How A Jewish King Does Teshuvah


By: William Jackson

Yom Kippur is just days away and as we know this is a Shabbat that is commanded to be observe “…through all your generations, no matter where you live” (Leviticus 23:31).  Leviticus even warns us if we don’t observe the requirements for this Holey Day we could be “cut-off” or even destroyed, (Leviticus 23:29-30).  Some pretty serious stuff, huh.  The central theme to this Holiday is atonement of our sins (Leviticus 23:28).  This is not a very appealing topic for many of us, especially the shame we feel when we reflect on our sins.  However, this painful process, if it is done right, will bring us even closer to the Creator. Maybe this is why God demands that we will observe this holiday.  So let’s take a look at two Kings of Israel for examples of what it means to atone for one sins and what it means not to atone for sin.


King Saul:

As we read 1 Samuel 15 King Saul provides us with an excellent blueprint on how not to atone for sin. Here’s a brief outline1:

God ordered King Saul to “attack ‘Amalek, and completely destroy everything they have” (1 Samuel 15:3).

Saul disobeyed God by sparing the Amalek King and some cattle (1 Samuel 15:9).

God regrets making Saul King because of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:11).

In addition to Saul disobedience, he builds a monument to himself (1 Samuel 15:12).

The Prophet Samuel addresses King Saul disobedience to him but Saul makes excuses for his insubordination (1 Samuel 15:13-15).

Saul continues to defend his denial (1 Samuel 15:20).

The Prophet Samuel then tells King Saul that God is taking away his kingdom because of his defiance (1 Samuel 15:23).

At this point Saul begs for forgiveness but it is too late (1 Samuel 15:24-26).

Yes, we do know that God is merciful and slow to anger (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15) but the story of King Saul and the Amaleks shows us that God will not wait forever for us to repent.  Yom Kippur gives us a reason to get right before our sovereignty is taken away.


King David:

As we know David seduced Bathsheba, a married woman.  After impregnating her, he arranged for her husband “Uriah” to be killed unknowingly on the field of battle.  As heinous and obvious as this crime was, King David did not come to the realization of what he done, he was in denial, (2 Samuel 11).  Like with King Saul, it took a Prophet’s intersection.  This time it was the Prophet Nathan (Natan) telling King David.  Strategically, Nathan conveyed a parable that mirrored David’s sin for him to get it, (2 Samuel 12:1-12).  Once David got it, he confessed it, and God forgave him (2 Samuel 12:13).

Forgiveness doesn’t dismiss punishments:

From this lesson we need to remember that forgiveness does not mean we don’t pay the consequences.  King David did suffer penalties for his sin (2 Samuel 12:14).  Remember Numbers 5:7 tells us that when guilty of a crime we are to confess and “then” we are to pay restitution.  Maybe this is the appeal to Christianity, somebody else paying for your sins2.  This sounds very attractive but cannot be the plan of a just God, (Deuteronomy 32:4, Isaiah 61:8, Job 34:17).


As we can see with both these Kings, we are pretty good at seeing other people in sin but no so much when it is ourselves.  What both had in common is that it took an outsider to bring their sins t their attention.  Many of us say we are our own worse judge but when a Prophet, a coworker or loved one comes to us with an observation maybe we should slow down and allow their comments to resonate before we defend or deflect them. Remember, we cannot do Teshuvah (turning from sin and returning to God3) or establish step one of the twelve steps to recovery if we don’t admit that we have a problem4.  Most of us start off in denial.  For Yom Kippur let’s have the heart of David and not the mind of Saul.

  1. Marilyn Rodriguez, Why would God forgive David and not Saul? Encourage Me Lord!!!, April 12, 2012
  2. Ken Currie, Jesus Paid It All, All to Him I Owe, Bethlehem Baptist Church, May 30, 2010
  3. Ariela Pelaia, What is Teshuvah? About Religion
  4. Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book Trade Edition, 1939

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