This brief Biblical word study is not intended to be encyclopedic, but rather to generate thoughts and questions in our walk before the Lord. Hopefully, we will see how truly related these words are.
Starting with "humble," we have seen how important that characteristic is in a true Christian walk. In our study of Humility, we saw that "humble" means to make oneself nothing so that God might be all. Interestingly, the English word, "humble," is derived from the Latin, humus, meaning earth or dirt. We might ask, "What is lower on the face of the earth than dirt?" In English also, "humus" is a rich soil containing much organic matter. What can grow out of that? (Think of this: in Jesus' Parable of the Sower the truly productive seed fell on "good ground" [Matt 13:8, 23; Mark 4:8, 20; Luke 8:8, 15]. Was that "humus," or one who is "humble"?) We know that Jesus taught about the importance of being humble (e.g., Matt 18:4), and was Himself the perfect example of such (Matt 11:29; Philip 2:6-8). But, of course, the importance of being humble was also taught in the Old Testament. One of the most beautiful verses in the OT is Isaiah 57:15: "For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: 'I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.' " (Isn't that a strong motivation for us to try harder to be humble, and to ask the Lord's help for that?) There appear to be three Hebrew words for "humble", anglicized (with their associated Hebrew "word pictures"): 'shach' ("destroy the wall")*; 'anav' ("see life's hooks"* or "see life secured"); 'shapal' ("destroy the mouth's authority"). Don't each of these say something interesting about being humble, compared to being prideful?
Now we'll look at "repent," a commonly-used "religious" word, defined by Webster as "to turn from sin and resolve to reform one's life." Some of us might say that it is to be sorry for our sins, and to promise to do better. And remember, the first Gospel message from both Jesus and John the Baptist was, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:2, 4:17). It is most interesting to look at the Hebrew use of "repent."
In his book*, Dr. Seekins gives the Hebrew word for "repent" as "shoov" (exactly the same word as for "return"), and makes this amazing statement about its meaning and use: "destroy the house (leave nothing behind) . . . This word comes from the word for taken captive. Repentance always deals with a changing of kingdoms that you live in."* So repent, and return, both have the sense of destroying where you have been living so that you can never go back to that. And changing kingdoms? What a "wow!" concept! In the Old Testament, repent is not a commonly-used word. In Ezekiel, God twice calls on His people to "repent," once to leave their "abominations" (14:6), and once to "turn from transgressions" (18:30). But many times God calls on His people to "return to Me" (e.g., Isa 44:22; Jer 3:22, 4:1, 15:19, 23:14; Hos 6:1; and so on). Recently I heard a television evangelist say that America, including Christians, is worshiping "at the altar of self." Repent, then, means to turn from other interests, other worships, and other priorities to return to make God our only focus, to leave everything else behind, never to return to them again. That is certainly more powerful and life-changing than saying one is sorry for one's sins. Recently I became aware of a Jewish prayer called The Amidah (The Standing Prayer), a temple prayer which must have been said many times by our Lord Himself in the temple. The Amidah completely separates Repentance ("Bring us back, Our Father, to Your instruction . . . and cause us to return to You . . .") from confession of sins ("Forgive us, Our Father, for we have sinned; . . .") Returning ourselves fully to God, from Whom we once all came, and to His Kingdom, is how we repent.
As a brief overview, then, one can see how "humble" and "repent" are truly related. Both concepts are about making ourselves nothing, turning away from self, and all other priorities, such that we can return to God, through Jesus Christ, to make Him our Everything. May the Spirit of our Lord help us to understand and complete this change of our lives.
* - from Seekins, Frank Hebrew Word Pictures, Living Word Pictures, Inc., 2003.