Seventy Times Seven

AS WE study the Scriptures we find great emphasis placed upon the quality of forgiveness. Obviously our Heavenly Father considers it important to point out in his Word that he is a forgiving God, and that his entire plan for the recovery of mankind is a plan involving forgiveness. This facet of God’s mind and heart was probably never completely understood or appreciated by his intelligent creation until the permission of evil began. No doubt this is one of the principal reasons why angels are so interested in how he is working out the matter of bringing back into harmony those who have estranged themselves through disobedience.—I Pet. 1:12

As the divine principles were set forth throughout the ages by the prophets, it is said that those writers desired to understand the things they wrote. (Dan. 12:8,9; I Pet. 1:10-12) Their small glimpse of this new and wonderful aspect of the Creator stimulated in them a keen interest in the outworking of his plan for man! Just how was it to be accomplished? How could he “be just and yet the justifier” (Rom. 3:26) of those who were sinners? They were observers, too, of the fact that there was “no place where earthly failings are more felt than up in heaven,” as the poet so wisely wrote. We have come to appreciate this fact also, because God so often expresses in his Word how he feels about his earthly children, even though sinners.

In the Book of Exodus we are told that Moses wanted to know more about God. This is not unusual of those who have come into relationship with God to any degree, and their search has led them to conclude that the knowledge of God and his character is immeasurable. Moses actually asked to see God, but the Lord told him that would be impossible. He said, “Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live.” (Exod. 33:20) He did, however, show himself to Moses in the only way he can be revealed to humankind, and that is through a description of his character. He declared himself with these words: “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Exod. 34:6) These words are the epitome of the united testimony of the Bible. Everything we read in the Scriptures confirms that this is indeed an accurate characterization of our God.

In his statement to Moses, the Lord emphasized another significant point about himself—that he is a merciful God, “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will in no wise clear the guilty.” (vs. 7) The point is made that the forgiving quality of our Creator is not only a manifestation of his loving desire to favor his faithful people, but that he loves even those who are out of harmony with him. And so his method of dealing is an expression of harmoniously combined attributes, since it involves his justice as well as mercy and forgiveness.

We can readily see the importance of the principle of justice coming into play in the matter of salvation. If God simply forgave those who sinned out of the goodness of his heart and said, “I forgive you; go and sin no more,” it is clear that a door would be open for great laxness, and lowered appreciation for his high standards of righteousness. If he so dealt with one sin, to be consistent he would have to with all others alike, and the lofty principles of life which he has set for his people would tend to be degraded. It would no doubt be said by those who erred, “Sure, I made a mistake, but God will forgive me,” and the. principle of justice, which is so vital even in human relationships but especially so with God, would lose its essence.

This principle of justice is so fundamental that God says it is the very foundation of his throne: “Justice and judgment are the habitation [establishment] of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face,” (Ps. 89:14); this is how he rules. And so, the Bible stresses the fact that while he is a God of mercy and forgiveness having a great desire to forgive all sinners, he will by no means clear the guilty.—Exod. 34:7

In verse seven we are reminded of how justice worked after the fall in Eden as far as the human family was concerned. The Lord said he visited the sins of the fathers upon the children of Adam, and upon their children, and then again upon their children; and this has continued all the way down to our time. We read, “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” Sin and its sentence of death was passed on to all through inheritance from one generation to the next.

The clear message of the Bible is that God is a God of mercy, and that his entire plan of salvation is based on forgiveness. However, it has been said by some that forgiveness was but little demonstrated in God’s past dealings with men. In the beginning he surely did not forgive Adam, but administered a severe sentence for his transgression. But the Bible makes manifest that, in the end, God intends to forgive Adam. In fact, all that yield themselves to the New Covenant principles will be forgiven. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote concerning the New Covenant, “I [Jehovah] will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34) God’s plan for the future age is designed to express his forgiveness and to bring into his favor all who have repentant hearts for having transgressed his law.

We generally view God’s actions during the Jewish Age as being very exacting—a harsh representation of justice: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. (Exod. 21:24) But when we study more deeply we are impressed by the elaborate arrangements God had made for the remission of sins under the Law. See Leviticus, the fourth and fifth chapters. We have come to recognize these as pictures or as prototypes, of the New Law Covenant of the future Millennial Age. The Apostle Paul makes this connection repeatedly throughout the Book of Hebrews and Galatians.

In the fourth and fifth chapters of Leviticus are found descriptions of various ways in which sins could be remitted. The first of these begins in the sixteenth verse of the fourth chapter, and ends with the twentieth verse, stating that those who carried out the specified means of having the priest make an atonement for them would have their sin “forgiven.” It was a forgiving arrangement; it was not necessarily an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. However, it was requisite that first the sinner acknowledge his trespasses against the Law and admit that he was a sinner. This was accomplished when one went to God through the priest in the prescribed way, with an appropriate offering.

The Lord honored this arrangement he had instituted through the Tabernacle. Paul stated that although it did not make the “corners thereunto perfect” (Heb. 10:1) and therefore sacrifices were necessarily repeated over and over again, the Lord did in fact forgive them. On a national level during the Day of Atonement, the sins of the entire nation of Israel were forgiven for the ensuing year. But through human weakness, personal sins and trespasses continued to be committed, for which offerings subsequent to the Day of Atonement were made throughout the year by the faithful.

The Law Covenant also provided for sacrifices other than sin offerings. There were peace offerings, thank offerings, offerings for trespasses which occurred through ignorance, and gift offerings to the Lord. All of these subsequent sacrifices of the Law we can well understand as appropriate types when we project them into the kingdom age and view them as applying to the people of earth offering themselves in consecration to do the will of God. How thankful they will be that the Lord has made an arrangement of better sacrifices whereby they can receive everlasting forgiveness—not offerings of actual animals or doves or meal cakes, but of their human hearts desiring to do perfectly the will of God.

Yes, the Law did express God’s forgiveness of sin. In Leviticus 4:26, ending the description of yet another type of sacrifice, we read concerning the one bringing the offering, “It shall be forgiven him.” Verse 31 says, “It shall be forgiven him.” Verse 35 says, “It shall be forgiven him.” Right on throughout this chapter the statement is continually repeated that once an acceptable offering has been made forgiveness would come to the bearer. Undeniably, forgiveness is the underlying principle behind God’s method of salvation.

So we find that God is the Great Forgiver. He prepared the way of justice at great cost to himself in order that while his mercy might be freely expressed, yet he would in “no wise clear the guilty.” He made the greatest sacrifice possible, the offering of the life of his own Son. Jesus, in recognition of this fact, made this powerful and venerated statement: “God so, loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”—John 3:16

Jesus throughout his ministry continually emphasized the great importance of forgiveness, and the need of recognizing this as a fundamental quality of God’s character. In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave his disciples a new concept of the Law. He made a contrast between Israel’s view of the Law which dominated the Jewish Age, and the high appreciation which his disciples must learn to observe in the Gospel Age. He stated, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43,44) These words state that in order for us to look at our enemies as does God, we will have to transform our point of view to conform to God’s. God so loved his enemies, those who were estranged from him and his laws, that he sacrificed the dearest treasure of his heart—his Son. This higher concept of God’s law must be recognized and appreciated by his children who are striving to be made worthy to fill the position of those selected to express God’s forgiveness to the world during the Millennial Age.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said the tables of the Law, which principally expressed the letter of the Law, were not adequate to teach God’s righteous principles in the next age. (II Cor. 3:3) He is now rewriting the tables of the Law, not in stone, but in the hearts of his people with his Holy Spirit. Heart appreciation is required to express the Law in the same way that Jesus did: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind. … Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Love is the real essence of the Law.

Therefore the Lord is in the process of developing new teachers, new instructors for the Millennial Age—ones who will have that understanding which, when passed on to the world of mankind, will cause it to be written in their hearts and in their inward parts, drawing them back to God.

To be prepared to function in God’s plan for this great work of salvation, we must become like him. This is vital. God set no lesser one than himself as an example of how we should view the great principle of forgiveness. In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples with these words: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”—Matt. 5:48

In this same sermon, Jesus laid great stress on the matter of Godlike forgiveness, when he taught them to pray. (Matt. 6:9-13) His prayer to our Heavenly Father incorporated the important theme of forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Our Master, emphasizing the importance of this thought, explained, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” (vss. 14,15) What a sobering thought!

No doubt it was as a result of pondering these words that Peter later came to Jesus with a question. “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Matt. 18:21,22) Seven times seemed sufficient, and perhaps even magnanimous, to Peter. But Jesus said, No, that is not nearly enough forgiveness. To be like your Father in heaven, you must go beyond those earthly-minded limits; in fact, there are no limits!

Jesus replied to Peter, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven!” The certainty that no one would tally up 490 offenses against himself, evidences the fact that there is no limit on forgiveness. As many times as someone, in sincerity, asks for forgiveness, it should be granted, even as God has set no limit on his forgiveness. We have all enjoyed our Heavenly Father’s forgiveness far beyond the 490 offenses which Jesus mentioned.

Jesus then followed up his statement with a parable that expresses the matter well from God’s standpoint. (Mau. 18:23-35) It is another parable which Jesus begins with the statement: “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto …,” indicating that here was a lesson for those who are called to be the children of God.

“The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.” One servant owed him a tremendously huge debt—ten thousand talents. How descriptive of the human family and their relationship to God in the present fallen and sinful state. In like condition we come to God, realizing how impossible it is for us to pay our great debt of sin and unworthiness of life.

In the parable the servant was brought before the king to see if some method of working out his debt could be devised, but it was clear the man did not have anything with which to pay. Neither does the human race have anything to offer God as payment for their great debt owed to their King. Therefore, the king “commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.” Likewise the debt of sin under the sentence pronounced upon Adam included his entire family, the whole world of mankind, selling them into a condition of servitude and slavery.

The servant pleaded for patience, but the king was aware that the servant could never pay the money he owed. However, Jesus explained, “The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” By these beautiful words our Master taught us something which he knew well about our Heavenly Father and his compassion. God is moved with compassion toward the human race and their inextricable plight of sin and resulting death.

As in the parable, we, too, go before our Great King, Jehovah, bowing down before him, realizing our helplessness, and pleading for forgiveness. God, in his great mercy, having been moved with compassion, even long before the foundations of the earth were laid (Eph. 1:4) made provision through Christ to remove all our debt: “According as he [God] hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” And once again, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16

We now are the ones who have been forgiven. All the ransom benefits of Jesus’ blood have been applied to us. We now stand free and justified before our God, as did the forgiven servant of the parable. But Jesus’ story had a sad ending with a powerful lesson for the forgiven ones. This servant had debtor’s himself. He began to press for payment from one of them who obviously owed very little and was extremely poor. His debtor also pleaded for patience, but the servant was too hard-hearted to listen, and had him thrown into prison.

We can well imagine Jesus showing his displeasure with the servant’s ingratitude and lack of mercy. By expressing the king’s feelings with the words, “His Lord was wroth,” he tells us how God would feel about a circumstance of this sort. The king was justly “wroth,” calling him a “wicked servant,” and taking away his favor. Jesus said, “So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”—vs. 35

It has been written, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” The Word of God well confirms this as fact. His plan is a plan of forgiveness. Those who aspire to serve in his kingdom must themselves, of necessity be forgiving.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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