Remorse Versus Repentance.
Judges 3-4, Acts 19
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. – Acts 19:18-20 ESV
The book of Judges paints a bleak picture of the spiritual condition of the people of Israel after the death of Joshua. They found themselves in the land, but they had failed to faithfully follow God’s command and purge the Canaanites from their midst. “So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods” (Judges3:5-6 ESV). Their refusal or reluctance to do things God’s way resulted in a lengthy period of testing at the hand of God. It began a cycle of rebellion, which resulted in their rejection by God, but also in their eventual rescue at the hands of the judges who God raised up on their behalf. What is interesting to note is that while the people showed remorse for their sin, there is never any evidence of repentance or true heart change. The punishment of God in the form of defeat at the hands of their enemies caused them to cry out to God for help, but they never seemed to make the connection that their rebellion required repentance, or a change of heart. They never seemed to really learn their lesson. So we continue to read, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12 ESV). Their hearts remained unchanged. Their sins remained unconfessed. They wanted God to rescue them, but they were not truly interested in rejecting their sinful way of life.
What does this passage reveal about God?
It is clear from the passage that God was fully in control of the circumstances during the period of the judges. “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:1-2 ESV). God always has a purpose for what He does, or what He allows. In the case of the Israelites, He seemed to have four different objectives in mind. First, was going to use the enemies left in the land to teach the Israelites how to fight. Most of the Israelites who were alive at this point had not participated in the battles to conquer the land and were inexperience at war. Plus, God wanted them to know how to fight according to His terms, not their own. Secondly, it is clear that God intended to punish Israel for her open rebellion against Him. So He made their enemies “thorns in their sides” and their gods would become “a snare.” Thirdly, God would use this period of time to expose within the people of Israel their lack of love and faithfulness. Finally, according to Deuteronomy 7:20-24, God actually preserved the land by allowing the Canaanites to remain in it until the Israelites were capable of taking it over and cultivating it themselves. Otherwise, if God had wiped out the Canaanites before the Israelites were ready to move in, the land would have gone wild. God had a purpose behind all of this, but the primary desire of His heart was that His people repent of their sins and return to Him. This is the primary message of the Old Testament. It is the central message that each of the prophets who would eventually be sent by God would proclaim over and over again. But in the book of Judges repentance seems to be missing.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Each and every time the people of God turned away from God, they suffered the consequences. And their suffering caused them to cry out to God for help. It is amazing just how powerful and robust our prayer lives can become when we find ourselves in trouble due to our own sin. When the Israelites found themselves in a jam, they cried out to God. It reminds me of the old adage: There are no atheists in fox holes. The Israelites clearly knew that their predicament was due to the discipline of God and they also knew that their only hope was going to found in Him. And God responded. He sent deliverers. He heard. He listened. He acted. But the saddest part of the story is that it just keeps repeating itself. They never seemed to learn. But in contrast, there is the story of the people of Ephesus recorded in Acts 19. These pagan people were exposed to the Good News about Jesus Christ through the ministry of Paul and many of them became believers. But what is amazing is how they changed. Their new-found relationship with Christ brought about a radical alteration in their behavior. We read, “…many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:18-20 ESV). The change in their lives was significant and far from superficial. It was internal, but showed up in tangible, external ways. And their behavior ended up impacting their community. It ends up that so many had come to faith in Christ and were repenting of their former way of life, that it was having a economic impact on the community. Those who made idols were feeling the pinch from the drop-off in sales. There was a growing fear that if something didn’t happen soon, the entire economic infrastructure of the city and the Temple of Artemis were going to suffer irreparable harm. The Good News was turning out to be bad news for a lot of people, because of the transformative power of God in the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
What God longs for in the life of His people is their unapologetic allegiance to and love for Him. He wants to reveal His power in their lives and help them live as the people of God in the midst of a world full of people who do not know Him. He is fully aware that, even as followers of Christ, believers still struggle with sin and are prone to rebellion. But what God desires is that we cry out to Him for help and be willing to repent or turn from our sin and return to Him. The people of Israel never really returned to Him. They cried out. They accepted His rescue. But they never truly turned away from their idols and returned to the worship of God. The were remorseful or sorry that they had been caught in sin by God and were more than willing to have Him bail them out, but they were unwilling to walk away from their sin and return in faithfulness to Him. In the New Testament, the Greek word for repent is metanoeó. It means “change my mind, change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God), to repent.” Sometimes it is referred to “an about face.” You are headed one direction, then you stop and head the other way. But notice that it includes the mind. It is a change in the way you think. The people of Israel thought they could worship other gods and get away with it. They thought they could choose to disobey God’s will and not suffer for it. They thought they knew what was best for their lives. But they were going to have to change their way of thinking. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He simply said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 ESV). Those new believers in Ephesus knew that their behavior was change. Their way of thinking was radically altered by the presence of Christ in their lives and it showed up in the way they lived. They repented of their former way of life and turned to a radically new one – motivated by their new found relationship with Jesus Christ.
Father, may true repentance always be a recognizable part of my life. I want to constantly learn to change the way I think about You, about life, about my own sin, and about the way my faith shows up in my everyday life. Forgive me for the many times I have cried out to You for help or rescue, but have failed to really want to turn away from doing things my way and start living Your way. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men