Worth Reading–April 2, 2012
Here is Mike Riccardi on repentance. This is really helpful and really encouraging!
The Grace-Gift of Repentance
By Mike Riccardi
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel gives a farewell address of sorts. It’s not quite his final sermon, because he does continue in his prophetic role after Israel has transitioned to the monarchy. But it is his final address before relinquishing the leadership of the nation to King Saul, so it does have the flavor of a farewell sermon. And in his final words as Israel’s faithful leader, Samuel decides to showcase Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness—God’s unwavering commitment to uphold the honor of His own name by remaining ever-faithful to His promises.
This is what he wants ringing and resonating in their minds and hearts as he fades from the scene of prominence. Because Samuel wants to see Israel remain—or at least, begin to be—faithful to Yahweh even after he is no longer there as their chief influence. And the faithfulness of God’s people is grounded upon and motivated by God’s own faithfulness to Himself. So this is what Samuel wants to put on display.
And the first way he seeks to do that in 1 Samuel 12:19–25—the first manifestation of God’s covenant faithfulness that Samuel highlights—comes in verse 19. Samuel makes known to Israel that Yahweh grants fearful repentance.
Of course, the reason Samuel is fading from prominence as the Judge of Israel is because the people have sinfully demanded for a human king to rule over them (1Sam 8:5, 19; 10:19). And as a response to this wicked request, God sends a thunderstorm to destroy their wheat harvest—an unmistakable act of Yahweh’s judgment and displeasure, since a thunderstorm in Palestine at the time of wheat harvest just did not happen. And this demonstration of Yahweh’s anger seemed to get the point across. Verse 18 tells us that after God had sent the thunder and the rain, “all the people greatly feared Yahweh and Samuel.” And verse 19 tells us their response: “Then all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to Yahweh your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.’”
They got the message. They understood that this miraculous thunderstorm—this disruption of the God-ordained pattern for the natural world—was a perfect picture of the disruption of the God-ordained pattern for their relationship with Him that was broken because of their sin.
A Request for Intercession
Notice what their repentance was characterized by. First, there is a request for intercession. Similar to the way the Israelites turned to Moses to intercede for them as the presence of Yahweh thundered before them on Mount Sinai (Exod 20:18–19), the people now turn to Samuel as their representative before God.
They understood their need for forgiveness, and they asked Samuel to pray for them.
An Acknowledgement of Sin
And that request for intercession is founded upon their acknowledgement of their sinfulness. This is the second characteristic of their repentance. Verse 19 again: “Pray for your servants to Yahweh your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.”
The word for, there, signifies that their prayer request is borne out of a confession of their sins. Their reasoning is, “We get it! We’ve sinned against God. Please, pray for us!” They confess that asking for a king was an evil thing to do. They recognize that their demand for a human king amounted to a rejection of Yahweh as their king, who had always delivered them from oppression when they had called upon Him.
‘Twas Grace that Taught My Heart to Fear
Now, you’re asking, “How does all this showcase Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness? How does this illustrate His grace?” Well, because He’s the one who grants the repentance. Repentance is a gift from God, right? 2 Timothy 2:25: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must correct with gentleness those in opposition, if perhaps God might grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” Or how about Acts 11:18: Peter sees that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit and concludes that God has granted them repentance that leads to life.
And so this fearful repentance, marked by an acknowledgement of sin and a request for intercession, is a gift from God.
See, even God’s acts of judgment—even when He intends to inspire fear—are a mark of His grace. Because it’s through the clear apprehension of our own sin and the displeasure it brings to God that we see our need for repentance and forgiveness. That’s why John Newton could write in the second verse of Amazing Grace that it was “grace that taught my heart to fear.” That’s why Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who mourn as He opens the Sermon on the Mount: because it is only those who mourn over their sin and repent of it who find comfort in Christ’s forgiveness.
And so the fear of the Lord is a mark of God’s grace. Even though it is designed to make us tremble, it’s designed to make us tremble in order to lead us to repentance, and thereby be restored to fellowship with Him. Matthew Henry put it simply: “He [does not desire] that the terrors of the Lord should frighten them from Him, for they were intended to frighten them to him.”
Get Thirsty, Then Drink Freely
And so, dear reader, give thanks to God for granting you the grace of seeing the ugliness of your sin. Worship Him for His faithfulness to consistently work in your heart so that you would be repulsed by your own faithlessness. As Hebrews 12 says, regard the discipline of the Lord as a mark of His fatherly love and care for you. If you don’t, you’ll miss God’s intended purpose for those times of discipline. Those unpleasant times of mourning over our own slowness of heart to believe all that the Scripture has said, of our own stubbornness to walk in the paths that lead to life, of being made painfully aware of how far short we continue to fall— they all are a gracious means of frightening you to God for restoration and forgiveness.
Don’t flee from the desert road of mourning over sin, but take that hard road, and on it learn to hate your sin. And when you have come out the other side, come and drink freely from the oasis of gracious forgiveness.
You can click here to see the follow up to this post. I hope you have the time to read this as well.