How could Dawn ever forgive her husband John for his physical aggression towards her? We didn’t know how violent he could become until she came to our home wanting to stay the night. He had come home drunk again in a foul mood. We discovered that there had been other episodes where he had acted aggressively towards her. Many of her friends were telling her to get out of the marriage. But she told us that she loved him dearly, and that he wasn’t “really like that” when he was sober. It was when he was under tremendous pressure at work and began to drink that the violence was manifest. I immediately thought of phrases like, “not really facing the problem” and “misplaced loyalty”.
I told her to take some notice of her friends who knew the situation more than we did. Perhaps her friends were right. There was no justification for a man ever to physically harm his wife. But she was adamant she wanted to stay in the marriage because she loved him so much and he “wasn’t normally like that” as she put it. In her words he was a good man who had a problem, alcohol. As the months went on, there continued to be more drunken episodes. Yet she hung on to her marriage knowing that she had many safe places to go if she needed to escape. She kept praying for him that he would change, that he would become the man God wanted him to be. She prayed specifically that he would have victory over his addiction to alcohol.
The story has a very happy ending. John heard the good news of what Jesus Christ had done for sinners on the cross. He came to understand two things. Firstly he could confess his sins to God and ask for, and receive, His forgiveness. Not only that but he could ask God to help him overcome his addiction to alcohol. That is what he did with genuine repentance and a commitment to become God’s man, with His help.
The result was quite amazing. In a very short time he vowed not to touch alcohol again because it had become a danger to his marriage. He prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. His character was transformed. Instead of the anger and bitterness that had characterised him in the past, he now began to show forth Christian characteristics, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, (Galatians 5:22-23). He now had a much deeper appreciation of his wife Dawn who had loved him in spite of his “episodes” and who had been willing to forgive him while praying for him to change.
He had seen in Dawn something of the character of God in her loving, forgiving compassion towards him, not wanting to leave him and hoping that he would become the man he could become, by the grace of God.
SELICHAH is used of God’s forgiving character. We see that in three verses. In Nehemiah 9:17 the writer states that God is motivated to forgive because that is His nature. … But You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love, and You did not abandon them. God was willing to forgive His own people when they turned away from Him. His love remained constant as He showered His grace and compassion on them. Such forgiveness and love meant that He did not give up on them, even as Dawn refused to give up on John.
The word is also used in Psalm 130:4. God knows the evil that humans do. But the writer of Psalm 130 looked beyond the fact that God knew about sin and could “mark” (or make a record of it) it if He wished. He saw Him as One who would listen to his cries for mercy and could forgive him. Psalm 130:3-4, If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. For him, God was characterised as having plentiful redemption (verse 7), and the One who would redeem or set His people free from their iniquities (verse 8).
It is a reminder to us today that God knows everything about us. He calls the sin in our lives by its true name, sin. At the same time He wants people to turn from their sin and to receive the forgiveness He offers them in His Son. As the apostle Peter was later to write in 2Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The other verse is Daniel 9:9, To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. Daniel recognised and confessed the sinfulness of all the people of God. Yet behind it all, he saw that God was a forgiving God who wanted people to return to Him to receive the forgiveness He was willing to offer them.
Later in Daniel 9:18-19 he asks God to forgive (salach) His people. In doing so Daniel recognised that forgiveness could be bestowed on the people not because they deserved it, but because God was merciful, Daniel 9:18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.
So “selichah” is a marvellous word that describes the forgiving nature of God. He forgives those who ask for His forgiveness because that is His nature. He hasn’t changed. He is still merciful and forgiving to those who come to Him today wanting to be forgiven.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER: (Added in May 2016)
1). What factors would govern the advice you gave to a friend (like Dawn in the story) who came to you for help whose spouse was becoming violent?
2). What were the factors that brought about such a great change in John?Why don’t some marriages have the same happy ending we see in John and Dawn’s marriage?
3). Do you think Dawn was being realistic or unrealistic in trying to hang onto her marriage? Give your reasons for thinking so.
4). In those verses which contain the Hebrew word “selichah” for God’s forgiving nature do we get some clues as to why He forgives? What are some of those clues?
5). What does 2 Peter 3:9 tell us about God’s attitude to sinners? Is there a warning in the verse and if so what is it?
6). In the passage from Daniel 9:18-19 what can we see is the motivation and foundation for God’s forgiveness of us?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.5. Posted Friday 11February 2011. (Re-visited May 2016)