Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence; therefore I command thee to do this thing. When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
The book of Deuteronomy should really be called Down Memory Lane. Two phrases run side by side through the book: "Thou shalt remember" and "Beware lest ye forget."
Here Moses calls upon God's people to remember three things.
They were to remember their ruin: "Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt." This was John Newton's favorite text. He lived a wild and profligate life on the high seas as a slave trader. Eventually he sank so low as to actually become the slave of a slave, the slave of a woman who exulted in her power over him and made him even beg for his bread. He could never recall those days without a shudder. After his conversion he wrote out this text—"Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman (a slave). . . and the Lord thy God redeemed thee." He put it on the mantelpiece of his study to remind him.
But, back to Israel's plight in Egypt. A slave! In Egypt! Indeed how the mighty had fallen! Proud Judah, crafty Levi, cruel Simeon, ambitious Ephraim—they were all slaves. They were all under the sentence of death, with no power to redeem themselves, still less to redeem their brothers. Such was the extent of their ruin.
Then, too, they were to remember their redemption: "The Lord thy God redeemed thee"— the Lord, Jehovah that is, the God of Covenant, the One who had entered into a contractual relationship with Abraham in what we now call the Abrahamic covenant. And what a covenant that is—an unconditional contract embracing the promulgation, protection, and promotion of Abraham's seed. "The Lord redeemed thee!—He was faithful to His contract despite His people's unfaithfulness.
"The Lord thy God redeemed thee." God! Here the word is Elohim—God as the God of creation, the God who has power enough and to spare. What a God He is! He has power to endow an atom with energy enough to annihilate an island of the sea. The God who has power enough to fuel a few hundred billion stars in a hundred billion galaxies and send them on prodigious journeys at unconceivable velocities across the vast reaches of space.
"The Lord thy God redeemed thee," Moses said. "Never forget it." Rather. "Never forget Him."
Moreover, they were to remember their responsibility. They were to express their gratitude, not in sacrifices and offerings, not in rituals and religious observances, though, of course, such things had their place. They were to remember it by showing kindness to the poor, to the widow, to the stranger, and to the fatherless—especially at harvest time.
God would have us to be ever mindful of the poor. He is mindful of them for when His own Son lived down here on Earth, He was numbered among the poor. We should never forget it.