Remembering: A Central Theme In Biblical Worship -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:1 (Mar 2000)
Article: Remembering: A Central Theme In Biblical Worship
Author: Eugene H. Merrill


Remembering: A Central Theme In Biblical Worship

Eugene H. Merrilla

Of all the capacities of the human brain, the acquisition, retention, and recall of information are undeniably among the most marvelous and mysterious. Experts in intelligence declare that every impression experienced by an individual, verbal or otherwise, is stored away in the cognitive memory bank, waiting there to be retrieved and brought to the consciousness of those who wish and are able to recover it. 1 Such capacity, though not under-stood scientifically by the ancients (or even fully by moderns for that matter), has been celebrated and pressed into the service of the intellectual, cultural, and religious life of all people. Human beings have always had the desire and the ability to bring the past into the present by way of memory and in so doing to perpetuate tradition by repristination and reenactment. 2

This was true, of course, of OT Israel as well, as her sacred texts, canonical and otherwise, abundantly attest. But to the natural proclivity to remember as a cultural necessity is added, in Israel’s case, the remarkable assertion that Yahweh, her God, also remembers and demands of his people that they too remember. And the thing that Israel is most of all mandated to remember is God himself, namely, his person and his acts in history and experience.

To remember presupposes something memorable, a word or event that has taken place and become part of the perception. For Israel to remember God, then, is to suggest that the ultimately unknowable has become at least partially knowable through revelation, that is, through Scripture and other means, and to remember his redemptive acts is to become aware of those events of history that truly are the substance of Heilsgeschichte. 3 The meaning of these events was not left to the random guesswork of historical observers to decipher but was identified as meaningful theological events

worthy of recall by spiritually enlightened prophets who could see the hand of God in particular circumstances.

If a purpose of memory, especially collective or community memory, is to retrieve the past so as to bring it into the heuristic service of the present, then the injunction placed on Israel to remember Yahweh and his works of the past was precisely designed to inculcate the truth embodied in them and to reenact or even relive them for every generation. This is a leading theme of OT worship. It was only as Israel reflected upon Yahweh a...

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