10Now, human, say to the Israelites, “You have said, ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are weighing us down, and we are wasting away under them. How can we go on living?'” 11Say to them, “As I live–a declaration of the Lord YHWH–I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Rather, I take pleasure when the wicked person turns from his way and lives. Turn! Turn from your wicked ways. Why will you die, house of Israel?” — Ezekiel 33:10-11
[Note, I get a little technical in the middle of this one. Please bear with me. I think the lesson is worth it!–HN]
There are some passages of scripture, that while addressed to a specific group of people at a specific time, express universal kingdom principles. What I mean by a â€œkingdom principleâ€ is a fundamental attitude or law of living in the kingdom of God that characterizes what it means to be Christian. This passage is one of those. You can get an even clearer picture reading all of Ezekiel 33, and if you want to broaden your horizons even more, take Ezekiel 33-36 in one sitting, and then do Ezekiel 37 for dessert!
In the devotional yesterday, I discussed warning. A watchman is to warn people of the danger, and if they don’t listen it is their responsibility. In verses 6-9 we are told that if the watchman doesn’t give the warning, it is then the watchman’s responsibility. We can also learn something of the prophetic role as Ezekiel is reminded that he has been appointed as a watchman for the Israelites.
Now our human attitude, bluntly, is that people don’t change. Oh, we talk about repentance, restoration, and so forth, but we watch the offender closely to make sure he has really changed and isn’t going to do it again. There is a place for accountability, of course, but it’s easy for us to turn accountability into judgment. Our idea of warning is to threaten them with hell fire and then keep after them to make sure that they keep that fear alive.
God’s view of warning is a call to life. Now the threat is real, and the danger is real. In the case of Judah, trouble was definitely coming. But God was not all about the trouble. He was about repentance, turning away from a bad path, and turning to a good path.
The sacrificial system of the Pentateuch is designed to teach. One of the things it teaches is repentance. But you will look in vain to find an obvious way to deal with presumptuous sins. Inadvertent errors, yes. Presumptuous sins, no. There’s no sacrifice, other than the day of atonement, that deals with them. Well, except for Leviticus 5:14-6:7. I won’t go into it in detail now, and our English translations tend to obscure this unintentionally, but that passage does provide a sacrifice for a gross presumptuous sin. What is the difference? Repentance!
Repentance takes a sin that is beyond redemption by any ordinary sacrifice, and turns it into something that can be forgiven. And I didn’t invent this idea. â€œRabbi Simeon ben Lakish said, ‘Great is repentance, which converts intentional sins into unintentional onesâ€ (b. Yoma 86b, quoted from Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, p. 373). For those who won’t recognize the notation, that’s from the Talmud, and he’s working from a source text in Leviticus. This is a principle that is so fundamental it was taught long before Jesus came. He just reinforced what he’d already been teaching for centuries.
Think of the object lesson. One searches and searches for the way to gain forgiveness for a presumptuous sin, and when you find it, you find that it is by repentance that God opens the way. Repentance consists of feeling your guilt, taking responsibility through confession, and turning from your old way to God’s new way.
Do you warn your friends and neighbors with damnation or with repentance? Think about it. Often we preach God’s judgment, and because we have repented and we have received salvation, we don’t think about what this is doing to other people. I don’t have any statistics, nor do I know any way to collect them, but I suspect that there are more people out there who live in discouragement than who live in arrogant rebellion. We notice the arrogant. We tend to miss the hurting.
Repentance is so great that it can take whoever you are and whatever you have done, put it truly in the past, and give you a new start. To paraphrase the Rabbi, it can take a sin that could not be forgiven and make it forgivable.
Are you living in God’s redemptive love? Are you sounding the warning of God’s implacable grace and forgiveness?
Note: For a discussion of repentance, see St. John Chrysostom on Hebrews 6.