William stood before me shaking like a leaf. His face was white. His words came out in a torrent, “It’s all true isn’t it? What have I got to do to get right with God?” William was a well-known atheist whose views on life and religion were sought after by the local press. He was one of the most unloving and negative people I have ever met. During lunchtimes at work he would sometimes ask me questions about the Bible and about church life. One day he asked me if he could borrow a New Testament from me. He had later begun to read it during those lunchbreaks.
On this fateful day he read a passage in Hebrews that had these words, Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Having read the passage he asked me what I felt those words meant. I tried to explain them as best as I could as a brand-new believer myself.
I went back to work when suddenly he rushed up to me saying the words above. It appeared that as he continued to read those words, the Spirit of God had convicted him of his rebellion against God over many years. He was desperate to find out what he had to do. It was the first time I had seen someone come directly under the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit as they were confronted with God’s truth. It made the words of John 16:8 come alive to me, “And when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me”.
I told him I believed he needed to confess his sin and rebellion against God and ask for His forgiveness. He also needed to ask Jesus to come into his life, as I had done some months earlier. He did and that day marked the transition of an avid atheist into a “switched on” believer much to the surprise of his family, neighbours and the few friends he had. It was an amazing transformation as William began to go to church and to read his Bible. He wanted to discover more about this gracious God who had called him from spiritual darkness to Himself. He was later to become a lay preacher in his local church preaching those very truths he had once denied.
William initially found it hard to accept that God could forgive him of ALL his sins. He knew he had been rebelling strongly against the Lord and influencing other people, even members of his own family. He wondered how could God forgive him of all the things he had said against Him over many years. He had thought, “Surely there must be a limit to how far God is willing to forgive me.”
William came to understand as he continued to read the Bible that the God from whom he had asked forgiveness was a compassionate, forgiving God. He discovered this truth in verses such as those in Isaiah 55:6-7, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. In God’s compassion He abundantly pardons. But God revealed through Isaiah that those who come to Him to receive His mercy and pardon, needed to be sincere in their desire to change. These verses indicate the human initiative required in turning back to God to receive forgiveness.
i). People are to “seek the Lord”. The Hebrew word for “seek” is “daras”. It means inquiring of someone such as the Lord in Exodus 18:15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God”. Any seeking after God would bring a reward as in Psalm 34:10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. It can also mean searching for property or animals or a sincere searching into the law of God as in Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. God can be “found” by those actively seeking Him.
ii). They are to “call upon Him”. The word here is “qara”. The meanings include call, invite, summon, invoke and other shades of meaning. To invoke God is the meaning in Genesis 4:26 …At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. Humans have the privilege of calling upon God and the responsibility of taking advantage of the opportunity to do so.
iii). They are to “forsake” their wickedness in action or thought. “Forsake” in verse 7 is “azab” and means to abandon something. In this verse it meant abandoning their outward rebellious ways and also their inward sinful thoughts. Isaiah accused the people of God of forsaking their God Isaiah 1:4, 1:28, and His way Isaiah 65:11. However God, though He might chastise His people, would not forsake His people who walked in His way, Isaiah 54:7 For a brief moment I deserted (“azab”) you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer. These verses describe the character of God as compassionate as in the verses we are looking at in Isaiah 55:7. let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Before we look at God’s “compassion” we see the final response required from those who come to Him for the forgiveness arising from his compassion.
iv). They are to “return” to Him. The word is “shub” which is used over a thousand times in the Old Testament with different shades of meaning. It is used in Jeremiah 4:1 to indicate God’s call to His people to return to Him, If you return, O Israel, declares the LORD, to me you should return. However He was willing to accept any nation that had incurred His anger if it turned from its evil, Jeremiah 18:8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. God required people to repent of their sin and to turn to Him. Only then could they experience the fullness of the pardon coming from the compassion of God.
GOD’S COMPASSION. Isaiah 55:7. “ … let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him.”,
The word used for “have compassion” is from “racham” meaning to love deeply, have mercy, be tenderly affectionate. God described Himself in Exodus 33:19 as being compassionate. To Moses He said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. The word is used of God’s compassion in restoring His people and in forgiving them. For example in Prov 28:13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy (compassion). And Micah 7:19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
However those who kept on rejecting God and did not turn back to Him, would not be the recipients of His compassion, eg., Isaiah 9:17 Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. On the other hand those who sincerely longed to walk in God’s way could receive His mercy (compassion), Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
It is no surprise to read that Jesus, as One with His Father, was motivated by compassion in His ministry on earth. He had compassion on the crowds seeing them as being like sheep without a shepherd, Matthew 9:36. He had compassion on the five thousand (Matthew 14:14) and on the four thousand (Matthew 15:32) when he saw their needs. He taught the virtue of compassion in the parables He taught such as in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 1:33)and that of the prodigal son where the father has compassion on his long-lost son, (Luke 15:20).
GOD’S ABUNDANT PARDON. Isaiah 55:7 “let him return to the LORD… for he will abundantly pardon.
In Isaiah 55:7 the word for “pardon” in “abundantly pardon” is the word (salach) we looked at previously in articles 006 and 007 on this site. It speaks of freedom and forgiveness. “Abundantly” is “rabah” which stresses the magnitude of the pardon offered by God. It is a reminder to us of the amazing grace God has towards those who turn to Him for forgiveness. He doesn’t forgive them reluctantly or ungraciously or in any condescending way. Rather His compassion leads to abundant forgiveness so that there is abundant pardon available for all the sins of all the people.
This was the marvellous truth that William discovered. He had rebelled against God and perhaps had caused others to rebel too. But genuine repentance on his part led to the experience of abundant forgiveness from God. He really was released from guilt. But he was also highly motivated to pray that those whom he had adversely affected in his life would also cease their rebellion and discover, as he had, the abundant pardon of a loving compassionate God.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER: [Added in November 2017]
1]. Do you know any people like William in the story who once weren’t interested in God but who changed to become strong believers? If so, what changed them? Some Bible truth or the witness of a Christian believer or what? Could you share with the group?
2]. Many folk in our world say they “seek the Lord” but later say they haven’t found Him. What advice would you give such people if they came to you for help?
3]. If someone asked you what this verse meant, how would you try to help them understand? Isaiah 55:7 “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” If they asked you how you managed to do it, what would you tell them?
4]. As you look at the verses quoted under the heading “God’s Compassion”, which one really stands out for you personally? Why is that so?
5]. God “abundantly pardons” sinners. Are there some things you think He will not pardon? What sorts of things do you think they might be? How could people eventually know and experience God’s abundant forgiveness?
Blog No.030. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Monday 8th August 2011