For Jonathan's Sake: Why Must We Forgive and Forget?


Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries, 
Michigan Conference
Author, Patience in the Midst of Trials and Afflictions


What is genuine forgiveness?

It is said that the most forgiven people should be the most forgiving people. And yet, this is easier said than done. Some of us are too hurt to forgive those who have wounded us.

Why Must We Forgive and Forget? The Bible offers us several reasons why we should forgive those who have wronged us. Because of space limitations, I concentrate on what I consider to be the most compelling reason why we must forgive and forget—namely, for Christ’s sake. This motivation is beautifully captured in a story found in the book of 2 Samuel.



A Determined Quest. Chapter 9 begins with King David’s earnest question: "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?" (v.1). David is searching for someone from the household of Saul, his worst enemy. The king wants to show kindness to Saul’s descendants "for Jonathan’s sake." Though there seems to be no immediate response to his question, David does not give up.

Inquiry is made, and King Saul’s former servant Ziba reports to David, who repeats the question and explains the nature of the kindness he wants to bestow on such a one: "And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God unto him?" (v. 3).

What David doesn’t know is that there is only one descendant of Saul left. He is a cripple named Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. At the time of David’s inquiry, Mephibosheth is now a married man living in exile in a faraway town called Lo-debar. The Bible offers only a brief account of how he became crippled.

The Fall and Exile. One day, when Mephibosheth was only five years old, word got to the palace that in the war between the Israelites and the Philistines at Jezreel, King Saul had been killed. Prince Jonathan had also been killed. In fact, virtually all of Saul’s children and grandchildren had been wiped out. Saul had a considerable family (see 1 Chronicles 8:33), but it was virtually wiped out literally overnight.

The Bible tersely recounts the story in 2 Samuel 4:4: "And Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame."

That fall crippled him for life. Over the years, David’s enemies led Mephibosheth to harbor hostility toward David, whom they characterized as a usurper (see Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 713), sheltering him in exile at Lo-debar, east of the Jordan.

The Search. In the security of a highly successful enthronement in Israel, the Bible depicts David as having one overriding concern. It is not to consolidate his power but to offer special honor to any descendants of his archenemy, Saul. By this time Mephibosheth has married and begotten a son. A good many years have gone by since his accident at the age of five.

Face-to-Face Encounter. The Scriptural account of the meeting of Mephibosheth and David reveals how hatred was swallowed by love, and fear by trust. It is worth reading in its entirety:

"Now when Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, was come unto David, he fell on his face, and did reverence. And David said, Mephibosheth. And he answered, Behold thy servant! And David said unto him, Fear not: for I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually. And he bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am? Then the king called to Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said unto him, I have given unto thy master’s son all that pertained to Saul and to all his house. Thou therefore, and thy sons, and thy servants, shall till the land for him, and thou shalt bring in the fruits, that thy master’s son may have food to eat: but Mephibosheth thy master’s son shall eat bread alway at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then said Ziba unto the king, According to all that my lord the king hath commanded his servant, so shall thy servant do. As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Micha. And all that dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants unto Mephibosheth. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king’s table; and was lame on both his feet" (2 Samuel 9:6-13).

The Gospel of Salvation. David’s treatment of Mephibosheth teaches several important lessons. First, it is one of the greatest illustrations of the Gospel. It reveals something about the riches of the grace of God, in the conversion of runaway sinners.

In this true story, David represents God the Father, sitting on His throne and seeking to show kindness to us sinners. Though we hate Him, misconstrue His intentions and plans toward us, yet He still loves us and intensely searches for ways to save us. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1)!

Mephibosheth represents us—lost humanity, crippled by sin. Like Saul’s grandson, we also fell in a garden called Eden (Genesis 3). Because of that Fall, we cannot "walk" straight nor do anything straight. We hate God, distrust Him, and disbelieve His Word. Far away from the Father’s home, we live in the exile of sin. The Bible declares, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Though created in the image of God and hence from the Royal Family, we are so degraded by sin that we feel like "dead dogs." We indeed deserve death, for "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a). Notice, however, that this text does not end there. It continues, "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23b).

Jonathan represents our Lord Jesus Christ. The only way we Mephibosheths can be saved is through Jesus. The name Jonathan means "gift of God." It is not surprising that the greatest Gift God has given humanity is His Son. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, emphasis mine).

Thus, when we read the phrase "for Jonathan’s sake" in the 2 Samuel 9 account, it really means "for Christ’s sake." The only reason why God shows kindness to us, pardoning our sins and making us His sons and daughters, is for Christ’s sake. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake" (1 John 2:12).

It is for Christ’s sake that we Mephibosheths are adopted as sons and daughters of God: "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John 1:12). It is also for Christ’s sake that we have the assurance of eternal life, the promise of His indwelling Spirit, and the hope of living forever with God (1 John 5:13; cf. Romans 8:14-39).

Our Ethical Obligation to Others. The second lesson we learn from the account of David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is our ethical obligation to others. Why was David so eager to show kindness?

The answer is found in 1 Samuel 20:11-17. There we read that David made a promise to Jonathan that one day he (David) would pay back the kindness he himself had received from Jonathan. David could have satisfied his conscience saying Jonathan was dead or that Mephibosheth never requested help. But no, the king inquired and searched until he found Mephibosheth.

Though Mephibosheth never requested help, though he hated David and thus didn’t deserve help, yet David showed kindness to him "for Jonathan’s sake." Mephibosheth received favor on account of the merits of Jonathan. This is grace at work.

Have you been searching for that one person you owe a debt—a schoolteacher, nurse, aunt, grandmother, pastor, friend, etc.? Is there a promise you have long neglected? Now is the time to make good on it. Better late than never.

The Motivation to Forgive. The third lesson we can learn from David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is the motivation to forgive. Why would David show kindness to Mephibosheth, making him one of the king’s sons and allowing him to eat perpetually at the king’s table? Why would he adopt as his son one who hated him and who potentially could work to undermine and usurp his government? Why did David forgive this grandchild of his avowed enemy?

The twice-stated answer is: "For Jonathan’s sake" (2 Samuel 9:1, 7).

In the phrase "for Jonathan’s sake," we find the most compelling motivation to forgive others. As we mentioned earlier, this phrase means "for Christ’s sake." In other words, if we are looking for a reason to forgive and forget the ills we have suffered at the hands of others, the answer lies in what Jesus, our divine Jonathan, has done for us. Those who understand the price Christ paid on Calvary for their sins will not stubbornly withhold forgiveness from those who have hurt them. This is why the most forgiven person ought to be the most forgiving one. Though it hurts to forgive, the Bible urges us—for Christ’s sake—to do the unthinkable. Observe how often the expression "for Christ’s sake" appears in the New Testament:

1. We must forgive one another for Christ’s sake: "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).

2. We must pray for one another for Christ’s sake: "For the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Romans 15:30).

3. We must become fools in the eyes of others and be despised for Christ’s sake: "We are fools for Christ’s sake; but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised" (1 Corinthians 4:10).

4. We must preach the truth and be true servants of God for Christ’s sake: "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5).

5. We must patiently endure the trials of life for Christ’s sake: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).

6. We must be willing to suffer for Christ’s sake: "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).

7. We must suffer persecution for Christ’s sake: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).

8. We must be willing to die for Christ’s sake: "For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11).

9. We must submit to good ordinances of those in power for Christ’s sake: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme" (1 Peter 2:13).

10. The Lord will richly bless and save us if we endure unto the end for Christ’s sake: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake" (Matthew 5:11; cf. Luke 6:22). "And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Mark 13:13).

It is obvious from the above passages that the most compelling reason to do the right thing, including forgiving those who have hurt us, is "for Christ’s sake." The more we understand the amazing grace of God’s forgiveness, the more our motivation to forgive others. The basis and motivation to forgive others is what Christ has done for us.

What It Means to Forgive and Forget. Forgiveness is a conscious decision of the mind and heart to remit freely the offense of another, regardless of the cost. Unfortunately, many of us have difficulty forgiving others because we confuse forgiveness with what it is not.

1. Forgiveness is not excusing the wrong conduct of others. Excusing says, "That’s okay," and seems to suggest that what a person did wasn’t really wrong or that he or she couldn’t help it. But forgiveness is not excusing or justifying the wrong conduct of a person. On the contrary, the very nature of forgiveness suggests that what a person did was wrong and inexcusable. Covering up sin (which is what excusing is) cannot bring about forgiveness. The Bible says, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). True forgiveness honestly acknowledges that something a person did is wrong, but chooses, by the grace of God, to overlook it.

2. Forgiveness is not weakness. Sometimes we think that when we forgive others it is a sign of weakness or cowardice. Who wants to be perceived as a doormat? The truth, however, is that forgiveness never springs from weakness, but rather from a position of strength and power. It takes a person with patience and inner strength to forgive. When God chooses to forgive us, it is not because He is powerless. Only those with resolute convictions and sterling character can forgive truly. The irony is that as long as we choose not to forgive, we become the slaves of those who have hurt us.

3. Forgiveness is not merely forgetting. Forgetting is to lose the remembrance or recollection of something. It is a passive process in which the passing of time causes a thing to fade from memory. Christian forgiveness, however, is not the result of amnesia. Instead, it is an active process in which a person makes a conscious choice not to mention, recount, or think about the injury suffered.

When God says He will remember your sins no more (see Hebrews 8:12), it does not mean He cannot remember our sins, but that He will not remember them. It is a conscious choice on His part not to reckon those sins against us or take action on them. Even better news is that when we make a conscious decision to forgive and to stop dwelling on the offense of another, the Lord works a miracle inus so that the hurt we have suffered loses its bite—to the extent that the painful memory fades away.

4. Forgiveness is not a feeling, a fleeting emotional experience. It is a conscious choice, an act of the will. Forgiveness is a decision not to think, or talk about, or be influenced by, the ill conduct of another.

Two Greek words are often translated as "forgive." The first, aphiemi, means to let go, release, or remit. It is a term used to describe the full payment or cancellation of a debt (see Matthew 6:12; 18:27, 32). The other word is charizomai, which means to bestow favor freely or unconditionally. This term suggests that forgiveness is an act of grace. It is undeserved and cannot be earned (see Luke 7:42, 43; 2 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Both terms imply that the one doing the forgiving suffers some loss or pain. This is what happened on Calvary when our Lord Jesus Christ chose to suffer and die in order to secure our forgiveness (see Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Peter 2:24).

Though forgiveness is not a feeling, and though the decision to forgive hurts, the good news is that this conscious act of the will to forgive also brings about changes in our feelings: we experience inner peace and joy in doing God’s will.

Must We Forgive and Forget? Our willingness or unwillingness to forgive reveals much about us. Any time we cherish an unforgiving attitude, stubbornly withholding forgiveness from others, let us remember the following facts:

1. Our unforgiving spirit reveals how we want God to treat us. When we get very hurt, we often say things like, "I will never forgive him" or, "Though I will forgive, I will never forget what he did to me." Others say, "I will always stay away or not talk to her again as long as I live." What would happen if God applied the Golden Rule and treated us the same way we treat others? (The Golden Rule, by the way, says in essence, "Do unto others what you want to be done unto you"; see Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31.)

How would you feel if, after confessing your sins to the Lord you hear a voice from Heaven saying, "I have forgiven you, but I just don’t want to have anything to do with you again"? Or what if the Lord spoke to you audibly: "I have forgiven you, but I will never forget what you did to Me"? I don’t think many would feel secure in that kind of "forgiveness"!

The Scriptures urge us to forgive others, just as God has forgiven us. The Lord has freely forgiven us; we also must do likewise to others. "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32). "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:13).

2. Our unforgiving spirit reveals our unappreciation of God’s forgiveness. A forgiven Christian is always forgiving. If we don’t forgive others it is an indication that we don’t value Christ’s forgiveness. This fact is remarkably captured in Christ’s parable of the two debtors in Matthew 18:21-35. In this story, one servant owes a king a substantial debt. When the king threatens to sell the servant and his family to pay the debt, the servant pleads for mercy. The king is "moved with compassion," has mercy on him, and forgives him the debt (v. 27).

Moments later, the forgiven servant sees a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller debt. When he asks for payment, the man pleads for time. But the forgiven servant refuses. He "went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt" (v. 30). When the king hears about this, he summons the forgiven-turned-unforgiving servant and says (vv. 32, 33): "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?" In his anger the king hands over the unforgiving debtor to be punished. Jesus concludes the parable: "So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (v. 35).

3. Our unforgiving spirit reveals whether or not we shall receive and/or retain our forgiveness.In the teachings of Christ, we learn that unless we forgive, God will not forgive us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who trespass against us. . ."(Matthew 6:12, var.). He continues: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (vv. 14, 15).

4. Our unforgiving spirit reveals disloyalty and lack of love for God. The story of Job teaches that our severe trials—including the hurts and tragedies we have suffered—reveal whether or not we love God. When Satan asked, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" (Job 1:9), he was in effect saying that Christians cannot continue serving the Lord when they suffer major hurts. Or as he put it, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face" (Job 2:3-5).

In the great controversy between Christ and Satan, our response to hurts is a vote for or against God. We either glorify God or betray and mock Him by our attitude to adversities inflicted upon us by others. Whether or not we forgive and forget reveals our true loyalty to or love for God.

You see, the fundamental issue at stake whenever we face any trials (including hurts, losses, etc.) is this: Will we continue to trust God, believing that He knows what is best for us, and that He has power to sustain and deliver us? Will we do what He has asked us (in this case, to forgive others) even in illness, financial crises, embarrassment, pain, disappointment, ridicule, rejection, death, etc.? (see Job 19:6-27). Or will we do His will only when things go our way?

Perchance you have been hurt by someone near or dear—maybe a relative, co-worker, or spouse. The one who has wounded you seriously might even be a churchgoer. You may have been hurt, betrayed, defrauded, humiliated, or wounded by a fellow church member, elder, Sabbath School teacher, or pastor. And you cannot bring yourself to forgive. Perhaps you are still hurt and angry.

Regardless of the cause of your hurt, remember that your hurt is part of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. In the light of that cosmic conflict, the Lord urges you to make a conscious decision to forgive the perpetrator of the offense. For as long as you continue to carry the bitterness and resentment, you will never be free. You will forever remain a slave of the person who has hurt you.

It could be that, even now as you read this page, your marriage is falling apart. Perhaps you are considering an unBiblical divorce (see Matthew 19:9) because of the hurt and pain you have suffered in your marriage. While we may not always understand why people choose to hurt us, remember that the Lord can bring something good out of our painful experiences, just as He did in the case of Joseph. After experiencing all sorts of hurt—jealousy, malice, and hatred from his brothers; harassment, blackmail, and false accusation from Mrs. Potiphar—the injustice of imprisonment in an Egyptian jail and being forgotten by one of his fellow prisoners—the Bible records that Joseph later understood that even in his terrible ordeal, God’s divine hand was still directing affairs for his good and the good of humanity (Genesis 45:5; 50:20).

Writes Ellen G. White: "He who is imbued with the Spirit of Christ abides in Christ. Whatsoever comes to him comes from the Saviour, Who surrounds him with His presence. Nothing can touch him except by the Lord’s permission. All our sufferings and sorrows, all our temptations and trials, all our sadness and griefs, all our persecutions and privations, in short, all things work together for good. All experiences and circumstances are God’s workmen whereby good is brought to us" (The Ministry of Healing, p. 489).

Conclusion. If you are struggling with unforgivingness, remind yourself of how God has forgiven you, and respond in kind. Well, David should know: "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will He keep His anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:8-12).

Forgiveness is possible when you understand and have experienced God’s Own forgiveness. If you are still wondering why you must forgive and forget. The story of David and Mephibosheth teaches us that the most compelling reason to forgive is not because that individual deserves it, but "for Jonathan’s sake."