The Psalmist recorded Israel’s prayer to God from long ago. “Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low” (Ps. 79:8). The sense of the prayer is that the people ask God to forget their former sins. The text of the Psalm would seem to fit the period of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. God allowed the Babylonians to conquer Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the temple therein and take the people of the land into Babylon as captives. In time, the Medes and Persians would conquer Babylon, but it would be seventy years before the first of the people of Judah would be allowed to return to their homeland.
If the Babylonian captivity was, indeed, the setting for the 79th Psalm, the people certainly had much iniquity they would have longed for God to forget. God allowed them to be conquered because of their great sin against Him. They had become zealous worshippers of idols. As such, they had become blatantly unfaithful to God. In spite of His many attempts to bring them to repentance over many years, they consistently went back into idolatry. When God allowed what they considered to be a heathen nation to conquer their land and remove them from it, the people of Judah finally came to their senses. They repented of their idolatry and put it away from them once and for all.
The request of the prayer is intriguing: “Please God, forget our sins.” It’s a biblical concept. In fact, under the New Covenant- the New Testament- God promises those who live faithful Christian lives that He will, indeed, forget their sins. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Heb. 8:12).
Obviously, God is not forgetful, at least not in the sense that human beings experience forgetfulness. Yet, God promises to forget- forgive- the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance and properly seek His forgiveness. It’s not that it slips God’s mind, but rather God chooses to forget the sin. When God forgives one who properly seeks His forgiveness, it’s as if the sin never happened. The slate is totally clean, so to speak. There is no more record of the sin in God’s mind. It has been, in an absolute sense, forgiven- forgotten!
Now that’s God’s mercy and grace! The point at which God chooses to forget a person’s sins is clear. It is when that person repents of his sins and seeks God’s forgiveness through baptism into Christ. Ananias asked Saul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins...” (Acts 22:16).
Are you carrying around with you a burden of sin? Wouldn’t you like for God to forget your sins? The promise is just as valid for you as for everyone else. If you will repent of those sins and surrender to your Savior in baptism, the blood that He shed on the cross long ago will still cleanse you of your guilt. As you are baptized into Christ, God will forget- forgive- your former iniquities. Won’t that be a blessing? What are you waiting for?
Gary L. Hutchens