And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong.”
We encountered this law already when reflecting on Leviticus 6, but what strikes me here on second reading is the convicting principle that repentance and restitution are synonymous. Just as faith without works is dead according to the apostle James, so too confession without reparation is dead.
Have you ever heard a pastor distinguish confession from repentance by saying something like, “Confession is saying ‘sorry,’ but repentance is turning from sin and going the opposite way?” That is, any drunkard can realize his sin before God and cry out in conviction, “I’m sorry for running to the bottle again!”, but the repentant drunkard takes the much harder step of overcoming his alcoholism. Yet Numbers 5:5-7 goes even further in its definition. Here, the fundamental act of repenting isn’t just turning from evil and pressing onward but going backward to those who’ve been harmed and providing compensation. In other words, repentance builds back the doors of the past that sin tore down. It doesn’t just close the door on the past and embrace a brighter future.
Think of it like this: if you start a campfire that catches wind and burns your neighbor’s house down, is it enough to say, “I’m sorry! I’ll never, ever start fires again!”, and then tear down your firepit to prove your seriousness? Or should you take off work the next week, or cancel the vacation, and help your neighbor rebuild? And if you hurt your wife with harsh words in an argument, is it enough to apologize and promise to never use those words again? Or should you take time to repair the damage, lifting her up with gentle words, going above and beyond to show her how precious she really is to you?
Take time today to write a letter or make a phone call or send some money or pick up a hammer and nails and start repairing what you, by your sin, have broken.