My Grandfather’s Clock


When I was small we frequently visited my grandparents (Zadie and Bubbie) in East Baltimore. They lived in a narrow three story row house where my father and his siblings had grown up. Zadie was a tailor and a very devout Jew. On the first night of Passover the seder would be held in his kitchen. As a child it seemed to me that the seders stretched on interminably. More often than not, the sweet wine that Zadie had prepared (treading the grapes barefoot in the bathtub) hastened my early retirement to the sofa in the living room. However, the one thing in Zadie’s kitchen that fascinated me the most was the wind-up clock on the wall.

It certainly was not a fancy clock. Overall it was approximately a foot high.  Its round face was surrounded by an octagonal frame. Its lower section dropped straight for a few inches and then tapered to a point. There was a little door with a window that displayed the swinging pendulum. Though made of wood, the whole thing was painted white. I remember watching the pendulum and listening to the loud ticking. Especially through the long hours of the Passover seder. I really loved that clock.

I was about 19 years old when my grandfather died. When Bubbie moved out of the old house she gave me the clock. I was absolutely delighted when I brought it home. I was sitting in the kitchen in my parents’ house, and the clock was sitting in a box on the floor next to the refrigerator when my father came in. When he saw the clock he became angry and demanded to know where I had got it. When I told him that my grandmother had given it to me, he became even angrier and told me that I could not have it. He said it was a piece of trash and that he was going to throw it out. He grabbed the box, went out the door, and I never saw the clock again.

Obviously, I was quite upset, but there was nothing I could do. My later teen years were difficult for both my father and I and we did not get along.  Thankfully, as time went on and I grew up and had a family of my own, our relationship improved greatly. But the clock was never mentioned again. I did
not consciously dwell on the subject, but occasionally I would think about it and regret its loss. When she was alive, my wife used to tell me that probably the reason we have three wind-up pendulum clocks in our house was a concession to the memory of Zadie’s clock.

My father died about twenty seven years ago. Almost ten years later I was in Baltimore and I visited his youngest brother. My uncle’s children were all grown, and he no longer needed an entire house for just him and his wife. He was looking for an apartment, but that would mean getting rid of all the stuff he had stored in the basement. And there was a lot of stuff. He took me down there to see if there was something I might be able to use. Extra tools would be helpful, but it’s a problem to bring a lot of things back to Israel so I didn’t expect much. And there on the workbench was the clock!

I was amazed and asked him where he got it. Somewhere along the line he had received it from my father. It had never been thrown out. Well, I told him that this is what I definitely wanted. Unfortunately, he said it was the one thing I could not have. It also had sentimental value for him and he wanted to clean it up and use it. He was firm about it, so I didn’t push too hard.  I half jokingly asked that he leave it to me in his will.

More years past and I was again in the States. This time I was visiting another uncle. He also has a full basement of stuff. (It runs in the family.) Though he is not planning to move, he is also a generous individual and always wants to give things to me when I visit. He mentioned that my other uncle had moved and had to get rid of many things, some of which ended up in his basement – one of which was a clock. “What clock?” I eagerly asked. We went downstairs and indeed, there it was again. I could take it!

It took 35 years to reacquire that simple clock. While it may seem like just a sweet sentimental story, I believe there is a powerful message in it about the faithfulness of God.

In the 11th month of the 40th year after our people came out of Egypt they stood on the east side of the Jordan River preparing to finally enter the promised land. Moses addressed the nation, reviewing the history of the previous 40 years. With warnings and promises he exhorted the people to faithfully serve the Lord and keep His commandments. He said:

“And you are to remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

The command here is to “remember.”  It is an indispensable tool for us. It is remembering that gives us the proper perspective on our lives as we journey onward. In Numbers 33, there  is a list of the places that Israel camped throughout their time in the wilderness. Every place is significant (as well as the traveling from one place to another) because it represents another stage in the process of shaping the people into what God designed them to be.

So Moses says, “remember.” Memories can be triggered by almost anything; a smell, a taste, a song, certain places, etc. But Moses is not speaking just of those things that come up involuntarily as a result of sensory input. He is exhorting us to look at the past up through the present in the context of God’s promise to lead His people. We are to examine the path we have been on and recognize that the Lord has been there all along, even when He was silent.  All that Israel experienced in the wilderness journey was orchestrated by the Lord to humble them and to reveal their hearts.

What does it mean to be humbled by God?

It simply means that He places us in situations that clearly demonstrate that we are not in charge and He is!

In every situation along the way they needed His assistance. Whether being trapped between Pharaoh’s pursuing armies and the sea, or experiencing lack of food and water, Israel needed to turn to the Lord. Their response revealed their hearts. Not for the Lord’s information – He already knew. For them. They needed to see what was within. Jeremiah 17:9,10 says that the human heart is deceitful and that the Lord searches the heart and tests the mind. We need to see what is inside because we have the propensity to fool ourselves.

So Moses says, “remember.” Remember the time when you lacked food and water, and you complained and God provided. Remember when you wished you were back in Egypt because the journey seemed endless. Remember how He provided time and time and time again. So the next time you face a difficult situation you will say to yourself, “I’ve been here before. I don’t need to be fearful or complain. God is also here with me. He’s got it all under control.”

Now that doesn’t mean we always get just what we want when we want it. But it does mean that we will always get what we need to fulfill His purpose for our lives.

In Deuteronomy 8:3-5, we see three important things to remember:

  1. Food is not the most important thing.  Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  Hebrews 12:16 says Esau sold his own birthright for a single meal. He would not have starved to death if he had waited to receive the spiritual and character-building benefits first. Neither would have Israel. This brings us to the second point.
  2. We learn more from necessities than luxuries.  Their clothing and sandals never wore out in 40 years. They were never without certain basic necessities throughout the entire time. I wonder if they thought much on what a miracle that truly was. Deuteronomy 29:6 says that bread and wine were not on the menu those 40 years so that they would know that the Lord was God. They didn’t have the fancy foods, but there was always manna.  Sometimes we learn much more from the bare necessities than from the luxuries. It’s not as comfortable, but in the long run, which end result do you prefer?
  3. The Lord’s discipline is for our highest good.  Finally, “know in your heart” that the Lord was disciplining you like a man disciplines his child. He’s doing His work in us for our ultimate benefit, for our highest good. Hebrews 12 covers this same topic and says in verse 5 that we have forgotten this aspect of our trials. God is dealing with us as beloved children. What is the cure for forgetting? It is to “remember”.

But let us not think that the training process of God is all heavy burdens and austere living conditions. Rav Sha’ul said, “I’ve learned to abound and to be abased.” Both are necessary in the learning process because we are being prepared to receive the abundance of God without squandering it. Just look at the description of the land in Deuteronomy 8:7-10. The springs of water and the plentiful produce of the land was for them. But these resources had been the possession of those who formerly lived there and who lost it because of their behavior. God does not want His children to suffer the same fate. He wants a people who will show forth His glory.

When I remember my grandfather’s clock I think about how God has been faithful to me throughout the years, how there is nothing outside the scope of His watchful care. Sometimes many years must pass before we see certain promises fulfilled, but it doesn’t mean He’s not on the job. There are things we’ve prayed, cried out to God for, that seem to have been unanswered.  But He has heard. The clock is a reminder to me of His hand on my life – as a child at my Zadie’s seder table, as a lost and wayward teenager, as a young family man encountering the Lord, and now as a father and grandfather myself after walking with the Lord for nearly fifty years. I remember how He has led me and shaped me. And it gives me confidence for the future and for the end of the journey.