Zechariah. His name means, “Jehovah (God) Remembers.”
Why would parents choose such a name for their child? And why do we come upon so many references in the Hebrew Scriptures to the fact that God remembers?
Could it be that God is growing old and struggling with His memory? Or could it be that God is scatterbrained and not always remembering things? Or could it be something else?
The “remember” part of Zechariah’s name is the Hebrew word zakar (or zechar). Most literally, it means “to leave a mark,” or “to make an impact.” Larry Crabb adds, “In ancient Near East culture, the word referred to a king’s assistant, to a man charged with the important privilege of reminding the king of matters that required his royal attention. Zakar came to mean someone who remembers something important that moves him to do something important.” (Fully Alive, p. 67-68)
When the Bible speaks of God remembering it is not suggesting that a clarity of recall has suddenly burst through a prevailing fog of forgetfulness, but that God is about to take action on that which He has been holding in His heart. For example, Genesis 8:1 tells us that “God remembered” Noah and the animals on the ark, and the next line tells us that “God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” When Rachel is grieving over her lack of children, Genesis 30:22 reports that “God remembered Rachel,” and goes on to tell us “and God heeded her and opened her womb.” As the Hebrew people suffered as slaves in Egypt, Exodus 2:24 records that “God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham;” immediately after that God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and sends him to Egypt to deliver His people.
When Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth gives birth to a son who will grow up to become John the Baptist, Zechariah (whose name means “God Remembers”) sings a song about God remembering His people. Luke 1:72 stresses, “Thus He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered His holy covenant.”
Holding to Biblical precedent, Zechariah is stressing that God is about to take significant action on behalf of those whom He has been holding in His heart. The action here is that John the Baptist has been born, and He will prepare the way for Jesus. Salvation is on the way!
The reason the Bible speaks so often about God remembering is for our sake: We need to remember that God always remembers us and always holds us in His heart.
I greatly appreciate Erik Raymond’s explanation of this: “We forget to remember. But God never does. You can feel the weight of this truth in a passage like Psalm 9 where the Psalmist is feeling the sting of persecution. Through the eyes of faith he is confident in God’s ultimate victory, and he even boasts of as much (verses 4-6). But in the midst of his rehearsal of who God is and what He will do, the Psalmist is reminded that God remembers them. ‘Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples His deeds! For He who avenges blood is mindful of them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted’ (Psalm 9:11-13). Consider the beautiful irony of this passage. The King of kings, whose deeds are worthy of being proclaimed among the nations, remembers the weak. He never forgets. His mind is a veritable steel-trap. He knows the conditions and concerns of His people. How encouraging is this? Amid acknowledging your own personal weakness, you find such a castle of strength. The existence and needs of God’s people never escapes God’s mind.”
I have been told that when Martin Luther struggled with discouragement he would say to himself over and over again, “I am baptized; I am baptized.” It was his way of reminding himself that he was remembered by God, that he belonged to God, that he was held securely in covenant relationship with God.
That’s how it is for us. We need to remember that God remembers us, that God will never forget us, and that God will take action on our behalf.