Resources from a Messianic perspective



We live in a world that is filled with conflict. Sometimes it is of major proportions, such as the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. At other times it is sharply painful, but affects just a few people, like when you are the victim of a crime. Or it can be personally painful when someone you love hurts you emotionally.

In times like these, the natural tendency for many people is to seek retaliation. For others the inclination is to internalize one's feelings about the conflict. Instead of immediately acting out in retaliation, the hurt you feel simmers within, later coming to the surface often in unrelated places. I'm sure we all know what it is like to be hit by a broadside from someone we love without a clue where it came from. But, you see, that is also retaliation.

In his book, The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal tells about an incident in his life while he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. A German soldier who was dying in a hospital asked to speak to a Jewish man. A nurse approached Wiesenthal and asked him to meet with the soldier.

There, in private, the soldier confessed a horrible deed that he had committed against Jews during the war. He explained how he took part in rounding up the Jewish people in a community in Poland where they were all burned to death in a building.

He said to Wiesenthal:

"I know that what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and time again I have longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. Only I didn't know whether there were any Jews left. I know what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace."

Wiesenthal thought deeply about what had just been laid before him. He looked upon the dying soldier and then, he recalls,

"At last I made up my mind, and without a word I left the room."

— Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 57-58

Wiesenthal's decision is not that difficult to understand. His people had been overwhelmed by evil, and he was confronted with a perpetrator now experiencing suffering of his own. Simon Wiesenthal did what was human nature—he retaliated against the German soldier. Not retaliation in a physical way, but retaliation by withholding forgiveness.

Whether it is immediate and direct or delayed and indirect, retaliation is our natural response as human beings to the things that cause us pain and conflict. But we need to be reminded that this is not the biblical model for our behavior. The overriding theme in Scripture is a call for forgiveness when we are offended, not retaliation. The Bible teaches us...

True forgiveness is linked to justice

Sin has consequences—especially suffering, death and separation from God. But God, in His wisdom and mercy, provided His people with some ways for dealing with sinful behavior.

One was a system of civil justice—specific procedures for bringing balance back to society whenever someone disrupted that balance. It was based on equity—whatever you did would be done to you, or a payment equivalent to the value of the violated object would be paid. The people were given this injunction:

"But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Ex. 21:23-25)

Now when you hear the familiar phrase, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," most of us think of the concept of retaliation. There is an old saying, "Don't get mad, get even." Or as Tevye, the main character in Fiddler on the Roof observed, "If everyone lived by 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' the world would be blind and toothless."

In reality, life is even worse than that. More often than not, people go after both eyes, not just one. The whole head, not just a tooth. No one ever gets even. Retaliation always leads to more retaliation.

But that is just human nature speaking. It was not God's intent in Scripture. As is often the case, we miss the truth of His message by failing to consider it in context. In this passage, not only was God talking about a principle of equity in formal justice, He does so with an interesting twist. He goes on to say:

"And if a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth. (Ex. 21:26-27)

The picture here is graphic yet simple. The slave has an eye or a tooth. The master owns the slave's eye or tooth. If the master causes the slave to lose that eye or tooth, then he loses ownership of the slave. So they both lose the eye or the tooth.

In other words, in situations like this, justice is not served by retaliation against the perpetrator. Justice is the result of the victim being released from obligation or indebtedness.

This concept of paying a price in order to restore balance in society is the foundation of an even greater action established by God, forgiveness. There are a couple of words used in the Hebrew Scriptures that are used to convey the concept of forgiveness:

  • Nasah — "to lift, carry." This word bears the meaning of "a debt being lifted up and taken away."
  • Salach — "to forgive, pardon, spare." This word depicts someone granting a release from the consequences that were due because of a misdeed.

Now when it comes to the Old Testament an interesting fact can be discovered about salach. Without exception, this word for forgiveness is used with God as the subject. At no time in the Hebrew Scriptures does it apply to people. Forgiveness was limited to the actions of God Himself.

The reason for that limitation is that pure forgiveness is truly a divine attribute. Forgiveness is rooted in the very nature of God. We see this in Exodus 34:6-7

"The LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished"

God's forgiveness is "a perfect pardon." It takes a perfect God to forgive us completely and enduringly. And in His perfect plan, He provided a way for justice to be carried out for sin — He would spare the people He loves so dearly from the consequences of our sins. And He would pay the required "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" on our behalf. God Himself would become our judgment.

So that is exactly what He did. He dwelled here on earth as our beloved Messiah and became our representative. He lived perfectly and without guilt, yet died for the sins of those who were sinful and guilty — that's you and me. And thus by believing in Him we receive the Lord's forgiveness and are spared the punishment of eternal separation from God.

His forgiveness is pure and durable. David described God's forgiveness as removing sin "as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)," never to be remembered again. God could have simply retaliated against us, but instead He chose to give us the greatest gift of all — forgiveness and eternal life.

There is just one little catch. It is the issue of repentance.

True forgiveness is linked to repentance

Some people say that we should forgive others regardless of the extent of the evil they do or their admission of doing wrong. In that way, as it is argued, we can feel good about ourselves therapeutically. But is unconditional forgiveness something that God actually expects from us?

In King Solomon's prayer of dedication of the First Temple in Jerusalem, he prayed that God would use it to move people to seek forgiveness of sins. He petitioned that when people...

"repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying, 'We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, and have acted wickedly'; if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been taken captive, and pray toward their land which You have given to their fathers, and the city which You have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for Your name, then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You." (2 Chron. 6:37-39)

The Hebrew word teshuvah means "turning 180 degrees." It is often translated, "repentance" and is used in the context of turning away from sin. The indicator of inner repentance is sincere confession to God. Notice that Solomon was wise enough to ask God to forgive not just any sinner, but the sinner who genuinely confesses his or her sins and turns from them.

Later, Yeshua made the same kind of affirmation:

"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him." (Luke 17:3)

The need to forgive others is indeed a cornerstone of the Messianic faith, and Yeshua emphasizes its necessity by adding in the next verse our calling to do so “seven times a day.” But unlike extending forgiveness indiscriminately, the Bible is clear in linking our forgiveness to the repentance of others, and vice versa. Otherwise, there would never be a reason for someone to repent. And that would negate their own need to become right with God.

True forgiveness is only possible through the power of God

Even when repentance is evident, we face another temptation as human beings. We can withhold forgiveness in order to punish the offender. Clearly with so many ways of retaliation in our arsenal, we need some help when it comes to practicing forgiveness.

The instruction to forgive one another is not given to people until you come to the New Testament. Why is that? The New Testament introduces two powerful resources unavailable to the people of Old Testament times — the coming of Messiah and the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit.

When we become believers in Yeshua as Messiah and are indwelled by the Spirit, our inner nature is changed (2 Cor. 5:17) and we are given the ability to live in a truly godly manner. That includes the ability to forgive.

So no longer are we limited to our human nature that leads us to retaliate in some manner. Now we are blessed by the working of the Spirit of God within us, allowing us to draw from the nature of God and His ability to genuinely forgive. We may not automatically forgive others, but we have been given the greatest resource of all enabling us to forgive.

For that reason, we are given a rather challenging exhortation in the New Testament:

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you." (Matt. 5:38-42)

Contextually speaking, Yeshua was not discarding the principle of civil justice and abolishing formal consequences for crimes. He was, however, condemning the way that people were perverting and misapplying that principle in order to justify their propensity for retaliation in interpersonal relationships.

Instead, He is calling us to turn in the opposite direction of our human nature and to act in the same way that He does—forgiving instead of retaliating. Giving instead of taking. Loving instead of condemning.

Yeshua was not negating that a price has to be paid in order to restore justice. He is just calling us to pay the price ourselves. When our eye of pride or our tooth of self-interest gets wounded, Yeshua is calling us to absorb the blow, just as He did for us.

Easily said, but not easily done. Nevertheless, Yeshua has called us to live by a higher law of mercy and compassion because we are a reflection of the mercy and compassion that God has given us. So when we demonstrate forgiveness to others, we are a testimony of the ultimate forgiveness that God has given us.

And the Spirit of God helps us with that calling by reminding us of what we ought to do, convicting our hearts when we fail to do so, and uplifting us when we follow through.

The importance of forgiveness cannot be underestimated. Forgiveness is the very cornerstone of salvation. And our ability to forgive one another is a barometer of our appraisal of the salvation that God gives us. Scripture abounds in references that link God's forgiveness of sins to our willingness to forgive one another (Matt. 6:14,15; 18:35; Col. 3:13).

Corrie ten Boom was a vivid example of someone who knew the importance of forgiveness. She was a Dutch woman who loved the Jewish people. But her family was sent to concentration camps for hiding Jews from the Nazis. Unlike her other family members, Corrie survived and had to cope with the fact that someone had betrayed them for rescuing Jewish people.

Later, after the war, she found out who that person was. Corrie, a devout Christian, wrote a letter to that man in which she said:

Today I heard that most probably you are the one who betrayed me. I went through ten months of concentration camp. My father died after nine days of imprisonment. My sister died in prison, too. The harm you planned was turned into good for me by God. I came nearer to Him. But a severe punishment is awaiting you. I have prayed for you, that the Lord may accept you if you will repent. I have forgiven you everything. God will also forgive you everything, if you ask Him. He loves you and He Himself sent His Son to earth to reconcile your sins, which meant to suffer the punishment for you and me.

— Corrie ten Boom, Prison Letters (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1975), 105-106.

That is a picture of true forgiveness. So as we consider the importance of forgiveness in our lives...

  • Resolve yourself to make forgiveness a priority in the relationships you have with other people.

  • Acknowledge your own tendencies, especially when you withhold forgiveness as a way of retaliation.

  • Appreciate the pure and enduring forgiveness that God has given you. Tell Him your gratitude for His grace.

  • When someone forgives you, realize that it is God who is at work in a situation and give Him praise and adoration.

  • When circumstances call for you to forgive someone, draw upon God's strength to be forgiving. Pray for the ability to forgive in specific situations, simply asking God to help you.

  • And make a personal commitment to lift away condemnation from others in the same way that God has already done for you.

May we all be known as people of forgiveness.

"And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." (Col. 3:12-13)

Dr. Galen Peterson
© 2011 American Remnant Mission