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Background Considerations

  • Cultural considerations – the need in the biblical world for balance and equilibrium in the cosmos. Sin throws things out of balance. This is why sacrifices are to be offered by the elders of a city nearest the scene of a murder – it doesn’t come from the murderer’s heart, but from the need to balance things out again, to bring order to their world.
  • Old Testament vocabulary of grace – extremely rich (see below in the treatment of several verses)
  • Old Testament vocabulary of forgiveness – extremely rich in words and metaphors (see below)
  • Role of memory in forgiveness – Does God forget sins forgiven? Do we? Should we?

Relevant Biblical Passages

  • Exodus 32:1-14 – The story of the making and worshiping of the golden calf at the base of Mt. Sinai. The implications in and surrounding the story of human sin, divine response (anger sufficient to wipe the people out), Moses’ intervention with God to spare the people, divine response (repentance of the evil God had intended for the people). Interesting.
  • Exodus 34:6-7 – The divine self-disclosure of God’s character and attitude toward us. We encounter here a rich vocabulary of divine grace – merciful (compassionate as a mother would be toward her child), gracious (kind and giving), slow to get angry, abounding in steadfast love (hesed = loyalty and commitment), faithfulness (firmness and stability), keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin (the three basic Old Testament words for sin) – and human responsibility – no clearing of the guilty, with punishment brought on the third and fourth generations.
  • Psalm 32:1-5 – One of the great psalms on forgiveness, Psalm 32 provides several elements in the vocabulary of forgiveness (forgiven – lifted and carried away; covered – covered over and placed out of sight) and reminds us of what happens when we attempt to conceal sin and guilt.
  • Psalm 51 – Another great psalm on forgiveness, set in the context of David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. More of the vocabulary of forgiveness (blot out – to erase and expunge from a written document; wash – a thorough scrubbing; cleanse – activity of a fuller who beats fabrics clean with a stick; making white like snow; God’s hiding of his face from sin; creation of a new heart). Also, there are ties here between forgiveness and the proclamation of God’s goodness.
  • Psalm 103 – A remarkable picture of God’s grace with more language of forgiveness (no treatment equal to our guilt; removal of our transgressions as far as the rising of the sun is away from its setting).
  • Hosea – The story of Hosea and Gomer and the various attempts of Hosea to win his wayward wife back to him, against all the laws of the time and all the odds.

Contributions to the Study of Forgiveness

  • The most extensive vocabulary of grace and forgiveness is in the Old Testament!

Lessons for Life

  • Letting this vocabulary of grace and forgiveness settle in will change one’s life.

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