Sounds like: sa’lakh
I’m Canadian and we tend to say “sorry” a lot. We don’t want to be offensive, or hurt anyone’s feelings, or look like we’re acting entitled. We just want everyone to get along and so as a pre-emptive measure we apologize and ask forgiveness for the tiniest slight… such as reaching in front of someone to get something off the grocery shelf, or accidentally brushing up against someone regardless of how crowded the room is. It’s a quick “sorry” and no one ever waits around for the forgiveness portion of the exchange.
Although I like this humble aspect of my country’s personality, it does lack the beauty and poignancy of a moment of true forgiveness.
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O YHWH. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If You, YHWH, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness [ha-s’likhah] with You, that You may be feared.
I wait for YHWH, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in YHWH; for with YHWH there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Thanks be to God that He does not mark down in a ledger the vast sum of our sins. That being said, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which begins tonight at sundown, has taken on this role.
According to rabbinical teachings the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time when the Jewish people call out to be forgiven for the sins of the past year. On Yom Kippur the fate of each person is sealed in the Book of Life until the following Yom Kippur.
The question: is the verdict “guilty” or “forgiven”? In the days of ancient Torah observance, animal sacrifices helped seal the deal. In an effort to get the verdict of “forgiven” they would present a ram for a guilt offering and ask to be pardoned:
“He shall bring his guilt offering to YHWH to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. The priest shall also make atonement [w-kipper] for him with the ram of the guilt offering before YHWH for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven [w-ni-s’lakh ] him.”
Forgiveness: A Gift
Kippur (atonement) has been sometimes translated as “forgiveness”, but there was also a more specific Hebrew word for forgiveness: salakh. It was connected to the idea of being pardoned… cleared of something you were guilty of. Even though you were guilty as charged, you would be forgiven as innocent. Salakh was an incredible, undeserved, gift.
Forgiveness was something YHWH excelled at, and it was just another thing in the long list of differences between YHWH and the gods revered by other Ancient Near East cultures.
David’s Psalm (103) beautifully outlined how different YHWH was from the gods of neighbouring cultures. YHWH was a forgiving judge, a healer, a redeemer, an abundant provider, and he gave of Himself with love and compassion and graciousness:
Who pardons [ha-soleakh] all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle?
YHWH performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.
YHWH is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
And what were we guilty of? Well, besides the many uncaring, selfish, sneaky, double-faced things we do, our greatest sin was turning our backs on YHWH… showing no thankfulness, and treating God with less than indifference. Humans elevated themselves and tried to sit on YHWH’s throne, pretending He wasn’t there and claiming to be gods themselves. They ignored YHWH and attempted to rule in His place. YHWH was the reason we existed, yet we gave Him no honour and set aside no time in our day for Him. We’re a selfish, ungrateful, lot and we’re so wrapped up in ourselves that we have dismissed the God who gave us life, and a beautiful planet to live on.
Pardon, I Pray
Moses understood that the people had lost respect for their Creator. As their advocate he prayed that YHWH would pardon the sinful people:
Numbers 14:111, 17-21 (See also Exodus 34:6-9)
YHWH said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?….
[Moses:] “…I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, ‘YHWH is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving [taking/bearing/lifting] iniquity [noseh avohn] and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray [s’lakh na], the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven [lifted up: nasatah] this people, from Egypt even until now.”
So YHWH said, “I have pardoned [salakh’ti] them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of YHWH.”
And so YHWH pardoned the people, at that time. But jump ahead many generations and the people were doing the same thing: ignoring their Creator, placing themselves above YHWH, turning their back to God, behaving dishonourably, and running towards foreign deities. Again YHWH questioned why He should bother to forgive these people:
[YHWH:] “Why should I pardon you? [ey lazoht es’lakh lak] Your sons have forsaken Me and sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the harlot’s house. They were well-fed lusty horses, each one neighing after his neighbour’s wife. “Shall I not punish these people,” declares YHWH, “And on a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?”
The Book of Jeremiah took this question to heart. Why should YHWH pardon the people? Did they really deserve to be forgiven? Maybe not, but YHWH would forgive them, regardless:
[YHWH:] “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon [w-salakh’ti] all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me. It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.”
Forgive and Forget: An Abundant Pardon
YHWH would pardon anyone who asked to be forgiven, and expressed even the tiniest bit of remorse. But those who blatantly lived in opposition to God’s will could not be forgiven because they did not want to be forgiven (see Deuteronomy 29:19-21 and 2 Kings 24:3-4), and they were never sorry.
However, anyone who returned to YHWH, sought Him out, and humbled themselves, He would pardon without hesitation:
Seek YHWH while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to YHWH, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon [yar’beh l-is’loakh].
YHWH would not only forgive, He would also forget:
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares YHWH, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbour and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares YHWH, “for I will forgive [es’lakh] their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Sometimes it took a hard lesson to return to YHWH. The exile to Babylon was a devastating blow to the Jewish people. In their anguish and pain they recognized that they had been rebellious towards their Creator and that they had not yet been pardoned. In response, they turned back towards the God they had abandoned, and cried out for His forgiveness:
Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to YHWH. We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven; we have transgressed and rebelled, You have not pardoned [lo salakh’ta]…
…Waters flowed over my head; I said, “I am cut off!” I called on Your name, O YHWH, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice, “Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.”
You drew near when I called on You; You said, “Do not fear!” O Lord, You have pleaded my soul’s cause; You have redeemed my life.
A simple acknowledgement of what they had done, and re-connecting (crying out) to God through conversation, generated an immediate response: “Do not fear!” It was a you-turn-to-Me and I-turn-to-you, moment. YHWH had been patiently waiting for their return and He rewarded them with a promise of redemption.
YHWH also promised to protect a remnant of the Hebrew people and bring them back home, from Babylon to Israel. Their sins would be so completely forgotten that even after a great search, they would not be found.
“And I will bring Israel back to his pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan, and his desire will be satisfied in the hill country of Ephraim and Gilead. In those days and at that time,” declares YHWH, “search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I will pardon [es’lakh] those whom I leave as a remnant.”
Prayer: Hear and Forgive
Many of the prayers in the Tanakh centred in on forgiveness. It was a essential part of Solomon’s prayer of dedication for his newly built Temple:
1 Kings 8:27-30 (see also 2 Chronicles 6)
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O YHWH my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today; that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ to listen to the prayer which Your servant shall pray toward this place.
Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive [w-shama’ta w-salakh’ta].
Four more times Solomon asked God to hear and forgive the peoples sins:
1 Kings 8:34
…hear in heaven, and forgive [w-salakh’ta] the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.
1 Kings 8:36a
…hear in heaven and forgive [w-salakh’ta] the sin of Your servants and of Your people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk.
1 Kings 8:39-40
…hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive [w-salakh’ta] and act and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You have given to our fathers.
Solomon prayer concluded with a final plea for God to hear and forgive:
1 Kings 8:48-52
…if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive [w-salakh’ta] Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are Your people and Your inheritance which You have brought forth from Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace), that Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant and to the supplication of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to You.”
YHWH response to Solomon’s prayer with these words:
2 Chronicles 7:12-14
Then YHWH appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive [w-es’lakh] their sin and will heal their land.”
Daniel lived in exile in Babylon, but he never lost hope. He knew that YHWH’s compassion would save them. In his prayer he asked God to hear, forgive, listen and take action:
Daniel 19:17-19 (Daniel’s prayer)
“So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action [Adonai shamah! Adonai s’lakhah! Adonai haq’shivah wa-aseh]! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
And God did hear them, and He forgave them; He listen and He took action. The Babylonians were taken down by the Persians. The Persian king, Cyrus the Great, allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and rebuilt their Temple. About twenty years later Nehemiah was appointed governor of Persian Judea and he was sent to Jerusalem to help rebuild the rest of the city. During his time as governor, Ezra reinstated the Feast of Booths, and at the end of the festival the Levites recited a prayer which recognized that God had listened to them, but they had not listened to Him:
Nehemiah 9:6, 16-17
“You alone are YHWH, You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You.…
…But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.
But You are a God of forgiveness [s’likhoht], gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them.”
Even when we don’t listen YHWH still forgives.
One of the beautiful prayers of forgiveness can be found in the New Testament (B’rit Chadashah). Most of us are quite familiar with this prayer:
‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
After the prayer Yeshua took the time to explain an important point:
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
The Action of Forgiveness
Forgiveness was essential to having right relationship with YHWH, which is why when Peter asked about forgiveness Yeshua gave him this response:
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
There have been many debates about this passage. Some translators have translated the number as seventy times seven, and some translators have used seventy-seven times. Either way it was meant to denote that we should forgive countless times. This theology was not at all complicated. In fact Yeshua, who often spoke in riddles, made this point very clear and simple:
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Of course it was acts of forgiveness that put Yeshua in the hot seat when it came to the religious elite:
Mark 2:1-12 (see also Luke 5:17-26)
When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.
And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.
And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.”
And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
This caused great confusion amongst the Pharisees. How could anyone forgive sins but God? And how could anyone cause a paralytic man to rise and walk? If this person was God, He certainly wouldn’t do a miracle on the Sabbath? Who was this man who could do such incredible things?
Eventually they used Yeshua’s miracles on the Sabbath as the perfect reasons to arrest and execute Him:
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.
But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Messiah of God, His Chosen One.”
The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Yeshua knew He couldn’t save Himself, because that would destroy His mission. He had the capability, but in doing so He would break YHWH’s promise of redemption and destroy YHWH’s plans to bring humanity back into His presence. By not saving Himself, He ended up opening the possibility of salvation to everyone:
In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.
By Yeshua’s example we must also forgive and forget. We are the Image-bearers of YHWH; we are meant to be His reflections on this planet. He is ultimately forgiving, so we must also be abundantly forgiving.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you.
The Freedom in Forgiveness
Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were sent to the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbrück. Betsie died at the camp and Corrie survived. Understandably, Corrie felt an overwhelming hatred build up in her heart for what had happened and it took her to a dark place. She realized that to be able to crawl out of darkness and into the light she would have to forgive the people involved in her arrest and incarceration, and her sister’s death. On one occasion, many years after the war, a Ravensbrück guard came to Corrie, put his hand out and asked her to forgive him. The following words came from an article in the Guideposts magazine originally dated November 1972. (You can read the full article here).
Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion– I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
That act of forgiveness was just as much for Corrie as it was for the guard. It was a moment where she stepped out of darkness and felt the freedom of the light.
The guard asked Corrie for forgiveness, but so many people who survived such horrors have never had anyone ask for their forgiveness. What do we do about those people who have sinned against us, but have not said they’re sorry or showed any remorse?
At the age of nine Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam, (whose stories were documented in the film, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”) were imprisoned in Auschwitz and used in various gruesome medical experiments, along with 1400 other twins. Jospef Mengele was the horrific doctor of these experiments. Eva eventually came to realize that her hatred for this man was crushing her heart and she had to forgive him to set herself free. On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz she wrote and signed a Declaration of Amnesty.
It began saying, “I, Eva Mozes Kor, a twin who as a child survived Josef Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz fifty years ago, hereby give amnesty to all Nazis who participated directly or indirectly in the murder of my family and millions of others…”
Not all survivors agreed with Eva’s Declaration, but she stood by it, and in this youtube video she says:
“What is my forgiveness? I like it! It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, self-empowerment. All victims are hurt, feel hopeless, feel helpless, feel powerless. I want everybody to remember that we cannot change what happened, that is the tragic part, but we can change how we relate to it.”
If someone has hurt you and they show no remorse, and that causes you to be angry and vindictive and takes you to a dark place, then perhaps you ought to forgive them. Their lack of regret has no effect on them but it is taking you to a dark and sinful place. Forgiveness, very often, is more for your benefit, than it is for the offender. Eva put it this way in the trailer for “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”:
“Forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul and it will set you free.”
Yeshua died to set us free. We are free from the burden of being a victim of so much hurt. And we are also free from the burden of being the offender. We have treated our God terribly, and we have often been pretty lousy to other humans in our lives. Yet Yeshua took all our sins, gathered them together and buried them in the grave, allowing us to rise up and face our Creator, without guilt and blameless in His eyes. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Can we do the same for those who have hurt us?
Let us repent and make an effort to rebuild our relationship with God our Creator, our Redeemer, our Friend… and let that relationship reflect back on those around us.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You I cry all day long. Make glad the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive [w-sallakh], and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
Whoever you are, wherever you live, YHWH has abundant love for YOU! Connect with Him, repent and enjoy the freedom of living as a forgiven and celebrated child of God.
Next week: Foundation