Have you ever noticed how people’s memories can be very selective? We remember what we want to remember, whether or not things actually happened as we remember them. Usually we remember things to our own advantage, but sometimes we are guilty of twisting the facts.
The first few chapters of Deuteronomy record Moses sharing his memory of the Israelites’ wandering years through the wilderness, while they were on their way to the Promised Land. As I read those chapters today, I was struck by how Moses chose to remember a crucial part of his own history:
When the LORD heard your complaining, he became very angry. So he solemnly swore, ‘Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh…’ (Deuteronomy 1:34-36 NLT)
So far, so good. God was indeed angry with the Israelites for their disobedience toward him (see Numbers 13-14 and the recap in Numbers 32:8-13). But then Moses takes a different turn:
And the LORD was also angry with me because of you. He said to me, ‘Moses, not even you will enter the Promised Land!’ (Deuteronomy 1:37 NLT)
Come on, Moses! That isn’t how things actually happened! Remember how God told you to perform a miracle (calling water out of a rock for the people to drink), but you turned it into a show of your own power (by striking the rock twice with your staff)? Check out the story in Numbers 20:1-13 in case your memory needs refreshing. It was because you disobeyed God yourself that God prevented you from entering the Promised Land! Don’t go trying to shift the blame onto the Israelites!
But isn’t that just like us? How often do we “remember” past events in such a way that we are absolved of blame or responsibility? How often do we shift the blame to other people for our own mistakes? How often do we neglect to say, “You know what, I was in the wrong that time,” or “I was responsible for my own actions”?
Moses may be a hero of the faith (Hebrews 11:23-29), but he is not a perfect hero.
And despite all our attempts to be faithful and “good” people, we need to be aware of (and beware) the temptation that is common to us all: the temptation to blame other people for our own choices. And a second is like it: the temptation to remember past events in a way that puts us on a pedestal above other people.
Friends, let’s be honest about ourselves, our choices, and our histories! And let’s be thankful that God still walks alongside us – and even forgives us – after we do things that displease him! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!