in those moments, I am setting myself up for failure. Why? Because as I turn the focus away from God, I will continue to look to earthly things for satisfaction and acceptance. I will gradually forget God altogether and his word will no longer mean what it used to mean. His works will not fill me with joy because I can't seem to remember them any more. His character and commands will seem ridiculous, "out-of-touch", or just plain annoying. My sin and my idols will seem to gratify me more than God ever did. And, so I will fail. I will fall away from him and get to the point where people ask, "What happened?"
This is why remembering God is so important. This is why we must know his word and his promises. This is why "taking care" matters. And, for those of us who have been saved, we have greater understanding of God and his covenant than the Israelites ever did. Matthew Henry explains it this way, "We should understand our own situation as sinners and the nature of that gracious covenant to which we are invited. Therein greater things are shown to us than ever Israel saw from Mt. Sinai; greater mercies are given to us than they experienced in the wilderness or in Canaan. One speaks to us who is of infinitely greater dignity than Moses; who bare our sins upon the cross; and pleads with us by his dying love!" Do you remember? Do you remember the state from which you were saved? Moses reminds the Israelites that they were once slaves, but that God had saved them "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deut. 5:15).
The Israelites had rules and commands and statutes to remember and keep and do. We have the command, now, to follow the new covenant, by which we are reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus. And, in this covenant, we are no longer bound to these restrictions, but instead, bound by grace to live as those who have been so greatly loved by God that we cannot but live lives of love. In response to his great mercy in granting us sonship, we live to please him. We live to become like Jesus. We live not to "do a bunch of things", but to live "to the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:12).
Here in Deuteronomy, the Israelites are warned to destroy those enemies which would persuade them to walk away from God and to turn to idols. As keepers of the new covenant, we are called to mortify our flesh, to make every effort to become like Christ so that our corrupt natures will not be displayed (II Peter 1). "A proper understanding of the evil of sin and of the mystery of the crucified Savior will enable us to perceive the justice of God in all his punishments, temporal and eternal. We must deal decidedly with our lusts that war against our souls; let us not show them any mercy, but mortify, and crucify, and utterly destroy them" (M. Henry).
In all this, Moses continually reminds the Israelites of how rebellious they are, how they are prone to falling away from God's commands, how they are easily deceived. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses says, "And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you... that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart..."(vs. 2). God had to do that to me. Humble me. Get me to realize the pride of my heart. Get me to realize I had forgotten all his works. Get me to realize how easy it is to fall away from the sacredness of my calling as his child. And, this can happen to anyone. To you. To your friend or family member. To your pastor. To your parent. To anyone. To me. "None of us live a single week without given proofs of our weakness, folly, and depravity. To broken-hearted souls alone the Savor is precious indeed" (M. Henry).
Has your heart been broken and humbled? Did God have to lead you to the point where you realized you had nothing to bring to him? Nothing but your sinful self? Maybe you need to be reminded again. Maybe you need to go back and remember. Maybe you need to "take care" so you do not forget all his mighty works. Maybe you need to "beware" for the traps of the flesh and the devil, the lusts of your pride-filled heart. And, instead of asking, "what happened?", we pray. We pray for our friends, our family members, our pastors, our children. We pray for ourselves, that we may not forget. We take care. We confess sin. We "beware". And, we love.
In Deuteronomy 10, Moses reminds the people to "fear the Lord"; "to walk in his ways, to love him, and to serve him... and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord... You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him... He is your praise. He is your God who has done for you these great and terrifying things. ...You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge..." (10:12-13, 20-21; 11:1). This is the same for us today. God has commanded us to love him and to love others. And, in all this, we must beware lest we fall away from that love. Take care lest we bring reproach to the name of our God by our forgetfulness and lack of love. We be diligent lest we allow the pride of our heart to take to glory from our God. And, when we find ourselves asking, "what happened?", we remember that God has led us this whole way to humble us. To reconcile us to himself. To help us learn what is truly in our hearts so that we can love him better- and in that, we can love others better.
Oh, God, forgive my often wandering heart. Forgive me for my ready forgetfulness of your goodness. Forgive my pride in following the lusts of my heart. Oh, help me remember your works. Help me remember you are the God who alone does wondrous things! And, in this remembrance, may I continually be humbled by your mercy and grace. May I live, not with stringent, prideful adherence to rules, but live humbled by the covenant of grace to which I have been so mercifully drawn. In this, Father, may I love others. And, may others, too, taste of your goodness and mercy to them. May you be precious to them, and may we live to your glory and only by your grace. Amen.
Additional Song for Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eJUqY_6tqo&list=RDEMsyUal020F04RxQYmlrOTAA&index=2