Numbers 14:19-23 (MSG)
“Please forgive the wrongdoing of this people out of the extravagance of your loyal love just as all along, from the time they left Egypt, you have been forgiving this people.”
God said, “I forgive them, honoring your words. But as I live and as the Glory of GOD fills the whole Earth—not a single person of those who saw my Glory, saw the miracle signs I did in Egypt and the wilderness, and who have tested me over and over and over again, turning a deaf ear to me—not one of them will set eyes on the land I so solemnly promised to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with such repeated contempt will see it.”
In all the years since the Israelites were freed from bondage in Egypt, they seem to have learned nothing about God’s grace and power. Now on the brink of entering the Promised Land, they grumble about their hardships and threaten to abandon the quest and return to slavery in Egypt. God vents his anger and disappointment to Moses, who responds with a plea for God’s forgiveness on behalf of the people.
Moses knows and understands God’s heart. What’s more, he understands the nature of God’s forgiveness, having experienced it repeatedly throughout the wilderness journey.
We who are modern-day disciples of Jesus are admonished to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. The recorded exchange between Moses and God offers three truths about God’s forgiveness that can help us in our efforts to forgive one another.
Extravagant love makes forgiveness possible. Moses grounds his plea in the deep, abundant love God has for his people. Love that can afford to be generous is nothing like the grudging positivity we sometimes profess: God commands me to love this person, so I do. Just don’t expect me to pray for her or go out of my way for her like I would for a friend. Love that can truly forgive is expansive, filling the heart and crowding out resentment and secret desires for revenge.
Commitment outweighs any injury. God’s regard for his people is steadfast. His love for them is not shaken by their disregard for him or for their covenant relationship. Despite their disloyalty, God remains loyal. Despite their waywardness, God is the solid Rock, dependable, always to be found in the same place no matter how far away they wander. Our commitment to a relationship or to living life with integrity can counterbalance an injustice or injury perpetrated against us.
Bad choices will have consequences. When the people turn their backs on God, they also turn their backs on the blessings God has prepared for them. The passage makes it clear that God loves and forgives his people, yet God does not shield them from the consequences of their sin. We may love and forgive our offenders, yet they may still suffer punishment, pain, and loss because of their wrongful actions.
FATHER, this picture of how you want us to forgive appears overwhelming. I cannot love as generously as you do; I cannot forgive as perfectly and unconditionally as Jesus did. Because of my weakness, I ask for your grace and your strength to take the next small step on my path to learning how to forgive. Open my heart to receive your extravagant love that I may offer it to others who need my forgiveness.
Psalm 18:2; Colossians 3:13
Do you have a complaint against someone? Bring it before God now and see what God will teach you.