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Just Pardon

By Elie Nessim, July 26, 1997 Printer Friendly Version

For Thy Name’s sake, O LORD,  pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
In our text, Psalm 25, verse 11, David, our king, is confessing his failures to GOD.  He prays that he may not be put to shame for his sins, and pleads with GOD to vindicate his trust in the forgiveness of GOD.  He goes further and asks GOD to guide him in the truth, and to continue to extend mercy and lovingkindness to him. David is aware of the many times he failed GOD from his youth, and asks for the goodness and mercy that he had just celebrated in the 23rd Psalm.  Psalm 23, verse 6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

We can all empathise with David as we look back upon our lives and review our many faults and failures.  For many on Yom Kippur, the corporate confession of sin is very meaningful and relevant.  What is astonishing in this Psalm is the basis of David’s plea.  For Thy Name’s sake, O LORD,  pardon my iniquity, for it is great. What David is asking for is forgiveness, especially because his sin is so great.  He regards himself as a prime candidate for the very reason that he has failed so badly.  We do know that David, great man that he was, committed some very terrible sins, and if we were in the judge’s chair, we would conclude that he had disqualified himself from mercy.  But David knew his GOD, and the fact that the greater the sin, the more glorious  GOD appears in forgiving. Moses also knew this when he prayed for his people after they had refused to enter the land of Promise.  In Numbers 14, verse 19, he says:  Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people, according unto the greatness of Thy mercy; and as Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt until now.

At the same time, GOD expects His people to turn from their sins, and in this, He also plays the leading part.  David prayed in verse 5: Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, for Thou art the GOD of my salvation.  On Thee do I wait all the day.  In other words, GOD not only saves us from our sins, He also teaches us the good and the right way.  He guides us away from all that is false and untrue, and into the way of life. Psalm 139, verses 23 and 24 says: Search me, O GOD, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.  The way everlasting spoken of, is the Way of Truth and of Life.  This theme recurs often in the Tanakh. Psalm 25 also makes it clear:

  1. We are sinners and in need of forgiveness. David speaks for us all. 
  2. We are wholly dependent upon GOD, not only to forgive us, but also to give us the power to leave behind the things that are threatening to ruin us.

A truly repentant soul like David will admit both, and will not make any excuses.  Verse 12: What  man is he that feareth the LORD?  Him shall He teach in the way that He shall choose.  Do we match that description?  Do we hear GOD and submit to His leading?  Our integrity is at stake in the matter, as David plainly admits in verse 21: Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait on Thee.

Such is the very brief sketch of this 25th Psalm.  David prayed in confidence of being heard, as we find out from GOD’s dealings with him.  This did not absolve him from the consequences of his sins, although he was forgiven; he paid a very heavy price, as we know; and so shall we if we refuse to obey what we know to be right.  What gave David peace of heart and of conscience, was the assurance that not only was he forgiven, but that GOD would also teach him through all his experiences, and redeem his failures.  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love GOD; to them who are called according to His purpose.

But how can GOD be just and also a Saviour?  How does all this square with the justice of GOD?  Does this mean that some will wrongfully infer that we should sin the more, so as to give GOD more opportunities to display His mercy?  The answer to these queries is that GOD never shows mercy at the expense of justice.  GOD is not mocked.  For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. The universal law of cause and effect ensures that the consequences of our deeds, or misdeeds, inevitably overtake us, usually in this life, and certainly in the next.  Solomon says as much in Ecclesiastes 3, verse 17:  I said in mine heart, GOD shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose, and for every work.

There is also the guilt of the sinner that he, or she, has to account for.  As our earthly actions have earthly consequences, so our spiritual misdeeds render us liable to eternal retribution.  When a thief is caught, justice demands not only a jail term, but compensation to the one that was robbed.  In the law of Moses, not only do we die for our sins, but we are also liable to GOD for robbing Him of the honour due to Him.  Our Siddur offers only half measure when the dying person prays, Let my death be an atonement for my sin.  It is like the thief who says, Let my jail term be compensation to the one that I robbed.

What ever happened to the need for compensation?  Death is the wages of sin.  How can the penalty double for payment as well?  Let us return to the leading question: How can a just and holy GOD forgive and save the repentant sinner?  That He does so, is beyond question.  But how can He do so?  The answer is in the Torah.  It is found in the principle of substitution.  When a son or a daughter of Israel was found guilty of sin, they had to provide a substitute that could take their guilt away.  That substitute had to be free from guilt, and was invariably an animal that was fit for sacrifice.  The animal was slain instead of the guilty offerer, and the sin was forgiven.

Leviticus 6, verses 6 and 7: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD.  And it shall be forgiven him for anything of all that he hath done in trespassing therein. In this way, full compensation was made for the guilt of the offerer.  This principle is applied to the Messiah, whom we call Mashiach Tsidkeinu, the Messiah, our Righteousness.  He was holy and innocent, without any sin of His own, and therefore he qualified to take our place and our punishment.  This, He did, by offering Himself as our substitute.  Isaiah 53, verse 11: He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.  By his knowledge shallMy righteous servant justify many for he shall bear their iniquities.

Messiah is plainly presented to us as our ‘Sin-bearer, the Just One dying for the unjust ones’.  GOD call Him My Righteous Servant.  That is never said of any other.  By contrast, we who are beneficiaries of His atonement, are described as having iniquities. The facts are too clear for us to avoid.  All our sins, however great, can be and are, forgiven by GOD, if and when, we acknowledge that Messiah paid for them Himself. By his knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many. That is, He makes us righteous in the sight of GOD.  The justice of GOD has been satisfied:  for the repentant sinner, like David, the mercy of GOD is offered freely, without any detriment to His Name. Shalom. 

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