“‘Please! Forgive the offense of this people according to the greatness of your grace, just as you have borne with this people from Egypt until now.’ Adonai answered, ‘I have forgiven, as you have asked.'”-Numbers 14:19-20
In my last post, I introduced the “Principle of Vertical Retribution“.
This is the principle that says God will postpone the punishment due a guilty party and then at a later time level that same punishment onto the guilty party’s descendants.
In Numbers 14, it is precisely this principle we’re dealing with when Moses begs forgiveness from God for the people’s rebellion.
Now there is a very interesting aspect of this principle that is lost in the English translation which I’d like to bring to your attention and it centers around one specific word.
It is the word “forgive” which I have bolded and underlined in the above verses I posted at the top of this article.
The Hebrew word for “forgive” here is SALACH.
Here’s the thing.
While it is true that SALACH does indeed mean “forgiveness” or “pardon“, those English words don’t really capture the total depth and uniqueness of this Hebrew word.
Here’s the key point the English overlooks.
SALACH is the type of “forgiveness” or “pardon” that can only come from God.
Only HASHEM can offer SALACH.
A human being CANNOT offer SALACH to another human being.
In Scripture, we wil never encounter a situation of one person pleading for SALACH from another person.
Now there’s another subtle nuance in the meaning of the word SALACH that is completely lost in the English translation.
SALACH means that only the punishment for the sin has been waived, but the sin debt still remains.
In other words, since the debt itself still has to be paid, the offense itself has not really been pardoned.
So what’s happening here in Numbers 14 is that in response to Moses plea to God for SALACH, God is saying two things.
First, He will waive the punishment due the rebellious Israelites (however, not completely waive the punishment as we will see).
Second, He will allow a continued relationship with these Israelites who committed a rebellion against Him.
In other words, the covenant relationship WILL CONTINUE.
But and this is a big “but“, the sin debt itself still remains and will eventually have to be paid by another party in the future.
Let’s look at one more key Hebrew word in Moses’ statement of asking for forgiveness before closing.
Notice Moses says, “Forgive the offense of this people according to the greatness of your grace“.
Notice the word “grace“.
Other translations may say “according to your great kindness” or some other similar variation.
The Hebrew word being used here is CHESED.
And again, the many English words we use to translate this word just don’t do justice to the rich depth of meaning contained in this word.
Here’s the thing, in this context CHESED does NOT really mean “grace” or “kindness“.
Rather, this word is referring to God’s enduring and unbreakable covenants and promises He has made only with the people of Israel.
In fact, probably the more correct way to translate this verse is to say “Forgive the offense of this people according to your covenant“.
Let’s stop here and in my next post, we will continue this discussion and see how Yeshua’s sacrifice fits in with everything discussed so far concerning the “Principle of Divine Retribution” and divine forgiveness or SALACH in Hebrew.