If there is one holiday on the Hebrew calendar that centers more on repentance or Teshuva than any other, it is the day of fasting and prayer known as Yom Kippur. This year, as we search our souls, pray and fast from the evening of 10/6 until the evening of 10/7, it is important for us to understand what Teshuva really is.
As many have pointed out in other articles, Teshuva has a slightly different emphasis in meaning than the mere english word, repentance. Teshuva is not merely the act of recognizing when you are wrong, and confessing these faults, but it is also the even more important act of ceasing to do that which you were doing wrong, and making a complete U-turn in thought, word and deed.
I'd like to use two very famous scriptural examples to show first what genuine Teshuva is not, then what genuine Teshuva is.
In I Samuel 24, we read of how David had the chance to kill his arch enemy, King Saul. However, instead of doing this, he refuses to touch Yah's anointed, and instead cuts off one of Saul's tzit-tzit. When Saul awakens and begins his search for David, David shouts down to him from a hill top and the two have an amazing verbal exchange.
From verses 16 through the end of the chapter, Saul responds to David's incredible act of mercy.
Saul says: 1. That David is his son, a term of affection, and starts to weep. 2. He says David is more righteous than himself. 3. Saul confesses to his evil doing toward David 4. He prays for Yahweh to bless David 5. He proclaims that David will be king 6. He proclaims that the Kingdom of Israel will be established in David's hand.
Now, after saying all these things, why does David still not choose to come down off the hill top and join Saul in returning to the kingdom? After all, does not Saul show genuine repentance by weeping, extolling David, confessing his own evil, asking Yah to bless David and proclaiming that David will replace him as king? While this certainly looked like genuine and heart felt teshuva, David recognized that Saul had not repented at all. And why?
Because of the very last thing Saul says -- he demands David to swear that he will not cut off his seed and that he will not destroy Saul's name out of his father's house. In the end, after all the weeping and confessing and extolling and blessing and proclamations, Saul is still primarily interested in himself, in his own name and in his legacy. True teshuva or repentance consists of, as Messiah said, denying the self and turning away from all selfishness in an act of total surrender to Yahweh.
If Saul had truly repented, he would not have even mentioned, much less considered his own legacy and his own name, but rather would have offered to help establish David on his throne. If Saul truly believed in David's mercy, he would have proven this through action, and trusted in David to act with nobility and integrity by moving to preserve Saul's name. A peaceful transition of power might have then occurred between the House of Saul and the House of David, and much blood shed and death might have been averted.
But, in the end, Saul was still primarily in love with himself, looking out for himself to the exclusion of everyone else, and this would prove true as Saul later continued to refuse to relinquish his throne to David. Indeed, Yah would be forced to send an invading army that would not only take his life, but that of his innocent son, Jonathan, before David could start stepping into his destiny of kingship. Even then, it would be another seven years before the rest of Israel, still loyal to the House of Saul, would eventually fall under David's reign. All this, caused by a man who, while pretending to do teshuva, in fact did not.
This scripturally proves to us that while a person may weep and cry, may confess to wrong doing, may bless others with his tongue and worship Yah, this does not mean he has actually repented! The person must not only confess to his wrong, but he must totally turn away from his wrong doing and go into a completely different direction, something Saul never chose to do. Only then is teshuva complete and genuine.
When I was open air preaching at a campus in Oklahoma several years ago, a young woman began weeping. But the Spirit spoke to me and said she had not truly repented, but was just crying for show, perhaps to impress those around her who immediately, based upon her tears, reached out to console her. I saw right through her mask by the aid of the Holy Spirit and rebuked her. She instantly stopped crying and snarled at me, proving that she was indeed not repentant at all.
People are very good at acting, wearing masks, and pretending to do things, while harboring opposite intentions in their heart.
So what is genuine and true teshuva? Well, one of the best examples of real repentance is when Jonah is sitting in the belly of a whale.
In Jonah chapter 2, after Jonah had disobeyed Yahweh by fleeing from Ninevah, Jonah cries out to Yah and says: 1. He cries out because of his affliction 2. He declares that Yah hears his cry 3. He declares how Yah has punished him 4. He says that even though he is cast from Yah's sight, he will yet again look toward Yah's Holy Temple 5. He says that even though he has come under severe judgment, Yah has brought up his life from corruption 6. He remembers Yah and prays to Him 7. He offers thanksgiving toward Yah 8. He promises to fulfill the very vows he has broken
Here, Jonah, deep in the heart of the whale, could have very easily fallen into self-pity and despair, continuing in his selfishness. Instead, he cries out to Yah, having the faith that Yah will hear him despite his previous disobedience and his current state of judgment, he has the faith to say that he will see Yah's temple again, he places his faith in Yah's salvation and mercy, he THANKS Yah even while in the whale, and then he swears to perform his vows -- namely to do that which Yah had commanded him to do from the beginning. This last act, his promise to perform his vows, is the act of turning away from his wrong doing and going in a completely new direction. This is genuine teshuva. And this is why Yah commands the whale to spit out Jonah and delivers him from judgment.
It is important to remember, that genuine teshuva also includes a long term, day by day heart commitment toward obedience to Yah, repentance of anything the Spirit is convicting of us to change, and pressing toward the mark of perfection and maturity. Obviously while Jonah's act is a great example of a one time act of genuine repentance, he later falls short in maintaining it as a long term walk.
On this Yom Kippur, make sure you understand what true and lasting repentance is all about. Repentance is not merely confessing, or a display of emotions or a mental assent to Yah's will in your life. Repentance is an act of the will, totally turning away from selfishness and surrendering to the Messiah.
Have a very blessed Yom Kippur!