Repentance Demonstration – National or Individual?

On National Repentance. Our nation is in the midst of an… | by Rabbi Shmuly  Yanklowitz | Medium

QUESTION:  How does a nation that is governed at town, county, state and federal level demonstrate repentance?

Executive Summary:

When it comes to the critical value of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from its penalty and presence, there is no such Biblical concept as “national repentance” or “corporate repentance”.  If 100% of the persons in a Town, County, State or Nation repent of their sin and turn to God, everyone will be saved from the penalty and presence of sin. If only one person in that Town, County, State or Nation repents of, and turns away from their sin, and obeys God’s commands, that person will be saved from the penalty and presence of sin, and there will be rejoicing in heaven over the repentance of that one person (Luke 15:10).  John 3:16 captures the concept perfectly. God loves all the people in the world, in every Nation, State, County and Town. But only “whosoever” believes in Him shall not perish and will be eternally saved.

However, the concept of salvation is not restricted to eternal salvation from the penalty and presence of sin. There is also salvation from physical disasters and agricultural impotence. It remains the prerogative of the “called out” Church of Jesus Christ to assume our status of “My people who are called by My Name”, to humble ourselves; pray; seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways. He will forgive our sin, individually, and heal our land, collectively (2 Chronicles 7:14). And conceptually, when there are “10” righteous in any Town and proportionally as many in any County, State or Nation, God will exercise His prerogative of Mercy on the land for the sake of the righteous (Genesis 10:22-32) But if and when “10” cannot be found, God will extract “Lot’s 4” or “Noah’s 8”, or at least protect them from His wrath poured out on the land.

Repentance by an individual results in a turning away from obedience and subservience to the Devil and towards obedience and sub-servience to God. When a Town, County, State or Nation repents the picture is of large number of persons in that jurisdiction turning away from obedience and subservience to the Devil and towards obedience and sub-servience to God. However, as in the case of Nineveh, for the repentance to take on a national or regional image, the leaders of the nation or region must lead or at least be among those repenting (Jonah 3:6-9).

Introduction:

As in almost every other discussion, a definition of terms, concepts, assumptions and intentions is necessary to facilitate clarity. The question posed appears to be talking about “national repentance” in the context of the complications of a concentric governmental structure. I suggest that we ignore the concentricity of the governmental structure at least initially, and focus on the fundamentals of “national repentance”.

We understand “national” to mean “the nation as a whole”, or at least, in the case of concentric governments, at the very least, the town as a whole, the county as a whole or the State as a whole. And every use of “as a whole” indicates collective action by all individuals, as distinct from individual action by some individuals in the entity.

However, at the root of the discussion are both the assumption that today, national repentance has relevance in God’s economy, and repentance at the national level results in eternally secured salvation from the penalty and presence of sin.

New Testament Repentance:

The New Testament Greek word for “repentance” is “metanoeo” and it occurs 34 times in 32 verses. Dr. Vine in his Expository Dictionary points to the distinction between metanoeo in which “meta” means “after” and “pronoeo” in which “pro” means “before”. We cannot repent before we sin, for to do so could be to deliberately sin. But because we were born in sin, we need to turn away. After having sinned.

With the questionable exception of Luke 17:3-4, every other use of metanoeo refers to repentance for sin and from sin. I say questionable, because, to be valid, an offense against my brother should also be an offense against God, and hence a sin. If my brother really wanted me to visit him on Wednesday but I came on Thursday which is inconvenient for him, I would not have offended God, unless I had lied about coming on Wednesday. Clearly the grey in the area stands out.

The concept of the Acts 2:38 “repentance” as a condition for receiving the Ephesians 2:8-10 grace of eternal life through salvation is a New Testament concept. It cannot be an Old Testament because the focus in that dispensation was obedience to the law, aka works. God alone fully understands the equivalence formula that He uses to convert Old Testament works by His saints into New Testament salvation by His Grace, although we do know that the Faith demonstrated by Abraham will play a central role in determining their righteousness.

Old Testament approximation to NT Repentance

Of academic interest is the fact that the Old Testament Hebrew “shub” is the closest word to the New Testament concept of repentance. According to Brown Driver and Briggs in their “A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament “, it has a basic sense of “to turn,” “to turn back,” “to go back,” or “to return.”. However, a cursory examination of the word indicates that it has no such dedicated meaning as the New Testament “metanoeo”. As observed by Dallas Theological Seminary’s Dr. Robert Wilkin, “The non-technical nature of shub is shown in the fact that it was often used to refer to the turning of the Lord. Obviously, if it were a technical term which always referred to turning from one’s sinful ways, it could never have been used of God.

Old Testament National Repentance

The relevance of repentance in the Old Testament is that quite often the examples were those of national repentance. And of interest, on the few occasions that reference in the New Testament is made to “national repentance”, it is usually juxtaposed with examples from the Old Testament. Nevertheless, there are such references. And finally, eschatological or end time prophecies make numerous references to Nations and their role in end-time events. However, it is hard to find an instance in which anything close to national eternal salvation based on repentance and forgiveness of sins can be found, except that of Israel of course.

Corporate vs Individual Repentance

The next aspect of the question to be considered is the corporate versus individual nature of eternal salvation and its requisite repentance. The concept of “national repentance” is primarily an Old testament concept, that is primarily rooted in the collective responsibility principle that God applied to His dealings with His chosen people Israel by default, and by extension, to the heathen Nations that were not identified as “His people”.

We can surmise that not every single Israelite over the age of 20 rebelled against God under the inspiration of the 10 spies who brought back a bad report of the land of Canaan (Numbers 14:29).  Yet all, 20 years and over were sentenced to perish, and perished in the wilderness. Similarly, we know for sure that Achan was the only Israelite that coveted and concealed an accursed Babylonian garment, silver and gold (Joshua 7). But for his sin, a small army of Israelites was defeated and about 36 of its soldiers were killed. In reverse order, Achan alone sinned, but his entire household was stoned to death and burned. On its flip side, the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved, if only 10 righteous persons could be found (Genesis 18:32).

The principle of collective responsibility that God applied to Israel was also applied to the heathen Nations, and noticeably the Amalekites. It is hard to conceive that the infants and nursing babies were personally culpable for the actions of their grand-parents against the Israelites in the wilderness after they left Egypt (Exodus 17:8-15). Yet God commanded them to be killed (1 Samuel 15:3). The presence of Joseph, one righteous man, in Egypt brought deliverance to the entire nation (Genesis 47:13-27).

New Testament Focus on Individual Responsibility

However, the New Testament clearly has a different focus. As everything in the Old Testament pointed “forward” to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, so everything in the New Testament, post-ascension, points back to the crucified and resurrected Jesus, and forward to the triumphal return of Jesus and the culmination of the age. Nations or their concentric governmental components are not a major focus of the New Testament, although there are a few exceptions, in Revelation, in Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:41; Luke 10:13, and in Luke 11:32.  In Matthew and Luke, Jesus addresses cities in which He had done great works and the city did not repent. He then pronounces a consequential judgement on that city saying that Old Testament cities would have responded more favorably to His works by repentance, had they been done in those cities. Compare that with His charge to His disciples in Matthew 10:5-15; Mark 6:7-12; Luke 9:1-6. There is a clear pattern of speech. Cities are comprised of people and people live in households. His disciples were to stay in one house for the duration of their stay in any city. Nothing suggests that 100% of the people in any given city would either accept or reject their message. But we do know that overall, their mission was a success, suggesting that a large number of persons in each city accepted their message and responded.

And yet, Jesus said in Matthew 10:12-14 [NIV] “ As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” A better contextual translation of the Greek “hosos” in this passage (v 14) would indicate a general rejection and not rejection by a single person. Again, conceptually, this allows for individual acceptance in the midst of general rejection.

As we move to the conclusion, Jesus says in Matthew 10:15, “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town”. Jesus was saying that towns in His day that rejected Him and His message would have a more difficult time than Sodom and Gomorrah. Unless there is some critical piece of the puzzle that is absent in Biblical revelation, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah have already been condemned and are not likely to show up in heaven. To the best of my knowledge, hell has no compartments and as such our destination in eternity is a binary choice between heaven and hell. Therefore it is inconceivable that things can be worse for any one on the judgment day than it would be for the condemned of Sodom and Gomorrah. That Jesus was employing a figure of speech to emphasize the seriousness of rejecting Him and His message.

But wait, Lot and his family were part of Sodom and Gomorrah and they were saved. This clearly indicates that although a Town or a city or even a nation can be condemned for eternal judgement, individuals can be saved, much as in the case of Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24)

Conclusion:

In conclusion, salvation from national disasters can be affected by the repentance and fervent representation by even a small number of righteous persons in that Nation, State, County or Town, especially when geographical distinctions are possible. The plagues that inflicted Egypt did not inflict the areas occupied by the Israelites. But when it comes to salvation from the penalty of sin and eternally from the presence of sin, individuals, or as in the case of Egypt, individual households must kill the lamb and sprinkle and apply the blood so that when the avenging angel sees the blood, he will pass over. I am forced to conclude that any Egyptian household including that of Pharaoh that had applied the blood as prescribed, would have been saved. Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb who was crucified and His blood shed for the remission of our sins. But like the Israelites, the blood of Jesus must be individually applied to ur lives as we confess and repent of our sins and ask for His forgiveness.

When it comes to the critical value of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from its penalty and presence, there is no such Biblical concept as “national repentance” or “corporate repentance”.  If 100% of the persons in a Town, County, State or Nation repent of their sin and turn to God, everyone will be saved from the penalty and presence of sin. If only one person in that Town, County, State or Nation repents of, and turns away from their sin, and obeys God’s commands, that person will be saved from the penalty and presence of sin, and there will be rejoicing in heaven over the repentance of that one person (Luke 15:10).  John 3:16 captures the concept perfectly. God loves all the people in the world, in every Nation, State, County and Town. But only “whosoever” believes in Him shall not perish and will be eternally saved.

However, the concept of salvation is not restricted to eternal salvation from the penalty and presence of sin. There is also salvation from physical disasters and agricultural impotence. It remains the prerogative of the “called out” Church of Jesus Christ to assume our status of “My people who are called by My Name”, to humble ourselves; pray; seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways. He will forgive our sin, individually, and heal our land, collectively (2 Chronicles 7:14). And conceptually, when there are “10” righteous in any Town and proportionally as many in any County, State or Nation, God will exercise His prerogative of Mercy on the land for the sake of the righteous (Genesis 10:22-32) But if and when “10” cannot be found, God will extract “Lot’s 4” or “Noah’s 8”, or at least protect them from His wrath poured out on the land.

Repentance by an individual results in a turning away from obedience and subservience to the Devil and towards obedience and subservience to God. When a Town, County, State or Nation repents the picture is of large number of persons in that jurisdiction turning away from obedience and subservience to the Devil and towards obedience and subservience to God. However, as in the case of Nineveh, for the repentance to take on a national or regional image, the leaders of the nation or region must lead or at least be among those repenting (Jonah 3:6-9).

Leave a Reply