We saw in the last article how Dawn continued to love her husband John even when he became aggressive towards her when he was drunk. She loved him and didn’t want to walk out of the marriage. She prayed. God answered. John gave his life to Jesus and was transformed. He asked God to forgive him and to release him from the bondage of addiction to alcohol. He was set free by the power of God and remained set free.
How does God release people? We gain some insight by looking at another Hebrew word in the Old Testament, “Salach”. This word has the sense of bringing release to someone. It can be translated to release, to forgive, to be forgiven, to pardon, to spare. It is always used of God as the One who forgives or who sets free. It occurs at least 45 times in the Old Testament. We look at the variety of meanings in many of those verses to discover how rich is the concept of forgiveness.
i). It is used of God releasing people from the guilt of making inappropriate vows
God saw vows as being binding on those who had made them. Here it seems to refer to vows based on premature decisions made without mature counsel. They were in the nature of “thoughtless utterances” or “rash statements”. If young women living at home made such vows and their fathers opposed them on the issue, then the vow would not stand. God would forgive the woman for her “thoughtless utterances” made in the vow. Numbers 30:5 … And the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her.
Similarly if a woman who had made one of these inappropriate vows were to marry and share the vow with her husband, he could oppose the vow and make it void. Numbers 30:8 … he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the LORD will forgive her.
In both situations men who loved and cared for their loved ones could protect them from their wrong vows, and God would forgive those loved ones.
There was a twofold release. The first, from the binding power of a vow. The second, from the guilt arising from making vows in the form of thoughtless utterances.
God can do the same today in the lives of those who make “ungodly” vows. That is, vows made in anger or deep hurt which leave God out of the equation. I have often come across folk who have vowed, ”I will never forgive them as long as I live!” Such folk may be bound up in resentment and unforgiveness and need to be released and set free. God can indeed set people free from the power of their vows. He can also convict them of the sin of making such vows and can release them from guilt when they ask Him to forgive them.
ii). It is used of humans pleading with God for forgiveness
We see it used in King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. He anticipated that the people of Israel would sin against their God. He asks that when he or any other Israelite turned to God for forgiveness, He would forgive them, (1Kings 8:30) And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. (The latter phrase is also found in 1 Kings 8:34, 36, 39, 50).
It is instructive in looking at 1 Kings 8 to see the expressions Solomon used. He spoke of the people repenting of their sin, confessing it to God and thus receiving forgiveness from Him. Notice the underlined words which Solomon saw as describing the determination needed by the people to turn from their sin and back to God. 1Kings 8:46 “If they sin against you–for there is no one who does not sin–and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47 yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ 48 if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 49 then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.
In Australian terms they had to be “fair dinkum” (genuine and sincere) in their turning away from their sin, confessing it to God and in turning back to Him. We see that especially in how they were to turn in their hearts and not just their minds, verse 47; in their need to plead with God, verse 47, and in confessing their sin as being perverse and wicked. Their repentance, meaning a change of mind and a change of heart, was to be wholehearted, with all their mind and with all their heart. No half measures here. It was to be genuine repentance towards One who alone could forgive them.
Daniel also asked God to forgive His people. He recognised that forgiveness could come to the people of God, not because they were righteous, but because He was merciful. Their plea to God for forgiveness had to be based on the mercy of God and not on anything they had to offer of themselves. Daniel 9:18-19 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act….
iii). It is used of God’s forgiveness towards human wickedness and sin
God heard Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. Later the Lord appeared to him at night telling him that he had heard his prayer. He then promised Solomon that if His people humbled themselves to turn back to Him, He would forgive them and bless them, 2 Chronicles 7:14, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
This is one of the most well-known passages in the Bible regarding forgiveness. It shows God’s willingness to hear His people’s request for mercy. It also shows the magnitude of His forgiveness. God encouraged Solomon by promising that should the nation sin against Him, they could be forgiven and know His ongoing blessing. However they needed to humble themselves. They had to sincerely repent of their sin. That meant turning away from it and turning back to Him.
Before we look at some other aspects of this word in Part 2 we turn to another true story which follows on from the story of Dawn and John. It will be at the beginning of Part 2.
Questions for individuals or groups to consider. (Added Wednesday 25th of May 2016)
Ques 1). In section (i) can you think of ungodly vows that are made in today’s world? How can people be set free from the ungodly vows they have made?
Ques 2). In section (ii) we find a number of expressions that are used in seeking forgiveness from God. Which expressions do you think show genuine repentance?
Ques 3). Again from section (ii) what you think is the basis of forgiveness?
Ques 4). In section (iii) what is involved on our part in asking God for forgiveness? What does He promise to do for those who ask Him from the right motive?
Ques 5). Do you think the passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14 applies in today’s world? If so, what implications does it have for us today?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.6. Posted Monday 14February 2011. Updated 25th May 2016