“He remembered.” So simple and yet so powerful, these nuanced words imply so much.
Studying the account of the Flood in Genesis, the words “But God remembered Noah” struck me as a powerful revelation of God’s character. Searching further, I discovered several more specific instances where the Bible stated, “God remembered.”
The Significance of God Remembering
Humanly speaking, the statement “he remembered” implies that someone could easily have forgotten, but he didn’t. Or he might have had no reason to bother remembering, but he chose to do so anyway.
In our human relationships, “remembering” is so important, whether we expect it or not. For a busy friend to remember my son’s birthday, whom I lost the year before. For friends or acquaintances to remember my difficulties and pray for me—out of the myriad other concerns they could spend their time praying for. When our plight (or existence) seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, to be noticed—to be remembered—renews our sense of value and worth.
Unlike us, God does not “forget” to take care of those who trust him. He already knows every detail of our lives. “Remembering” in this sense is promise-keeping, rather than forsaking. It is empowering and providing for those who by faith are obeying His commands. “He remembered” speaks of God’s goodness and faithfulness.
In these contexts, the words “He remembered” send chills of gratitude down my spine, reminding me I am known and loved.
Patterns of God Remembering
Though God knows everyone, the Bible explicitly states that he “remembered” Noah, Abraham, Rachel, (His covenant with) the Israelites, and Hannah. God remembered men and women, whole people groups, and his promises. (Obvious but not explicit is God’s remembering the people of the world, separated from Him and groaning under the influence of sin. I’ll delve into that next week.)
All five instances involve these things (to some extent):
- Pain—of uncertainty, fear of loss, disappointed hopes, or oppression
- Waiting—anywhere from days to centuries
- Provision—of what was needed or desired
- Deliverance—immediately, for the person involved, or years later, on a much larger scale
In the cases of Noah, Abraham, Rachel, the Israelites, and Hannah, there is something for us to learn about God’s faithfulness and goodness.
“But God Remembered Noah…”
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.Genesis 8:1
God had commanded, and Noah obeyed.
It wasn’t easy. To start with, Noah stood alone as the only man righteous in his entire generation, a generation whose “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” So God confided in Noah his plan to destroy the earth, gave him instructions for building an ark of safety, and promised to establish His covenant with Noah’s family. At somewhere around 600 years old, Noah began building the ark in the middle of dry land while others must have thought him crazy. In addition, he and his family must have had a ton of work (literally) preparing enough food, drink, and provisions for his family AND an entire zoo that would be on the ark for an indefinite amount of time.
And then the waiting, oh the waiting. Waiting while the rain pounded on the roof for 40 days straight. Then waiting, shut tight in the ark rolling on the waves, with never-ending animal sounds and growing stench for 150 days. “God remembered,” but still Noah had to wait. Once the ark finally hit a mountain, Noah waited two and a half more months for the mountains to become visible, still not knowing how long they’d be stuck. From the first raindrops until the water had finally “dried up from the earth” and God commanded him to come out, Noah had been on the ark for ten and a half months. (Check this out for yourself in Genesis 6-8.)
I like to know. I like to plan ahead, so I know what to expect. Before I go on vacation, I look up the weather forecast, check what activities we may be doing, and then pack accordingly. In the middle of hard circumstances, I like to tell myself, Only 4 more years….Only 10 more months….I can make it through 2 more weeks.
For all the times God has been faithful to me, and for all His history of faithfulness recorded in the Bible, I am still prone to doubt. When I don’t see, I wonder.
God had promised to save Noah and his family from the destruction of the earth. But then He shut Noah in the ark and seemingly went silent for most of a year. The rain had long since stopped. They floated endlessly. Maybe they felt the shudder of the ark striking rock and growing still. Now what?
If it were me, I would have wondered, Did God leave and forget about us? How long will we be stuck here? Were we saved from the flood only to die of starvation…or cabin fever?
Noah was not privy to God’s entire plan, but he waited in faith. And God remembered—He took care of Noah and this family on the ark, and also the animals who also were cramped and living out of their natural habitat.
God sent the flood, but then he sent a wind to dry it up and clean up the mess. Noah, his family, and the animals were remembered, not forgotten.
In a Nutshell:
- Pain—loss of all they knew on earth;uncertainty of when or how they would get out of the ark
- Waiting—ten and a half months
- Provision—safety on the ark; a wind to dry up the water; an earth that was once again ready to sustain life
- Deliverance—first, from the destruction of the world by water; then from the confines of the ark
“He Remembered Abraham…”
So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.Genesis 19:29
Lot was the nephew of Abraham, the son of his deceased brother. He was the only family member of his father’s household dwelling anywhere near him in the land. While Lot seems to me selfish (choosing the greenest, best-watered land for himself instead of deferring to his elder relative) and unwise (settling near, then moving into the wicked city of Sodom), he is mentioned in 2 Peter 2 as “righteous.” While that passage says God rescued Lot because he was righteous, the Genesis account attributes his rescue to Abraham: “He remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe.”
When heavenly visitors came to promise Sarah she would have a child within the year, they also scouted out Sodom and Gomorrah to see if they were as wicked as the outcry that had risen up against these two cities. Humble Abraham ventured to request that God would spare the cities if he could find 50 righteous men there. That granted, his confidence increased until he had secured the Lord’s promise to spare the city if he could find only 10 righteous living there.
The angels of the Lord continued on to Sodom, visited Lot, rescued his family from the evening attack of the townsmen, then sent them out of the town ahead of the coming destruction.
What Abraham had requested of God—to spare the city for the sake of 10 righteous men—the angels did not even find. Yet God remembered Abraham—perhaps his unspoken desire to spare his relatives, if not the city. For Abraham’s sake—his righteousness, his faith, God spared Lot, his wife, and his two daughters, and gave them a chance to escape fire from heaven. (Read Genesis 18 and 19 to check out this story.)
So many times God is merciful, not giving us what our sins (or even merely unwise choices) deserve. Sometimes this mercy is on behalf of one more wise or more righteous than we.
In a Nutshell:
- Pain—potential loss of his nephew Lot
- Waiting—one day (or till he learned Lot had been spared)
- Provision—The Lord’s word to not destroy Sodom if 10 righteous people could be found
- Deliverance—of Lot and his family from Sodom before it was destroyed by fire
“Then God Remembered Rachel…”
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.Genesis 30:22
Jacob asked to marry Rachel, but her father tricked Jacob into marrying her sister Leah. Jacob had to work 7 more years to obtain Rachel as his wife. So childbearing ability became a source of intense sibling rivalry in this marriage arrangement.
In Old Testament times, people viewed children as a blessing from God, and childlessness as a curse. At the very least, childlessness was a social disgrace.
Sometimes it seems God gives a blessing to compensate for a sorrow. In Rachel and Leah’s situation, this was the case. “When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” It’s not that God didn’t care about Rachel. He showed concern for each sister in different ways at different times. One sister had her husband’s love; the other had sons.
Over the course of time, Leah had 6 sons and a daughter, as well as 2 sons by her maidservant. Rachel also attempted building a family through her maidservant, who gave her two sons. Through all those years, Rachel remained barren.
“Then God remembered Rachel….”
In time, when things evened out, The Lord “listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, ‘God has taken away my disgrace.’”
(See Genesis 28-30 for more details about Jacob, Rachel, and Leah’s relationship.)
Rachel named her son Joseph. This was the same Joseph to whom Jacob gave a coat of many colors, and his brothers were so jealous they sold him to slave traders. This was the same Joseph who, years later, rose from slave to second in command in Egypt, whom God used to save all of Jacob’s family from famine. (See Genesis 41:57 through chapter 47.)
When God doesn’t give us our heart’s desire, it may or may not be about us. It may be neither about punishment nor reward. Maybe there are bigger things at play. “No” isn’t always forever.
In a Nutshell:
- Pain—disgrace of childlessness and rivalry with sister
- Waiting—at least 10 years (or as long as it took for Leah and the two maidservants to bear 10 sons)
- Provision—Jacob’s love, and finally, a son (and later one more son)
- Deliverance—from famine for Jacob’s entire family decades later
“He Remembered His Covenant…”
God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.Exodus 2:24
God’s covenant with Abraham was to give him a son, to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and to make nations out of him. His covenant also included the promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants forever (Genesis 15:4-5, 17:4-8).
Generations after Abraham—even generations after Jacob and Rachel—their descendants had multiplied in Egypt, after going there to escape the famine and be with their brother Joseph. In time, new kings did not remember what Joseph had done. Fearing the growing numbers of Israelites, they put them to forced labor, making “their lives bitter.” Even worse, Pharaoh had issued orders to kill every male Hebrew baby that was born.
Moses’ mother had hidden him as long as she could, and then putting him in a basket in the river, Pharoah’s daughter providentially found Moses and raised him. (How ironic.) Moses grew up, stood up for his fellow Israelites, and ended up fleeing to Midian where he married and spent many years.
“During that long period….The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant….” (Ex. 2:23-24)
God did not forget about his people when they settled and multiplied in Egypt. He did not suddenly remember them when their outcry against oppression reached his ears.
He already knew.
The Lord had already made his promise generations before to Abraham:
“Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves; and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”
Reading on, God adds this comment: “…for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Even so, God’s “remembering” did not bring instantaneous deliverance. He called and prepared Moses. Moses approached hard-hearted Pharaoh ten times, with requests and with plagues from the Lord, before the Egyptians were sick and tired of devastation and ready to let their slaves go free. (In fact, the oppression got worse before it got better, and the people blamed Moses.)
Then they saw the deliverance of the Lord.
(Read Exodus chapters 1-15 for the full story.)
God had not forgotten his people. Perhaps he was waiting for them to realize their predicament and cry out to him.
Before their cry for help went up to God, he was already preparing their salvation.
God had his own timeline—even while his people were suffering, He had a larger, more glorious plan. He also foreknew all these details, sharing them in a vision with Abraham. And the salvation of the Hebrews from Egypt had to align with the punishment of the Amorites—he had to prepare a place for them.
God had never forgotten the Jews.
“For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham. He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; he gave them the lands of the nations….” (Ps.105:42-44)
We see our misery in the moment. God sees the big picture. He knows the promises, prophecies, and plans that have to intricately work together.
In a Nutshell:
- Pain—oppression of hard slavery, grief of babies being killed
- Waiting—400 years
- Provision—a Princess to find and raise Moses; Moses to lead the people; land of Canaan to be ready for inhabiting
- Deliverance—Pharoah relented and the Egyptians sent the Israelites off with gold, silver, and provisions
“The Lord Remembered Her”
Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her.1 Samuel 1:19
At the annual pilgrimage to offer sacrifices to the Lord at Shiloh, Hannah wept before the Lord “in bitterness of soul.” Like Rachel, Hannah had a rival wife (with many children) who frequently provoked her.
When high priest Eli observed her, he thought she was drunk. But Hannah answered, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled….I was pouring out my soul to the Lord….I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Eli answered, without even hearing the cause of her grief, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
After worshipping, Hannah’s family returned to their home in another town, and in accordance with Eli’s blessing, “…the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time she conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel….”
(1 Samuel 1-2 describes Hannah’s experience with God.)
After Samuel was weaned, Hannah dedicated him to the Lord, sending him to the tabernacle to grow up under Eli’s tutelage. This Samuel grew heard the Lord’s voice as a child. He grew up to become the great prophet that anointed Israel’s first king and ministered during King Saul’s and later King David’s reigns over Israel.
We don’t know why God didn’t give Hannah children from the outset. But we do know her great grief led to great gratitude. And like Rachel’s son, Samuel grew up to be a great leader among his people.
In a Nutshell:
- Pain—shame of childlessness and provocation from rival wife
- Provision—a son, Samuel
- Deliverance—the prophet Samuel anointed King David who delivered Israel from the Philistines
While God knows everyone’s needs, God especially remembered Noah, and Abraham, and Rachel, and his covenant with his people, and Hannah. In all five instances, God remembered people who were enduring especially grievous or trying situations. And in every situation, great deliverance was brought about at just the right time.
May we stand in awe at the God who sees, who hears, and who remembers us in the midst of our pain. He is the God acts in accordance with his promises and his perfect plan.