“I have come to call . . . sinners to repentance.”—LUKE 5:32.
SONG 36 We Guard Our Hearts
1-2. How did two kings differ, and what questions will we consider?
LET us look closely at two kings who lived in ancient times. One ruled over the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel; the other, over the two-tribe kingdom of Judah. Though they lived at different times, they had a lot in common. Both kings rebelled against Jehovah and corrupted his people. Both were guilty of idolatry and murder. However, there was a difference between these two men. One of them pursued a wicked course to the end of his life, but the other repented and was forgiven for his terrible deeds. Who were they?
2 Their names were Ahab, king of Israel, and Manasseh, king of Judah. The differences between these two men can teach us a lot about a very important subject—repentance. (Acts 17:30; Rom. 3:23) What is repentance, and how is it shown? We need to know because we want Jehovah to forgive us when we sin. To find the answers to these questions, we will examine the lives of these two kings and see what we can learn from their examples. Then we will consider what Jesus taught about repentance.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM KING AHAB’S EXAMPLE
3. What kind of a king was Ahab?
3 Ahab was the seventh king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. He married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, a wealthy nation to the north. The marriage may have brought wealth into the land of Israel. But it also further damaged the nation’s relationship with Jehovah. Jezebel was a Baal worshipper, and she incited Ahab to promote that despicable religion, which involved temple prostitution and even child sacrifice. No prophet of Jehovah was safe while Jezebel had power. She had many of them put to death. (1 Ki. 18:13) Ahab himself “was worse in the eyes of Jehovah than all those who were prior to him.” (1 Ki. 16:30) Jehovah was not blind to the actions of Ahab and Jezebel. He was totally aware of what they were doing. Mercifully, though, Jehovah sent the prophet Elijah to warn His people to change their ways before it was too late. But Ahab and Jezebel refused to listen.
4. What was the sentence pronounced on Ahab, and how did he react?
4 Finally, Jehovah’s patience came to an end. He sent Elijah to pronounce sentence on Ahab and Jezebel. Their entire family line was to be wiped out. Elijah’s words hit Ahab hard! Surprisingly, that arrogant man “humbled himself.”—1 Ki. 21:19-29.
5-6. What suggests that Ahab was not truly repentant?
5 Although Ahab humbled himself on that occasion, his conduct afterward showed that he was not truly repentant. He did not try to remove Baal worship from his kingdom. And he did not promote the worship of Jehovah. Ahab showed his lack of repentance in other ways as well.
6 Later, when Ahab invited good King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in the war against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat suggested that they first consult a prophet of Jehovah. Initially, Ahab rejected the idea, saying: “There is still one more man through whom we can inquire of Jehovah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good things concerning me, only bad.” Even so, they consulted the prophet Micaiah. Sure enough, the man of God foretold bad news for Ahab! Rather than repentantly seek Jehovah’s forgiveness, wicked Ahab had the prophet thrown into prison. (1 Ki. 22:7-9, 23, 27) Although the king managed to imprison Jehovah’s prophet, he could not prevent the prophecy from coming true. In the battle that followed, Ahab was killed.—1 Ki. 22:34-38.
7. How did Jehovah describe Ahab after his death?
7 After Ahab died, Jehovah revealed how he viewed that man. When good King Jehoshaphat came home safely, Jehovah sent the prophet Jehu to rebuke him for having allied himself with Ahab. Jehovah’s prophet said: “Is it the wicked you should be helping, and is it those who hate Jehovah you should love?” (2 Chron. 19:1, 2) Now consider: If Ahab’s repentance had been genuine, surely the prophet would not have described him as a wicked man who hated Jehovah. Clearly, although Ahab had shown a degree of regret, he never fully repented.
8. What can we learn about repentance from Ahab’s example?
8 What can we learn from Ahab’s example? When he heard Elijah’s message of calamity against his family line, Ahab initially humbled himself. That was a good start. But his later actions showed that he was not repentant at heart. Repentance, then, must involve more than temporarily expressing sorrow. Let us consider another example that will help us understand what true repentance involves.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM KING MANASSEH’S EXAMPLE
9. What kind of a king was Manasseh?
9 Some two centuries later, Manasseh became king of Judah. He may have been even worse than Ahab! We read: “He did on a grand scale what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes, to offend him.” (2 Chron. 33:1-9) Manasseh set up altars to pagan gods, and he even put a carved image of a sacred pole—likely a symbol of sex worship—right into Jehovah’s holy temple! He practiced magic, divination, and sorcery. He also “shed innocent blood in very great quantity.” His vicious murders included making “his own sons pass through the fire,” in sacrifice to false gods.—2 Ki. 21:6, 7, 10, 11, 16.
10. How did Jehovah discipline Manasseh, and how did the king respond?
10 Like Ahab, Manasseh stubbornly ignored warnings that Jehovah gave him by means of His prophets. Finally, “Jehovah brought against [Judah] the army chiefs of the king of Assyria, and they captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with two copper fetters and took him to Babylon.” There, imprisoned in a foreign land, Manasseh apparently did some serious thinking. He “kept humbling himself greatly before the God of his forefathers.” He went even further. “He begged Jehovah his God for favor.” In fact, Manasseh “kept praying to Him.” That wicked man was changing. He began to see Jehovah as “his God,” and he prayed to him persistently.—2 Chron. 33:10-13.
11. According to 2 Chronicles 33:15, 16, how did Manasseh show that he was truly repentant?
11 In time, Jehovah answered Manasseh’s prayers. He saw the changes in that man’s heart, as reflected in his prayers. Jehovah was moved by Manasseh’s entreaty and restored him to the throne. Manasseh took full advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate the depth of his repentance. He did what Ahab had never done. He changed his conduct. He actively fought against false worship and promoted true worship. (Read 2 Chronicles 33:15, 16.) That surely required courage and faith, for Manasseh had been a bad influence on his family, his nobles, and his people for decades. But now, in his final years, Manasseh tried to undo some of the bad that he had done. Likely, he was a good influence on his young grandson Josiah, who later became a very good king.—2 Ki. 22:1, 2.
12. What can we learn about repentance from Manasseh’s example?
12 What can we learn from Manasseh’s example? He humbled himself, and he did more. He prayed, begging for mercy. And he changed his course. He worked hard to undo the harm that he had caused, and he sought to worship Jehovah and to help others to do the same. Manasseh’s example gives hope to even the worst of sinners. We see powerful proof that Jehovah God is “good and ready to forgive.” (Ps. 86:5) Forgiveness is possible—for those who are truly repentant.
13. Illustrate a vital lesson about repentance.
13 Manasseh did more than feel sorry about his sins. That teaches us a vital lesson about repentance. Consider an illustration: You go to a bakery shop and ask for a cake. But instead of a cake, the shop clerk hands you an egg. Would you be satisfied? Of course not! Would it help if the clerk explained that the egg is a key ingredient of the cake? Again, of course not! Similarly, Jehovah asks the sinner for repentance. If the sinner feels sorry about his sin, that is good. Such a feeling is an important ingredient of repentance, but it is not the whole thing. What else is needed? We learn a lot from a touching parable that Jesus related.
IDENTIFYING TRUE REPENTANCE
14. In Jesus’ parable, how did the wayward son show the first signs of repentance?
14 Jesus told a heartwarming story about a wayward son, recorded at Luke 15:11-32. A young man rebelled against his father, left home, and traveled “to a distant country.” There he led an immoral, debauched life. When hard times struck, though, he did some serious thinking. He realized how much better off he had been while in his father’s house. As Jesus put it, the young man “came to his senses.” He resolved to go back home and seek his father’s forgiveness. The moment when the son realized how far he had fallen was important. But was that enough? No. He had to take action!
15. How did the lost son of Jesus’ parable demonstrate his repentance?
15 The lost son demonstrated sincere repentance for what he had done. He made the long journey home. Then when he approached his father, he said: “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” (Luke 15:21) The young man’s heartfelt confession revealed that he wanted to repair his relationship with Jehovah. He also recognized that his actions had hurt his father. And he was ready to work hard to regain his father’s favor, even being willing to be treated as one of his father’s hired men! (Luke 15:19) This parable is not just a heartwarming story. The principles it teaches should be of interest to congregation elders when they are endeavoring to discern whether a fellow believer has repented of his serious wrongdoing.
16. Why might it be difficult for the elders to discern the extent of someone’s repentance?
16 It is no easy task for the elders to determine whether someone who has committed a serious sin is now truly repentant. Why not? The elders cannot read hearts, so they must rely on outward evidence that their brother has had a complete change of viewpoint toward his sin. In some cases, a person may have sinned so flagrantly that the elders who meet with him may not be convinced that he is genuinely repentant.
17. (a) What example shows that a mere expression of sorrow may not be enough to demonstrate sincere repentance? (b) As described at 2 Corinthians 7:11, what is expected of a truly repentant person?
17 Consider an example. A brother commits adultery over a course of many years. Instead of seeking help, he conceals his immoral conduct from his wife, his friends, and the elders. Finally, he is exposed. When confronted with the evidence, he admits to what he has done and even seems to be very sorry. Is that sufficient? The elders handling such a case would surely need to see more than sorrow. This was not a momentary lapse of judgment but a wicked course that lasted for years. The wrongdoer did not voluntarily confess; he was exposed. So the elders would need to see evidence of genuine changes in the sinner’s thinking, feelings, and conduct. (Read 2 Corinthians 7:11.) It might take the man considerable time to make the needed changes. Very likely, he would be removed from the Christian congregation for a period of time.—1 Cor. 5:11-13; 6:9, 10.
18. How can a disfellowshipped person show genuine repentance, and with what outcome?
18 To show that he is genuinely repentant, a disfellowshipped person would come to the meetings regularly and follow the elders’ counsel to have a good routine of prayer and study. He would also diligently avoid the circumstances that led to his wrongdoing. If he works hard to repair his relationship with Jehovah, he can be assured that Jehovah will forgive him fully and that the elders will restore him to the congregation. Of course, when dealing with a wrongdoer, the elders evaluate each case in the light of its unique circumstances and they avoid judging harshly.
19. What does true repentance involve? (Ezekiel 33:14-16)
19 As we have learned, true repentance involves more than saying we are sorry that we have pursued a sinful course. It also involves a genuine change of mind and heart that leads to taking positive action. This includes abandoning a wrong course and turning around to walk in Jehovah’s ways again. (Read Ezekiel 33:14-16.) A sinner’s primary concern should be to repair his damaged relationship with Jehovah.
CALLING SINNERS TO REPENTANCE
20-21. How might we help someone who has fallen into serious sin?
20 Jesus summed up an important feature of his ministry by saying: “I have come to call . . . sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) That should be our desire as well. Suppose we learn that a close friend of ours has committed a serious sin. What should we do?
21 We would only harm our friend by trying to cover up his sin. Such efforts never succeed anyway because Jehovah is watching. (Prov. 5:21, 22; 28:13) You can help your friend by reminding him that the elders want to help. If your friend refuses to confess to the elders, you should inform the elders about the matter, thereby showing that you truly want to help him. His relationship with Jehovah is at risk!
22. What will we discuss in the following article?
22 What, though, if a sinner has traveled so far and so long into a course of sin that the elders decide he must be disfellowshipped? Would this mean that they have treated him unmercifully? In the next article, we will take a closer look at Jehovah’s merciful way of disciplining sinners and how we can imitate it.
SONG 103 Shepherds—Gifts in Men
a True repentance involves more than simply saying that we are sorry for a sin we have committed. Using the examples of King Ahab, King Manasseh, and the wayward son of Jesus’ parable, this article will help us understand what repentance really is. It will also discuss factors that elders must consider when weighing the repentance of a fellow believer who has committed a serious sin.
b PICTURE DESCRIPTION: King Ahab angrily orders his guards to take Jehovah’s prophet Micaiah off to prison.
c PICTURE DESCRIPTION: King Manasseh directs workers to destroy the images that he had set up in the temple.
d PICTURE DESCRIPTION: The wayward son, worn out after a long journey, is relieved when he finally sees his home in the distance.