Repentance

A requirement for repentance is an awareness that you have done something wrong. You don’t necessarily have to be aware of a law in order to break it, but you do have to be aware of it in order to feel sorry that you broke it. An example of this is the person that gets a speeding ticket. Before he was stopped by a police officer, he may not have been aware that he was driving 15 mph over the speed limit. Depending on whether or not he can afford the fine or wants to have the ticket on his driving record, he may feel sorry afterwards that he broke the law.

“To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action…Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). Before the Israelites were taken into captivity, they formed alliances with the nations around them and often paid tribute to foreign kings in order to avoid war. The children of Israel stopped expecting God to defend and protect them and were arrogant about their military capabilities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.). One of the reasons the people didn’t repent was they were no longer reading God’s word (2 Kings 22:8).

God intended the exile of the nation of Israel to bring the people of the southern kingdom of Judah to their senses. Whereas they had been dwelling safe and secure in the city of Jerusalem for hundreds of years, Sennacherib’s successful attacks on Judah’s fortresses served as a warning that God was no longer protecting his people as he had before (Isaiah 36:1). Judah’s appeal to God shows they were beginning to get the message. Isaiah declared, “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence” (Isaiah 64:1-2).

By the time the people of Judah were taken into captivity they had become aware of their moral failure. Isaiah declared, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Isaiah was speaking prophetically, so at that time, the people were still rebelling against God. It wasn’t until they were in captivity that the people began to repent.

Isaiah spoke of the inevitability of Judah’s captivity, but the actual event was still almost a hundred years away. Isaiah indicated that in the end, everyone would abandon their faith and turn away from God. He said, “And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou has consumed us, because of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:7). In essence, Isaiah was saying that God was no longer paying attention to what was going on with his people. Although he hadn’t abandoned them completely, the LORD was not working for, but against them.

Only a remnant of God’s people would return to the Promised Land after their captivity in Babylon. Those that would return were expected to do so because they had repented of their sin. One of the characteristics of repentance is submission to the will of God. Isaiah described a change of heart that would be evident in the remnant in terms of clay, that which can easily be molded and shaped into a usable vessel. He said, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

True believers

Fasting and praying were common religious practices in the Israelite community that were associated with mourning and repentance. The first mention of these activities is in 2 Samuel 12:16 where it says that king David fasted and prayed because of his sick child. David wanted God to spare the child’s life, but his son died anyway.

Fasting was perceived to be a means of obtaining God’s mercy. As a form of spiritual intervention, it was effective in gaining God’s attention, although the desired result was not always obtained. Isaiah identified right and wrong types of fasting. One of the characteristics of the wrong type of fasting was an attitude of entitlement (Isaiah 58:3).

An indication that a person was fasting for the wrong reason was a desire for vengeance (Isaiah 58:4). The purpose of fasting was supposed to be to humble oneself before God (Isaiah 58:5). Speaking through Isaiah, the LORD declared, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

Fasting was designed to be a tool to break free from spiritual bondage. Instead of focusing on their own spiritual condition, the Israelites had turned fasting into a speed dial to access God’s power. What God wanted was a sincere search for sin in one’s own life. His expectation was, “When thou see the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh” (Isaiah 58:7).

Evidence of genuine righteousness was important to God because he wanted his children to be an example for others. The LORD often referred to himself and his people as a light to the world. Regarding the practice of genuine righteousness, the LORD said, “then shall thy light break forth as the morning…then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:8,10).

Ultimately, God wanted his people to demonstrate the results of following his commands, but in the near term, the goal was to show the world that God’s promises were reliable. After the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, a remnant was to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The remnant was going to be a group of true believers that would pave the way for the birth of Israel’s Messiah.

During their time in Babylon, the Israelites would be tested to see who among God’s people were truly committed to him. Those who were merely religious would not survive. Isaiah said of these true believers:

And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and  like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. (Isaiah 58:11-12)

A new world order

Looking past the captivity of Judah, Isaiah saw a time when God’s people would be transformed into heroes of faith. God was going to take the nation of Israel in a new direction, one that would require his people to re-grasp the situation and exert an effort to do the opposite of what came natural to them. In order to demonstrate the eternal nature of his kingdom, God intended to let Jerusalem be destroyed and rebuilt in a whole new fashion.

Isaiah introduced a new world order that would be based on repentance. He began his message by stating, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God” (Isaiah 40:1). The Hebrew word translated comfort, nâcham (naw – kham´) means to sigh or to be sorry (5162). Nacham is translated as both comfort and repent with regards to a turning point in a person’s life. The first mention of this word is in Genesis 5:29 where Noah is listed as the son of Lamech. It says, “And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed.”

It could be said that comfort or repentance is the sign of a new beginning, a fresh start in life. Isaiah linked this new beginning to the point in time when God’s punishment of Jerusalem was finished. Isaiah stated, “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:2). Immediately following this statement, Isaiah established Jerusalem’s new beginning as the launch of the Messiah’s ministry on earth (Isaiah 40:3).

John the Baptist quoted Isaiah 40:3 when he declared Jesus to be the Messiah. It says in Matthew 3:1-3:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom  of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

John’s reference to repentance was intended to convey the idea that individual action was necessary to become a member of God’s kingdom. God’s work was no longer about saving the nation of Israel as a whole, but about the individual people of God turning to him in order to receive salvation.

The new world order that Jesus came to establish was based on a personal relationship with God. Prior to Jesus’ arrival on earth, no one had seen God face to face. Isaiah revealed that the LORD would come to his people and be seen not only by then, but by everyone (Isaiah 40:5). The evidence that God was present would be a supernatural power that would enable those with faith to exercise divine strength to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of God’s divine kingdom. Isaiah said about believers, “But they that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

God’s family

God’s relationship to the people of Israel was the basis of his involvement in their lives. It says in Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” The Hebrew word translated known, yada’ is properly translated as “to ascertain by seeing” which includes observation, care, recognition; and causatively instruction, designation, and punishment (3045). In a sense, Israel had become a member of God’s family, and vice versa. God treated the Israelites like a father would treat his own child.

Because God had been involved in the lives of the Israelites and knew them in a personal way, it says in Amos 3:2, “Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The Hebrew word translated punish, pâqad (paw – kad´) means to visit or be concerned with, to look after and make a search for, as well as punish (6485). Another way to look at paqad is “to intervene on behalf of” and in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfill a divine intent.

Over the course of time, Israel seemed to have forgotten or were unaware that there was a reason for their existence. In particular, the nation of Judah was designated to bring forth the Messiah. At the time of Amos’ ministry, the primary focus of Judah was preservation of the most favored nation status they were entitled to as God’s chosen people. Their worship had become meaningless as if they were just going through the motions. In an effort to remind his people that he was in control of their destiny, God asked the question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).

The Hebrew word translated agreed, yâ‘ad (yaw – ad´) means to meet at a stated time (3259). The idea behind this word is to make an appointment or set a time for an event to take place, such as an engagement when a wedding date is established. God was letting his people know that a time had been set for his Messiah to be born and he intended to keep his appointment. Therefore, God’s people needed to be brought into alignment with his plan through divine intervention.

God’s punishment was intended to bring his people back to him. He wanted them to repent, make an effort to change, “to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). What needed to happen was the people needed to be converted. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725).

God had made numerous attempts to bring his people to a point of repentance, but each time there was no response. Five times in Amos chapter four, the LORD stated, “Yet have ye not returned unto me” and then concluded, “Therefore thus will I do unto thee O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12). The LORD’s people would encounter an enemy so fierce, they would be forced to cry out to God for mercy.

The voice of reason

The ministry of Isaiah the prophet began when king Uzziah died in 740 B.C. and spanned four generations of kings until at least 697 B.C., when Manasseh began a coregency with his father king Hezikiah. Isaiah opens his message by stating he has received a vision from the LORD that pertains to Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1). The purpose of this divine communication was to reveal what was going to happen, so the people would be prepared for it. Unfortunately, Isaiah’s message was ignored, or at least not taken seriously, until it was clear Judah was on the pathway to destruction.

At the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, circumstances contradicted what he said was going to happen. During king Uzziah’s reign, Judah had increased in strength and was expanding its borders. Uzziah’s military successes caused Judah’s enemies to retreat and remain at a distance, allowing his army to grow to more than 300,000 men. While Uzziah was very methodical in his approach to managing his kingdom, he was also innovative and could compete with the strongest of nations for precious resources.

Isaiah’s opening comment indicates the issue was a matter of loyalty. “Hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:2-3). The Hebrew word translated consider, biyn means to separate mentally or distinguish (995). Biyn has to do with wisdom and  is associated with paying attention to something or noticing what is going on.

When we have considered something, it will affect our behavior and guide our actions. It can lead to change if it has affected our way of thinking. Considering takes place in the heart, not the mind, and it is not the same as thinking about something. It could be said that to consider something is to give it a place in your heart. In essence, to consider something is to let it affect you. Whether it is a thought or a person, considering expresses an attachment that indicates approval or affection.

One of the main points the LORD wanted his people to consider was his forgiveness of their sins. It says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” At this point in Israel’s history, God’s plan of redemption applied only to them. With the exception of the city of Nineveh, no other nation had experienced God’s forgiveness. And yet, Judah did not consider God’s favor important to their success.

Mercy

Jonah’s reaction to the transformation of the people of Nineveh shows a disregard for the purpose of his visit. Jonah knew that God wanted the Ninevites to repent and turn from their wicked ways, and yet, when they did, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1). Jonah was not interested in seeing a change, he wanted revenge.

In spite of his successful mission, Jonah was distraught. It is clear from his prayer that Jonah wanted a different outcome. Jonah prayed, “Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). What Jonah meant was that he thought the outcome was unfair. God was only supposed to care about the Israelites because they were his chosen people.

At the core of Jonah’s complaint, was a belief that the Israelites should be treated different than everyone else. Jonah did not want God to forgive the people of Nineveh. As Jonah was demonstrating, the Israelites had become proud and were taking advantage of their relationship with the LORD. God wanted Jonah to realize that his mercy was not exclusive, anyone could repent and be saved.

Jonah was convinced that the Ninevites repentance was not genuine. It says in Jonah 4:5, “Jonah went out of the city, and there made himself a booth, and sat under it in the shade till he might see what would become of the city.” Jonah expected that on day 41, the day after the people were to be overthrown, everything would go back to normal. Jonah thought as soon as the people had escaped God’s judgment, they would return to their evil ways.

The booth Jonah made for himself was a temporary shelter or hut constructed by weaving together tree branches or the leaves of a plant (5521). Jonah’s attempt to make himself comfortable while he waited made it seem as if the destruction of Nineveh was a spectator sport that Jonah was meant to enjoy. In spite of his calloused attitude, God indulged Jonah by causing a plant to grow over him that provided additional shade. Unfortunately, the plant was eaten by a worm the next day.

In a final attempt to bring Jonah to his senses, God demonstrated his sovereign control over Jonah’s circumstances by sending a hot east wind to drive him away, but Jonah would not relent. Jonah was determined to prove God wrong and could not accept that the people of Nineveh were worthy of God’s compassion. What Jonah didn’t understand was that God’s mercy was not a part of his covenant with Israel. Rather, it was a part of God’s covenant with Noah that applied to the whole world (Genesis 9:15-17).

A second chance

After Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish, he realized he could not escape his calling and would continue to suffer until he submitted to God’s will. Jonah described his experience inside the fish as being in the belly of hell (Jonah 2:2). Jonah was fully conscious and aware of what the fish was doing. For three days and three nights, Jonah’s life was miraculously sustained like a child inside his mother’s womb.

At first, Jonah may have thought he would die inside the fish. It wasn’t until the third day of his torture that he cried out to the LORD. The best explanation for why Jonah waited so long to pray was his refusal to accept that God was still in control of his circumstances, even while he was inside the fish at the bottom of the sea.

Jonah’s change of heart is recorded in Jonah 2:8. “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving.” Jonah’s reference to observing lying vanities indicates he may have been involved in idol worship at the time he was called to Nineveh. If so, his resistance to go could be attributed to an affection for the gods of the Ninevites.

Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh included a deadline for their repentance (Jonah 3:4). The Hebrew word Jonah used to describe what was about to happen was haphak. “In its simplest meaning, hapak expresses the turning from one side to another…The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God” (2015). In response, it says in Jonah 3:5, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”

The overwhelming response to Jonah’s message shows that the people were affected by the word of God. Even the king of Nineveh, acted accordingly. “For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6). For the king of Nineveh to humble himself in such a way, he must have been converted or transformed by the Spirit of God.

A sign that the king was truly a changed man was his attitude toward God. The king spoke of God’s mercy as if he knew the LORD personally (Jonah 3;9). As a result of the change that took place, it says in Jonah 3:10, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them; and he did it not.