Does that statement strike you as strange? God is omniscient. He knows everything from the names of all the stars to the number of hairs on our head. He doesn’t forget. So how could He remember?
Our church is reading through Genesis, and I am once again using one of Warren Wiersbe’s brief commentaries as an aide: Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word. He had some helpful notes on this passage.
The word “remember” in Genesis 8:1 doesn’t mean to call something to mind that may have been forgotten. God can’t forget anything because He knows the end from the beginning (Kindle location 2006).
Wiersbe uses as an example Hebrews 10:17: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” That doesn’t mean He somehow employs divine amnesia. Rather, He “doesn’t hold our sins against us” any more when we believe on Christ. They are no longer on our account.
So what does it mean that God remembered Noah?
It means “to pay attention to, to fulfill a promise and act on behalf of somebody” (Kindle location 2006).
“To fulfill a promise.” “‘To remember’ implies a previous commitment made by God and announces the fulfillment of that commitment” (Kindle Location 2013). When God “remembers” a promise, He’s not thinking, as we do sometimes with our promises, “Oh yeah! I told them I’d do that. I guess I better get around to it.” Rather, when He “remembers” a promise, He’s saying, “Now is the time!”
“To act on behalf of somebody.” The ESV Study Bible notes echo this: “When the Bible says that God ‘remembers’ someone or His covenant with someone, it indicates He’s about to take action for that person’s welfare” (p. 64). Though He acts on our behalf every day, when He “remembers” us in this way, He’s about to do something special.
In Genesis 8, Noah and his family had been in the ark for over a year. There were 40 days and nights of rain, the flood waters cresting, then slowly receding, then the land drying up enough for everyone to come out. We don’t know how they felt or got along for all that time. But it’s possible they could have felt forgotten or wondered how long this situation was going to go on. Yet God knew all along the time He had set for Noah and his family to disembark and start a new life.
In Psalm 77, Asaph writes of a time in which his “soul refuses to be comforted,” and being “so troubled that I cannot speak.” He got so low in spirit that he asked himself:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”(7-9).
But then he took himself in hand, took his thoughts captive, and directed them to what He knew of God:
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders
you have made known your might among the peoples (11-14).
In Psalm 42, another psalmist experienced a low point.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?” (9-11).
Not only did he “feel” forgotten, but others added fuel to the fire.
But he talks to himself, just as we have to do sometimes:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God (11).
Whenever we feel forsaken, when It seems God is talking a long time to answer our prayers and come to our aid, we can remind ourselves of His love, His character, His promises, His past works in the Bible, and the way He has worked in our own lives. In His perfect timing, He will especially meet our need, come to our aid, and fulfill His promise.
Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (Psalm 106:44-45)