Week of July 31: Repent and return to obedience to the one true God
By HERCHEL SHEETS
Scripture: Judges 10:10-18
Psychologist B. F. Skinner tells in his autobiography of going as a student to hear a distinguished physiologist speak. The person who introduced the speaker said that he had always admired the graceful way in which he could admit that he was wrong. In responding to that statement, the speaker said it was because he had had a great deal of practice.
I recently read a book entitled Lord, Have Mercy by Scott Hahn, a renowned Catholic lecturer and theologian. The subtitle of the book is, "The Healing Power of Confession." The book deals with what the Roman Catholic Church calls "the sacrament of confession," and it calls upon Christians to have "a great deal of practice" in confessing that they have been wrong, that they have sinned, that they have been unfaithful to God.
Just occasional confession?
There were times in the history of God's people in the Promised Land when they went for long periods without making that confession. During those periods they ignored God, gave their attention to and worshiped other gods. It was only when their country was overridden by their enemies, when their lives were tumultuous, and they didn't know where else to turn that they would finally remember their vows of allegiance to God.
In other words, frequent confession of their sins was not a regular and constant practice of theirs. It tended, rather, to be something they did only occasionally, in an emergency, when they didn't know anything else to do.
That's the situation we see again and again in the Book of Judges. In chapter 10, for instance, we read that "the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord," worshiping the Baals and other gods. The writer says, "They abandoned the Lord, and did not worship him." In their unfaithfulness, they were "crushed and oppressed" by the various tribes around them.
Finally, not knowing what else to do, they "cried to the Lord, saying, 'We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals.’" That was the confession that was needed. Surely now they would find relief for their misery, deliverance from their oppression, redress for their losses.
Cry to the gods you have chosen
But God made it clear to them that it was not going to be all that easy. Reminding them of the time after time when he had come to their rescue only to have them to turn away to other gods again, the Lord said: "Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress."
Was that not an appropriate response on God's part? They had been giving their attention to these other gods; they had been worshipping them. Now that they were in trouble, why not count on those gods to do for them what they wanted and needed to have done?
Don't you know that is God's word to us, too, at times, when we have put other things in the place of God? If we really listen, we may hear God saying to us, "Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress."
Money won't heal a broken heart. Pleasure won't help you to find the right direction for your life. Popularity won't put meaning and purpose into your life. Whatever has been given first place in one's life, if it is not in keeping with the values and purposes of God, won't do what needs to be done in one's life. Yet unless one is turning to the Lord with genuine confession and repentance, God's word to that person may be, "Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress." Let whatever you have been valuing most, whatever you have been putting in the place of God, let that "deliver you in the time of your distress."
God's aching heart
But that was not God's last word to these people. They did indeed repent. They were genuinely sorry for the way they had ignored and rejected God. What evidence was there of that? How could it be known that their confession and their repentance were real? This was the evidence: "They put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord."
What was God's response to this? Did God say, "I know you don't mean it; your repentance is not genuine; it won't last very long"? This is how the biblical writers describe God's response. They say that God "could no longer bear to see Israel suffer," and so brought them relief from their oppressors.
That's another picture of the heart of God. Here in the midst of a rebellious people, God's heart aches for them, God still wants good for them. And that's the way God feels toward us today, too.
But still God calls for genuine repentance -- not like that of a man whom a cartoonist pictures asking his wife, "Will a blanket apology do, or do I have to guess what I did?" Blanket apologies will not do. God calls us to come to the point where we see our lives in the light of Divine values, standards, and purposes, and then make honest confession that we've been wrong and resolve that with God's help we will lead new lives. Then forgiveness, bringing God's peace and new strength, becomes ours.