Full Repentance for All the Right Reasons by Charles R Swindoll
All the passages below are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “Job” published in 2004.
It is difficult to cultivate a humble heart in a contentious culture. Put another way, a repentant spirit is rarely found in a litigious society. How seldom we hear “I am wrong; I am truly sorry; will you please forgive me?” As opposed to that, how often we hear, “I will sue you! I’ll take you to court!”
The following is a classic example of how our world thinks. It is not only a true story, it was the first-place winner of The Criminal Lawyers Award Contest in the year 2002.
A Charlotte, North Carolina, lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, then insured them against fire, among other things. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the lawyer filed claim against the insurance company.
In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost “in a series of small fires.” The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion was obvious.
The lawyer sued and won!
In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The judge stated, nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be unacceptable fire, and was obligated to pay the claim.
Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the “fires.”
NOW FOR THE BEST PART … After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 2.4 months in jail and a $24,000 fine.1
Try to teach your children the importance of walking humbly with God with stories like this swirling through the media. Is it any wonder the words “I repent” are rarely heard these days?
Maybe that’s the reason my head snapped back when I jumped ahead in the story of Job and read his words, “I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Eugene Peterson’s rendering provides verbal expressions Job probably had in mind: “I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”
If you check the context in which Job made that statement of repentance to God, you’ll find that nothing has yet changed for him. He’s still bankrupt; he’s still without his family. He’s still covered with sore boils, and those three self-righteous critics, yea four, are still frowning nearby, still convinced he’s getting what he deserves. That makes Job’s attitude of repentance all the more authentic. It would have been much easier to fall down in utter submission before God if he were now healed and relieved, and if those four critics had been put in their place. But with none of that turned around, Job bows before his Lord and sighs, “I retract . . . I repent.” No question about it that represents full repentance for all the right reasons.
John Hartley puts his finger on the essence of Job’s humble response:
Job abases himself and recants, confessing himself to be no better than the dust and ashes on which he has been sitting. Job has come to a true assessment of himself before the holy God. . . . Job both renounces all false pride and concedes that God has been true to justice in allowing him, the noblest sheikh, to be brought so low that he has had to sit outside the city on the ash heap. The term recant (niham) means to turn from a planned course of action and take up a new course. It implies the strongest resolve to change direction, but not an’ attitude of remorse. It is affirmative action based on conviction. In recanting job surrenders to God the last vestige of his self-righteousness, i.e., he withdraws his avowal of innocence. From now on he will locate his self-worth in his relationship with Yahweh, not in his own moral behavior or innocence.2
We’re witnessing in Job the personification of a humble and contrite heart. Speaking of that, consider the words of David following the misery he endured in the backwash of his adultery with Bathsheba. In his brokenness following repentance, David wrote a song, realizing the wrongness of his actions, a song that found its way into the Bible. Today we know it as Psalm 51. It contains David’s feelings surrounding his repentance.
Be gracious to me, 0 God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
There’s no hiding his transgressions, no blaming someone else. There is only open confession flowing from his repentant heart. Speaking of that, he asks the Lord:
Create in me a clean heart, 0 God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
He doesn’t expect the people around him to understand or to take pity on him. He owns full responsibility for his actions. He’s getting everything right with God, which is where repentance begins. David’s words provide some helpful insights about true repentance:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, You will not despise.
Look closely. Repentance provides two sacrifices God finds pleasure in: a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Turn these words over in your mind. While doing that myself, I came up with five characteristics of a broken spirit and a contrite heart.
First, a contrite heart nurses no grudges. A contrite heart never says, “If it hadn’t been for what she . . .” or “If he hadn’t done . . .” or “Because I was raised like I was raised . . .” No. A broken spirit blames no one.
Second, a contrite heart makes no demands. It obligates no one else to do anything. Others’ responses aren’t a part of our agenda when we’re truly repentant.
Third, a contrite heart has no expectations. I don’t expect good treatment. I don’t expect people to understand or to forgive me. That may happen in time, but it’s not something the contrite heart expects.
Fourth, a broken spirit offers no conditions. No ifs, no maybes, no buts, no bargains.
Fifth, a broken spirit and contrite heart anticipate no favors. I don’t anticipate as a result that you will do something gracious for me. I’m on my own before my God. By repenting, I’m acknowledging the wrongness of my actions, my attitudes, my words with no anticipation of applause or a nod of understanding from others.
When these things transpire in full repentance, there is no room left for bitterness.
WHAT PROMPTED SUCH REPENTANCE?
Now, let’s look back into the biblical record and see if we can find what prompted such a repentant spirit in Job. We’re going to discover that God got Job’s full attention. It’s as if He places both His mighty hands on Job’s shoulders and looks him in the eye. This is followed by two unforgettable examples that communicate a message Job will never forget.
God’s Hands on Job’s shoulders
Before looking at the biblical basis for my word picture, let me mention something we’ve all gone through as parents. What I’m about to write may not be “politically correct,” but it is the truth.
Parents know it’s the truth. There are times that nothing works better with our small children than placing both of our hands on their shoulders and speaking firmly as we look them in the eye. Exasperated over their words or attitudes or misdeeds, we put both hands on their shoulders, and we speak slowly and firmly. During those few moments we admonish them to “straighten up” or “watch your mouth” or “correct that negative attitude!” Amazing how well that works!
In a similar way, I’m suggesting here that the Lord takes Job by the shoulders and gives him a firm talking-to. And what is it He is saying to His servant? Something along these lines: “Job, listen to me. I am God. You are My servant. I am your authority. I am in charge. I’m the Potter, you’re the clay, remember? I’m molding and shaping you—you will be shaped. It’simportant that you fully understand, job, you are not on My level. You are My servant—you are not God.” God is setting His servant straight!
Read these words from The Message and see if you don’t agree:
I have some more questions for you,
and I want straight answers.
Do you presume to tell me what I’m doing wrong?
Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?
Do you have an arm like my arm?
Can you shout in thunder the way I can?
Go ahead, show your stuff.
Let’s see what you’re made of, what you can do.
Unleash your outrage.
Target the arrogant and lay them flat.
Target the arrogant and bring them to their knees.
Stop the wicked in their tracks-make mincemeat of them!
Dig a mass grave and dump them in it—
faceless corpses in an unmarked grave.
I’ll gladly step aside and hand things over to you—
you can surely save yourself with no help from me!
Job 40:7-14, MSG
Obviously, Job can’t do any of the above. Compared to the Lord God, he could never “show his stuff;” he would have no success making “mincemeat” of the wicked.
Let’s go back to God’s intervention for a moment, okay? Putting all this into today’s domestic setting, it’s as if God says, “Let me make something real clear to you, Son. As the father, I’m the one who earns the living in this home. If you’re in charge and you earn the living, then you need to go where I go and work where I work. You need to face the pressures I face, then make the decisions I make. You take care of the mortgage. You handle the leadership in this family. You make the plans. You make certain they are carried out correctly. I ask you: “Are you able to do that?” Obviously, the son has to say, “No Sir, I can’t do that.” “You’re right, son, you’re not the dad. That means you answer to me. Now, let me assure you I will love you forever, but you will not rule this home. That’s my role. Do you understand that?”
Job is beginning to get it. But sometimes kids need examples to help convey the message. So, God gives him a couple of unforgettable illustrations.
God mentions two powerful animals
Something makes me think Job was a real lover of the animal world, perhaps a serious student of nature. So, knowing that, the Lord chose a couple of animals. First, the Behemoth, next, Leviathan. Now, why on earth would God choose theseanimals? Stop and think. These two animals are at the top of the food chain. Neither is intimidated. They can take care of themselves in the wild. Most every other animal bows to them, and if they don’t, they pay a terrible price, usually with their life.
The Behemoth represents the hippopotamus. I understand that this huge creature is far more dangerous and deadly than most of us realize. The Leviathan is an ancient word for the crocodile. We’ll look at the Leviathan shortly. But before we consider either one, let’s understand that both of these beasts, though they are intimidating to you and me, were made by God. Because that is true they are continually subservient to their Creator. They have the natures and instincts He gave them. They do the things He created them to do. The implied message behind all this? If you’re unable to handle these creatures, obviously you’re not on My level. And if you, in fact, are fearful of them, then you would certainly not qualify as their Maker. First, let us consider the Hippopotamus in a little more detail.
Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you; He eats grass like an ox.
Notice the opening. “You’re both creatures, very different. It walks on all fours; you walk erect on two legs. It eats grass and vegetation like an ox; that’s not your diet.” He then mentions the strength of this enormous beast:
Behold now, his strength in his loins
And his power in the muscles of his belly.
He bends his tail like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are tubes of bronze;
His limbs are like bars of iron.
That last vivid statement probably means he’s chief or the mightiest among the animals. Other animals, when they see him, move away from him. God has placed him at the uppermost level of authority in the animal kingdom.
He is the first of the ways of God;
Let his maker ring near his sword.
Surely the mountains bring him food,
And all the beasts of the field play there.
Under the lotus plants he lies down,
In the covert of the reeds and the marsh.
The lotus plants cover him with shade;
The willows of the brook surround him.
If a river rages, he is not alarmed;
He is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth.
Can anyone capture him when he is on watch,
With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?
In ancient days, to capture and/or kill one of these gigantic creatures, you’d have to pierce the nose or plug it up so that he’d have to open his mouth to breathe. And at the moment he opens his mouth, the hunter would thrust a handmade spear into its throat, killing him. How rare would that be! Job is listening. He is getting the point: “Even one species of animal life is enough to make you back down, Job. You’re no match against something this overpowering. If I, the Lord, am powerful enough to create and subdue a creature this strong and intimidating, I’m deserving of your trust, your submission, and your worship.”
While Job is beginning to grasp all that, the Lord moves quickly to the Leviathan
Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?
We who love to fish realize that we usually select the hook size depending on the size of the fish’s mouth we’re hoping to catch. Larger hook—larger fish. Smaller hook, obviously, smaller mouth or smaller fish.
In light of that, “Can you draw out a Leviathan (or a crocodile) with a fish hook?” This creature is fierce. Look at all the “can yous” and “will yous” that follow:
Can you put a rope in his nose
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he make many supplications to you,
Or will he speak to you soft words?
Literally these are all absurd word pictures. Will that beast speak soft and tender things? Did you ever have a crocodile look up and whisper soft little words and loving comments? There’s some divine humor here. God goes on, overdrawing the word pictures:
Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him for a servant forever?
Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you bind him for your maidens?
How’s that for a humorous thought? It’s the idea of putting a leash around him, for your daughters to enjoy as a pet and take to school with them. Picture a delightful eight-foot-long pet croc they’re enjoying. The idea makes us laugh. It’s supposed to. It’s ludicrous. Completely absurd. God goes on and on until He comes to the climax of the example and states:
Behind him he makes a wake to shine;
One would think the deep to be gray-haired.
The Lord’s point is clear: “I alone control this beast in the swamp, Job!” Now I realize, when I refer to the croc as a beast to be feared, I’m working against what you’ve seen on television. I’m referring to this weird guy from Australia-the one with a very small brain who swims with these suckers and thinks they’re the most wonderful creatures imaginable. You’ve seen his programs—they make me shudder! Late at night he’s out in his little dinghy, and he slips’ over the side into the swamp as he says with a big smile, “I’ve lived all my life for this moment.” I’m thinking, You may be living your last hour, you klutz!
And then he slides beneath the murky water, and he swims along until he spots a twelve-footer, and says something like, “Oh, look at those claws. They’re beautiful!” But when I look at the claws, I think, “They would tear you apart, you dork! Get out of the water!” The guy is a taco shy of a Mexican meal. He will never make it to old age!
You know what makes it worse? The guy married a woman who likes messing around with them too! She’s also a floor short of a full elevator ride. I mean, she finds ’em and grabs ’em and hugs ’em. (There’s something sick about that whole thing.) To make matters worse, I’ll bet neither one of those Aussies ever read Job 41!
God is making it clear that the crocodile is not made to be a pet. It lives in the swamps and it is ferocious. It is bloodthirsty. It is brutal. It is a killer, but again it is completely submissive to its Maker.
The crocodile cannot operate outside specific parameters, the limits that God has established for the reptile. It does exactly what it was created to do. It swims because God made it an excellent swimmer. And it feeds on a meat diet because God gave it that appetite. He made it all. He owns it all.
Glance back at God’s earlier reminder. He puts all of this in perspective:
Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine
There’s another direct eye-to-eye statement: “Job, you’re Mine. You are clay in My hands. I’m doing a great work, and you are to trust Me in the mystery of it all.”
HOW DID JOB RESPOND?
Job listens all the way through this most unusual message. As God gets to the end of His second speech, He underscores His major point:
He looks on everything that is high:
He is king over all the sons of pride.
I don’t know if he did, but job could very well have put his hands up in the air and blurted out: “I’ve heard enough. I got it. I got it, Lord!”
Remember Job earlier had said, “If only He would come and talk with me. I would plead my case before Him.” The implication seems to have been, “He owes me a hearing. After the way I’ve lived and all that I have gone through, the least He can do is present Himself before me.” Stop, Job! We don’t give God the script. It’s not our prerogative to dictate the parameters of God’s plan or state the details of God’s response. That’s not ours to do, since everything under heaven is His. Job sees all that now and repents.
His submissive response is magnificent! Job answered and said,
I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
“Whether it’s creating and growing the hippo or giving the crocodile its strong will and ferocious nature, or any creature of the forest and the jungles, in the air or under the surface of the seas, or even whether it’s a man or woman, no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
Reminds me of King Nebuchadnezzar’s words after his years of insanity, after he finally came to his senses.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
That’s true submission. “0 God, I may be a king on this earth, but I now acknowledge Your sovereign authority. I don’t even breathe without Your giving me breath. I can’t move without Your giving my muscles, my bones, my nerves that ability. All heaven and earth is Yours. You own it all and nothing of Yours can be thwarted.” That’s Job’s attitude.
In utter humility, Job goes further:
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“I’ve come to the end of my understanding and I leave it at that. My very existence is Yours, 0 God. It’s Yours to unravel the mystery, to track the labyrinthine ways, to handle the profound, to know the reasons behind the inexplicable events of my life.” In full surrender he backs off and bows down.
This is Job’s way of acknowledging his inability to understand why, with no further argument, harboring no bitterness. There is no thought of How dare you do this to me? What do we see in Job? A broken and contrite spirit.
I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear:
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.
If there ever was a streak of pride or rebellion in his heart, it was now gone. Gone forever.
Cynthia and I were once close friends with a wonderful Christian family—a dad and mom and three sons. The oldest son was greatly gifted intellectually and musically. Along with being a fine young scholar, he was also a splendid violinist.
Earlier in his high school years, the father had some trouble with the boy’s spirit of submission. But you know how you’ll do with your gifted children, you’ll give them room, you cut them a little too much slack. A proud streak accompanied the boy’s independent spirit.
Upon graduating from high school the young man chose a prestigious school on the West Coast-very expensive but an excellent university known for its academics. The physician father paid the full tuition, and the boy began his first year many miles from home. Wasn’t long before the kid started running around with a tough crowd. He continued his musicianship, played violin in the school’s orchestra, and did well, academically. But while he was out there, he cultivated an even more surly, rebellious spirit.
After completing his freshman year he returned home, bringing his proud independence with him. It wasn’t long into the summer before his mom and dad and the two younger brothers realized they had a real hellion living under their roof. The conflicts intensified. His arrogant, stubborn, and mean-spirited attitude disrupted the family harmony. Late one afternoon the father had had enough.
He called the boy into his study, closed the door, pointed to the large leather chair, and said firmly, “Sit down.” He then delivered a speech the boy would never forget. “Everything you own is mine. I bought every stitch of clothing you wear and everything that hangs in your closet. Your car out there in the driveway is mine; I paid for it. The money in your pocket came from my account. I want you to empty your pockets and your wallet on my desk. Leave everything that is mine in this house, and I want you to get out. Leave all your clothing, give me the car keys, and oh, by the way, also leave your violin. I bought that instrument too. You leave everything that you have been using, which I am now claiming. You may keep the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet, but that’s it. There’s the door. Leave now.
“When you decide to change your attitude and come back into this home as a family member with a cooperative, submissive spirit, you need to know we will accept you and we’ll welcome you back as a part of our family, but not until! I love you and always will, but you’re not the boy we raised, and I’m not putting up with it one minute longer.”
The father later told me that the boy stood to his feet, put all his money on the desk, walked to the door, and left everything without saying one word. He proudly walked to the sidewalk out front, took a left and got about three blocks down the street. The dad then added, “He got a liberal arts education between the front door of our home and the curb about three blocks away.”
He said he stood down there motionless with his hands in his empty pockets thinking everything through as night was falling. He thought about all he would be facing, the street life he knew nothing about, and everything he was leaving—all the things back home he needed and longed for. He remembered his father’s strong rebuke and also his promise to accept him back with an attitude of repentance. When it was almost dark, he turned around, walked back home with his head down, and knocked on his own front door. Dad opened the door with Mom standing near, and the other boys behind her. Then came the words, “I am wrong. I am sorry. I realize I need you, and I want all of you to know that I’m sorry. I love you.” They reached out and embraced him. (Probably the brothers had been thinking, “Who’s gonna get his room?” You know how brothers are.) But as I recall the story, that same evening, there was a big dinner together and great joy. His repentance changed everything.
Do you know what Job finally realized? It is all about God, not me. Job got it! And what does that mean?
- God’s purpose is unfolding and I cannot hinder it.
- God’s plan is incredible and I will not comprehend it.
- God’s reproof is reliable and I dare not ignore it.
- God’s way is best and I must not resist it.
Have you learned those things yet? Have you come to realize your business is about your God. Your family is about your God. Everything you claim to possess, He owns. Every privilege you enjoy is granted by His grace. None of it is deserved. Job got all that … the question is, have you? Tragically, many don’t get it until faced with impossible moments. God has ways of leveling His own.
How satisfying a submissive life can be. The blend is beautiful to behold: a strong-hearted person, who is surrendered and humbled with a “broken and contrite spirit”—entertaining no grudges, making no demands, having no expectations, offering no conditions, anticipating no favors, fully repentant before the Lord God. And the marvelous result? The Lord begins to use us in amazing ways. Why? Because the world doesn’t see that unique combination very often.
Job finally sees God for who He really is, and he fully repents. The result is one blessing after another, as we shall soon see. In fact, double blessing upon double blessing comes his way. Once God placed His mighty hands on the man’s shoulders, Job finally got it.
Is somebody trying to get your attention these days? Have you decided you’re not going to sit there and take it any longer? Have you gotten about three blocks away? Before walking one more step, stop and think.
Learn a lesson from a once-rebellious freshman. Turn around. Come on home. [281-295]
1. Best Lawyer Story, Alteredbeast Forums, Author unknown. http://www.alteredbeast.org/vb/showthread.php?t=508.
2. John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (NICOT) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988) 537. Used by permission.