“Jehovah [is] a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger . . . , pardoning error and transgression and sin.”—EXODUS 34:6, 7.
1, 2. (a) What kind of God was Jehovah to the nation of Israel? (b) What will we learn about in this article?
IN THE time of Nehemiah, a group of Levites admitted in a public prayer that the nation of Israel had repeatedly “refused to listen” to, or obey, Jehovah’s commandments. But Jehovah forgave them again and again. He is “a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” Jehovah continued to show them undeserved kindness.—Nehemiah 9:16, 17.
2 Each of us could ask himself, ‘How can I benefit from God’s forgiveness?’ To help us find the answer, we will learn about how God forgave King David and King Manasseh and how they benefited from his forgiveness.
DAVID’S SERIOUS SINS
3-5. What serious sins did David commit?
3 Although David was a man who wanted to obey God, he did commit serious sins. Two of these sins involved a married couple, Uriah and Bath-sheba. Those sins caused very sad results for David, Uriah, and Bath-sheba. But the way that God corrected David teaches us about Jehovah’s forgiveness. Let us learn about what happened.
4 David sent Israel’s army to capture the Ammonite capital, Rabbah. It was located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Jerusalem, on the other side of the Jordan River. While the army was away, David was on the roof of his palace in Jerusalem and saw Bath-sheba as she was bathing. Her husband was away with the army. David wanted Bath-sheba so much that he sent messengers to bring her to the palace, and he committed adultery with her.—2 Samuel 11:1-4.
5 When David found out that Bath-sheba was pregnant with his child, he told his army commander to send Uriah back to Jerusalem. Then David kept telling Uriah to go back home. He wanted Uriah to have sexual relations with his wife so that Uriah would think that he was the father of the child. But Uriah would not go to his own house. So the king secretly wrote to his army commander and told him to put Uriah in the front of the battle and then to tell the other soldiers to abandon him. Uriah was quickly killed by the enemy, just as David had planned. (2 Samuel 11:12-17) So the king not only committed adultery but made his sin even worse by killing an innocent man.
DAVID CHANGES HIS ATTITUDE
6. What did God do after David sinned? What does this teach us about Jehovah?
6 Of course, Jehovah sees everything, so he knew what David had done. (Proverbs 15:3) Even though King David married Bath-sheba after Uriah died, “the thing that David had done appeared bad in the eyes of Jehovah.” (2 Samuel 11:27) So, what did God do? He sent his prophet Nathan to David. Since Jehovah is a God of forgiveness, He wanted to show mercy to David. But he needed to find out whether David was truly repentant. It is very encouraging that Jehovah was willing to do this. He did not force David to confess but simply told Nathan to tell the king a story that showed how bad David’s sins were. (Read 2 Samuel 12:1-4.) That was a very good way for Jehovah to find out David’s true feelings!
Jehovah wanted to show mercy to David, but he needed to know if David was truly repentant
7. How did David feel when he heard Nathan’s story?
7 The king thought that what happened in Nathan’s story was unfair. David became angry at the rich man in the story and said to Nathan: “As Jehovah is living, the man doing this deserves to die!” David also said that something should be given to the man whose sheep had been stolen. But then Nathan said to David: “You yourself are the man!” This was very shocking to David. Nathan said that because of what David had done, he would experience tragedy and members of his family would die violently. He would also be humiliated in public for his sins. Because of what Nathan said, David realized how bad his sins were. He felt very sorry and said: “I have sinned against Jehovah.”—2 Samuel 12:5-14.
DAVID PRAYS AND GOD FORGIVES HIM
8 King David later composed Psalm 51. The words of that psalm show how sorry he felt. David begged Jehovah for help. But he did more than just admit what he did wrong. He also repented of his sins. David’s relationship with God was the most important thing to him. “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.” He requested: “Do restore to me the exultation of salvation by you, and may you support me even with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:1-4, 7-12) When you talk to Jehovah about the mistakes you have made, are you as sincere and honest with him as David was?
9 Jehovah did not protect David from the bad results of his sins. Those sins would continue to cause problems for David for the rest of his life. But because David had “a heart broken and crushed,” or a repentant attitude, Jehovah forgave him. (Read Psalm 32:5; Psalm 51:17) Almighty God understands the real feelings and reasons that cause a person to commit a sin. So God did not say that the human judges should punish David and Bath-sheba with death, as instructed in the Mosaic Law. (Leviticus 20:10) Instead, he judged David and Bath-sheba himself and showed mercy to them. In time, their son Solomon became the king of Israel.—1 Chronicles 22:9, 10.
10. (a) What other reason may there have been for Jehovah to forgive David? (b) What must a person do to be forgiven by Jehovah?
10 Perhaps another reason that Jehovah forgave David is the fact that David had shown mercy to Saul. (1 Samuel 24:4-7) Jesus explained that Jehovah treats us the way we treat others. “Stop judging that you may not be judged; 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.” (Matthew 7:1, 2) It is comforting to know that Jehovah will forgive our sins, even very serious sins like adultery or murder! But he will forgive us only if we are willing to forgive others, if we confess our sins to him, and if we change our attitude by viewing our sins the way Jehovah does. When sinners sincerely repent of their sins, Jehovah gives them “seasons of refreshing,” or helps them to have a clean conscience.—Read Acts 3:19.
MANASSEH SINS SERIOUSLY BUT LATER REPENTS
11. What bad things did Manasseh do?
11 The Bible gives another example that shows that Jehovah is willing to forgive even extremely serious sins. About 360 years after David began to rule, Manasseh became king of Judah and reigned for 55 years. Jehovah condemned him for the disgusting sins he committed during this time. For example, Manasseh made altars to Baal; worshipped the sun, moon, and stars; burned his sons as a sacrifice to a false god; and encouraged people to practice spiritism. “He did on a grand scale what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.”—2 Chronicles 33:1-6.
12. How did Manasseh return to Jehovah?
12 Eventually, Manasseh was captured and taken to a prison in Babylon. There he may have remembered 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.” (Deuteronomy 4:30) Manasseh did return to Jehovah. How? He “kept humbling himself greatly” and “kept praying” to God (as shown on page 21). (2 Chronicles 33:12, 13) The Bible does not tell us exactly what words Manasseh said in those prayers, but it is possible that they were similar to the words of King David in Psalm 51. Either way, we do know that Manasseh completely changed his attitude.
Manasseh was truly repentant and returned to Jehovah
13. Why did Jehovah forgive Manasseh?
13 What did Jehovah do when Manasseh prayed to him? Jehovah “heard his request for favor.” Manasseh understood how serious his sins were and was truly repentant like David. That is why God forgave Manasseh and allowed him to come back to Jerusalem as king. As a result, “Manasseh came to know that Jehovah is the true God.” (2 Chronicles 33:13) It is very comforting to learn from this example too that Jehovah is merciful and forgives those who are truly repentant!
DOES JEHOVAH ALWAYS FORGIVE?
14. How does Jehovah decide whether to forgive a person who has sinned?
14 Most of God’s people will never need to ask him to forgive sins as serious as those of David and Manasseh. But we can learn from their examples that our God is willing to forgive even very serious sins if the sinner is truly repentant.
15. How do we know that Jehovah does not always forgive all humans for their sins?
15 Of course, we should not think that Jehovah always forgives all humans for their sins. The attitude of David and Manasseh was very different from the attitude of the disobedient people of Israel and Judah. When David sinned, God sent Nathan to give David an opportunity to repent. David was grateful for this opportunity and did repent. Manasseh was also in a very bad situation and realized that he needed to repent of his sins. But the people of Israel and Judah often did not repent of their sins, even though God repeatedly sent prophets to tell them what he thought of their bad conduct. So Jehovah did not forgive them. (Read Nehemiah 9:30.) Even after the Israelites returned from Babylon to Judah, Jehovah continued to send faithful messengers, such as the priest Ezra and the prophet Malachi. When the people did Jehovah’s will, they were very joyful.—Nehemiah 12:43-47.
16. (a) What happened to the nation of Israel because they refused to repent of their sins? (b) What opportunity does Jehovah give to those who are descendants of the nation of Israel?
16 Jehovah no longer accepts the animal sacrifices that were required of the nation of Israel. Instead, he sent Jesus to earth to be the one perfect ransom sacrifice for all mankind. (1 John 4:9, 10) When Jesus was on earth, he talked about Jerusalem in a way that showed how Jehovah felt about it. He said: “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.” (Matthew 23:37, 38) The sinful and unrepentant nation of Israel was replaced by spiritual Israel, or “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16; Matthew 21:43) Is it possible for individuals who are descendants of the nation of Israel to be forgiven of their sins? Yes, Jehovah is willing to forgive them and show mercy to them if they have faith in God and in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. During the resurrection on earth, Jehovah will also be willing to forgive people who died without repenting of their sins.—John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
HOW DO WE BENEFIT FROM JEHOVAH’S FORGIVENESS?
17, 18. How can we be forgiven by Jehovah?
17 Since Jehovah is willing to forgive us, what should we do? Surely we should be repentant as David and Manasseh were. We should admit that we are sinful, repent of our sins, beg Jehovah to forgive us, and ask him to help us get rid of our bad desires. (Psalm 51:10) If we have committed a serious sin, we should also talk to the elders about what we have done so that they can help us. (James 5:14, 15) No matter how serious our sins have been, it is comforting to remember that Jehovah is “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.—Exodus 34:6, 7.
18 Jehovah promised repentant Israelites that he would forgive them completely. He said that their sins were like a red stain, but he would make them clean like white “snow.” (Read Isaiah 1:18.) So how can we benefit from Jehovah’s forgiveness? We can be completely pardoned, or forgiven, for our sins as long as we are grateful for Jehovah’s forgiveness and are repentant.
We can be completely pardoned, or forgiven, for our sins if we are repentant
19. What will we learn about in the following article?
19 How can we be willing to forgive others as Jehovah is willing to forgive people? How can we be forgiving when others commit serious sins and then truly repent? The next article will help us to think about our feelings so that we can be more like our Father, Jehovah, who is “good and ready to forgive.”—Psalm 86:5.