In the Prophets, the NT’s Greek word for “repent” is rarely used of national repentance. But the concept of repentance is plainly taught. For example, the author of 2 Kings says regarding God’s allowing the Northern Kingdom to be carried off into Assyrian Captivity,
(2Ki 17:10-14 ESV) 10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, 12 and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” 14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.
Their idolatry and other sins were characterized as ultimately a lack of faith. After all, if you really believed in God, and if you believed he was serious about the curses in Deu 28, you wouldn’t worship idols.
Worse yet, generally the Israelites did not give up their worship of God. Their sin was in worshiping God along with the local Canaanite deities — hedging their bets. But God sees this as unbelief.
In fact, there are several other parallels of faith with repentance —
(2Ch 20:20 ESV) And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”
(Psa 4:5 ESV) 5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
(Psa 37:5 ESV) Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
(Psa 78:5-8 ESV) 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
(Psa 101:6 ESV) 6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.
(Psa 115:9 ESV) O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
(Pro 3:5 ESV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
(Isa 43:9-12 ESV) 9 All the nations gather together, and the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true. 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.
(Isa 53:1-4 ESV) Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
(Isa 26:1-4 ESV) In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Hab 2:4 ESV) “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
For many years, the Jews and Law of Moses were characterized by Christian theologians as being entirely about the form of their obedience, with the heart being unimportant — but this is obviously untrue. In fact, although obedience to the Law is also repeatedly emphasized by the Prophets, they demand faith and trust as well. In particular, they repeatedly condemn going through the motions of obedience without involvement of the heart —
(Mic 6:6-8 ESV) 6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
“To love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” is all about the heart. And there are many, many passages like this in the Prophets.
Of course, God’s covenant with Abraham was a covenant of faith, and God entered into the Mosaic covenant in fulfillment of his promises to Abraham —
(Deu 8:17-18 ESV) 17 “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
So there are, of course, very differences between the Mosaic covenant and Christianity, but the differences aren’t nearly so great as we like to pretend. In fact, there’s another lesson in the Prophets that we must not ignore — their calls for social justice. Nearly all the passages that threaten Israel or Judah with destruction speak in terms of unjust treatment of the vulnerable of society — and if the church is the continuation of Israel, these passages speak far more to the church than to your home country and state.
And if that’s so, then “repent” — the path out of Exile and into the Kingdom — has to have an element of social justice in it.