Forsake – definition

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Forsake definition according to two models of the gospel.

We are looking mainly at what it means for God to forsake a person or group. Does He do it and, if so, how? And, if not, what is the meaning of the word “forsake”?

Traditional Legal Model: Especially in reaction to people turning from or disobeying him, God will forsake them in return.

Biblical Healing Model: While God will honor our choices to turn from Him; even to follow other gods, He will never forsake us as in abandoning us.

Forsake verb (used with object)
to quit or leave entirely; abandon; desert

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

In scripture, God forsakes his people, when he withdraws his aid, or the light of his countenance.

Notice the definition includes “entirely” which would suggest finality; no return to the relationship. Webster’s definition indicates an active withdrawal on God’s part obviously in reaction to something man has done.

 I Will Not Forsake

 There are a number of verses saying God will not forsake:

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb 13:5)

“(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” (Deut 4:31)

He will not forsake because He is a merciful God.

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” (1 Chron 16:34)

Since His mercy endures forever, the suggestion is that He can never forsake.

Moses to Joshua: “And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” (Deut 31:8)

I Will Forsake

Then there are verses saying He will forsake:

“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake   them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.” (Deut 31:17-18)

That is a very good example of the S-W-A-T formula:

“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.” (Deut 31:17-18)

The S-W-A-T pattern is:

Because of man’s Sin
God in “Wrath” or “anger”
Accommodates the sinner’s choices and
Trouble comes (from a source other than God).

See a detailed explanation of this in relation to the wrath of God. God does not leave or forsake as we might understand it but He allows man to experience the results or fruits of his own choices.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal 6:7)

To interfere with the results of our actions would be to limit free will. After all, we do actions to get results.

The SWAT formula is described more here with over 70 examples. Because “to leave” and “to forsake” are close in meaning that is helpful in this understanding.

This establishes that in those many examples He is not afflicting but, rather, He is simply honoring their free wills and allowing them to experience the consequences of their choices.

God With Us on Different Levels:

It helps me to understand that God is with us or interacts with us on different levels or to different degrees: 

  1. Upholding/sustaining – upholding all things

“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” (Heb 1:3)

He interacts with people on that level, essentially keeping us and even Satan alive, no matter how they regard Him.

  1. Blessing – rain on just and unjust

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:45)

Just or unjust, He sends the rain, physical blessings on all.

  1. Protection

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psa 91:1)

He assigns a guardian angel to every person but believers can ask and receive beyond the default level of protection.

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” (Matt 7:7)

  1. Presence/influence – indwelling by His Spirit

“And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” (Acts 5:32)

“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:23)

The stages get more close and personal and progress from merely keeping us alive physically to having a close, directing influence spiritually:

4 levels

Level 4 would be like:

“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isa 30:21)

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Pro 3:5-6)

Understanding the different levels might help but let’s look at another verse:

“And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.” (2 Chron 15:2)

That makes it sound like God’s decision to forsake or not is conditional or it may just reflect the understanding of the speaker. Ultimately, it is man’s decisions that determine how close a relationship God will have with us.

Partial Withdrawal (Partially Forsaking)

There are also cases where God does not fully forsake a person but honors their decisions in a particular area of their life giving the appearance of Him withdrawing.

Imagine that you have an adult child who has been diagnosed with a serious disease and you feel strongly and advise them to take a particular type of treatment. If they should be opposed to that and choose another treatment, because they are adults, you have to respect their freedom to choose. In a sense:

  • you honor their decision and “withdraw” from them in that area
  • you let them have their way
  • you respect their freedom of choice

At the same time, in every other way, you maintain the parent to adult child relationship. Essentially, other than on that point, nothing changes, except for some disappointment on the part of the parent.

When God told Moses he was to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses, at first, rejected God’s plan that he should speak for God and God accommodated Moses’ reluctance, eventually appointing Aaron to a supporting role.

“And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” (Exo 4:16)

See more examples of Divine accommodation.

God did not forsake Moses when he refused God’s assignment but God accommodated him resulting in another example of the SWAT pattern:

Moses’ sin of distrust caused the Lord’s wrath/anger which was manifested in God “accommodating” Moses’ request  by instead appointing Aaron in Moses’ place in that role and we know the trouble (the golden calf incident etc) that resulted from Aaron holding the position of authority that he did.

 Forsaking vs Not Protecting

This series of images illustrates how God “leaves” or “forsakes” but is always there to respond to our return to Him.

See a more-detailed explanation of this process here.

An appropriate verse is:

“He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.” (Eccl 10:8)

That includes a hedge of protection.

Has God removed His protection in such a case? No, He has merely allowed a free-will choice to step out of the hedge of protection.

The stories of King Herod and Uzzah may be examples of that. The same action by God is indicated at the time of the flood:

“Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? Which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: Which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them?” (Job 22:15-17)

Word Meanings

It is important to consider different possible meanings of words. To forsake does not usually mean simply to physically turn and walk away.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.” (Deut 31:16)

The word “forsake” is azab (H5800) the meanings of which include:

Forsake H5800 עזב ‘azab aw-zab’

a primitive root; v;
AV-forsake 129, leave 72, leave off 4, faileth 2, fortify 2, help 2, committeth 1, destitute 1, refuseth 1, surely 1; 215
1) to leave, loose, forsake
1a) (Qal) to leave
1a1) to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone
1a2) to leave, abandon, forsake, neglect, apostatise
1a3) to let loose, set free, let go, free

The word “forsake” in the original is in the Qal verb form so the definition should be one of the three given. God’s people were forsaking Him by going after other gods and by breaking His covenant. That fits the Strong’s definition “1a1) to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone.” Then God’s reaction is given:

“Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” (Deut 31:17)

God’s reaction (His “forsaking”) was to reluctantly let them have their own way, according to another meaning of the original word: “1a3) to let loose, set free, let go, free.”

So while God will allow man to go his own way, He does not forsake as in entirely giving up on a person. His attitude is shown by these verses:

“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)

If His forsaking was the 1a1 option in the definition above, it would be like “Forget it, I have had enough of you, I don’t care what happens to you.” His “forsaking” must have been as in definition 1a3 as we know that He did care:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt 23:37)

“How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” (Hosea 11:8)

“But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” (Psa 81:11-12)

“Gave them up unto …” or let them have their own way.

“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken. Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.” (Jer 6:16-19)


Let’s consider the question of whether God forsakes people or not from the perspective of principles.

Principle: God is love – therefore He cannot forsake us.

“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jer 31:3)

Principle: God honors free will – therefore He cannot impose His will or presence upon us.

Putting those two principles together, we conclude that He can never forsake as in to leave entirely but He must (being consistent with His character of love) always allow complete freedom of choice.

“And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.” (Deut 32:20)

“Hide my face” is a way of saying He will not interfere with free will. Yet, He has not entirely forsaken as many might suppose because He sees what is going on; He does care.

See an explanation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 27:46 on the cross “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is very different from the usual explanation.

See a video of a group study on the deeper Biblical meaning of the term forsake.

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