When it is garden harvest time, I find myself constantly sorting what I harvest and tossing the rejects into a nearby bucket. As I sort the unacceptable from the acceptable, I can’t help but think, all those fruits or veggies had the same start, yet one is saved and one is discarded. Why? What made the difference?
Usually the problem starts with something from the outside getting in.
What made the difference between the ear of corn I accept and the one I reject—except that the end was open and some little creatures from outside found their way in and took over?
Why do I call some berries perfect, and others worthless—because the tiny juice sacs were pierced by hornets or bees?
Why are some leafy greens get washed and wrapped carefully to keep them fresh, while others are left to wilt—again because some kind of destructive creature invaded and destroyed?
At times my decision to keep or discard seems almost whimsical, yet I try for a standard of acceptability, and if something doesn’t meet it, it has to go.
Which makes me ask, is this the way God looks at me?
But there is one great difference: God has a mercy word. When He sees something not acceptable, He offers a solution.
He says, Don’t be cast aside. REPENT!
Let’s take the lesson from the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 14.
Ezekiel 14:1 1Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me.
They obviously had something they wanted to discuss with the prophet. God knows this, so He updates the prophet.
Ezekiel 14:2–3 2And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 3“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?
God says to His prophet, these people have set up their idols IN THEIR HEARTS. Not necessarily molded or carved idols on shrines but idols—objects of worship—INSIDE. In their hearts.
The hardest kind to contend with. The hardest kind to knock down.
These people were like many others, from the time of Cain right down to the present moment. They were like the people in Jesus’ day, whom Jesus called hypocrites. Hear Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah,
Matthew 15:7–9 7Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.
Notice where their heart was: “Their heart is FAR from Me.” Continuing Jesus said,
Matthew 15:9 9And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
God forbids ALL kinds of idolatry. Anything that captures our heart and takes it away from God is an idol.
What were the people in Ezekiel’s day doing? They had set up idols IN THEIR HEARTS, and God says, they are MAKING themselves stumble into iniquity. The Moffatt Bible phrases it:
Ezekiel 14:3 Moffatt Bible 3“Son of man, these men have taken their idols to their very hearts, they are bent upon the sin that trips them up, am I to answer their inquiries?”
These people who are so set on worshiping their idols—they are making themselves stumble! Should I even listen to them?
It isn’t that God needed Ezekiel’s advice, but He wanted His prophet to see the problem as He saw it. God wanted Ezekiel to have HIS point of view.
So God says, Ezekiel, what would you say is the right thing to do? How much mercy should I have with them, when they are causing their own problem, when they are making themselves fall?
This is where God’s mercy goes beyond what we might have. He is still ready to talk to them, even when they refuse to listen. God has a message for Ezekiel to relay to these errant people:
Ezekiel 14:4–5 4“Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols,
God says to Ezekiel, I will answer him according to the multitude of his idols. As it reads in the Moffatt Bible,
Ezekiel 14:5 Moffatt BibleHe shall get an answer from Me as heavy as all his idols, for I would ruin Israel with their heart’s desire, since they have abandoned me for all their idols.
God says, I will ruin them with their heart’s desire. They can have it, but they can’t have their idol-set heart AND Me.
But there is a way out. They haven’t been through into the garbage pit yet. Listen for God’s Mercy word:
Ezekiel 14:6 6“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.
What is the mercy word? REPENT.
Ezekiel 14:6 6“…Thus says the Lord God: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.
The first word is REPENT. What does that mean?
To turn around, repent, hif. to bring back, refresh, refute…be changed
Make motion back to a place previously departed from. – DBL
שׁוּב (šûb). vb. to turn, to return. Refers to turning toward or away from something, often used with the sense of turning away from God (apostasy) or turning back toward God (repentance).
While šûb is used for physical movement … it is most often used in covenantal contexts to refer to God’s people either turning away from God (… Jer 8:4–5; Psa 126:1) or to God’s people turning back to God from sin (Ezek 14:6). (LTW)
Repent means, you have mercy. Another chance. CHANGE your ways. Turn around.
Repent defines the only common meeting ground where we can meet God. It announces a demand for unconditional surrender on our part, a complete about face, abandoning or old ways, making a clean break with our past.
Ezekiel said it as God’s command at another time:
Ezekiel 18:30 30“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.
REPENT and TURN.
Notice that God’s mercy word is bundled with another word: TURN.
He says, TURN. TURN AWAY.
TURN AWAY from whatever was pulling you off course.
Repent AND TURN away from your idols. Mr and Mrs Facing-both-Ways, you must TURN from faces AWAY from all your abominations. Don’t stay there staring at the idol—the money you love too much, the clothes that are too much like the world outside, the car that is “just right” for you, the job that gives you the authority that “feels good,”—turn away. Realize you cannot serve God AND Mammon. The highway to life is a ONE WAY street.
True repentance is sorrow for our misdeeds and failures, sorrow that points the accusing finger at ourselves and cries out for mercy, as did the Psalmist in this passage:
Psalm 39:13 13O spare me, that I may recover strength, Before I go hence, and be no more.
Psalm 40:11 11Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord; Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
Before we can truly repent and change, we must know what God requires and compare ourselves to it. Only with God’s pure standard can we condemn ourselves fairly and make the change He is looking for.
Psalm 38:18 18For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.
Self-condemnation is good, but it always must have limitations. If we are condemning ourselves for the same things over and over again, but do not turn from them, we are making no progress. This is where godly sorrow can come in. Is there an example we can follow? Example is better than precept, and if we can pick up an example to follow, we will be taking a long stride toward repentance.
Paul talked about the repentance in his brethren that resulted from his letter to them. He said of his own struggle,
2 Corinthians 7:8–10 8For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Can’t we see the contrast—between godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world—which may be only a feeling of defeat without any direction.
2 Corinthians 7:1111For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!
To get God’s mercy, true repentance has yet another requirement: the change must LAST. Anything less is not acceptable to Him who sees us as we really are. What did Paul say about continuing?
Colossians 1:23 23if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
If we CONTINUE. Continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel—that is where we must STAY.
It is another reminder to endure – in spite of, because of, on account of—whatever it is, because
Matthew 10:22 22… you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
True repentance must LAST. It must ENDURE to the end. That is why it must include a complete forsaking of the old way and going straight on with the new.
God will observe what we do, because “the Lord SEES.” And how does He see?
1 Samuel 16:7 7…the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The people in Ezekiel’s day were prone to worship idols of wood or stone, like their neighbors. These do not tempt us, but that does not mean we are idol-free, or that we do not need mercy in turning from our idols. Idols “in our hearts” are of in many different types.
Jesus made one very telling statement that covers them all when He said,
Luke 16:15 15And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
Whatever is highly esteemed among men—and do you notice they all come from OUTSIDE? The pride, vanity, boasting, self-seeking, self-love, seeking the honor of our peers, and so on and on. God knows OUR hearts. He knows what moves and stirs us. He sees the WHY under every action.
Now is the time to turn away from ANY and ALL our heart-idols, even the little secret idol known only to ourselves and God.
Now, while there is still time.
We don’t want to be like that corn that opened enough to let the destructive bugs get in.
We don’t want to be like those berries stung by the bees.
And we don’t want to wait until the final day of accounting to learn that
Isaiah 59:2 2…your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Now is the time to claim God’s mercy word: REPENT, and TURN AWAY from the things that would separate us from God.
Now, while we still have time.