Shirley said excitedly, “I feel that a whole load has lifted off my shoulders.” She had come to see me because she felt so burdened. She had been through cancer surgery and other treatment and survived. It soon became obvious as we talked that she was carrying a lot of resentment and unforgiveness. I shared the gospel message about Jesus who could forgive her of the things of which she said, she felt ashamed. Not only that but He could help her forgive those who had hurt her. Then she would be able to move on in life without all the bitterness and pain she had been carrying. I led her in a prayer of commitment to Jesus in which she thanked Him for dying for her on the cross. She then invited Him into her life. The result was a different Shirley. She was smiling and looking more at peace as she said those words above.
Had anything happened? Yes! A whole load of guilt had indeed been lifted from her as she prayed the prayer. She became even more relaxed in the weeks that followed. She began to understand more fully who Jesus was and the implications of what He had done for her on the cross. She began to know the peace that forgiveness brings to those who receive it from God. She also knew a greater ongoing release as she forgave more of the people she recognised had damaged her life in some way in the past. She has remained in good health many years later.
There were people in the Old Testament who had similar experiences of release through forgiveness. One of the words used for “forgive” in the Old Testament is “nasa”. It refers to the lifting up or removal of sin leading to forgiveness in several of the 600 plus occurrences of that word in the Bible. The word also means to lift up or carry away. It refers in a literal sense to the lifting up some part of the body such as the head, eyes, face, hands, or lifting up one’s voice. It was used to show how God had lifted up and carried the nation of Israel to safety. We note how it is used in the following verses where nasa is underlined.
i). God spared His people from their enemies
The sin of the city Sodom was repugnant to God. He vowed to punish it. Abraham asked God to spare the city if there were fifty righteous people to be found in it. His reply was “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Genesis 18:26. It appears in the story that there were not even ten righteous people in the city and so punishment fell. If there had been ten, the widespread punishment of the city would have been averted; they would have been spared.
In Exodus 19 we read of the Israelites as they journeyed from bondage in Egypt towards the promised land of Canaan. They came into wilderness of Sinai. There the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: Exodus 4) You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Exodus 19:3, 4. He reminded them of His faithfulness in leading them out of Egypt. (He “bore” [nasa] them on eagles’ wings).
There are many people in today’s world who relate to those verses. They feel that God did carry them through the difficult times they experienced. It is the theme behind the well -known poem “Footprints in the Sand” where the writer describes life as walking with the Lord in the sand. However she notices only one set of footprints in the sand at the difficult times of life. In the poem she enquires of the Lord, Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.” Hundreds of people have shared with me over the years some very tragic stories of experiences in their lives. But many of them have shared that it was only as they thought back over those times much later on that they realised that God had indeed supported them or carried them through those times.
We see a similar reference to the Lord’s protection of Jacob in Deuteronomy 32 where again the word nasa is used for “bearing” the nation. Deuteronomy 32:9, But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. 10 “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions. He had carried them. He had protected them. He remained trustworthy. But they needed to trust Him and to obey Him to enjoy the blessings He had in store for them in His covenant with them.
ii). God saved His people by removing their sin from them
God taught His people in many ways that sin could be removed. One such example was an instruction to Aaron the priest to lay hands on a live goat and confess the sins of the nation over it. Then the goat would be led into the wilderness. It was as though the sins of the nation were transferred onto the goat and the goat carried the sins far away from the people, Leviticus 16:22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. The scapegoat was to bear and take away the sins of the people.
However the people of Israel were accountable to God for their sin. In many passages in Leviticus the phrase “he shall bear his iniquity” occurs where “bear” is “nasa’. (Leviticus 5:1, 17, 7:18, 17:16, 19:8, 20:17,19, 22:16). These verses speak about various kinds of sin but common to them all is the accountability to God of all the people involved. Sin does matter to God but even in the Old Testament revelation we see the willingness of God to take away or to remove sin from those who would otherwise have to bear their sin and its consequences.
Centuries later John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him, (John 1:29) The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away (Greek is airō = lift up or take away) the sin of the world! And in John 1:36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John the Baptist obviously believed that Jesus was the long promised Messiah, the One who had come to take away the sin of the world. John the apostle wrote of Jesus, 1John 3:5 “You know that he (Jesus) appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” The phrase “take away” here is (airō) the same word he used in describing what Jesus would do as the Lamb of God in Jn 1:29.
iii). Humans forgave fellow humans. (nasa here used in terms of forgiving.)
It is possible for people to forgive one another! It was even in Old Testament times. Joseph did so. When Jacob the father of Joseph and his brothers died, the latter were afraid that Joseph might now pay them back for selling him into slavery. So they sent a message purportedly coming from the lips of Jacob before he died. Genesis 50:17 “Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” They needn’t have worried. Joseph had already decided to forgive them and not hold their sin against them. Joseph in that sense released them from their sin against him.
In Exodus 10 the story is of Pharaoh summoning Moses and Aaron when a locust plague came on the land of Egypt. He recognised that he had sinned against the God of Israel and against the people of Israel in not allowing them to depart from the land. He asked Moses and Aaron, Exodus 10:17 Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.” He wanted to be released from his guilt towards God’s people. He also wanted God to cancel the consequences of his sin in rejecting God’s will for His people by refusing to let them go. He asked for forgiveness. Unfortunately he forfeited it by hardening his heart again towards God’s people.
Abigail asked David to forgive her for her husband’s evil in showing contempt towards David and his servants. (1Samuel 25:28) Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. She was not personally guilty but was willing to bear any punishment that might have been meted out to her husband Nabal and to the other men who had rejected David’s messengers. She recognised David and his men as fighting the battles of the LORD, 1Samuel 25:28. She asked this servant of God for forgiveness. David was moved by her selflessness and chose not to destroy Nabal and the males of that place as he had previously vowed to do.
In the next section we will see that God not only spared [nasa] His people and saved [nasa] them but was willing to forgive [nasa] them. But we also are faced with verses which indicate that God did not forgive some people. We need to see what those verses mean if it is true, as the Bible states, that God’s nature is to forgive.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER by Groups or Individuals. (Added on Wed 27 July 2016)
Ques.1. In the story about Shirley what experiences did she have when she asked the Lord to forgive her? Can you relate to any of those experiences? Which ones?
Ques 2. In Section i) what does the expression “bore you on eagles wings” mean for you in your own Christian walk? Can you share times when it seemed as though the Lord was carrying you?
Ques 4. In Section ii) what do you think is the significance of Aaron laying hands on the goat? What could have been in the minds of the gathered people as Aaron prayed over the animal and then led it into the wilderness?
Ques 5. In Section iii) what do you think was the difference in the attitudes shown by Pharaoh and Abigail as they asked God for forgiveness?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.8. Posted Tuesday 22 February 2011. Revisited 27 July 2016