What comes to mind when you think of the power of God? His power to create the world out of nothing? His ability to uphold the universe? His rule as the only Sovereign? Certainly, God’s glorious power is seen in all these ways. But the book of Numbers shows us another display of God’s power that maybe we don’t always associate with God’s power, namely, the power to forgive.
The book of Numbers is an account of the faithfulness of God despite His people’s continual sins. They complain about their God-given circumstances and God-ordained leader (Num 11-12). They despise God by not believing in Him, “in spite of all the signs that [He has] done among them.” (Num 14:11). And they act with presumption as they ignore His clear command. (Num 14:39-45)
In the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness, Moses prays, “…please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” (Num 14:17-19; italics and bold mine)
Moses knew that God’s people’s greatest need in that moment was forgiveness. It was a need so great that only the power of God could meet it. Israel couldn’t escape God’s anger for their sins. Moses did not have the resources to pay the debt that was owed to the God of glory. No, only God had the power to forgive and pardon. And He did! Numbers 14:20 says, “Then the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned, according to your word.'”
Wow! God was so powerfully forgiving! The good news is that this is the same powerfully forgiving God offered to us in the gospel. Like Israel of old, our greatest need is one we cannot supply: forgiveness. We don’t have the resources to pay our sin debt. We can’t make a refuge strong enough to withstand the fiery, righteous wrath of God. We don’t possess the ability to mend our alienation from God. But God is able! He displayed His power to forgive at the cross, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses… God made alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Col 2:13-15)
By faith in the crucified and risen Christ, all of our sin is forgiven. Not one stain of sin is left uncleansed. Not one blemish is left uncovered. In Christ, God has powerfully pardoned us. So let us cling to the word of the cross. It may seem like nonsense to those who are perishing. But, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.