I was reading Deuteronomy 4 with a friend this morning, and we both paused at Deuteronomy 4:9 –
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children. (ESV)”
The way this is written in Hebrew is fascinating. The verse starts out with the same command twice – ‘to keep or watch’. Literally, Moses commands the people “only be watchful to yourself and watch your souls greatly lest you forget…”
Be watchful and watch greatly. As the people are about to enter into the land, they are to be very careful, doubly careful even, to watch lest they should forget. They are to watch themselves in such a way that they can make known to the coming generation and the generation after them the things that God has done. As my mother would often nag, “Some things are worth reminding.”
I think that’s why the church liturgical seasons are so important – they remind us to remember, to be watchful lest we forget the things that God has done through salvation history culminating in Jesus. Seasons like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Common time keep us in the story of salvation year after year, season after season. We need that because just like many memories of my life, I have forgotten far more than I have learned. What a tragedy to forget the Story of stories!
And that’s exactly what the people of God were in danger of from the very beginning. That’s why they needed to be watchful and to watch greatly. They needed to take intentional measures to be watchful and to keep watch. This applies from the youngest to the oldest of them. Even if they were eyewitnesses to the saving acts of God, they needed to be watchful.
I think as ministers of the Gospel, we need to pay attention to this command. Having been out of seminary and grad school for a little bit now, I can sense the dulling effect that ministry to real people in real situations can have on my theological acumen. We feel the immediate urgency to be practical, to be present, and to speak in language that’s intelligible. While I may want to be immersed in the world of Barth, Calvin,and Lewis, most people are living in the world of Tebow and Lady Gaga. So if I want to live where they are, minister to their situation, I must take up residence in the neighborhood of pop culture – a place that dulls me into forgetting.
The cumulative effect is a loss of precision, a loss of the appreciation for the complexity of the stuff of heaven on earth. I forget “how wondrous are your thoughts, O God, how unsearchable your ways!” In short, I cease being watchful and to keep watch. Paul reminds his young disciple, Timothy, of the dangers of this –
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:16 NIV)
Much like the message of Deuteronomy 4, failing to watch has serious implications not just for us, but for those we minister to – whether in our generation or the next. In this Christmas season and the upcoming new year, how will you keep yourself from forgetting? How will you continue to keep yourself sharp in both life and in your doctrine? What impractical, other-worldly, intellectual, abstract, and theological endeavor will you submit yourself to in order to be watchful and to keep watch diligently?