The Blessed Forgetfulness of God

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How does God deal with the sin of those saved by Christ Jesus? The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation of Hebrews 8 begins, “Now the main point in what has been said is this,” explaining that Jesus is our perfect high priest, “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (verses 1 and 6). Verses 8-12 outline the new covenant and its promises, with the LORD saying in verse (v.) 12, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” However, the King James Version (KJV) says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”

I’ve done most of my memorizing and studying from the NASB, but the difference in translations above illustrates why it’s good to go back to the KJV and better yet, the original languages. Blueletterbible.org (BLB) makes this quite possible for any English reader. As a handy hard copy, I keep my Westminster Bible close, an Authorised Version of the KJV published by the Trinitarian Bible Society. A friend tipped me off years ago that there can be quite a discrepancy between it, NASBs and even traditional KJVs.

Looking at the Greek via BLB’s tools, the word “merciful” or hileos occurs twice in the entire New Testament (NT); it’s also translated “be it far from” or “God avert this from thee.” Hileos carries a sense of cheerfulness, attractiveness, grace, and averting from calamity. When God applies hileos to our unrighteousness, it is indeed an attractive, cheerful act of grace on His part which averts calamity on ours.

The Greek root for unrighteousness, translated “iniquities” in the NASB, is adikia, used just 25 times in the entire Bible. The inflection adikiais is used only once: here. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Strong’s) states that adikia refers to legal injustice and moral wrongfulness, both the quality and the act. “Sins” is hamartia, used 174 times in the KJV but translated “offense” only once. It’s equivalent to hamartano (which is probably why the NASB combines the words), and according to BLB generally means, “to be without a share in, to miss the mark, to err, be mistaken, to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong, to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law.” It involves commission and omission: doing/thinking wrong or not doing/thinking right.

Hebrews 8 teaches that under the new covenant, God chooses not to remember (from the Greek root mnaomai) His people’s wrongs or undone rights because they are paid for by Jesus, our high priest. Mnaomai deals with the mind: deciding to recall or bring to remembrance. I used to explain the opposite of this concept, as used in the Old Testament (OT), to my Sunday school children by saying that God never forgot about Noah and the animals on the ark. When Genesis 8:1 says in the NASB, “God remembered Noah and all the animals,” it means that God simply recalled Noah and company to mind in order to act: creating a wind that made the floodwaters recede. Hebrews 8:12 teaches that in regard to our sins and iniquities, God does not recall or act. Why? Because of Jesus.

Hebrews emphasizes this key idea. Chapter 10 again contrasts the old and new covenants and again proclaims that Jesus’ death is the full payment for our wrongs/un-rights: “then He [Jesus] said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will’. He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (verses 9-10).” A similar thought is repeated in verses (vs.) 14 and 18, just in case we missed it.

I love this chapter, but the entire book of Hebrews brims over with the good news. I used to consider Hebrews so inaccessible before my husband started us out on memorizing it. Now it seems so rich I’m having trouble limiting verses for this post. I hope you enjoy reading, studying and memorizing it, too.

In the NASB, Hebrews 10:16-17 says, “`This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days’, says the Lord: `I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them’, He then says, `And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’.”

Imagine, for a moment, the future: no more guessing God’s will; no more consciousness of our sins. That alone would make a blissful eternity. And there’s so much more to come!

For now, let’s focus on the verses above. “Sins” is hamartia, as we’ve seen earlier, but “lawless deeds,” translated “iniquities” in the KJV, is anomia: literally, without law. This time, the NASB nails it. “Remember” is again mnaomai.

We’re meant to revel in this truth, as David did in Psalm 32: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity” (vs. 1 and 2). In Hebrew, the word for “blessed” can also mean “happy.” “Transgression” is sometimes translated “trespass,” “sin” and “rebellion.” “Forgiven” includes a sense of lifting, bearing or carrying away. “Sin” is simply “sin,” and “cover” can mean “conceal” or “clothe.” “Impute” is rather a business term, also translated “account,” “reckon,” “compute,” “calculate,” etc. When God doesn’t do any of that with our iniquity, we’re really blessed. Because of Jesus, He doesn’t, so we, like David, can rejoice!

Other OT accounts record God’s similar grace: in Psalm 85 v. 2 God forgives the iniquity of His people, as He does in Psalm 78:38 and in Numbers 14:19-20 when Moses intercedes. Also in Psalm 85:2-3, God covers all His people’s sin, withdraws all His fury and turns from His “burning anger” (NASB).

In Psalm 103, David recites a whole list of God’s blessings toward us, starting with how He forgives all our iniquities. David sinned big, but he also repented big and was forgiven big. David had personal reasons to appreciate God’s forgiveness: for his adultery and murder concerning Bathsheba, he would have been condemned to death under the law (2 Samuel 12:13).

In Psalm 103:10-12 (NASB), David continues to praise God because, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” In light of these and additional verses, I find it unlikely that God will resurrect His people’s past wrongs for public judgement before His great white throne depicted in Revelation 20. Sins, iniquities, transgressions, etc. of the unforgiven dead, yes: they should and will be judged. But thankfully, when our Father forgives, He really does forget.

Continuing vs. 13-14 (NASB) in Psalm 103 give a reason for God’s gracious forgetfulness toward us: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” How blessed we are to have a Father who does not treat us, or our sins, as we deserve!

Let’s look once more at the future by returning to Hebrews 8. Verses 8-9 (NASB) say, “`Behold, days are coming’, says the Lord, `When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them’, says the Lord.”

Lest anyone misunderstand, the true house of Israel now includes anyone adopted into it by the blood of Jesus. Ephesians is another book with which I have trouble limiting myself, but as it says in 1:5-8, “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us.” In case these last gender-obsessed days cause anyone to misinterpret the Bible’s inclusiveness, “sons” or “men,” generally includes daughters or women (or children).

So, as adopted sons and heirs (Romans 8:17), Hebrews 8:10 says to us, “`For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: `I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people’.” As if this is not good enough, v. 11 continues, “`And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.” This, at last, is the great context of the verse we started with: “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”

Planned long ago through his Son Jesus to the sons (and daughters) of the new covenant by blood and adoption, God’s forgetfulness is intentional and gracious. Through it we are truly blessed.

Greek translations and lexicon from the KJV (King James Version) of  The Blue Letter Bible

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://www.lockman.org

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