When God sent Moses to Pharaoh to tell him to let His people go, God told Moses Pharaoh would harden his heart and refuse to do it (Ex 3). God would have to send 10 plagues to break Pharaoh's will first. At first, Pharaoh was totally defiant (Ex 5 & 7). After the plague of frogs, Pharaoh showed signs of softening. He asked Moses to pray to God from him, and said he would let them go (Ex 8:8-10). However, after the frogs were gone, Pharaoh refused to keep his word (Ex 8:15). After the plague of flies, Pharaoh offered a compromise. He was willing to let Israel sacrifice to God, but not to take the 3 day's journey (Ex 8:25). Moses declined. Pharaoh then offered to let them go, but not very far (Ex 8:28). He again asked Moses to pray for God to take the plague away, and again, he hardened his heart after the flies were gone.
Moses warned Pharaoh that the next day there would be a plague of locusts (Ex 10:1-20). After Pharaoh's servants pled with him, he offered another compromise - only the men would go. Moses again refused, and the locusts came. Pharaoh confessed that he had sinned, and asked for forgiveness and prayer. Yet his heart was hardened again. Then, after the plague of darkness, Pharaoh offered another compromise (Ex 10:21-29). The families could go with the men, but their flocks and herds would have to stay behind. Again, Moses refused and said they would not know what they would need to serve the Lord with until they got to their appointed place. This was Pharaoh's last chance by his own admission. Moses agreed that was the case. He lost his firstborn son, the heir to his throne, as a result. He also brought judgment on his nation.
God made Saul the first king of Israel (1Sam 8-30). He started out humbly, but he began making a series of bad decisions that eventually cost him his position and his life. Samuel was his spiritual leader. He gave him a series of prophetic instructions to follow (1Sam 10:1-8), but he did not. When Samuel confronted him about it, he made excuses (1Sam 13:11-12). Samuel told him his kingdom would not continue because God had sought a replacement for him. That turned out to be David. When Saul again failed to follow Samuel's instructions to annihilate the Amalekites, God told Samuel He changed His mind about Saul being king (1Sam 15). When Samuel went to deliver the news to Saul that he would no longer be king, Saul denied what he had done, blamed others, and made excuses. Samuel dissected Saul's attempts to justify himself, and Saul confessed that he had sinned. Yet instead of taking action to correct it, he asked Samuel to make him look good before the people. He was trying to save face. The next event in the Bible is David being anointed as Saul's replacement (1Sam 16).
Saul made at least 20 attempts to kill David to prevent him from replacing him (1Sam 18-26). David had 2 perfect opportunities to kill Saul, but he refused and left it in God's hands. Both times Saul acknowledged that David was right and he was wrong, and that David would be king (1Sam 24:16-22, 1Sam 26:21-25). Saul later died in battle (1Sam 31).
After Judas betrayed the Lord and saw what followed, he "repented himself" and tried to return the 30 pieces of silver (Mt 27:3-5). He confessed that he had sinned and betrayed the innocent blood of Christ. When the priests refused to take the money back, he threw it down and left. He went out and hanged himself.
Pharaoh, Saul, and Judas "repented", but their definition of repentance did not agree with God's. Pharaoh's included repeated failure to keep his word and attempts to bargain a compromise with God on the conditions of his repentance. Saul failed to obey, made excuses instead of taking responsibility, blamed others, attacked those who reminded him in his mind of his failures, and tried to save face instead of humbling himself before God. Judas "repented himself", but he never prayed to God. Neither did Pharaoh and Saul. It was too late to undo what was done, but his response was to commit another sin by killing himself and sealing his fate. Peter also failed the Lord the same night Judas did, but he repented. These 3 men faked their repentance.
Repentance is not a scary word. it simply means to make a decision to turn from sin to God. It literally means to change your mind. There are several proper elements:
1. faith in God and His mercy (Heb 11:6)
2. proper acknowledgement of sin
a. this does not mean we have to list every mistake we ever made. God already knows. It
means we are serious. It means we are sorry we broke God's commandments, not that we
are sorry we got caught (i.e. we are now facing consequences). When we are more
concerned with how our sin has affected our relationship with God than our circumstances,
it is a good sign.
b. this involves taking responsibility for our actions. We cannot hold ourselves responsible
for the actions of others, but we must account for ours. This means not blaming others for
our own decisions and behavior. We also must not blame God. He is innocent. We are not.
3. Follow up with changed actions
a. We cannot claim to have repented if we keep doing the same sins over and over (Rom
6:1-4). Nobody is perfect, but we must begin the process of change that accompanies real
repentance (Mt 3:8, Lk 3:8).
b. faith is not faith until it becomes action (Heb 11, Jam 2).
4. Some restitution may be appropriate.
A great example what repentance entails is the record David left in Psalm 51 of his repentance when he was confronted with his adultery and the murder he did to cover it up (2Sam 11-12). God is ready to forgive, although we must not try to abuse His mercy. Yet we must not continue to beat ourselves up when we have sincerely repented. God knows our hearts, and if we really mean it or not. Our actions will also tell. We may try to fool some people like Saul did, but God knows.