“…and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.” 2 Kings 22:19
King Josiah did not tear his robe in mourning for his own sin; he did so for the sins of his people. After he read the Book of the Law and discovered how the Israelites had violated God’s commands, he became so distraught and turned to the Lord with weeping and repentance. He became, on the one hand, frightened over what might happen to his country, and on the other he was anxious over the fact that his people were still unrepentant. He wasn’t quite sure what needed to be done right away, or if there was anything he could do at all. At the least he could do one thing himself: he wept and repented not just for his own sin, but for the sins of his people.
If all else fails, repent. I have practiced this lesson since my youth, learning it when I was a new Christian, for I have always had something over which I needed to repent. Only through the process of repentance has my joy in the Lord been repeatedly restored. Indeed the Lord is a God of second and third chances. I can hardly imagine what our spiritual state would be if repentance and forgiveness become unavailable to us.
Why does David’s famous poem of repentance speak to us more than all the other psalms he composed? I guess we can all identify with him when he pleaded: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” We don’t have to be murderers or adulterers to be moved by the king’s lamentation and asking for forgiveness. In essence, we all find ourselves in David when he repented and are in dire need for restoration and forgiveness.
Being the king over a nation, Josiah went a little further. Not only did he repent of his own sin, he did it for the entire nation as well. In the king’s mourning and weeping, we see that repentance isn’t just a personal matter; it’s a communal affair. Even old Job was so concerned that his own children might have sinned against God unaware that “early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them,” which was in fact a sacrifice of repentance.
Being a father and the head of a household, shouldn’t I repent for all the members of my family? Being a minister of a church, isn’t it my obligation to repent for my entire congregation for their sins and iniquities? Surely repentance is a personal matter and it must be done by individuals, so it’s a form of intercessory prayer when we ask God to forgive other people. If we could repent for other people, I believe it would change our pattern of prayer entirely. We would pray more fervently than we have ever done. Wasn’t it Nehemiah who offered repentance for the entire nation of Israel? “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.”
Whether it’s theologically sound or not, maybe I should learn from Job and offer sacrifices of repentance on behalf of my children. In fact, I should go a little farther and repent for my community and my nation as well. It can only help, and even if it doesn’t, what does it hurt anyway?