Tradition holds that since the time that Moshe went up on the mountain for the second set of tablets, the children of Israel have observed the days beginning with Rosh Chodesh Elul as a time of teshuvah for the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur.
We know that for 40 days leading up to the giving of the second set of tablets Moshe was fasting and praying on behalf of the children of Israel. We can see that time as a period of repentance and prayer by the children of Israel as well as a time of mercy and forgiveness by Adonai.
By the example we have at Mount Sinai we should see these 40 days as more than just repentance or turning away from the sin we have in our lives. The word teshuvah certainly carries the idea of repentance with it, but it includes the even more important idea of turning toward or returning. It is a matter of perspective, are we focused on the sin that we are turning from or are we focused on Adonai that we are turning to? I would submit that if we are focused on Adonai we will automatically repent or turn from sin! He and His word will illuminate and reveal any shortfall that may need dealt with.
As we ascend these steps of teshuvah are we climbing to a finish line that is the end of a pathway of things left behind? Or, are we approaching a new beginning in our eternal journey with our redeemer?
Adonai journeyed in the field with Moshe and the children of Israel. We know that the King is much more approachable when he is in the field than when he is sitting on the throne. When he is in the field he meets us where we are, how we are. When he sits on the throne there is great protocol and formality that will dictate our approach to him.
The thirty days of Elul are seen as a time when the King is in the field. The ten days from Yom Teruah until Yom Kippur are seen as a time when He is on the throne to judge. Will we turn to Him and rejoice at His approach while he is in the field or will we wait?
– Johnny Marrs
Paul continues this theme further on in his letter to the Romans, in the midst of an explanation of the significance of walking according to Torah.
“But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [he will pay back] indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek; for there is no partiality with God.”
(Romans 2:8-11, NKJV)
Paul is reminding us that our rewards match our fruit. When we continue to be self-seeking and disobedient, we are bearing the fruit of an unrepentant heart, and our relationships with God and our brothers will be broken.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew in me a resolute spirit.”
(Psalm 51:10, CJB)