Real Repentance


Touring through Jesus’ Bible we can learn much about repentance from Jacob’s firstborn son Reuven. But before we start, please find your Bible and read Genesis 42:1-22. If we remember back to the beginning of the story of Joseph, Reuven is the one who talked his brothers out of killing Joseph and intended to bring him back to his father. While Reuven was gone for a short time, the other brothers sold Joseph into slavery.

That brief introduction brings us to our place in chapter 42. Upon the first reading of this passage, it gives the impression that Reuven is simply saying “I told you so,” but we must take a much closer look at what he is truly conveying.

First, consider both the English word repentance and the Hebrew word shuv (pronounced shoov). The word repentance is usually used to mean a feeling of regret for your past sins and a resolve to make improvements to your behavior and to stop sinning. The Hebrew word shuv includes this idea but the word literally means to turn around. A person who sins has his back to God and is walking away. After realizing this (or as is written about the prodigal son in Luke 15 that “he came to himself.”) the sinner feels sadness and regret and turns completely around to face God once again. In the word shuv is the idea of a restored relationship. The sin is forgotten, and the person can now move ever closer to God.

Back to our passage. Reading verse 42:21 again we can see just the beginnings of repentance from Joseph’s brothers. They committed two sins against Joseph: They did not listen to his cries for mercy (which they confessed) and they were guilty of his death as far as they knew. In addition, the one confession only occurred because of their current situation. They did not actually have regret for the act itself, but only for the situation in which they found themselves.

This is where Reuven stepped in. First, he asked them — in their hearts and minds — to go back and remember the pleading of Joseph. Don’t simply feel bad because we are currently in a bad situation but feel bad because what you did was wrong. Then he told them to confess from their hearts the actions that most likely caused their brother’s death. Only with this full confession free of coercion could the relationship with God be restored.

The first message Jesus taught was that his listeners should repent because the Kingdom of Heaven had come. In Acts 2:38, Peter implored those listening to him to repent and be baptized. The steps in restoring any relationship are the realization that you have wronged the other person, turning around to face them again, confessing to them the wrong, and doing all in your power to make it right.

Reuven wanted his brothers to complete what they started. By encouraging them to really relive the day when they sold their brother, he could create in them a deep desire to seek God’s forgiveness. Little did they know they would soon need to seek forgiveness from Joseph, but that’s for another day.

Frank Fenton is a lifelong student of the Word of God. He attends the Church of the Messiah in Xenia where he shares teaching duties for the weekly Bible study class, as well as contributing to the congregational teaching.

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