From Apologies to Atonement – Understanding Forgiveness
In our culture, saying “sorry” is a common way to acknowledge a wrong we’ve committed against someone else. Even children quickly learn to apologize when they’ve done something wrong, and forgiveness often follows suit. But have you ever considered the deeper significance of forgiveness? Today, we will explore the concept of forgiveness through a biblical lens, delving into the story of David, Saul, and the Gibeonites. We’ll discover that forgiveness isn’t just a simple exchange of words, but a profound act that carries spiritual weight and restores relationships.
A Childhood Memory
Reflecting on childhood memories, it’s easy to recall instances where we or our siblings said sorry after causing a misdeed. Growing up, my sister had a habit of immediately apologizing after any wrongdoing. She’d hit me and swiftly say, “I’m sorry.” My parents taught me that I had to forgive, so I did and didn’t tell my parents. Later she would hit me again and say, “I’m sorry.” She knew that the quicker she apologized the faster I would forgive her and she would escape parental discipline. Back then, something seemed off, but I obeyed my parents. But as I grew older, I realized that the concept of forgiveness runs much deeper than mere apologies.
Biblical Foundation of Forgiveness
In the Bible, forgiveness holds a significant place in the narrative of redemption and reconciliation. The story of David and the Gibeonites, found in 2 Samuel 21, serves as a powerful example of the intricate nature of forgiveness.
Atonement and Satisfaction
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord. And the Lord said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death…” Thus David said to the Gibeonites, “What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?”… [They replied] let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul…” — 2 Samuel 21:1, 3, 6
During David’s reign, a three-year famine struck the land, attributed to the sin of Saul. The Gibeonites, who had been wronged by Saul’s massacre of their people, were still affected by the unatoned sin. The Gibeonites approached David, seeking justice and atonement. Their request wasn’t for silver or gold, but for the execution of seven of Saul’s male descendants. These executions were a means of atonement, a way to make things right and restore the injured party to wholeness. This act, while seemingly harsh, was in line with the principles of God’s law (Genesis 9:6, Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Sin’s Effects and Remembrance
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” — Romans 5:12
The narrative unveils profound truths about sin and forgiveness. Firstly, sin’s consequences are far-reaching. The famine affected the whole region, reminding us that sin’s effects extend beyond the wrongdoer to impact others. Romans 5:12 emphasizes how Adam’s sin affected all of humanity, highlighting the interconnectedness of our lives.
Furthermore, sin isn’t easily forgotten. The Gibeonites remembered Saul’s offense even after many years had passed. This reflects God’s perspective on sin—He doesn’t forget unforgiven transgressions. Just as the Gibeonites couldn’t erase the memory of Saul’s sin, we can’t sweep our sins under the rug.
Restoring Communication with God
The famine served as a symbol of the blocked communication between God and His people due to unatoned sin. David’s inquiry to God about the famine was met with silence, highlighting the barrier sin creates between us and God. Sin closes the channel of communication with our Creator. In this case, it took atonement to restore the connection. This principle is echoed in Hebrews 9:22:
And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. — Hebrews 9:22
Blood symbolized atonement—a necessary step before forgiveness could be granted.
Atonement Precedes Forgiveness
The story of David and the Gibeonites exemplifies the concept that atonement must precede forgiveness. In God’s divine order, satisfaction for a wrong must occur before reconciliation can take place. More importantly, the injured party sets the terms for atonement, emphasizing the seriousness of addressing wrongdoing.
Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness in this context isn’t merely a transaction of words; it’s a transformative process with far-reaching benefits. When the Gibeonites’ request was fulfilled, forgiveness had a ripple effect:
Restoration: Forgiveness lifted the famine, benefiting everyone in Israel. Lives returned to normal, highlighting the restorative power of forgiveness.
Healing Memories: The Gibeonites’ painful memories were assuaged. They could move forward knowing God had addressed their grievance, showing how forgiveness can fade painful memories.
Reconnection: Forgiveness reopened the communication between God and His people. Once sin’s barrier was removed, God answered prayers and interacted with them again.
The Ultimate Atonement and Forgiveness
While the story of David and the Gibeonites provides a glimpse into the mechanics of atonement and forgiveness, it ultimately points to a greater truth—the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ. Just as Saul’s sin brought death to his sons, our sin caused the death of God’s sinless Son, Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:21 highlights this incredible exchange:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. — 2 Corinthians 5:21
A New Perspective
Understanding the deep connection between atonement and forgiveness offers a fresh perspective on our relationship with God. The story of Saul, the Gibeonites, and David serves as a mirror reflecting our own position as sinners in need of atonement. It underscores our shared guilt and the need for Christ’s ultimate sacrifice to bridge the gap between us and God.
Applying the Lesson
How can we apply these truths to our lives today? Here are a few ways:
- Acknowledge Sin: Just as David inquired about the cause of the famine, take time to reflect on areas of your life where sin might be hindering your relationship with God.
“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” — 1 John 1:8-9 (NASB1995)
- Seek Atonement: Confess your sins to God and seek His forgiveness through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Embrace the truth that without Christ’s blood, there is no forgiveness.
“And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” — Hebrews 9:22 (NASB1995)
- Forgive Others: Recognize the power of forgiveness in restoring relationships and healing memories. Forgive others as God forgave you.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” — Ephesians 4:32 (NASB1995)
- Communicate with God: Embrace the open line of communication with God that forgiveness brings. Regularly pray and seek God’s guidance, knowing that your relationship with Him is restored through Christ.
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” — Hebrews 4:16 (NASB1995)
Forgiveness Is More Than Just An Apology
The story of David, Saul, and the Gibeonites unveils the intricate dynamics of forgiveness and atonement. It teaches us that forgiveness is more than just an apology; it involves genuine repentance, restitution, and restoration. The ultimate expression of forgiveness is found in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which grants us reconciliation with God. As we embrace the lessons from this biblical narrative, let us remember that forgiveness, rooted in atonement, holds the power to transform our lives and draw us closer to our Creator.