I was attending the Rosh Hashanah service at our synagogue several years ago with my husband's cousin. The rabbi said something that startled me and I have never forgotten it. "This is the day that we pray for all the people of the world," he said, "because they too will face God's judgment." What really touched my heart was an image of all the Jewish people praying for me. I am one of those Gentile people of the world.
Rosh Hashanah begins the ten days of awe in Judaism when Jews search their inner souls for any acts they have committed that are contrary to God. They seek forgiveness from the ones they have harmed first before turning to God to repent. And the pending Day of Judgment, Yom Kippur, looms in their minds during these ten days of awe.
Our Christian tradition is quite different. We believe we are "saved by grace" so such a recurring annual event seems foreign to us. When we sin, we ask God's forgiveness and go about our lives. Yet I cannot forget that the Jews are praying for our forgiveness also.
I don't suggest we change our understanding of God's grace through Christ. But perhaps we need to reflect on the concept of God's forgiveness which, from what I see in Scripture, is not automatic. Forgiveness requires repentance. How many of us truly understand the full meaning and implication of repentance?
God teaches us with stories, and I think the story of David and Bathsheba conveys a wonderful meaning of repentance. (You will find this account in 2 Sam 12:1-15). We all know about David's adultery and Bathsheba's pregnancy. But adultery was not the only sin. Did you know that David also committed the murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, not by his own hand but by the intentional placement of Uriah in the front line of battle? Murder was David's intention, and he succeeded.
It took Nathan the prophet to bring David to repentance, which he did with the parable of the rich man who took the only lamb of a poor man. The parable is midrash on Ex 22:1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep." But David the king invoked an even greater penalty than fourfold restitution for the one lost lamb. David declared, "surely the man who has done this deserves to die." And then Nathan responded, "You are the man!"
Yes, David not only faced consequences for his adultery, but death was the penalty for his act of murder. David had brought upon himself the penalty of death. And so have we, Scripture teaches us, because the penalty of all sin is death, which is why Yeshua took that penalty upon himself on the cross. Yeshua was without sin, so he did not deserve the penalty of death. But he took death upon himself so those with faith in him now have the promise of life.
But let's return to David. He had to bear consequences for his adultery, which is God's way of teaching us through "testing," that is, allowing consequences to fall on us so we will turn to Him. "The sword shall never depart from your house," Nathan prophesied, "and I will take away your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion." However, God's mercy removed the penalty of death, but only after David repented. And how did David repent? "I have sinned against the Lord," he cried from the innermost part of his heart. Repentance is not to ask for forgiveness, but to truly desire to change from a way of sin to the ways of God. Perhaps during these ten days of awe we can also reflect on our past sins, and truly desire to leave the ways of the world behind so we can become the new creation that is Christ in us.
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