“Jehovah [is] a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger . . . , pardoning error and transgression and sin.”—EX. 34:6, 7.
1, 2. (a) What kind of God did Jehovah prove to be to the nation of Israel? (b) What question does this article address?
IN THE days of Nehemiah, a group of Levites acknowledged in public prayer that their forefathers had repeatedly “refused to listen” to Jehovah’s commandments. Again and again, however, Jehovah proved to be “a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” To those repatriated exiles in Nehemiah’s time, Jehovah was continuing to show undeserved kindness.—Neh. 9:16, 17.
2 On a personal level, each of us might ask, ‘What does Jehovah’s forgiveness mean for me?’ To help answer this important question, let us examine God’s dealings with two men who benefited from Jehovah’s forgiveness—the two kings David and Manasseh.
DAVID’S SERIOUS SINS
3-5. How did David become involved in serious sin?
3 Although David was a God-fearing man, he did commit serious sins. Two of these involved a married couple, Uriah and Bath-sheba. The consequences of those sins were painful for all involved. Nevertheless, the way that God corrected David reveals a great deal about Jehovah’s forgiveness. Consider what happened.
4 David sent Israel’s army to besiege the Ammonite capital, Rabbah. It was located some 50 miles (80 km) east of Jerusalem, beyond the Jordan River. Meanwhile, from the roof of his palace in Jerusalem, David saw Bath-sheba—a married woman—bathing. Her husband was away. David was so aroused by observing Bath-sheba that he had her brought to his palace, where he committed adultery with her.—2 Sam. 11:1-4.
5 When David learned that Bath-sheba was pregnant, he had her husband, Uriah, brought back to Jerusalem in hopes that he would have sexual relations with her. But Uriah would not even enter his home—despite David’s efforts to encourage him to do so. Therefore, the king secretly wrote to his army commander to have Uriah placed “in front of the heaviest battle charges” and to have his fellow soldiers retreat from behind him. An easy target, Uriah died in the battle, just as David had planned. (2 Sam. 11:12-17) The king’s sin of adultery was thus compounded by his having an innocent man killed.
DAVID’S CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
6. What was God’s reaction to David’s sins, and what does this reveal about Jehovah?
6 Of course, Jehovah saw everything that happened. Nothing escapes his attention. (Prov. 15:3) Although the king subsequently married Bath-sheba, “the thing that David had done appeared bad in the eyes of Jehovah.” (2 Sam. 11:27) So how did God react to David’s serious sins? He sent his prophet Nathan to David. Being a God of forgiveness, Jehovah was apparently interested in finding a basis for extending mercy. Do you not find this approach on Jehovah’s part heartwarming? He did not force David to confess but simply had Nathan present the king with a story that illustrated the badness of his sins. (Read 2 Samuel 12:1-4.) How effective that way of handling that delicate situation proved to be!
7. How did David respond to Nathan’s illustration?
7 Nathan’s illustration stirred up the king’s sense of justice. David became angry at the rich man of the story and said to Nathan: “As Jehovah is living, the man doing this deserves to die!” Moreover, David stated that the victim of such an injustice should be compensated for his losses. But then came a powerful blow. “You yourself are the man!” Nathan declared. David was then told that as a consequence of his actions, “a sword” would not depart from his house and calamity would strike his family. He would also be publicly humiliated for his errors. David realized the gravity of what he had done and contritely admitted: “I have sinned against Jehovah.”—2 Sam. 12:5-14.
DAVID’S PRAYER AND GOD’S FORGIVENESS
8, 9. How does Psalm 51 reveal David’s inmost thoughts, and what does it teach us about Jehovah?
8 The words of a song that King David thereafter composed reveal his heartfelt remorse. Psalm 51 contains David’s touching pleas to Jehovah and clearly shows that he did more than admit his errors. He also repented of his sins. David was primarily concerned about his relationship with God. “Against you, you alone, I have sinned,” he confessed. He pleaded with Jehovah: “Create in me even a pure heart, O God, and put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one. . . . Do restore to me the exultation of salvation by you, and may you support me even with a willing spirit.” (Ps. 51:1-4, 7-12) Are you as earnest and as open with Jehovah when you speak to him about your failings?
9 Jehovah did not eliminate the painful consequences of David’s sins. Their effects were to continue with him for the rest of his life. However, in recognition of David’s repentant spirit—he had “a heart broken and crushed”—Jehovah forgave him. (Read Psalm 32:5; Ps. 51:17) Almighty God understands the true attitude and motive behind sins. Rather than have the adulterers condemned to death by human judges according to the Mosaic Law, Jehovah mercifully intervened, dealing with David and Bath-sheba himself. (Lev. 20:10) God even made their son Solomon Israel’s next king.—1 Chron. 22:9, 10.
10. (a) What basis might Jehovah have found for forgiving David? (b) What factors move Jehovah to extend forgiveness?
10 Perhaps another factor in Jehovah’s forgiveness is the way David himself had shown mercy to Saul. (1 Sam. 24:4-7) As Jesus explained, Jehovah treats us the way we treat others. “Stop judging that you may not be judged,” said Jesus, “for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you.” (Matt. 7:1, 2) What a relief it is to know that Jehovah will forgive our sins—even sins as serious as adultery or murder! He will do so if we have a forgiving spirit, if we confess our sins before him, and if we manifest a changed attitude toward our bad actions. “Seasons of refreshing” come from Jehovah when sinners sincerely repent.—Read Acts 3:19.
MANASSEH SINS GRAVELY BUT REPENTS
11. In what ways did King Manasseh do what was bad in God’s eyes?
11 Consider another Scriptural account that illustrates the extent of Jehovah’s willingness to forgive. Some 360 years after David began to rule, Manasseh became king of Judah. His 55-year-long reign was infamous for wickedness, and his detestable practices brought condemnation from Jehovah. Among other things, Manasseh set up altars to Baal, worshipped “all the army of the heavens,” made his sons pass through fire, and promoted spiritistic practices. Yes, “he did on a grand scale what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.”—2 Chron. 33:1-6.
12. How did Manasseh return to Jehovah?
12 Eventually, Manasseh was taken from his homeland and thrown into a Babylonian prison. There he may have recalled these words of Moses to Israel: “When you are in sore straits and all these words have found you out at the close of the days, then you will have to return to Jehovah your God and to listen to his voice.” (Deut. 4:30) Manasseh did return to Jehovah. How? He “kept humbling himself greatly” and “kept praying” to God (as depicted on page 21). (2 Chron. 33:12, 13) We have no record of the exact words Manasseh uttered in those prayers, but we can imagine that they may in some ways have paralleled those of King David, as recorded in Psalm 51. In any case, Manasseh underwent a complete change of heart.
13. Why did Jehovah forgive Manasseh?
13 What was Jehovah’s response to Manasseh’s prayers? “He let himself be entreated by [Manasseh] and He heard his request for favor.” Like David before him, Manasseh recognized the seriousness of his sins and was truly repentant. That is why God forgave Manasseh and restored him to the kingship in Jerusalem. As a result, “Manasseh came to know that Jehovah is the true God.” (2 Chron. 33:13) How heartening it is to have this further evidence that our merciful God forgives those who are genuinely repentant!
IS JEHOVAH’S FORGIVENESS UNLIMITED?
14. What determines whether Jehovah will grant sinners forgiveness?
14 Few among God’s people today will ever have to seek forgiveness for sins as serious as those of David and Manasseh. Yet, the fact that Jehovah forgave these two kings helps us to realize that our God is willing to forgive even gross sins if the sinner is truly repentant.
15. How do we know that Jehovah’s forgiveness is not automatic?
15 Of course, we cannot rightly conclude that Jehovah automatically forgives all humans for their sins. In this regard, let us compare the attitude of David and Manasseh with that of the wayward people of Israel and Judah. God sent Nathan to confront David and give him an opportunity to change his attitude. David gratefully accepted this offer. When Manasseh found himself in sore straits, he was moved to sincere repentance. Often, however, the inhabitants of Israel and Judah did not repent. Therefore, Jehovah did not forgive them. Instead, he repeatedly had his prophets declare how he viewed their disobedient conduct. (Read Nehemiah 9:30.) Even after the exiles returned from Babylon to their homeland, Jehovah continued to raise up faithful messengers, such as the priest Ezra and the prophet Malachi. When the people acted in harmony with Jehovah’s will, they experienced great joy.—Neh. 12:43-47.
16. (a) For the nation of Israel as a whole, what were the consequences of their being unrepentant? (b) What outcome can there be for individual descendants of the ancient Israelites?
16 After Jesus was sent to the earth and the one perfect ransom sacrifice was provided, Jehovah no longer accepted Israel’s animal sacrifices. (1 John 4:9, 10) As a man, Jesus reflected his Father’s viewpoint when he spoke these moving words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it.” So Jesus declared: “Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matt. 23:37, 38) Thus, the sinful and unrepentant nation was replaced by spiritual Israel. (Matt. 21:43; Gal. 6:16) But what about individual members of natural Israel? They are welcome to benefit from Jehovah’s forgiveness and mercy by exercising faith in God and in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That opportunity will also be open to people who died without repenting of their sins but who are resurrected on a cleansed earth.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
BENEFITING FROM JEHOVAH’S FORGIVENESS
17, 18. How can we receive Jehovah’s forgiveness?
17 How should we respond to Jehovah’s willingness to forgive? Surely we ought to act as did David and Manasseh. We should recognize our sinfulness, repent of our errors, earnestly beseech Jehovah for forgiveness, and ask him to create in us a pure heart. (Ps. 51:10) If we have sinned seriously, we should also seek the spiritual assistance of the elders. (Jas. 5:14, 15) Regardless of our circumstances, it is comforting to bear in mind that Jehovah is as he described himself to Moses—“a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin.” Jehovah has not changed.—Ex. 34:6, 7.
18 Using a powerful comparison, Jehovah promised repentant Israelites the complete removal of the stain of their sins, making what was “scarlet” as white as “snow.” (Read Isaiah 1:18.) What, then, does Jehovah’s forgiveness mean for us? A complete pardon for our sins and errors, provided that we manifest a grateful and repentant attitude.
19. What will we consider in the article that follows?
19 As the recipients of Jehovah’s forgiveness, how can we imitate him in our dealings with one another? How can we avoid adopting an unforgiving attitude toward those who sin seriously but manifest genuine repentance? The next article will help us examine our own hearts so that we can become more like our Father, Jehovah, who is “good and ready to forgive.”—Ps. 86:5.