O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.(Hosea 14:1-4)
We have been looking at the doctrine of repentance, seeking to give as clear and simple a definition for it as possible. We have already seen that repentance is metanoia, ‘changing the mind’, a recognition of false thinking, and a conformity of mind to reality, as revealed by God. In a similar fashion, repentance is a compound word; ‘re’ (again) -’pent’(to think), that is, a person who repents, is one who thinks again.
The Hebrew word Teshuvah, is translated as repentance in the Old Testament. It is a word that means, ‘to turn’. To repent is to turn towards God, or back to God. To sin is to turn away from God. The constant message of the Hebrew prophets was that Israel must ‘turn’ back to the God who had blessed and called them.
Behold the graciousness of God, in this passage from Hosea, pleading with Israel to turn again towards himself. He goes so far as to give them the words to say!
As a parent I have done such, with an obstinate child, who by his sin has alienated him or herself from we the parents, yet we plead with them, to be reconciled, even going so far as to tell them what they need to say to us, that fellowship might be restored!”All you have to do is admit you lied…we can forgive! We can handle this together, we can get through everything! “. God is such a parent, longing for us to turn to him.
See how He paints a beautiful picture of the possibilities? How He uses the word of himself, ‘If Israel would but turn to me(the LORD), my anger will be turned away from Him…”
Another touching glimpse into this desire of the LORD for us to turn, is this from Jeremiah,
If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove. And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.(Jeremiah 4:1-3)
Again note the Holy, Loving voice calling Israel, “Return unto me”, and the beautiful, hopeful picture of the future that could be for them.Teshuvah is not merely turning from sin or idols, it is just as much a concept of turning unto God.
He calls upon them to “Break up your fallow ground…”. What is fallow ground? It is ground that once had been plowed and cultivated, but has since become hardened, and resistant to rain or cultivation. Oh that this depraved generation’s hearts would be broken, that the LORD might move them to turning.
Moses predicted the entire history of Israel, until the last days He told them they would forget the Lord, turn away from Him, to worship “strange gods”, and to Provoke him to jealousy. As a consequence, they would suffer alienation, and his indignation as well, ultimately being exiled out of the Land, and scattered to the very “ends of the earth”.
And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;(Deuteronomy 4:27-30)
The climax of human history will occur, when in the midst of unprecedented world-wide tribulation, Israel finally turns again to the LORD her God. Jesus will come again as a result of it.
The 80th Psalm, is a prayer to the Shepherd of Israel, in which the sad history of Israel’s planting, exile and suffering at the hand of gentiles is recounted. The constant refrain is a prayer that God would “Turn us again, make thy face to shine upon us, and then we shall be saved!”.
The New Testament also picks up this theme of ‘turning’, for example Paul commends the Thessalonians;
For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.(I Thess 1:9-10)
They turned to God from their idols, their expectation changed, they were no longer merely living for today, they longed for the parousia of Jesus.
Finally James teaches Teshuvah, when HE gives the brilliant and hopeful promise from God, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and HE will lift you up. Draw near to God and HE will draw near to you…” . Repentance is nothing unless it is a turning away from that which is sin or evil, or vain, coupled with a turning of the soul and affections to God himself.