Introduction: Chances are you cannot read Hebrew. If so, you might be
wondering whether a lesson with the title “Forgiveness in the Hebrew
Bible” has any relevance to you. What is the Hebrew Bible anyway? Is
it a Bible written in Hebrew? One of my dear friends is very active
in his conservative Jewish synagogue. When I speak to him about the
“Old Testament,” he reminds me that, as far as he is concerned, it is
the only testament. The “Hebrew Bible” is just a fancy way to say
“Old Testament.” Was God less forgiving in the Old Testament than in
the New Testament? What picture of forgiveness does the Old Testament
reveal? Let’s dive into our study and find out!

  1. The Record

    1. Psalms 78:1-31 is an account of God’s relationship with
      His people as they were on the journey from Egypt, where
      they had been slaves, to Canaan, where they would live in
      the land promised to them by God. Let’s pick up the
      account by reading Psalms 78:34-35. Why would the people
      turn to God? (He would punish them. They would then
      remember the good things about God and return to Him.)

    2. Read Psalms 78:36-37. When the people turned back to God,
      was their repentance genuine? (If you look at verse 35 we
      see described what appears to be genuine conversion.
      However, verse 36 starts out “but then they would ….” It
      seems that what started as genuine conversion turns to
      insincere babble.)

      1. How do we know they were no longer sincere? (Their
        hearts were not in it and they did not obey God’s law
        (the covenant).)

      2. Do you know people like that today? Are you one of

        1. Is drifting away a danger for us today?

    3. Read Psalms 78:38-39. What was God’s reaction to the
      inconsistent behavior of His people? (He was merciful and
      forgave them.)

      1. Does God get angry with disobedience?

        1. Verse 38 tells us that God “restrained His
          anger.” How do you square this with the
          statement in v.34 that “God slew them?” That
          sounds pretty angry, doesn’t it? (The picture I
          get is that some died because they turned away
          from God, but God did not visit on the majority
          the predicted punishment for sin – which is
          death. Instead, the death of a few was a “wake-up call” to the rest.)

      1. Why does v. 39 say God forgive the disobedience of
        His people? (It reminds me of the common saying, “I’m
        only human.”)

      2. What kind of picture of God’s forgiveness do you see
        so far?

    1. The theme of Psalms 78 is that God showed His people
      miracle after miracle and they disdained or ignored what
      He had done for them. When we consider the forgiving
      character of God in relationship to us, are we guilty of
      forgetting the great things He has done for us in the

  1. Making It Personal

    1. Read Psalms 51:1-3. What is the context of this request
      for forgiveness? (The title tells us this is written after
      Nathan the prophet spoke to David about his affair with a
      married woman. You can read Nathan’s rebuke to David in 2
      Samuel 12.)

      1. What picture of God do we see in these verses?

    2. Read Psalms 51:3-4. If you know the story, David had an
      affair with a married woman who became pregnant with his
      child. David then put her husband in harm’s way so that he
      was killed in battle. After that, the child died because
      of David’s sin.

      1. How can David say “Against you [God], you only, have
        I sinned?”

      2. I can think of at least a couple of people who died
        because of David’s sin. Don’t they count? (If you
        track the rest of David’s life, this series of events
        created problems, deaths and suffering for many years
        to come. On the face of it, David’s statement seems
        absurd. However, all sin goes back to God. The
        parallel idea is that in a democracy the people
        decide the laws. Therefore, to break the law in a
        democracy is a crime against all the people. If you
        read the reports of criminal cases at the state
        level, the cases are entitled “State v. Joe
        Miscreant.” Since God created the moral law, when we
        sin we sin against Him.)

      3. Notice that Psalms 51:4 says about God “You are
        proved right when you speak and justified when you
        judge.” Why does God have a special right to speak
        against sin and to judge sin? (Because the sin is
        against Him.)

        1. Does that mean that the rest of us are barred
          from judging sin?

    3. If David is correct that we can only sin against God, what
      is the only source of forgiveness?

      1. What about those other people we have injured along
        the way?

      2. Read Matthew 5:23-24. What does this require of us?

        1. Is Jesus speaking about confession of sin?

        2. Why does Jesus use the word “brother?” Is this a
          matter only among fellow believers?

    1. Read Psalms 32:1-2. Why would David use the term “covered”
      when referring to sins? Why not say “gone?”

      1. Why does David refer to sin that is “not count[ed]
        against” us, rather than sin that is eliminated?

        1. Does this mean the sin is still
          there, but God just does not count it?

      2. Read Psalms 32:3. In the sin against the husband of
        the married woman David made pregnant, David hoped to
        cover up his sin. How does this coving up of sin
        compare to the covered up sin of verse 1? (It seems
        that David is making a comparison to the way we
        handle sin and the way God handles it. We try to
        cover up and ignore our sins. However, if we just
        took it to God and confessed our sin, He will “cover
        it up” by not counting it against us. This “covering”
        and “not counting” looks forward to the blood of
        Jesus covering our sins. His perfect life is accepted
        in place of our imperfect life. I think these terms
        are used by David to show that we will never be free
        of sin outside of Jesus.)

      3. What does this teach us about the forgiving nature of

  1. Inciting God

    1. Read Exodus 32:1-4. Put yourself in Moses’ place. What
      would your reaction be towards your brother, Aaron?

      1. Put yourself in God’s place, what would be your
        reaction to this?

      2. Have you ever been passed over for promotion, and
        someone who was clearly incompetent got the job
        instead? How did you feel?

        1. Now add to these facts the background that your
          company would not be in existence if not for
          your great work. Now how do you feel?

        2. Now add to these facts that someone who is not
          alive got the job instead of you. Now how do you

    2. Read Exodus 32:9-10. Does this sound about right to you as
      a reasonable reaction? Does this offend your sense of

      1. If people worship what used to be earrings instead of
        the living God, what future can God have with them?

      2. Is God’s reaction unprecedented? (No, consider the
        story of Noah. See Genesis 6-7.)

    3. Read Exodus 32:11-14. Our lesson (Tuesday) starts out
      “Most people do not believe that Moses [changed God’s
      mind].” This raises some serious theological questions for
      me. If God did not want us to consider this interplay
      between Moses and God, then why is it in the Bible?

      1. Let’s go through this story again. Is God being fair
        and reasonable in His threat to destroy those who
        reject Him, those who refuse to trust Him and trust
        something they made with their hands instead? (Yes.
        Not only is this fair, but this is precisely what
        WILL happen to those who do not trust God but trust
        themselves instead.)

      2. If God’s intentions are just, what lesson do you draw
        from Moses’ pleading with God? (I love this picture.
        The great God in heaven is willing to listen to us.
        Instead of a picture of a harsh and unreasonable God,
        I see a God who is so generous, He is willing to
        listen to our pleas.)

      3. Consider Moses’ argument to God. What are the
        elements of his argument? Explain his logic? (He is
        arguing God’s past promises and His reputation.)

      4. Verse 14 says the Lord “relented” and did not bring
        the disaster He had threatened. Other versions say
        the Lord “repented.” Does this mean God sinned in His
        anger? Did God initially make a wrong decision? (No.
        The Bible Knowledge Commentary tells us that the
        Hebrew word translated “relented” “suggests relief or
        comfort from a planned, undesirable course of
        action.” In sum God “embarked on another course of
        action.” Both courses of action for God were equally
        just. God showed His flexibility and His concern for
        His faithful servant when He took Moses’ requests
        into account in making His final decision. I like
        that picture of God. It is the opposite of an
        arrogant, unforgiving God.)

    4. Friend, although a common perception is that the “God of
      the Old Testament” is harsh and unforgiving, we have seen
      that, although sin is a personal affront to God, He
      forgives our sins. More than that, the great God of heaven
      interacts with us in our daily actions. Would you like to
      invite the great God of heaven to become an active part of
      your life? If so, why not turn your life over to Him right

  2. Next week: Forgiveness and Repentance.