In repentance and rest is your salvation,Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .
For many people, the Christian life does not seem like a restful life, but a stressful life. It is a life of continual guilt, and when you do not feel guilty, you feel guilt for not feeling guilty. It is a life preoccupied with sin.
Repentance can be defined as remorse over wrongdoing or sin, feeling shame and regret. We might assume that the Christian life is to be a life of constant remorse, regret, and shame.
And so some have found Christianity to be stressful. Isaiah 30:15 may as well read, ”in regret and stress is your salvation.”
Is this the way it should be? Is the Christian life best described as a life preoccupied with sin?
Thinking through Isaiah 30:15 will help. So let’s dig in.
The prophet here is speaking to a specific situation in Old Testament times when God’s people in Judah were under threat of invasion by Assyria. When small nations are under threat from bigger, more powerful nations, the most natural thing to do is make an alliance with another big nation. We do this as Canadians, seeking national security by being part of NORAD and NATO. If anyone wants to mess with us, they will have to mess with the collective might of so many other nations including the military might of the Americans.
So God’s people in Judah did what small nations do, they sought an alliance. What did God think of that?
“Woe to the obstinate children,”Isaiah 30:1-5 (NIV) 1
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.
Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,
everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace. ”
Making an alliance with Egypt? Bad idea!
The right thing to do, would be to seek God, to remember the covenant with God, to lean into that covenant with greater passion, trusting that God is faithful and will carry out His covenant promises. To sum up God’s covenant promises, “stick with me and I’ll stick with you and you will live and flourish in the promised land. Don’t stick with me and you are on your own (and remember you are a small nation stuck between big bad enemies, so invasion and exile is how that will go).” Therefore turn to God, and not Egypt.
This is where verse 15 comes in:
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
To paraphrase; in turning, or rather returning, to God for help, rather than turning to Egypt for help, and in resting, putting your future as God’s people in God’s hands, rather than trying so hard to ensure safety through an alliance, will be your rescue from the Assyrians. In a quiet confidence in God and trusting in him rather than the Egyptians will be your strength.
The Hebrew word translated “repentance” here in the NIV is not the word meaning “feel ashamed of” or “regret.” It is the word for turning as recognised in many translations, including the NRSV: “In returning and rest you shall be saved”.
So in context, repentance here is not so much a feeling of regret or shame over sin as we would normally think of it, but a decisiveness, a decision to depend on God rather than Egypt. Yes, feeling guilty over not sticking with God and his ways would happen, but the more important thing than the emotions involved is the decision to stick with God. As my wife and I have often said to our children, “it is not an apology we are looking for, but a change in behaviour.”
Given that Isaiah 30:15 was written for a specific occasion, what does it have to do with us?
Does this mean that we as Canadians should not turn to allies like we do with NORAD and NATO for security and defence? Does this mean that we should not turn to doctors when we fall ill, or scientists and their vaccines when there is a pandemic? Does this mean we should trust no one but God alone?
Well, no. Remember the prophet was originally speaking to a specific people who were under a specific covenant with specific promises, about a specific patch of land, during a situation that was specific to them. We are not that people, those are not our promises, Canada is not that land, we are not living under that covenant.
That being said, we too have the opportunity to be in a covenant relationship with God; the new covenant through Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. God’s promise to us is eternal life with God, beginning with his presence in our lives now. When it comes to these spiritual realities that are a matter of eternal life and death, what can be said about the old covenant, can be said about the new covenant:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
In turning to God and in resting in what God has done for us in Jesus is our salvation, in quietness and trust is our strength. We don’t depend on ourselves, on our own capacity to impress God with how good we are. We live in relationship with God, trusting Him, trusting in His love for us. We rest in God’s love, we live in a quiet confidence. The Christian life is not a life of preoccupation with our sin, and our imperfections, but of preoccupation with God and God’s perfect love.
There may well be things in our lives that we should feel ashamed of, that we should regret. Repentance is part of the Christian life and an opportunity for growth. However, framing the Christian life as a life of constant shame and regret, as a never-ending preoccupation with sin, is itself regrettable.
The Christian life is a life of trust and living in God’s love, of resting in God’s loving embrace.
It is not “in regret and stress is your salvation” but “in turning to God and rest is your salvation.”