First published as a short story in 1951 titled “The Fireman,” Ray Bradbury’s classic is better known as “Fahrenheit 451.” It is a chilling tale that looks forward to a time when books will be considered dangerous. At the time of its publishing, not many years had passed since Hitler and his gangs burned the books of those they had identified as a dangerous people. Bradbury’s protagonist, Montag, was a fireman. It was his job to send mechanical hounds throughout the country to search for people that owned books. They were imprisoned and tortured. The books they found were burned. The title of the Bradbury’s chillingly prophetic work reflected the temperature at which the paper catches fire.
Jarred by the murder of a free thinking neighbor, Montag’s recently surfacing questions of conscience eventually led to his own flight from the city. Out in the countryside, he found a group of people that had memorized entire books to preserve both their content and their message for mankind. Their purpose was to preserve the written wisdom of the ages for future generations. Montag was challenged to memorize the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon’s diary of his search for significance in the pleasures of life.
In the last chapter of Fahrenheit 451, as nuclear bombs destroy the city he fled from, a passage from the Bible sprang to life in Montag’s mind:
“On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).”
Committing Scripture to Memory
Isn’t it interesting that in the Hebrew Scriptures God instructed Israel to memorize His Word and recite it to one another (Deuteronomy 6:7, Joshua 1:8)? At a time when everyday access to the written Word of God almost unheard of, the very words of God were memorized by the Jewish people. This was accomplished through continuous repetition in a family setting. Large portions of the Old Testament were passed from generation to generation, century after century, through this oral memorization tradition.
Failure to remember God’s Word directly led to Israel’s forty years of wilderness wandering, the cyclical oppression during the 400 year period of the judges, and the exile of the Jewish people from their Promised land at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians. When efforts were made by Israel to once again remember, the Jewish people and even the Nations were blessed.
By the time Jesus began to minister in Israel, the great rabbis were employing a very effective teaching technique that assumed a large knowledge base of Scripture in the minds of the people they taught. A rabbi would quote a small portion of Scripture as the basis for a lesson he wanted to teach. Because the people already knew the passage from memory, where the rabbi would stop his recitation of a passage the hearers would complete the passage from their own memory of it. This was a very powerful teaching technique that can still be used by those who would disciple others today. When discipling others, followers of Yeshua today should be strongly encouraged to memorize Scripture.
Most of Christendom celebrates Palm Sunday. This holiday commemorates the day Yeshua arrived in Jerusalem in the days before His death, burial and resurrection during the coming Passover week. Upon His entrance into the city, children shouted Hosanna to the Son of David. Indignant that Yeshua had allowed this, the chief priests and scribes confronted Him in anger.
Consider Matthew 21:15 & 16. This passage illustrates how Jesus used the rabbinic technique described above to drive home an important lesson. Have you never read. ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself…?’ Where Yeshua stopped His recitation, the learned men of Israel undoubtedly finished the quotation in their own minds. Jesus did not need to issue a verbal rebuke. It was contained in the unspoken part of the passage, because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease (Psalm 8:2). Yeshua’s opposition understood His point. It infuriated them. Yeshua’s point would have been missed without the people’s repository of memorized Scripture.
Let me encourage you to prayerfully consider doing something really important for yourself and your ministry. Start memorizing significant passages of Scripture, more than just a couple of verses here and there. Memorize enough of a passage that you understand the context of what you are learning.
May I suggest that you start with John 1:1-18? This passage is an important connector between the Old and New Covenants. It reaches back to Genesis 1:1 and looks forward to the end of time. It speaks of the One who is the hinge of HIStory. If you will begin memorizing chunks of Scripture, you will be amazed how quickly God will honor your effort by providing opportunities to share what He has placed in your mind.
At Yad Vashem, Israel’s national museum of remembrance of the Holocaust, there is an inscription everyone should commit to memory. It is not Scripture. But it communicates a truth principle.
Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption.
The powerful message of Baal Shem Tov’s reminder to Jewish people everywhere is to never forget! For many years this inscription was placed near the exit of the Children’s Memorial. It is estimated that two million children died in Hitler’s death camps, many consumed by the fires of his furnaces. What happened in Hitler’s ovens could well be a precursor of what is ahead for the people of God in this, the Church Age.
Like paper, human flesh also burns. We should not forget the power of God’s Word committed to memory.
The grass withers, the flower fades, ut the word of our God stands forever. – Isaiah 40:8