Nizzavim and Va-Yelekh
For the week of September 23, 2000 / 23 Elul 5760
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:9 - 31:30
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9

Repentance Is a Journey

When you and your children return to the Lord your Godů (Devarim / Deuteronomy 30:2)

In this week's portion, Moses speaks about a time when a future generation of Israel would be unfaithful to God and be dispersed among the nations of the world. At some point after that they will return to God. The word for return in Hebrew is shuv. It is the same word that is sometimes translated "repent." To repent is to turn away from one thing and turn to something else. It implies both a change of heart and action.

This portion is an example of how Israel's life experiences are object lessons in God's ways. Should they disobey God, they would be forced to leave their land. Their sin would send them on a journey away from the place of promise and blessing. But when they would change their ways, they would be brought back to their God-given place.

We see then in a very practical way that repentance too is a journey. Repentance for these people is not something that just happens in an intangible spiritual realm. Repentance for them includes geography, travel, and time. Their wrongs would cause them to be taken through foreign lands, where they would have had many hardships. But once they would return to God, they would then begin a return journey back to their homeland.

Repentance for them wouldn't mean an instant realization of former blessings. They would have had to travel many of the same roads back to their homeland. Along the way they would have certainly been reminded of how they got into their predicament in the first place.

So we see how an initial repentance or change of heart is just the beginning of a much longer process of restoration.

I wonder if we tend to think that the restoration that repentance brings is instant. We regret our behavior or make resolutions, thinking that these changes will immediately cause our lives to improve completely. How disappointed we become when we discover that it doesn't work that way. Often when we repent, our lives get more difficult, and why shouldn't they? If we have been running away from God all our lives, and then suddenly turn around, we may find ourselves for the first time facing the results of our past actions. We may have never thought about the destruction we have caused ourselves and others.

I don't want to give the impression that turning to God is negative. Far from it. In fact when we turn back to God, he actually runs to meet us, so that he can bring us back to where we belong. There is no way we could make this journey on our own.

For us to see the effects of our rebellious lives would be devastating, unless God was with us. When we are confronted with the rubble of our past, we may want to run away again. But we were never meant to live life on our own. We always needed God. So we should not be put off by the messes we have caused. Once we are confronted by them, we need to look to God all the more. As we do, he will enable us to complete the journey back to where we really belong.

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