When Memory Matters
Passage: 2 Kings 13:22–13:25
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When Memory Matters
II Kings 13:22-25
February 17th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. How Good is Your Memory?
A lost and weary hiker located because of a brother's phone call. A lonely, young boy who receives a birthday card from an old friend. A hopeless grandmother in a nursing home who learns she has, for the first time, a visitor. A poor, single, mother who discovers Christmas gifts for her kids on the front porch. What do all of these people have in common? They were remembered, when memory mattered most.
When most would have forgotten the casual conversation about an upcoming hike, when most would have forgotten about the awkward boy who's easy to forget, when most would have forgotten the dying woman who never wanted to be a burden, when most would have forgotten the young mom who's always working, somebody remembered. Somebody remembered them. Somebody remembered a commitment that was made. And for each of these, that memory made all the difference.
How good is your memory?
Sure, you might be able to run the board in Trivial Pursuit or score high on Jeopardy, but how's your memory when it really matters most?
You may be able to remember long lists of phone numbers, but how often do you remember all of the ways in which each of those people behind the phone numbers needs your love and encouragement?
You may be able to remember the dates of historical events, but how often do you remember the dates of all those times (whether seemingly trivial or monumental), all of those times when you fell flat on your face because you thought you knew best?
You may be able to remember the results from tables of mathematical equations, hot how often do you remember the results of succumbing to temptation, those feelings of guilt, despair, and emptiness that should have kept you from making the same mistake again, if you had remembered them?
You may remember the names of all of those key people who helped you get to where you are today, but how often do you remember the God who has made it all possible, the God who gives you the next beat of your heart, the next breath in your lungs, the next day on your calendar?
How good is your memory?
II. Then: Mercy and Memory
I want you to turn with me to II Kings 13:22-25. I've decided to share with you today from II Kings 13, probably one of the more obscure passages of the Bible. And why, you might ask, are we looking at this obscure passage? Because I think it tells us something about when memory matters most.
If you want to follow along in the Bibles we've provided for you, you'll find this passage on page 320.
Follow along with me as I read:
22 Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now. 24 When Hazael king of Syria died, Ben-hadad his son became king in his place. 25 Then Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities that he had taken from Jehoahaz his father in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking the same thing I was thinking when I first read through this section. You're thinking, "OK! That's all very interesting. Now let's get back into the New Testament."
I know most of this sounds pretty strange and pretty irrelevant. But remember, Paul tells us "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable...!" So how can we ‘profit' from this passage? Well, I just told you that I think this passage tells us something about when memory matters most. So let's do this. Let's take this passage piece by piece and try to understand its significance in terms of how its first readers would have understood it.
Look back at verse 22: Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. OK, remember, by this time in the late ninth century BC, God's people Israel are split into two kingdoms, the north, which is called Israel, and the south which is called Judah. We read here that Aram or Syria, the northern kingdom's neighbor to the northeast has consistently attacked and almost completely decimated the kingdom of Israel.
In fact, verse 7 of this chapter tells us that "For there was not left to Jehoahaz an army of more than fifty horsemen and ten chariots and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Syria had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing." Remember, not many years before this, in the time of Ahab, Israel had more than 10 chariots, they had 2000. The northern kingdom was on the edge of collapse.
How, we might ask, how could God's people be so close to the brink? Well verse 3 of chapter 13 tells us that "the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael." It was God who had brought them to the brink of political extinction. But why? Well the opening verses of this chapter make it clear: In the twenty-third year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned seventeen years. 2 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them.
In spite of knowing the truth, in spite of being God's people, Israel was worshipping false gods and walking in the ways of darkness. So God had every right to wipe them off the map, didn't He? But what did He do? Go back to 13:23.
But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them...
God did not wipe them off the map. NO, we are told in no less than 3 different ways that he spared them: He was "gracious to them", He "had compassion" on them, and He "turned toward them" which means he "showed concern for them".
But why? How could God respond like this? Was it because of something Jehoahaz did? Well, we do read in 13:4 and 5 that Jehoahaz sought the favor of the LORD, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them. 5 (Therefore the LORD gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly.
But the writer knows that while Jehoahaz repented, his repentance failed to affect his leadership. For in very next verse, in 13:6 we read that, Nevertheless, they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them...
No, God's ultimate mercy was not in response to something Jehoahaz did. The rest of verse 23 reveals that God ultimately acted for one reason: because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.
When and what was this covenant that's mentioned here? We find God making this covenant with Abraham back in Genesis 12:1-3. God said:
"Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
When did God make this covenant with Abraham, this promise of land and blessing? Almost 1500 years before Jehoahaz was even born!
Think about this. Like a ripple cutting through the ocean of time, God spared Jehoahaz and the kingdom of Israel because of a conversation he had with their ancestor almost 1500 years earlier. And more than that, we go on to read in our main text that Jehoahaz's son Jehoash (also known as Joash) went on to defeat Hazael's son Ben-Hadad and actually reclaimed the cities his father had lost to the Syrians. And 13:11 tells us that Joash was just as evil as his father!
Israel was spared, Israel remained, because God remembered. He remembered them. More importantly, He remembered a commitment that was made. How good is God's memory? It's perfect. Perfect! I don't know about you, but I can hardly remember conversations I had last week.
But that's what the writer wants his readers to understand here. In spite of their sin, in spite of the fact that they had forgotten God and worshipped other, false gods, Israel was not "destroyed" or "banished from His presence" because God remembered. God remembered his promise to Abraham.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Well good for Abraham. His faithfulness really paid off for his children and his children's children." But even though Abraham was faithful and obedient in many things, and God blessed that, I wouldn't want you to leave here today thinking that somehow, Abraham was deserving of God's promise.
If you look closely at Genesis, you will see that God's covenant, His promise to Abraham is not based on anything Abraham had done or ever would do. It was based solely on God's grace. Joshua 24 tells us that Abraham's father and his family, like Jehoahaz and 9th century Israel, served other gods. It was God's grace that called Abraham out the darkness, and out of his land and gave him the land the Jehoahaz and Israel would remain in almost 1500 years later because God remembered His covenant.
III. Now: God Remembers, We Remain
But as we think about what this mean for you and me, I need to tell you how this story ends. What is shocking in light of II Kings 13 is that only four chapters later, we read that:
...the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only...20 And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (II Kings 17:18, 20)
In 722 BC, the northern kingdom was conquered, captured., and carted off.
Now, what in the world are we to do with that? Did God have a memory lapse? What about the covenant? Well, what we need to know is that even though the land was given to the Israelites because of God's promise to Abraham, it was not a promise to every Israelite. They lived under a covenant that conditioned their blessing on their obedience.
Therefore, the only reason such a faithless people could remain in that land was because of God's grace in light of His first covenant with Abraham. But if they were cast out, as they eventually were, God would be just in doing so, and His promise to Abraham's offspring would remain for the remnant he chose.
But if this is true, do we also stand on the brink because of our faithlessness? Do we stand teetering on the edge, wondering if we too will be judged? Is there any hope for us because of God's memory?
There is. And our hope is found in the same promise mentioned in II Kings 13:23.
You see, even though the growth and good of the nation and their place in the land were important parts of God's covenant with Abraham, these were not the ultimate goals of that covenant. In Galatians 3 the Apostle Paul wrote that God "announced the gospel in advance to Abraham saying "All nations will be blessed through you."" That's straight out of Genesis 12, and the nations mentioned there include us! So how would all the nations, or all "the families or people of the earth" be blessed?
Paul goes on to write, Christ "redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles (the nations)(that's us) through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."
Through Christ, the "seed of Abraham", the descendant of Abraham, we can become partakers of this promise to Abraham! Isn't that amazing? We can share in a promise made to wandering Semite who lived almost 3500 years ago.
But there's more to it than that. What Paul is ultimately doing in Galatians 3 is pointing us to the fact that another covenant has brought us the blessings of Abraham's covenant. What is this other covenant?
It is Christ's covenant. It is the new covenant made in His blood. And what that covenant tells us is that apart from Jesus, we, like Jehoahaz, like the kingdom of Israel we stand on the brink of extinction. Not because we are threatened by a power from outside.
We are threatened by a power from within, by the power of sin. We are not threatened by a foe that seeks to drive us from our land, but by a foe that seeks to drive us from our Maker, our sustainer, our God.
Apart from a miracle, all of us stand on the brink of extinction, for the wages of sin is death.
But God remembers when it matters most.
Though we had forgotten Him, God had not forgotten us.
He was "gracious to us", He "had compassion" on us, He "showed concern for us", by destroying His Son and banishing Him from His presence. The spotless, lamb of God, born of a virgin, was pushed over the brink. The light of the world was extinguished.
The scars on Jesus' body, the marks of mercy made by the cross will stand forever, for us to behold, as reminders that God remembered our suffering world.
And ultimately, if we belong to him, if we have placed our lived into his hands, we remain, we are not destroyed or banished from His presence, we remain, not because he remembers us, but because he remembers the cross. He remembers the covenant written in the blood of a spotless lamb.
Like a ripple cutting through the ocean of time, we remain because of a conversation he had with His Son almost 2000 years ago, a conversation from which, like an overheard phone call, we heard only one side: "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
Like the original audience of Kings, we desperately need to be reminded of the fact that we stand, we persist, we thrive, we are blessed because God remembers. It's that simple. God remembered and continues to remember; if somehow he could forget that covenant written in the blood of His own Son, we would perish. But He is faithful to His word.
It's certainly not because of anything we've done. We are no better than Jehoahaz and his fellow Israelites. But unlike those Israelites who were never personally guaranteed God's covenant favor, every single person who trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord can stand firm in the assurance of new life.
Why? Because throughout eternity God will remember the new covenant of the cross, and the promise that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will be brought from death to life, from hopelessness to adoption as a child of God.
IV. Moved by His Memory
Are you moved by His memory? No, there is not a 3-point application in this sermon. My hope is that you will simply grasp the fact that you, that our world, has not been forgotten.
When I was little, I liked to play in the middle of those round clothes racks that you might find in any retail store. You can imagine the shock I used to give shoppers as they were sifting through the merchandise. But on several occasions, that little stunt resulted in my separation from my mom.
I would frantically start looking everywhere and quickly conclude I had been forgotten. My mom had walked out of the store, driven off in the car, and had forgotten me, I was sure of it.
But eventually, when a voice came over the loudspeaker, or a store clerk came to my aid and I was reunited with my mother, I always learned that she had not forgotten me; she was looking for me the whole time. Being lost is not the same as being forgotten.
We were not forgotten. How do you respond to a God like this?
Maybe all of this is still a little abstract. Maybe a picture can help us grasp this weight of this. Scripture is filled with images of the God who remembers. Try finding yourself in these pictures.
Picture an emancipator who remembers the affliction of His people who are slaves of an oppressive tyrant. God remembers.
Picture a husband who remembers the vows he has made to his wife, even though she has spurned him for other lovers. God remembers.
Picture a shepherd who remembers each of his sheep, and rescues the one he knows he has lost. God remembers.
Picture a father who remembers the process of adoption is not complete, and comes back for his new children. God remembers.
Picture a traveling king who remembers the suffering of his subjects under an illegitimate regime, and returns in power to reclaim his kingdom. God remembers.
Are you familiar with these pictures? Can you find yourself in them? Have you personally experienced the grace each of these pictures describes, the grace of when God's memory matters most?
How do you respond to a God like this?
Have you ever received a birthday card or a gift from someone you had forgotten all about? The fact that they had not forgotten about you is very humbling isn't it? What does it make you want to do? It makes you want to remember them, doesn't it? It motivates you to find out about their birthday, to find out about the kind of person who would care enough about you to remember.
As I think about this God who remembers, I want to respond to Him by remembering Him, in everything! I don't want to forget. I do forget sometimes, but I don't want to.
As Paul told Timothy, "Remember Jesus Christ" (x2). I can give you, I can give myself no greater encouragement than this: Remember Jesus Christ. By His death you can stand and by His life you can live. Have you trusted him as your only hope?
It's funny what you can find in an obscure passage like this. In a verse that we have probably just skimmed over we are reminded that God will not just skim over His promises.
He will remember, and if you are in Christ, if you have come to him confessing that you have forgotten Him, but now, truly desire to remember Him in all things, you will remain.
How good's your memory? When it comes to remembering what really matters, we fail. But praise be to God that new life is not based on our memory. Praise God that new life is based on the memory of He remembers when it matters most.
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