To a large extent, up till now these articles on forgiveness have focused on individuals and their relationships with one another. We have tried to give solid Bible-based counsel on the importance of forgiving those who have wronged us, as well as providing concrete advice on how to actually practice forgiveness, difficult as it is. We hope these ideas prove to be as helpful to our readers as they have been to us.
This final article looks at the issue of forgiveness on a bigger scale, cases where families or communities or nations need to forgive one another. We’ll review several Bible examples, including Hezekiah’s Passover, the unification of Judah and Israel, and the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles into God’s covenant family through Jesus Christ. Then we’ll draw some lessons from Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgiveness. Finally, we’ll close this article and the series with a prayer on behalf of the brotherhood.
When Hezekiah determined to keep the Passover, he included all Israel and Judah; this fact is emphasized throughout the narrative (2Chr 30:1, 5, 10-11; 31:1).
This Passover became a festival filled with compromise. It was held in the second month (2Chr 30:2, 13, 15). Many in the congregation were not sanctified, having failed to cleanse themselves, especially those from the northern tribes, but they ate the feast anyway, contrary to the law (2Chron 30:17-18). They extended the feast an extra week, going beyond what the law called for (2Chron 30:23). Having shared the Passover together, everyone, including those from the north, returned to their own cities (2Chron 31:1).
Regardless, the spirit of the feast was acceptable to the Lord:
“Hezekiah prayed for the people, saying, The Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the Lord hearkened unto Hezekiah, and healed the people” (2Chron 30:18-20).
Their hearts were in the right place, so God healed them and accepted their worship of Him. In fact, it was a wonderful experience for all, a Bible School
“And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers” (2Chron 30:21-22).
We want to highlight the last item here (“making confession to the Lord God of their fathers”). The people came with the right attitude. They came with humility. Having their sins exposed, they confessed. There was great joy, and their prayers were heard by God:
“So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven” (2Chron 30:26-27).
What a wonderful scene. The disparity in the congregation was enormous, but there was unity of purpose — to celebrate the Passover, singing praise unto the Lord. Together they worshipped our heavenly Father in spirit and in truth, overlooking their diverse cultural backgrounds. In fact, they included those they knew were not clean. Instead of casting them out, Hezekiah prayed for them, asking God to pardon them. This is extreme inclusiveness.
Furthermore, there is evidence that the Psalms of the Sons of Korah (Psa 42-49; 84-85; 87-88), Psalm 89, and the Psalms of Asaph (Psa 50; 73-83) originated in the northern sanctuaries of Dan, Tabor, and Bethel, respectively, and that these psalms were adapted for use in Jerusalem.1 It would take us too far afield of our topic to explore this claim in detail.2 Suffice it to say that if it is indeed the case, then it provides another impressive example of inclusionary behavior on the part of the Jerusalem leaders to accommodate their northern brethren.3
Judah and Ephraim to be united
In the midst of the exile, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to act out a parable of two sticks (one representing Judah, the other Ephraim) becoming one:
“Take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand” (Ezek 37:15-17).
The meaning of the parable is clear: the two nations, Ephraim and Judah, would become one:
“Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand… I will make of them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel… they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more” (Ezek 37:19, 22).
In particular, they would dwell in the Promised Land, having one king and one shepherd:
“Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land… One king shall be king to them all… And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd… And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever” (Ezek 37:21, 22, 24-25).
At the heart of this unification is the renewal of God’s covenant with His people:
“Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God… they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them… Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore” (Ezek 37:23-24, 26-28).
The exhortation for us is clear: if Yahweh is willing to rescue us from exile, we should be willing to unite with our siblings in His covenant family.
Jews and Gentiles in Christ
The first century ecclesia was stressed because in Christ, Jews and Gentiles had been called together into one united community:
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Eph 2:13-15).
This new covenant family was expected to worship God in harmony, with one voice. Following Christ, they were to be likeminded one toward another, having one mind and one mouth, receiving one another, Jews and Gentiles together glorifying God for His mercy:
“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written [2Sam 22:50; Deut 32:43; Psa 117:1; Isa 11:10]” (Rom 15:5-12).
This was easier said than done because their cultures clashed, bringing severe conflict that regularly threatened the peace of the united community. For example, with respect to the kosher food laws and the annual calendar of Sabbaths, which way should it go? Should Gentile believers conform to Jewish standards, or should Jewish believers become apostate to their God-given law? If either of these extremes were required, the movement would almost certainly collapse in a war of opposing principles. Paul addresses the issue, exhorting against disputations, and instead insisting that everyone must be allowed to judge for themselves, fully persuaded in their own mind:
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks” (Rom 14:1-6).
Earlier in the letter, Paul warns his Gentile flock not to boast against their Jewish counterparts, and not to become high-minded in their new privileged status:
“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
“Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
“And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? (Rom 11:16-24).
Paul explains God’s plan to include both Jews and Gentiles:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:25-32).
Again, the lesson for us is plain: we must not boast against our brothers and sisters who have come into the Truth through some path other than the one we have, and we must not be so high and mighty in our own status that we are cut off from the very thing we prize so much.
No Future Without Forgiveness
In 1984 Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize for his “role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.” In its citation for selecting Tutu, the Nobel Committee writes:
“The means by which this campaign is conducted is of vital importance for the whole of the continent of Africa and for the cause of peace in the world. Through the award of this year’s Peace Prize, the Committee wishes to direct attention to the non-violent struggle for liberation to which Desmond Tutu belongs, a struggle in which black and white South Africans unite to bring their country out of conflict and crisis.”4
In 1995 President Nelson Mandela named Tutu as Chairman of South Africa’s newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In 1999 Tutu wrote a book, No Future Without Forgiveness, recounting his experiences on the TRC:
“The establishment of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international event. Never had any country sought to move forward from despotism to democracy both by exposing the atrocities committed in the past and achieving reconciliation with its former oppressors…
“In No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu argues that true reconciliation cannot be achieved by denying the past. But neither is it easy to reconcile when a nation ‘looks the beast in the eye.’ Rather than repeat platitudes about forgiveness, he presents a bold spirituality that recognizes the horrors people can inflict upon one another, and yet retains a sense of idealism about reconciliation.”5
Tutu describes their approach, a third way between two unacceptable extremes:
“Our country’s negotiators rejected the two extremes and opted for a ‘third way,’ a compromise between the extreme of Nuremburg trials and blanket amnesty or national amnesia. And that third way was granting amnesty to individuals in exchange for a full disclosure relating to the crime for which amnesty was being sought. It was the carrot of possible freedom in exchange for truth and the stick was, for those already in jail, the prospect of lengthy prison sentences and, for those still free, the probability of arrest and prosecution and imprisonment.”6
He further explains the basis for this approach, a fundamental concept called ubuntu:
“…ultimately this third way of amnesty was consistent with… what we know in our languages as ubuntu… What is it that constrained so many to choose to forgive rather than to demand retribution, to be so magnanimous and ready to forgive rather than wreak revenge?
“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say… ‘Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.’ Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ It is not, ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.’ A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.
“Harmony, friendliness, community are great goods. Social harmony is for us… the greatest good. Anything that subverts, that undermines this sought-after good, is to be avoided like the plague. Anger, resentment, lust for revenge, even success through aggressive competitiveness, are corrosive of this good. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest.”7
There is much wisdom here. If such spiritually-enlightened ideas can be used in a political-charged minefield like South Africa after apartheid, then how much more should we be able to apply them to our situation?
We conclude this series on forgiveness with the following prayer on behalf of the brotherhood:
Father, forgive us as we forgive others.
We have sinned and fallen short of Thy glory.
Hear our prayer, O God. Have mercy upon us. Cleanse us. Wash away our sins. Remove our transgressions. Blot out all our iniquities.
Bless us, O Lord. Keep us. Let Thy face shine upon us. Be gracious unto us and give us peace.
Create in us a new heart.
We beseech Thee to join these two sticks that they might become one, that we might be no more two, that we might no longer be divided. Unite us for Thy name’s sake. Let Thy servant Jesus, even the shepherd of the sheep, be king over us. Let us walk together in Thy judgments and observe Thy statutes, and do them. Establish the everlasting covenant of peace with us.
Heavenly Father, restore the glory to Thy tabernacle, even to the body of Thy dear Son, the fellowship of the saints in whom Thou dwell. Sanctify us. Make us holy even as Thou art holy.
We thank Thee for Thy loving-kindness, O Lord. We thank Thee for Thy many wonderful works. We will not hide them. We will declare Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation, so that all peoples might praise Thee, O Lord, for Thy goodness.
In the name of Christ our Savior, who has loved us, and has given himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to thee for a sweet-smelling aroma, in his name we pray.
David Lloyd (Simi Hills, CA) and Joe Hill (Austin, Leander, TX)
1. Michael D. Goulder (1982) The Psalms of the Sons of Korah (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 20; Sheffield: JSOT Press); (1995) “Asaph’s History of Israel (Elohist Press, Bethel, 725 bce),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (JSOT) 65, 71-81; (1996) The Psalms of Asaph and the Pentateuch: Studies in the Psalter, III (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 233; Sheffield: JSOT Press).
2. Note the geographic allusions in Psalm 42:6-7 (Mount Hermon, the hill Mizar, and the headwaters of the Jordan River, all pointing to the sanctuary at Dan) and Psalm 89:12 (Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon); and the references to God’s people as Israel, Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh (Psa 73:1; 76:1; 77:15; 78:5, 21, 31, 41, 55, 59, 71; 80:1, 2, 5; 81:8, 11, 13).
3. Compare how many non-Christadelphian hymns have been included in our hymn books, sometimes with adaptation to make them more suitable or more relevant to our needs.
5. From the back cover of No Future Without Forgiveness, by Desmond Tutu.
6. No Future Without Forgiveness, p. 31.
7. No Future Without Forgiveness, p. 32.