Forgive 70 times 7
Forgive 70 times 7
Seventy Times Seven
Roy Blizzard III © 2017
In Matthew 18:21-22 there is a seemingly innocuous statement by Jesus about forgiveness.
“21) Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? 22) Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” KJV
There appears to be no end to the speculation as to what Jesus meant here and I don’t really want to waste a lot of time dealing with all these other opinions. What I would like to demonstrate is that oftentimes Jesus is hinting at something that is not necessarily understood on the surface. This technique is well known in the Judaism of Jesus’ day and it is called Remez or Hinting.
But, just exactly, what is Jesus hinting at? Is this some blanket statement about forgivingness that would require us to just be Mr. and Mrs. Milk Toast, humbly accepting every abuse that comes our way, even to the point of our death, so that we too can hang on our cross and say, “Father, Forgive them for they know not what they do.”?
It is my opinion that this is not what Jesus was hinting at here in this passage. For the answer to this question we have to go back to the start of Chapter 18 and see what it is that Jesus is dealing with here in the entire passage.
In Matthew 18:1ff, Jesus begins this discourse talking about Purity. He does so by mentioning children. You see Jewish children in Jesus’ day started their education at about 5 years old by memorizing the laws of Purity. So for the Rabbis this provided a perfect simile. Let’s see what Jesus said here.
“18:1) At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2) And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3) And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4) Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5) And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6) But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” KJV
So we see the disciples ask a question about who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus responds by saying that we have to change ourselves like unto children who study how to be pure of heart and pure of mind and pure of body or else we can’t enter into this Kingdom because unless we are willing to study purity as a humble child of a father then we won’t be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. So what more is Jesus hinting at here?
Let’s look back at Psalms 113. It is a short passage but it tells us what the Humble does who is like unto the Father in Heaven.
113 Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord.
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord; From this time forth and forever.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting; The name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high,
6 Who humbles Himself to behold; The things that are in heaven and in the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust; And lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 To make them sit with princes, With the princes of His people.
9 He makes the barren woman abide in the house As a joyful mother of children.
Praise the Lord! KJV
In other words, the humble man who is pure of heart will care for his fellow man and give God the praises in all things and considers the righteous things of heaven and the matters of earth that concern God.
In this second section Jesus elaborates on the pure of heart and the humble and warns us that we must be very careful not to be a stumbling block (offend) to these righteous people. He does this in a very Jewish manner, which we see reflected in the Talmud, in Baba Bathra 9b, written down much later. If you are not used to reading the Talmud it can be very cryptic, obscure, and difficult to understand so don’t worry too much about that. I bolded the part that especially concerns us.
Baba Bathra 9:b
[R. Isaac further said: What is the meaning of the verse, “He that followeth after righteousness(charity - Tzedakah)and mercy findeth life, righteousness(charity - Tzedekah) and honour? Because a man has followed after righteousness, shall he find righteousness?” — The purpose of the verse, however, is to teach us that if a man is anxious to give charity, the Holy One, blessed be He, furnishes him money with which to give it. R. Nahman b. Isaac says: The Holy One, blessed be He, sends him men who are fitting recipients of charity, so that he may be rewarded for assisting them. Who then are unfit? — Such as those mentioned in the exposition of Rabbah, when he said: What is the meaning of the verse, Let them be made to stumble before thee; in the time of thine anger deal thou with them? Jeremiah said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, even at the time when they conquer their evil inclination and seek to do charity before Thee, cause them to stumble through men who are not fitting recipients, so that they should receive no reward for assisting them.]
Here in verse 7 Jesus continues but begins to speak of those who will try to make the righteous fall. He speaks of offences which in Hebrew mean stumbling blocks or sin. “7) Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” KJV This refers back to Jeremiah 8:23 just as the passage above in Baba Bathra does. If you cause people to sin or are evil and you try to appear charitable for your own benefit then may God prevent you from getting any benefit from your so called charitable acts.
Jesus then goes on in verses 8-14 to comment on those who are in captivity by sin and facing eternal punishment.
“8) Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9) And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10) Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11) For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12) How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13) And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14) Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” KJV
Again in Baba Bathra 8b we see a discourse which has a similar root thought and that is concerning the one who is held captive:
[Raba asked Rabbah b. Mari: Whence is derived the maxim of the Rabbis that the redemption of captives is a religious duty of great importance? — He replied: From the verse, And it shall come to pass when they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth, then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the Lord, Such as are for death, to death, and such as are for the sword, to the sword, and such as are for famine, to the famine, and such as are for captivity, to captivity: and (commenting on this) R. Johanan said: Each punishment mentioned in this verse is more severe than the one before. The sword is worse than death; this I can demonstrate either from Scripture, or, if you prefer, from observation. The proof from observation is that the sword deforms but death does not deform; the proof from Scripture is in the verse, Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints. Famine again is harder than the sword; this again can be demonstrated either by observation, the proof being that the one causes (prolonged) suffering but the other not, or, if you prefer, from the Scripture, from the verse, They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger. Captivity is harder than all, because it includes the sufferings of all.]
Above we see that Jesus is commenting that it is better to be maimed and enter heaven as a righteous person than to be held captive by sin and enter hell for an eternity and the passage from Baba Bathra uses the same reasoning. Jesus then comments on how important His mission is to seek and to save those lost souls because the redemption of captives is such a duty of great importance and that God states in Psalms 116:15 that “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His Saints.”
Jesus then goes on to speak of the importance of forgiveness to salvation and life in His Kingdom in verses 15-20:
“15) Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16) But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17) And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18) Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19) Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20) For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” KJV
Here Jesus deals with the Jewish concepts of community and forgiveness and salvation all in one. How to deal with one’s fellow man is of utmost importance to the Jewish community and to Jesus so that each man is not harboring negative emotions that can lead to sinful behavior. “If a brother” means one who is a fellow believer not someone who is coming to kill you. This must be stressed. Jesus always speaks in terms of those who are fellow believers not those who are rising up to kill you. Enemy to Jesus meant a fellow believer who was mad at you for some reason and who had not spoken to you for three days because of enmity and therefore could not sit for or against you in a court of judgement.
Jesus says go to your brother and try to work your problems out. If they refuse to do so take some others of the community with you to witness your attempts to work out your differences. If the person still refuses to work out the differences, then that person is to be shunned as a member of the community because they are no longer seen in the community as righteous, but as an unrighteous heathen who has no God or a cheater, one who is attempting to steal from you your Joy and Righteousness.
Jesus then comments about binding and loosing, which becomes one of the least understood terms in the entire NT. We see people trying to bind satan and bind sin and bind people etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately this concept is wrong. The concept here is that in matters of religious law a matter is either forbidden (bound) or allowed (loosed) by those laws. Here it is a follow up to the dispute in verse 15. This is a Rabbinic conversation and what they are saying here is that if your witnesses are in agreement that this matter needs to be settled in a particular manner then all parties should follow the advice of the witnesses. If there is not agreement then the matter is then taken to the larger body of the community and settled there because when the righteous community settles a dispute righteously God is there in the midst of it and will abide by the decision of the righteous who have made the law.
Finally, we come to the verse in question: In Matthew 18:21-22
“21) Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22) Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
Jesus’ answer to Peter has been speculated upon in any number of ways, and I’m not saying that they are not valid arguments, but if we are following Jesus’ train of thought here in Matthew we have to look at this statement in terms of the overall thought processes and argument and not just pull some random theological argument out of our religious hats. Jesus has been speaking about those who are righteous and how they are to be handled and how they are to handle issues within the community of believers. Why would Jesus sudden change and start a discussion about numerology and mystical issues when in fact He has been very straightforward in His teaching of normative Jewish thought so far as seen from the quotes in the later Jewish work in Baba Bathra.
If Jesus’ last statement had to do with how do you deal with trespasses, brother to brother, then it would follow that His next answer to Peter’s question regarding this discussion would further elaborate His discourse. So if we look at the answer 7 times 70 what do we see here that is obvious and not mystical? Seventy is the number of Judges sitting on the Great Sanhedrin. While some may say that there is 71, in actuality there are only 70 judges and the court is presided over by the High Priest. This court has the power of life and death in its hands. The number 7 represents the 7 days of the week. So if we are following Jesus’ train of thought in this passage He would answer thusly: You need to forgive as the Great Court of Judgement forgives. As they have the power to save a life you have the power to save a life twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. For forgiveness assures that you will be as the righteous children who follow the laws of purity. You will be as the Humble before God who only seek to do the will of God. You will be as the righteous and can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven unmaimed by sin. You will be as the Messiah who goes to seek and to save those who are lost. You will be as God is when you forgive others because you will help lead them out of captivity.
The importance of this concept is now known scientifically. When someone doesn’t forgive, the body undergoes psychological, physiological and spiritual changes for the worse. The mind begins to change and dwell on the evil acts, not the good God. The body reacts by changing the chemistry of the brain and organs which can lead to heart disease, stroke and any other harmful physical issues. The Spirit becomes separated from God just as Adam and Eve in the Garden became separated from God. When this happens your spirit is not in a state of unification with God and your mind can’t know what is good for you to do in the situation and you become susceptible to grievous sin even to the point of losing your own life and soul.
This is what Jesus was answering to Peter. Forgive, that your life may be long and full of Joy.