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The Seventeenth (Forgiveness)

We're going to talk about forgiveness this week. This is one of the hardest things we have to do as brothers and sisters in Christ. It's hard because we're human, and it's hard because sometimes it's misunderstood what forgiveness actually is.

You've probably heard the phrase, "forgive and forget." Unfortunately, being human, this phrase is sometimes easier said than done. Regardless of the infraction against us, we remember what wrong people do to us. Sometimes it's hard not to let those memories affect our relationship, or interactions, with those people going forward. Especially if the wrong is egregious.

First, let's remind ourselves of the requirement we have to forgive. This is not just a recommendation, suggestion, or choice, for us. Jesus made sure we knew the severity of not forgiving. He told us God will only forgive us for our wrongs if we forgive others for their wrongs against us (Matthew 6:14,15, Mark 11:25,26). Not only that, He doubles down later on, saying God will deliver us to "the tormentors" if we don't forgive every person of their wrongs (Matthew 18:35).

The word used for tormentors in Matthew 18:35, basanistes, is referring to the people in that time period that would torture to get the truth out of someone. An inquisitor. It comes from the root word basanizo, which also neans "vex with grievous pains (of body or mind)." My personal belief is that the tormentors Jesus is referring to are demons. But you are welcome to your own beliefs, as always, as this verse is the only place basanistes is used in scripture.

Now what exactly are we to forgive? Jesus used the word paraptoma, which was translated to "trespasses" and means "a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness, a sin, misdeed." But just moments earlier, He used the word opheilema, which was translated to "debt," when talking about forgiveness (Matthew 6:12). This word means "that which is owed, justly or legally." This word makes sense because when someone sins against us we feel we're owed something. Sometimes it's simply an apology. Sometimes it's compensation. This is a key aspect to remember with forgiveness, and forgiving the way God wants us to.

When we forgive, we take that debt, that thing we feel we are owed by the person who sinned against us, and we give it up. But more specifically, we give it up to God. A huge part of forgiveness is trust in God. The trust that God will pass judgment, and appropriate consequences if deemed by Him to be necessary, to the individual that wronged us. We all know our presence on this world is temporary. The world will pass away along with its worldly things. If we keep this in mind, and keep our eye on the rewards waiting for us, it makes it a little easier to forgive since we know worldly things are meaningless.

How many times are we supposed to forgive someone though? It gets harder and harder the more someone wrongs us, doesn't it? Jesus tells us we must forgive "seventy times seven," (Matthew 18:22). Now simple math tells us we just need to count up to 490 sins from someone and on the 491st we don't have to forgive them anymore. We know Jesus didn't mean this specific number for a few reasons: 1) this would be very legalistic, something Jesus was definitely against based on all he spoke against the Pharisees and their legalism (Luke 11:46), 2) we already saw that if we don't forgive someone God won't forgive us, and He didn't put a number on that, and 3) Jesus was all about love, and Proverbs 17:9 tells us if we overlook (or forgive) a fault love prospers.

Something else to consider in this translation of Matthew 18:22 is the Greek used for the phrase "seventy times seven": hebdomekontakishepta. Remember, there were no space or punctuation in the original writings. This gets separated into hebdomekontakis hepta, and kis is suffix/prefix used to mean "times." Earlier in the verse it's used in heptakis to mean "seven times." However, this may not be the best translation as keeping "times" in the middle of numbers is not done anywhere else in either the Hebrew or Greek, and a more accurate translation may be "seventy seven times." This would also suggest that Jesus was drawing a correlation to Genesis 4:24, where the topic was revenge and it referred to Cain getting avenged seven times and Lamech seventy seven times. Meaning Jesus was saying forgiveness was the antithesis of revenge. Take a look at Seventy Sevens versus Seventy Weeks for a more detailed explanation.

Do we need to tell the person who sinned against us that we forgive them? This is not listed as a requirement in order for us to be forgiven by God. In fact, none of the verses telling us to forgive each other say that we have to tell the other person we forgive them. In Mark 11:25, Jesus says when you pray forgive, so God can forgive you. I don't think He assumed that all those who sinned against you were going to be next to you while you were praying. It is important, as we saw a couple weeks ago, to reconcile with someone if you have something against them. In Matthew 5:23,24, Jesus told us to do this prior to giving gifts at the altar. In general though, the process of true forgiveness is healing in itself as we saw in Proverbs 17:9 and we see in Proverbs 10:12, where it tells us this is a sign of love and is seeking love. In these verses the Hebrew word kacah is used, which means cover up, or conceal, but the idea is the same. Prior to Jesus' crucifixion, the only path to forgiveness was a sacrifice, so it makes sense this word is used vice calach, which means "to forgive, pardon."

Keep in mind though, that God sees our heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He knows when there is true forgiveness and when it's just words. The only way to be truly forgiven by God is to truly forgive those who sinned against us. And when God forgives, He actually does forget our sins (Hebrews 10:17).

Shabbat Shalom and God bless you!

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