Do You Forgive as Jehovah Does?
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—MATTHEW 6:14, 15.
1, 2. What kind of God do we need, and why?
“JEHOVAH is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness. He will not for all time keep finding fault, neither will he to time indefinite keep resentful. He has not done to us even according to our sins; nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, his loving-kindness is superior toward those fearing him. As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.”—Psalm 103:8-14.
2 Conceived in sin and brought forth with error, with inherited imperfections always trying to lead us captive to sin’s law, we sorely need a God who ‘remembers that we are made of dust.’ Three hundred years after David described Jehovah so beautifully in the 103rd Psalm 103, another Bible writer, Micah, extolled this same God in much the same way for his gracious forgiving of sins once committed: “What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy? Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults, to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.”—Micah 7:18, 19, The Jerusalem Bible.
3. What does it mean to forgive?
3 In the Greek Scriptures, the word for “forgive” means to “let go off.” Note that David and Micah, quoted above, convey the same meaning in winsome, descriptive words. To appreciate fully the amazing extent of Jehovah’s forgiveness, let us review a few of the many examples of it in action. The first one shows that Jehovah’s mind can be turned from destruction to forgiveness.
Moses Intercedes—Jehovah Listens
4. After what demonstrations of Jehovah’s power were the Israelites still afraid to enter the Promised Land?
4 Jehovah brought the nation of Israel safely out of Egypt and near the land he had promised them as a homeland, but they refused to move forward, being afraid of mere men in Canaan. After having seen Jehovah deliver them from Egypt by ten destructive plagues, open an escape route through the Red Sea, destroy the Egyptian army that tried to follow them, inaugurate with them at Mount Sinai the Law covenant that made them Jehovah’s chosen nation, and miraculously supply daily manna from heaven to sustain them, they were afraid to enter the Promised Land because of some overgrown Canaanites!—Numbers 14:1-4.
5. How did two faithful spies try to rally Israel?
5 Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces in dismay. Joshua and Caleb, two faithful spies, tried to rally Israel: ‘The land is a very, very good land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Do not fear the people; Jehovah is with us!’ Instead of being encouraged by such words, the frightened, rebellious people tried to pelt Joshua and Caleb with stones.—Numbers 14:5-10.
6, 7. (a) What did Jehovah decide to do when Israel resisted marching into the Promised Land? (b) Why did Moses object to Jehovah’s sentence on Israel, and with what outcome?
6 Jehovah was angered! “Finally Jehovah said to Moses: ‘How long will this people treat me without respect, and how long will they not put faith in me for all the signs that I performed in among them? Let me strike them with pestilence and drive them away, and let me make you a nation greater and mightier than they are.’ But Moses said to Jehovah: ‘Then the Egyptians will be bound to hear that you by your power have led this people up out of their midst. And they will be bound to tell it to the inhabitants of this land. . . . Were you to put this people to death as one man, then the nations who have heard of your fame would certainly say this, “Because of Jehovah’s not being able to bring this people into the land about which he swore to them he proceeded to slaughter them in the wilderness.”’”—Numbers 14:11-16.
7 Moses pleaded for forgiveness, for the sake of Jehovah’s name: “‘Forgive, please, the error of this people according to the greatness of your loving-kindness, and just as you have pardoned this people from Egypt onward until now.’ Then Jehovah said: ‘I do forgive according to your word.’”—Numbers 14:19, 20.
Manasseh’s Idolatry and David’s Adultery
8. What kind of record did King Manasseh of Judah make?
8 An outstanding example of Jehovah’s forgiveness is the case of Manasseh, the son of good King Hezekiah. Manasseh was 12 years old when he started to reign in Jerusalem. He built the high places, set up altars to the Baals, made sacred poles, bowed to the stars of heaven, practiced magic and sorcery, made spirit mediums and fortune-tellers, put a carved image in the temple of Jehovah, and made his own sons pass through the fire in the Valley of Hinnom. “He did on a grand scale what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah” and “kept seducing Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do worse than the nations that Jehovah had annihilated from before the sons of Israel.”—2 Chronicles 33:1-9.
9. How was Jehovah’s face softened toward Manasseh, and with what result?
9 Finally, Jehovah brought the Assyrians against Judah, and they captured Manasseh and took him to Babylon. “And as soon as it caused him distress, he softened the face of Jehovah his God and kept humbling himself greatly because of the God of his forefathers. And he kept praying to Him, so that He let himself be entreated by him and He heard his request for favor and restored him to Jerusalem to his kingship.” (2 Chronicles 33:11-13) Manasseh then removed the foreign gods, idols, and altars and had them thrown outside the city. He began to offer sacrifices on the altar of Jehovah and started Judah toward serving the true God. This was an amazing demonstration of Jehovah’s willingness to forgive when humility, prayer, and corrective action produce fruits befitting repentance!—2 Chronicles 33:15, 16.
10. How did David try to cover up his sin with Uriah’s wife?
10 King David’s adulterous sin with the wife of Uriah the Hittite is well-known. He not only committed adultery with her but also launched an elaborate cover-up when she became pregnant. The king gave Uriah a leave of absence from the war, expecting him to go to his house and have intercourse with his wife. But, out of respect for his fellow soldiers at the battlefront, Uriah declined. David then invited him to eat and got him drunk, but Uriah still did not go in to his wife. David then sent a message to his general to put Uriah in the thick of the fighting in order to get Uriah killed, which is what happened.—2 Samuel 11:2-25.
11. How was David brought to repentance for his sin, yet what did he suffer?
11 Jehovah sent his prophet Nathan to David to expose the king’s sin. “David now said to Nathan: ‘I have sinned against Jehovah.’ At this Nathan said to David: ‘Jehovah, in turn, does let your sin pass by. You will not die.’” (2 Samuel 12:13) David was guilt-stricken over his sin and expressed his repentance in a heartfelt prayer to Jehovah: “For you do not take delight in sacrifice—otherwise I would give it; in whole burnt offering you do not find pleasure. The sacrifices to God are a broken spirit; a heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16, 17) Jehovah did not despise David’s prayer offered from a broken heart. Still, David did suffer heavy punishment, in keeping with Jehovah’s statement about forgiveness at Exodus 34:6, 7: “By no means will he give exemption from punishment.”
Solomon’s Dedication of the Temple
12. What did Solomon request at the time of the dedication of the temple, and what was Jehovah’s response?
12 When Solomon completed the building of the temple of Jehovah, he said in his prayer of dedication: “You must listen to the entreaties of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place, that you yourself may hear from the place of your dwelling, from the heavens; and you must hear and forgive.” Jehovah responded: “When I shut up the heavens that no rain may occur and when I command the grasshoppers to eat up the land and if I send a pestilence among my people, and my people upon whom my name has been called humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn back from their bad ways, then I myself shall hear from the heavens and forgive their sin, and I shall heal their land.”—2 Chronicles 6:21; 7:13, 14.
13. What does Ezekiel 33:13-16 show concerning Jehovah’s view of a person?
13 As Jehovah looks at you, he accepts you for what you are now, not what you have been. It will be as Ezekiel 33:13-16 says: “When I say to the righteous one: ‘You will positively keep living,’ and he himself actually trusts in his own righteousness and does injustice, all his own righteous acts will not be remembered, but for his injustice that he has done—for this he will die. And when I say to the wicked one: ‘You will positively die,’ and he actually turns back from his sin and carries on justice and righteousness, and the wicked one returns the very thing pledged, pays back the very things taken by robbery, and actually walks in the very statutes of life by not doing injustice, he will positively keep living. He will not die. None of his sins with which he has sinned will be remembered against him. Justice and righteousness are what he has carried on. He will positively keep living.”
14. What is distinctive about Jehovah’s forgiveness?
14 The forgiveness that Jehovah God provides for us has a distinctive feature, one that is difficult for human creatures to include with the forgiveness they offer to one another—he both forgives and forgets. Some people will say, ‘I can forgive what you’ve done, but I can’t (or won’t) forget it.’ In contrast, note what Jehovah says he will do: “I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.”—Jeremiah 31:34.
15. What record of forgiveness does Jehovah have?
15 Jehovah has been forgiving his worshipers on earth for thousands of years. He has been forgiving sins they are aware of committing as well as many they are unaware of. His provision of mercy, long-suffering, and forgiveness has been endless. Isaiah 55:7 says: “Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will forgive in a large way.”
Forgiveness in the Christian Greek Scriptures
16. Why can we say Jesus’ practice of forgiveness is in harmony with Jehovah’s?
16 The accounts of God’s forgiveness saturate the record in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Jesus speaks of it often, showing that he is in harmony with Jehovah’s mind on the subject. Jesus’ thinking comes from Jehovah, he reflects Jehovah, he is the exact representation of Jehovah’s very being; to see him is to see Jehovah.—John 12:45-50; 14:9; Hebrews 1:3.
17. How did Jesus illustrate Jehovah’s forgiving “in a large way”?
17 That Jehovah forgives in a large way is indicated in one of Jesus’ illustrations, that of a king who forgave a slave a debt of 10,000 talents (about $33,000,000, U.S.). But when that slave would not forgive a fellow slave a debt of a hundred denarii (some $60, U.S.), the king was furious. “‘Wicked slave, I canceled all that debt for you, when you entreated me. Ought you not, in turn, to have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy on you?’ With that his master, provoked to wrath, delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay back all that was owing.” Jesus then made the application: “In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.”—Matthew 18:23-35.
18. How did Peter’s view of forgiveness compare with Jesus’ view?
18 Just prior to Jesus’ giving the above illustration, Peter came up to Jesus and asked: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter thought he was being very generous. Though the scribes and the Pharisees set a limit on forgiveness, Jesus said to Peter: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21, 22) Seven times would hardly suffice for one day, as Jesus said: “Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him. Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3, 4) When Jehovah forgives, he does not keep count—happily for us.
19. What must we do to obtain Jehovah’s forgiveness?
19 If we have the humility to repent and confess our sins, Jehovah agrees to respond in our behalf: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9.
20. What willingness to forgive sin was shown by Stephen?
20 Jesus’ follower Stephen, in a remarkable spirit of forgiveness, cried out this appeal as an enraged mob was pelting him with stones: “‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then, bending his knees, he cried out with a strong voice: ‘Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.’ And after saying this he fell asleep in death.”—Acts 7:59, 60.
21. Why was Jesus’ willingness to forgive the Roman soldiers so astounding?
21 Jesus set an even more astounding example of willingness to forgive. His enemies had arrested him, illegally tried him, convicted him, mocked him, spat on him, flogged him with a whip with many thongs that likely had bits of bone and metal embedded in them, and finally left him nailed to a stake for hours. The Romans were involved in much of this. Yet, as Jesus was dying on that torture stake, he said to his heavenly Father about the soldiers who had impaled him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”—Luke 23:34.
22. What words from the Sermon on the Mount must we try to put into practice?
22 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” To the end of his earthly ministry, he obeyed that principle himself. Is that too demanding for us, who struggle with the weaknesses of our fallen flesh? At least we should try to put into practice the words Jesus taught his followers after giving them the model prayer: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 5:44; 6:14, 15) If we forgive as Jehovah forgives, we will forgive and forget.
Do You Remember?
□ How does Jehovah deal with our sins, and why?
□ Why was Manasseh restored to his kingship?
□ What distinctive feature of Jehovah’s forgiveness is a challenge for humans to imitate?
□ How was Jesus’ willingness to forgive so astounding?
[Picture on page 24]
Nathan helped David to see the need for God’s forgiveness