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Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked leave his way and a man of iniquity his thoughts; let him return to the L-rd and He will have mercy on him, and to our G-d for He will be mighty to forgive.
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Pesikta Rabbati asks the question, "If one who keeps committing sins keeps saying that through repentance he will be forgiven - what answer should be made to him?"1 The answer given comes from the Mishnah: "He who says, 'I will sin and repent, sin and repent' - they give him no chance to do repentance"2 (m. Yoma 8:9) or in Braude's translation "will never have strength enough to repent." How can this be? Because if man repents and then goes back and repeats the same sin again, his repentance was not a true or sincere repentance. When is an alcoholic or a drug addict cured of his addiction? Not when he says that he is sorry and won't do it again, for they all say that many times and then continue their addiction at the first opportunity - their 'repentance' is nothing but crocodile tears intended to win the means to get the next drink! Instead, when the addict recognises for himself that he is broken and must change his life. Only when it truly comes from inside is repentance real and only then, although there may be many slips and falls along the way, will that repentance lead to a true return from the abyss.
We can see that there are two things that need to be left: a way and thoughts. A way is rather like a scratched track in a vinyl record; the needle endlessly circles over the same words or fragment of music and is unable to move forward - shcrz - unable to move forward - shcrz - unable to move forward. Thought patterns are widely recognised to be the controlling factors in our lives; however we may try to hide them, eventually they will appear and camouflage will be broken. TheRadak comments: "actions and speech as well as iniquitous thoughts, otherwise he will not be able to return to HaShem". The needle must be lifted right out of the damaged groove and reset beyond the point of damage for the record to finish playing. Ibn Ezra confirms this: "when they do so, they can then seek HaShem"; it is only possible to seek the L-rd when we are prepared to leave our wrong thinking and bad behaviour behind.
In our text, the first word - Qal prefix 3ms form of the root , to leave, forsake or desert, to leave behind, cease from or give up - is the leaving verb. Here it is taken to be jussive: let him leave, forsake, give up. The prophet uses it as the first part of a condition: let him do this and the L-rd will do that. It implies that, having spoken in this way through the prophet, the L-rd is obliged to forgive anyone who repents. Perhaps that is why another prophet says, "As I live -- declares the L-rd G-D -- it is not My desire that the wicked shall die, but that the wicked turn from his evil ways and live" (Ezekiel 33:11a, JPS). The verse then finishes by pleading: "Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, that you may not die, O House of Israel!" (v. 11b, JPS). It isn't clear whether this is HaShem or the prophet crying out the people; either makes sense in the context. Jeremiah's words seem clearer: "Turn back, O rebellious children, I will heal your afflictions!" (Jeremiah 3:22, JPS). This must have been the thought running through Peter's mind when he wrote, "The L-rd is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, NASB).
When can we repent? The verse immediately before our text tells us to "Seek the L-RD while He can be found, call to Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:6, JPS), implying that there are times when can seek the L-rd, when He is near and can be found, and times when although we may seek Him, He is far away and cannot be found. A community can always be sure of being heard: "For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is the L-RD our G-d whenever we call upon Him?" (D'varim 4:7, JPS), but the Rabbis ask at what times G-d is available for an individual? "Rabbah ben Avuha said: 'These are the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur3 (b. Rosh HaShanah 18a). This is one of the reasons the Jewish world emphasises praying as part of a community, with the minyan being the minimum number of people considered representative of the community. It is also one of the reasons why almost the whole of the Jewish liturgy is phrased in the first person plural - 'we' - as Israel prays together at three times every day.
Like the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek Scriptures also affirm that G-d is only available at certain times, but the window seems wider. John the Baptist and Yeshua both told the people to "Repent for the kingdom of G-d is at hand" (Matthew 3:2,4:17); the time was then or, in their terms, now. Rav Sha'ul confirms to the Corinthians that the window is still open: "For [G-d] says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV). No longer restricted - if the rabbinic understanding was correct - the window is now open for anyone to repent and enter into relationship with G-d; from Yeshua's time until today, today is the day - today can be your day of salvation.
On the other hand, Yeshua clearly spoke of a time when the door would no longer be open. After teaching about the broad way and the narrow way - and notice the reappearance of the that word 'way' that we were talking about earlier - Yeshua tells the people who were listening to Him, "Struggle to get in through the narrow door, because - I'm telling you! - many will be demanding to get in and won't be able to, once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door. You will stand outside, knocking at the door and saying, 'Lord! Open up for us!' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from!'" (Luke 13:24-25, CJB). The window is now open but will, at some point in the future, be shut. On another occasion He said, "The light will be with you only a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, or the dark will overtake you; he who walks in the dark doesn't know where he's going. While you have the light, put your trust in the light, so that you may become people of light" (John 12:35-36, CJB). It will not always be possible to repent and enter relationship with G-d; at some point it will no longer be possible. Clearly, the Scriptures teach that one end-point is the end of our physical lives here on this earth. The writer to the Hebrews explains: "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrew 9:27, NASB). Our days are numbered and while the door is held open throughout out lives, with many opportunities and invitations being offered, once we pass that point, the door is then shut and the die is cast.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Yeshua uses the character of the father in His story to teach about Father G-d. He is longing for us to come to our senses and return to Him. "And [the son] got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him" (Luke 15:20, NASB). Our Father sees us from a distance and runs to meet us when we turn. He puts His cloak around us and calls us His children, He welcomes us back into His household. We are promised that when we call on His name, we shall be saved (Romans 10:13). And, as the Radak commented, "unlike human beings, G-d forgives without reservation". Have you been forgiven and know the peace of relationship with G-d in Messiah Yeshua? Have you truly repented - from the inside, as the Prodigal Son who came to his senses - and recognised that you need to make peace with G-d. Are you worried that time is running out and you may not have another opportunity to repent? Yom Kippur, while in many ways no different from other days, is a solemn day of reflection and penitence, a day for personal inventory and setting the record straight, for throwing yourself on G-d's mercy knowing that He is ready and willing to forgive. We pray in the Amidah each day for G-d to give us His Spirit of repentance so that we may turn to Him fully as He desires. Yom Kippur, with all its ritual and memory, provides a focus. This year, don't be content to just stand and mumble with everyone else; go further than the words on the page and cry out from your heart. That prayer is guaranteed to break every window in heaven!
1. - Pesikta Rabbati 44.1, tr. William Braude, Yale University Press 1968
2. - The Mishnah, tr. Jacob Neusner, Yale University Press 1988
3. - Strictly speaking, there are only eight days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, but the count of ten days is taken to include both the festival days thus making the the total ten.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; James 4:8-10
Don't let today go by without knowing where you stand. No more
rationalisation or prevarication - just do it! Make a start and G-d will
meet you more that half-way as His heart reaches out to you. Call on the
name of Yeshua and receive the Holy Spirit promised by the prophets of long
ago. Find true peace and security in Him!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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© Jonathan Allen, 2014
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.