Genesis 8:1 surprises us with this obervation: ‘But God remembered Noah’ (ESV). This is the first time the word ‘remember’ occurs in the Bible. Does this mean that God had forgotten Noah and all that he has in the ark? What would have happened if God did not remember them—certainly it would have been disastrous. The supply of food would not last for ever for all of them.
This short phrase brings out the turning point in whole story—a turning point from the devastating flood to the new earth and newness of life. In other words it is the fulcrum on which the events turn from annihiliation to reconstruction. Chapter 7 begins with the beginning of the flood. Around the middle of this chapter we see the fury of the waters that drowned everything—waters from inside the earth, above the earth and then torrential rains lashed to lift the ark up and to drown even mountain peaks (Gen 7:11-12). Chapter 7 ends with the report that the flood is still abating.
He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (Gen 7:23-23 ESV).
Then comes this short sentence bringing with it relief rousing in us the eagerness to know what is going to happen next: ‘But God remembered Noah’ (Gen 8:1 ESV). I would rather like to translate it as ‘then God remembered Noah’ because God’s act of remembering is part of the series of events that we see in Genesis 7. Fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens that were opened to flood the earth are now closed. The rain that persisted for 150 days also ‘was restrained’ (8:2). God had already made a ‘wind to blow over the earth’ so that the ‘water recede’ (8:1). Then finally, the story goes on to tell us how the tops of the mountains became visible, new shoots came out of the trees, dry land appeared and how they landed safely on the new earth as the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. All because ‘God remembered Noah.’
When God remembers things take a new turn, not only here but throughout the Bible. The reason for Lot’s escape from the destruction was that ‘God remembered Abraham’ (Gen 19:29). When God remembered barren Rachel she gave birth to a child (Gen 30:22). The reason for the deliverance of the Israelite slaves from Egypt was nothing but ‘God remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (Exod 2:24). In the New Testament Zechariah the priest affirms his faith in the God ‘who remembers his holy covenant’ (Luke 1:72).
God’s remembrance is the basis for our prayer both positively and negatively. Positively we pray God to remember us fully assured that God will act. When God remembers with favour things are going to be positive. So, when asking for God’s favour in his life Job prayed: ‘Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good’ (Job 7:7 ESV). So also the Psalmist prayes, ‘Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old’ (Psa 25:6 ESV). Making God to ‘remember’ is to make God to act.
Negatively, we ask God not to remember what we have done to earn his displeasure. The dreadful reality is that when God remembers sins things are going to turn against us. So the Psalmist prays:
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! (Psa 25:7 ESV).
Thus when God ‘remembers,’ things take a new turn. People of God had prayed to God to remember their faithfulness as the supplicant of Psalm 20:3 prayed or to remember their helplessness as Job did (Job 7:7). We can also plead for God not to remember our sins so that his favour will remain upon us. Whichever way it goes we cling on to the divine promise that we find in Isaiah 43:25:
I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. (Isa 43:25 ESV).