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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Forgiveness is one of the attributes ascribed to Yhwh : "to the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness" (Daniel 9:9 comp. Exodus 34:6-7 Numbers 14:18 et seq. Psalm 86:5 Jonah 4:2 ). The condition essential to God's forgiveness of iniquity is, as the contexts of the passages indicated show, repentance on the part of the sinner for the offense committed. A further essential condition is the intention to avoid repetition of the offense. The fulfilment of these conditions restores the sinner to his right relation toward Yhwh . "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7 comp. Amos 5:14 Jeremiah 3:14 et seq. Ezekiel 18:21 et seq. , 33:11-21 Hosea 14:1-4 ) "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee" (Psalm 86:5 comp. 78:38 ).

Under the sacrificial system as found in Leviticus repentance and atonement are represented by the animal sacrifice which a priest offers for the sinner But the forgiveness to be attained through the sacrifice is only for sins committed unintentionally, and for ignorance that has caused ritual defilement. No sacrifice could atone for wilful offenses. "But he that sins knowingly . . . blasphemes Yhwh he shall be cut off from among his people" ( Numbers 15:30 , Hebr.). The main passage referring to sin-offerings is found in Leviticus 4 -v:13 (comp. Numbers 15:22 et seq. ). In the Prophets and Psalms repentance is wholly based upon change of heart. Forgiveness is a free act of God's mercy and grace (Micah 7:18,19 Psalm 103:3 comp. Jeremiah 31:34 Ezekiel 36:25 et seq. Ecclus. [Sirach] 17:20 et seq. , 18:11).

The Bible, which regards all men as created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27 ) and makes holiness the corner-stone of its ethical teachings, warns against all manner of hatred and vengeance (Leviticus 19:2,17 , 18). This idea is also the basis of the Talmudic dictum, "For certain sins repentance gives a respite, and the Day of Atonement atones but he who sins against his neighbor must first be reconciled to him" (Yoma 85b).

Not only should one not harbor hatred and vengeance in his heart, but it is his duty to help his enemy, which certainly presupposes forgiveness of him (Exodus 23:4,5 ).

In the Wisdom literature and the Talmud especially are found many beautiful teachings concerning the treatment of one's enemies (see Proverbs 25:21 24:17,29 Deuteronomy 32:35 Proverbs 20:22 Ecclus. [Sirach] 28:1).

"Be of the persecuted and not of the persecutors" (B. Ḳ . 93b). "Who is strong? He who turns an enemy into a friend" (Ab. R. N. xxiii.). "If a friend be in need of your aid to unload a burden, and an enemy to help him load, assist first the enemy, that the desire for hatred may be stifled in you" (B. M. 32).

There are many passages in Biblical and post-Biblical literature that promise special favor from God to him who is merciful and forgiving to his fellow men (see 2Samuel 22:26 Psalm 18:25 see also Compassion ). "He who has pity for men to him God will be merciful" Er. 17:72 comp. Yoma 23). "He who has mercy for his fellow men belongs to the descendants of Abraham" (Beẓ ah 32 comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] 28:2).

E. C. A. G.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Forgiveness'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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