A reading from Judges, the second chapter.
7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. (Judges 2:7–11 ESV)
“And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”
So it is that we do not know. I am reminded of another place in scripture where someone does know, where things that were done become mere stories we may or may not tell, and because of that, where the reality we face suddenly becomes mysterious and undecipherable, something we are no longer capable of understanding:
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.” (Exodus 1:8–9 ESV)
We forget so easily what God has done for us. A new Pharaoh forgets what Israel did, what Joseph did, to save Egypt, and sees not allies and friends but a threat so large it must be dealt with. Israel has forgotten its redemption from Egypt, God’s provision of manna and water in the wilderness, the guidance of the pillar of cloud and fire. Israel has forgotten that the walls of Jericho fell without effort, how the sun stood still over Gibeon and how the birds came and dropped stones on the army of Adoni-Zedek, and how God gave Canaan into the hands of Israel.
Israel has forgotten. Because it has all faded into memory. It has all become stories.
We forget. We come to not know. We live in the midst of circumstances we have inherited and we do not entirely understand how. We do not remember the gifts our ancestors and forebears received from God, the gifts that got us here.
And so we abandon God.
We do not know the work because it is undone in our midst. Maybe we tell stories, but likely, we do not really believe them. God didn’t actually do any of that, we say.
We forget. We become those who did know. We worship what we find around us — the idols of the people we are conquering, who land and places we are inheriting.
It is easy, this forgetting. Israel forgets even when the acts of God are fresh in its memory and experience — why else worship a golden calf a Sinai when only recently our God drowned the oppressor’s army in sea? It’s a lot to expect that we will remember a generation or two removed from the saving.
We forget. Even when we tell stories. We forget and we abandon God. That’s just our nature.
But there is good news. As we shall see, this forgetting gives God a chance to intervene in our lives, again and again, to redeem us. So that we can become people who know the Lord, and the works he does for us.