Repentance (Step 1)

The five-step process of repentance begins with an awareness of our need for forgiveness. Our ability to justify our own actions often prevents us from seeing the wrong we do to others. In particular, when we do something that offends God, we are likely to excuse our behavior because, after all, we are sinners by nature. The point we usually have to reach in order to really want to change is complete devastation, as some people say, we have to hit rock bottom.

For God’s people, the bottom fell out when they saw the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins. The question they had to ask themselves was, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1). It made no sense that God would arbitrarily destroy his own city and holy temple, so there had to be a reason for what happened beyond his people being the innocent victims of Babylonian tyranny. In actuality, the experience of losing everything was designed to bring God’s people to their knees, for them to ask the question, why is this happening to us?

At first, the people were merely overwhelmed with sadness. All they could think of was the tragedy of their loss. In a cry prompted by self-pity, they exclaimed, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lamentations 1:12). The focus of the people’s lament was what God had done to them. They felt as if they were the target of his wrath, but didn’t yet see their need for repentance.

The initial reaction of God’s people to his divine retribution was sorrow. The Hebrew word translated sorrow, mak’obah (mak – o – baw´) means anguish (4341). It is derived from the word ka’ab (kaw – ab´) which means to feel pain or to grieve (3510). Naturally, the people grieved over the loss of their loved ones, but it is a different king of sorrow that leads one to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, the apostle Paul talked about a type of sorrow that leads to repentance. He said:

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For  godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Godly sorrow is the type of sorrow that results from a feeling of conviction about our sin. For the most part, we never feel godly sorrow until after we come to know Christ. That’s why the process of repentance was ineffective in Old Testament times. Really, only those who had the Holy Spirit could feel such conviction, and he, the Holy Spirit, did not work in the lives of believers as he does now. In order for anyone to repent, he must first know that he is separated from God, and then, want his relationship with God to be restored.

An indication that the people of Judah and Jerusalem that went into exile were capable of repentance can be found in Lamentations 1:20 where it says, “Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled;  mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled.” The phrase “mine heart is turned within me” means that the person speaking had a change of heart or had changed his mind about having rebelled against God. The Hebrew word translated turned, haphak can refer to transformation or being converted. One of the uses of this word is in 1 Samuel 10:6 where it says the spirit of the LORD would turn Saul into another man and in 1 Samuel 10:9 it says, “God gave him another heart.”

A better life

If you looked up the meaning of every name in a family lineage in the Old Testament of the Bible, you would probably find that the names tell a story about the journey that the family has traversed. The family of Judah started with three sons; Er, Onan, and Shelah (Genesis 38:3-5). Judah’s first son, Er was so wicked the LORD slew him (Genesis 38:7). When Er died, it became Onan’s responsibility to produce a male heir for his brother’s wife. Onan’s refusal to fulfill his obligation caused him to be slain also.

Eventually, Judah impregnated his daughter-in-law, Tamar and produced twin sons, Pharez and Zarah.

And it came to pass, when she travailed, that one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

The name Zarah means to shoot forth or to appear (2224) and the name Pharez means to break out (6555).

Zarah is not mentioned in 1 Chronicles, Chapter 4 among the family of Judah, so it is possible he died childless like Er, but there is one man, Jabez who may have been his descendant. Jabez is not connected to any other relative of Judah and is given two verses to capture his biography in a list of names tied to Caleb, the first of Judah’s family to settle in the Promised Land.

And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh, that thou wouldest bless me in deed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me. And God granted him that which he requested.

The name Jabez means to grieve or be sorrowful (3258). Sometimes Jabez’s name is translated pain, which is another word for sorrow. Jabez was not satisfied with his life of pain and wanted to become great, so he prayed that God would bless him. As illogical as it may seem, most people do not believe that God wants to bless them and therefore, do not ask for his blessing. It is possible to change your life, but you first have to realize that only God can change the future and you must ask him to do it.

Changing the course of a family legacy is comparable to changing the course of a river. For years, perhaps decades or even centuries, water has been following the same course, traveling from mountain peaks to the oceans below along pathways that have been forged through rocks and debris. Dams and channels are necessary to overcome nature’s force.

Many people enjoy going with the flow. They do not want to rock the boat or cause any friction in family relationships. The problem with going with the flow is that you will end up at the same destination as your ancestors, which could be a life of pain and sorrow.

Jabez knew there was a problem that needed to be overcome in order for his life to be different. Jabez prayed that God would keep him from evil, “that it may not grieve me” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Jabez understood that the reason he was grieved was because he was suffering the consequences of the evil that had become a part of his life. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (7451). It is likely that Jabez’s trouble was not a result of his own actions, but those of his family. He may have inherited his mother’s sorrow, but he did not have to keep it and pass it on to the next generation.