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Old Testament Essays

On-line version ISSN 2312-3621
Print version ISSN 1010-9919

Old testam. essays vol.24 n.3 Pretoria  2011


Divine forgiveness in the major prophets1



Daniel F. O'Kennedy

University of Stellenbosch





There is a perception that the major prophetic books focus on God's judgment while the New Testament (NT) focuses on God's forgiveness. Although several prophetic passages refer to divine judgment, there are other references describing a God who is willing to forgive his people. Different terms and phrases are used to describe forgiveness in the Old Testament (OT), but scholars agree that divine forgiveness is expressed primarily by the term סלח. This article focuses on the seven occurrences of סלח in the major prophets, once in Isaiah (Isa 55:7) and six times in Jeremiah (Jer 5:1, 7; 31:34; 33:8; 36:3; and 50:20). There is a concentration of סלח references in two OT contexts: (1) the prayer literature; and (2) the Priestly literature of the Pentateuch. The סלח references in the major prophets do not follow the same pattern. All the references in Isaiah and Jeremiah are found outside the prayer literature. One finds no reference in Ezekiel despite its relationship to the Priestly tradition. The major prophets convey the following concerning the nature of forgiveness: (1) The possibility of forgiveness is questioned or denied because of the worship of foreign gods; (2) In some instances repentance is seen as a pre-condition for forgiveness; (3) Forgiveness is an essential feature of the new covenant and the days of restoration; (4) Forgiveness is a matter in which God takes the initiative. He wants to break the vicious cycle of sin and punishment; (5) Forgiveness is dependent upon the grace of God.



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Daniel F. O'Kennedy
P.O. Box 337, Somerset West, 7129



1 A shorter version of this article was delivered as a paper at the OTSSA Conference hosted by the University of Western Cape, Bellville (7-9 Sept. 2011).

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