Repent, Regret, Relent

By Sam Nadler

People occasionally question me on my zeal, for I live full throttle for the redemption of Israel. They will say, “Sam, the national redemption of Israel can’t happen until after the tribulation period, so why strive for that now?” For all those folks, I’d like them to think about this biblical possibility:

The Jerusalem elders defended Jeremiah’s ‘bad news’ ministry (“repent, repent, repent”) against the Judean religious officials’ desire to kill the prophet. In doing so they refer to an earlier prophet, Micah: “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, ‘Thus HaShem of hosts has said, “Zion will be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem will become ruins, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest”‘(see Mic 3:13).”Did Hezekiah, king of Judah, and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear HaShem and entreat the favor of HaShem, and HaShem changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them? But we are committing a great evil against ourselves” (Jeremiah 26:18-19).

In making this defense they give a tremendous insight of hope for Israel: repentance causes God to relent of His threatened judgment upon sinners. How does that work? The Hebrew word in Jeremiah translated to “changed His mind” is nacham. It essentially means to comfort, console, and is used in three ways for God: regret, repent and relent.

God can “regret” His chastening upon His people as in 1 Samuel 15:11, when God regretted making Saul king. Though it was a needed punishment upon Israel for their desire to have “a king like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5), and thereby rejecting God as their king (1 Sam 8:7). So, Adonai gave them Saul, the first king of Israel. God regretted it, though this punishment was needed, it broke His heart and grieved Him to do so, even as we regret and grieve over having to discipline our own children.

The same word nacham is also translated “repent.” When we repent of our sinful course of action the Hebrew word that is used is shoove, literally to turn; but shoove is not used for God. The word nacham as “repent” is used in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should “repent.” This means that God does not repent, for He is not like sinful humanity, who shift their moral course at every temptation. But God will never repent, for He will not ever change from His righteous course of action, which was ultimately fulfilled in Messiah (Romans 1:17).

The third use of the word nacham, as in Jeremiah 26, is to “relent.” God only wants to bring about righteousness. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: One, God can bring righteous judgment upon sinners; or two, sinners can repent and trust God for His righteousness. Either will bring about God’s right objectives. When we repent, God relents (i.e., “changes His mind”) regarding the punishment that our sins required to bring about His righteous goal. Yes, when we repent, God relents!

Judah repented at Micah’s preaching which caused God to relent of His judgment upon them. This was also the result of Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites; God relented of His threatened judgement upon them (Jonah 3:9-10). This, too, was the hope that Jeremiah presented to his own generation: Jeremiah 26:13 “Now, therefore, amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of HaShem your God; and HaShem will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you.” But sadly, Judah did not heed Jeremiah, and God’s judgment came catastrophically upon the Jewish people during the Babylonian captivity. Even so, this principle stands: God relents when His people repent.

This doesn’t mean that we can fake repentance to evade His judgment. Nor does it mean that we can ‘twist God’s arm’ to do our will by our repentance. It does mean that God, who searches the hearts of His people, knows those who sorrow over their offenses against Him and His Messiah and seek to turn from their sins and have His forgiveness.

Today, by this same biblical principle, if Israel will repent and trust in the righteousness of God in Yeshua the Messiah, God will relent of the great tribulation that He has promised upon our rejection of Israel’s Redeemer. This tribulation would still come, of course, upon the unrepentant nations for their sinfulness. But as Israel was safe in Goshen from the plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 8:22; 9:26), so Israel, today, would be safe from the tribulation wrath of God that will be poured out onto this unrepentant world (see Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14).

With this hope in mind, let us join with Paul’s encouragement, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God is that Israel will be saved” (Romans 10:1). Yes, let’s “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).