A lot of times we hear the First Covenant spoken of in less than complimentary terms regarding its “patriarchal” tone and “draconian” justice. Too many want to toss the First Covenant away as something that belongs to a Stone-Age mentality and certainly not relevant for today. As far as many people are concerned, forgiveness as a concept was only something that Yeshua brought to the table when he came to do away with everything that was wrong in the Old Testament and “that” way of thinking.
In fact, if you listen to some folks nowadays, forgiveness is only something that “woke” progressive religious people have compared to the Dark Age traditional religious folks that are still out there in numbers too great to bear. Yet even too many traditional Christians don’t seem to get that the First Covenant also spoke of forgiveness, hatred, and justice. And Yeshua never came to do away with anything.
He came to set right the interpretation of the Law of G-d, not overthrow it.
We see Peter tackling this question of forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew (18:21-22 CJB): “Then Kefa came up and said to him, ‘Rabbi, how often can my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him? As many as seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ answered Yeshua, ‘but seventy times seven!’”
I bet Peter felt very spiritual when he showed he was willing to forgive seven times! Yeshua’s response that he should forgive 490 times was probably met with a few jaws dropping!
Tamim (תָּמִים)is the biblical Hebrew word which means to “complete, perfect, finish, or without blemish or defect” (Strong’s Concordance 8549). Those who cannot forgive, cannot live a life that is without blemish or defect, and they are certainly never complete or whole. Forgiveness is understanding the finished work of the Cross. 1 Kings 8:61 says: “Let your heart, [therefore], be whole with the Lord our God, to follow His statutes and to keep His precepts as of this day. (The Tanakh – Chabad.org)” Forgiveness given makes us complete and perfects our hearts.
Forgiveness is a duty or mitzvah in Judaism that the Jewish people are enjoined to obey. As Christians are grafted into Israel, this is also a mitzvah we should obey as well. Leviticus 19:17-18 in the Torah says: “Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won’t carry sin because of him. Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai (CJB).” (As you can see, Yeshua only stated what had been said before in Torah. He came to fulfill the commandments, not do away with them.)
However, since none of G-d’s words are wasted in his economy, let’s see if there might be some deeper significance to Yeshua’s numbers. As Rabbi Jason Sobel says, “Hebrew is an alphanumeric which means that every word has a numerical value. Words that share the same numerical value [are] often connected in some way and these connections frequently communicate deeper spiritual insights.”
490 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “tamim,” as discussed above. Looking more deeply into the scripture, we see Yeshua showing us that completeness or perfection comes with forgiveness (which is given 490 times). Also, 490 is the numerical value of the Hebrew words for nativity and Bethlehem, which makes perfect sense when we consider that Yeshua was born in order that we might be forgiven. Also, forgiveness is associated with the partaking of bread in the Lord’s Prayer (the Avinu Shebashamayim prayer or Our Father in Heaven prayer). We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This bread represents the broken body of our Messiah who came as “[t]he one who is taking away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 CJB)” And just as we need daily bread to survive physically, so must we forgive in order to survive spiritually and in relationship with others.
To harbor anger and hatred in our hearts harms us more than those who have hurt us. Bitterness is a chain that imprisons us to our pasts. Only in forgiveness can we be set free to live life and live it more abundantly.
CJB is the abbreviation for the Complete Jewish Bible.