Some things need to be remembered! In the Bible there are many times where God exhorts us to remember things that are of importance. Once such location is in the book of Deuteronomy. Five times in Deuteronomy, the Lord through Moses told Israel “Remember, you were slaves” as He gives them various commands and requirements.
The first time (5:15) is in the context of keeping the Sabbath day. They were to remember that they were slaves, that it was who God brought them out and because of this, God commanded them to keep the Sabbath, a day to remember God and their relationship with Him.
The second time (15:15) in the context of how Israel was to treat their slaves and deal with the poor, God again says “you shall remember that you were a slave” therefore “I command you this today”.
Then, again, in three more passages (16:12; 24:18,22) God tells them to “Remember they were slaves” as he gives them commands regarding festivals, loaning to brothers, how to treat the poor brothers and how to treat strangers.
So how did Israel do with this exhortation? Did they remember? In the New Testament, John records this conversation between Jesus and the Jews:
Joh 8:30-34 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. (31) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, (32) and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (33) They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (34) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
Apparently, they did NOT remember that they were once slaves. Did that present a problem? Yes, it did. Here’s why:
In Matthew, Jesus tells us that first and second greatest commandments are the foundation for the whole law and the prophets.
Mat 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I find it interesting that the foundation of all the commandments of the Law, all that the prophets said was Love. Love of God and Love of your neighbor as yourself” So it should not surprise us that, in the above passages in Deuteronomy, God talks about how they are to honor Him and how they are to treat their fellow man. There is something about them having been slaves that ties to these commands.
I will suggest a few things that happened, or could happen, in forgetting that they were slaves:.
First, they did not honor God as they should: In Mt 15:3 Jesus says that they broke the commandments of God by their traditions. Imagine that! They had developed a tradition which they enforced on others but that violated a commandment of God. In Luke 12:15-21, Jesus gives a parable of a rich man who was indeed rich but not towards God. His substance was not used for God’s honor nor to help his fellow man…God called him a Fool.
Second, they treated their fellow man with contempt. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (Jn 4:7-9) and no doubt it was because they thought of them as unimportant people. They didn’t so well with the poor, tax collectors, and sinners either. Jesus also told a parable in Luke 18, for the specific reason that some considered themselves to be righteous and held others with contempt (18:9).
Third, they might not become a forgiving people. Chapter 18 in Matthew deals with forgiveness. Peter thought 7 times was a good thing, which seems to be more than most people would do. Jesus points out that it is not limited and again, tells a parable emphasizing the need to forgive our brother. He ends it with the warning that: If we do not forgive our brother from our heart, that God will not forgive us.
Do not think for a second that the exhortation to Israel to “Remember that you were slaves” does not apply to us. Actually, I think it applies even more to us. Because while Israel was in physical bondage, we were in spiritual bondage and slavery.
Rom 6:17-20 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (18) and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (19) I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (20) For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
It is when we remember that we were slaves to sin and freed through the blood of Christ and our obedience to the Gospel of Grace that we will be motivated to worship God in great gratitude for His Grace and sacrifice. We will also in compassion treat our fellow man with the love that they need realizing that God showed that same love to us. This allows us to preach the Gospel, with all of its warnings and exhortations, in compassion and kindness, motivated by the remembrance that we were once slaves of sin as they are now.
If we forget that we were once slaves, not only will we not Honor God and treat our fellow man with love, we may find ourselves once again enslaved by sin.
Remembering that we were slaves will help us to serve our God and fellow man.