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490 Times

January 27, 2013

Matthew 18:21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

 

Wow, that’s a lot of times.  I’m reminded (and perhaps I have even mentioned in previous posts) about a time when my daddy asked me, “Don’t you think that God gets tired of forgiving us?”

That statement alone provided a lot of insight to the struggles that I have had in my life understanding the vastness of unconditional love from my Heavenly Father, in comparison to my relationship with my earthly father.  (That’s not a slam on Daddy … I’m just saying that it took me a long time to reconcile that “His [God’s] ways are higher than our ways” and we really can’t compare the two.)

My response to my daddy was that because God is all-knowing, He would surely not have given His Only Son to bear the punishment for our sins, if He was going to grow weary of forgiving.  While I can’t comprehend that level or depth of love for people who scoff and snub their noses at Him, I think the best way to acknowledge and honor this is to follow His direction, especially when it comes to the act of forgiveness.  (But it is not in our nature … that’s for sure.)

We know we get tired of “forgiving.”   We know we’re prone to “remember the offenses” and guard our hearts and lives against further pain.  So, it is a legitimate question which if we take the time to study on it, we will only be able to more intimately see and understand the heart of God. 

As I was thinking on this topic … I was also reminded of Hosea, so I decided to go read that story again.  When I started in the first chapter, I came across a surprise …

It seems that God is pretty fed up with the nation of Israel.  It’s like He’s thrown up His hands in total frustration and says to Hosea, (from The Message),

Hosea 1:2  The first time God spoke to Hosea he said:   “Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children.  And here’s why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God.”

Sounds a whole lot like today, huh?

So Hosea picks Gomer, and they start having children.  The first child is named, “Jezreel” (“God plants”) and God says this name denotes that He is going to make Israel pay for the terrible things they have done. 

Then Gomer has a second child … a daughter … and God said,

“Name this one No-Mercy. I’m fed up with Israel.
    I’ve run out of mercy. There’s no more forgiveness.”

(In the NIV, it reads: “Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them.”)

When I read that I thought, “Hmmmm … maybe I was too quick to judge my earthly daddy’s notion.”

Then Gomer had a third child.  It was a son and his name was “Nobody.”

God said because “you’ve become nobodies to me, and I, God, am a nobody to you.”

(The NIV reads, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”)

So, it seems from this first chapter in Hosea, that indeed God has grown weary of forgiving Israel … HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE.  And who could blame Him?  I mean, look at all the back and forth, abuse and misuse, whining, crying and complaining that have taken place in this relationship.  Most of us would probably have just given up when they were wondering in the wilderness for 40 years.

And because we can so “clearly identify” with God’s frustration in this relationship with people, I think that’s one reason we run from Him instead of “to Him” to restore fellowship.  We are convinced that He is going to be “fed up” and dismiss us … because that’s what we naturally do to each other and ourselves.

Fortunately, there’s more to the story.  By the end of the first chapter … God has cooled down some and in Hosea 2:1, He’s telling Hosea to “Rename the children.”  Their new names are “God’s Somebody” (My People) and “All Mercy” (My Loved One).

Isaiah 55:7-8 says, Let the wicked leave their way of life and change their way of thinking.
Let them turn to the Lord, our God; he is merciful and quick to forgive.
“My thoughts,” says the Lord, “are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours.”

Oh, but Gomer and her clan (as well as us) are not so quickly to “leave our wicked ways” nor “forgive” as God does.

But, God, starts all over … takes us back (even sometimes into and through that wilderness) to restore that fellowship and loving/trusting/dependent relationship of love and mercy He wants us to know and practice. 

Is it worth it? 

What’s the benefit if we are prone and most likely will, sin again and need more forgiveness?  Like Peter asked, “Is seven times enough times to forgive someone?”

In Hosea 4, there is a very spot on indictment of the people of Israel (and for us today) that cause any judge to throw the book at us.  (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hosea+4&version=MSG;NIV

God’s history with these people … with all humankind … as represented in this story of Hosea, proves my point to my daddy that certainly God knew before Jesus was ever born that we would be this unfaithful, prone to sin, fickle, adulterous, rebellious child that takes for granted the mercy/love/forgiveness that has been given time and time and time (490) again.  And yet … he did it anyway.

HE DID IT ANYWAY!

In Hosea 11, God reminds Himself of how much He loves Israel … even though in all the chapters prior to that, He is ready to throw in the towel.

Hosea 11:7-9, He says,

My people are hell-bent on leaving me. They pray to god Baal for help.
He doesn’t lift a finger to help them.
But how can I give up on you, Ephraim? How can I turn you loose, Israel?
How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah, devastated like luckless Zeboim?
I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.
My insides churn in protest. And so I’m not going to act on my anger.  I’m not going to destroy Ephraim. And why?
Because I am God and not a human. I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.

It’s a struggle … obviously a continuous struggle … because there’s so much history, so much sin and pain and offense to overcome.  The MAIN reason this can’t be just “water under the bridge” is because (as we see over and over again in Hosea, and throughout our own circumstances at times) there is simply NO REPENTENCE

At the beginning of Hosea 14 (the last chapter of the book),  Hosea pleads

 O Israel, come back! Return to your God! You’re down but you’re not out. Prepare your confession and come back to God.”

There He stands, with arms open wide, waiting, wanting us to run to Him … to seek His forgiveness.  He wants us to understand and embrace this deep, everlasting, lavishing love and mercy that He has for us.   Just like in the story of the Prodigal Son (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+15%3A11-32&version=NIV), He will celebrate our return.

Hosea 14:4, He says, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” 

This makes me feel so “blessed” and so loved.  This shows me that God’s ways are sooooo much more right than my own.  Being embraced, forgiven and restored to right fellowship is “freedom.” 

Forgiveness brings freedom to the one who seeks it, as well as the one who gives it.  It is freedom to live and love without the heavy baggage of guilt/shame/un-reconciled differences and pain.  It’s freedom to serve and grow and experience the abundant life to which God calls us.  It is freedom to “be the Me” that He created … the one He loves and died for.

So … 490 times? 

Yes, it might seem like a lot in our human mind-set, but evidently Someone thinks we’re worth it.  And we should not take that for granted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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