It is surprising that although the concept of ‘te•shu•va’ is identical in both the Old and the New Testaments, the word is not mentioned even once in the Old Testament, but 13 times in the New Testament. The root of this word is the verb ‘shuv,’ which means ‘to return.’ The concept is presented in the Old Testament by verb conjugations of this meaning:
“And shall return to the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul”
The rest of this chapter, up to verse 11, is not about the repentance of a sinning individual, but it discusses the collective repentance of Israel as a nation.
The repentance concept appears in the words of many prophets. The Book of Jonah is dedicated almost completely to this idea and offers forgiveness even for major sins and transgressions committed not only by Israel but by other nations as well.
We see God’s willingness to forgive the sinners in return for complete repentance:
“But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”
We see in evidence in the Book of Ezekiel that God’s willingness to forgive was contested and protested:
“Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considers, and turns away from all his transgressions that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet said the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not fair. O house of Israel, are not my ways fair? Are not your ways unfair?”
We discussed in the last few weeks the 9 attributes that constitute the fruits of the Spirit. Repentance was not, naturally, among them, but in this short verse the two are connected:
“Therefore bring forth fruit worthy of repentance!”
Baptizing or getting to Mikva, as it is called in Hebrew, was considered purifying oneself spiritually and, therefore, used as an act of repentance:
“Matthew I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit”
In our time, a secular Jew (not necessarily sinners) who becomes orthodox is called ‘cho•zer bit•shu•va’ (one who returns in repentance). The Talmud views repenting people with much respect:
“repenting people are standing so high that even complete righteous stand below them”