National Confession

Posted: April 20, 2011 in Nehemiah

Nehemiah 9, “National Confession”

Have you ever caught someone in a lie & though you knew it was a lie, they didn’t?  [Parents & children]  Usually the one thing we want most is simple confession.  Other problems can be addressed later, but the 1st thing that needs to happen is owning up to the truth & just confessing.

When it comes to your relationship with God, how do you confess?  Or perhaps the question is better asked: DO you confess?  If we value confession among our children, how much more does God value confession with us?  Yet sometimes it seems that confession is what we want to put off the longest.  We want the forgiveness – we want the grace – we just don’t want to humble ourselves before the Lord in order to receive that forgiveness & grace.  Yet confession is vital!  Confession is that act of agreeing with God that sin is indeed sin & God is indeed God, and we humble ourselves in submission to His rightful rule in our lives.

As we come to Nehemiah 9, confession is exactly what we find the Jewish people doing.  They’ve been brought back into the land after 70 years of captivity – they’ve finished the construction of the wall in Jerusalem & they are now safe & secure in their homeland.  They’ve given God thanks & praise & now they give Him their confession.

Nehemiah 9 (NKJV)

1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.

  1. Quite a change from Ch 8 when they rejoiced with “great gladness!” (Ch 8:17)  What made the difference?  Was this a sudden change of heart?  No.  Remember that once the people heard & understood the book of the Law that they were grieved so much that they wept (Ch 8:9).  Ezra & the Levites told the people not to weep at that time, because that was the Feast of Tabernacles – a specific time set aside by God to rejoice in the Lord for all of His wonderful provisions.
  2. Yet now, the Feast of Tabernacles was over.  (It lasted only 7 days; now it was the 24th.)  Now the people could (rightfully) spend some time reflecting on the sin that had caused them to be taken out of the land, confess it to God & express national repentance for the things they had done.  The fasting, sackcloth, & dust was a physical representation of that repentance & sorrow over sin.
    1. Why now?  Because for 70 years, the people of Judah had been living in captivity in foreign lands.  God had brought them back into the land by His grace – it was only right that they formally take the time to acknowledge God’s work & grace in their lives.  The covenant relationship between God & people needed to be re-affirmed, and that’s what the people were attempting to do.
    2. Although we live in a different covenant with God than the Jews of Nehemiah’s day, confession serves much of the same function in our lives.  We confess not because we need to somehow “earn” our salvation (that has been assured for those who are in Christ Jesus!); we confess to God in order that we can be cleansed & that our guilt can be put far from us.  1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” []  Through confession, we affirm to God that our sin is indeed sinful & that we are reliant upon the grace of Jesus Christ for cleansing & forgiveness…  And we can be sure that He forgives!

 

2 Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.

  1. 4 actions listed here, prior to their prayer of confession/repentance.
    1. Sanctification: They separated themselves from any of the Gentiles that were around them.  This wasn’t a move of snobbery or racism; this was an attempt to ensure that they surrounded themselves with people who were also included in the covenant with God & were seeking Him with their whole hearts.
    2. Confession: Part of this confession is what’s included in the rest of Ch 9.  (Obviously it’s not the full transcript of what they said…they had spent hours in confession!)  They took the time necessary to “lay it all out” before the Lord, and didn’t hold back in their confession.
    3. Scripture: The reading of the book of the Law is what cut them to the heart in the 1st place, in which they realized they had sinned against the Lord.  They needed to keep reading the Scripture in order to learn what sins they needed to confess, as well as be reminded about the covenant and character of God, who freely grants forgiveness to those who repent & trust Him.
    4. Confession (again): It was a big part of the day!
    5. Worship: Only appropriate to follow all of this up with worship.  As they confessed their sins and were reminded of the character & mercy of God, they could not help but respond to the Lord in worship & praise.
  2. This is a great pattern for us to follow as well in our own times with the Lord when dealing with sin.  Obviously we need to stop the actual sin – but how are we equipped to walk anew…to equip ourselves not to go back to the sin?
    1. Sanctification: separate ourselves from influences that may lead us into temptation.  Sometimes when we pray “lead us not into temptation,” God may have us answer our own prayer by getting away from people and/or habits that would tempt us!  (Ex: tempted to get drunk?  Get away from the bars and/or people who would take you there!)
    2. Confession: When we experience temptation, be honest with God about it.  Go to Him in prayer & ask for the strength to deal with the struggle…
    3. Scripture: Getting the word of God into our heart is one of the best ways to equip ourselves against temptation!  Psalm 119:11 “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” []
    4. Worship: Can worship truly help in our struggle against sin & temptation?  Absolutely!  When we worship the Lord, we’re dwelling upon His goodness & worth & mercy & grace.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians, we’re meditating upon the things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).  When we worship God in the midst of our temptation, we’re changing the subject from that with which we struggle to Him who is worthy of all praise!

 

4 Then Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites and cried out with a loud voice to the LORD their God. 5 And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said: “Stand up and bless the LORD your God Forever and ever! “Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!

  1. Starts out with a mighty call to worship.  This wasn’t a weak or timid whisper; the Levites “cried out with a loud voice to the LORD” in praise & called out to the entire congregation to stand to their feet & bless the Lord.
    1. That’s not to say that quiet, solemn worship is bad – but there’s a place for a loud cry out to God, as well.  When was the last time you cried out to God in worship – when you sang to Him with all your heart?  Our God is worthy of passionate praise!
  2. Question: how exactly can we bless God?  Typically, the one that is greater blesses the one that is lesser (Heb 7:7) – we’re the ones blessed by God; we can’t exactly bestow blessings upon the God who owns the entire universe.  We bless God by giving Him praise – by ascribing to Him the glory that He so richly deserves.  The Levites proclaimed that God’s name was already glorious & exalted – by joining in the praise (along with the rest of creation), they were blessing the name of the Lord.
    1. Bless God!  Be intentional about praising your God & King!

 

6 You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You.

  1. God is blessed as the Creator.  Every aspect of creation is represented: the skies (heavens) – the earth – the seas.  Because God created the universe, He is worthy of praise.  The heavens declare the glories of God (Ps 19:1) – all we need to do is look around at the world & understand that we ought to give our God honor & praise.
  2. Note that God didn’t just create the world; He “preserves” it.  God’s work in the universe did not stop after the creation was done; He continually interacts with the world & sustains its very existence.  As Paul wrote to the Colossians regarding Christ Jesus, “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col 1:17)  Every atom in the universe is held together by the sheer will of God – without God, we would have no universe at all.

 

7 “You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram, And brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, And gave him the name Abraham; 8 You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, The Perizzites, the Jebusites, And the Girgashites— To give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous.

  1. God is blessed because of His covenant promises.  Keep in mind that the underlying theme of this prayer is that the Jews were re-affirming the covenant relationship they had with God – thus they’re going to remember several of the expressions of God’s covenants with Israel, starting with Abraham.  God showed His love towards Abraham in that:
    1. God chose Abraham.  Abram was just another moon-worshipper in Ur (Babylon) when called out by God.  Abram hadn’t been looking for God, but God specifically called Abram by name.  God demonstrates His love through His calling & choice.
    2. God gave Abraham a new name.  Obviously the name isn’t so much the issue, as the promise that it represented.  God had chosen to take a man who had no sons & turn him into a mighty nation.  And more than that, Abraham’s was God’s chosen servant from whom would come the Messiah, in whom all the nations of the world would be blessed!
    3. God found Abraham faithful.  Abraham’s response to the goodness & grace of God was unyielding faith – even in the face of overwhelming odds.  He believed God (had faith in His promises), and it was accounted to Abraham as righteousness (Gen 15:6, Rom 4:3).
  2. We can also give God praise for these same reasons.  As with Abraham, we’ve been called by God to serve the Lord Jesus Christ – we’ve been given a new name & new promises because of the covenant we have in Jesus – we’ve been accounted by God as faithful, made righteous because of the faith we have in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  God will be faithful to ALL of His promises – and for that, we can give Him praise!

 

9 “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. 10 You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants, And against all the people of his land. For You knew that they acted proudly against them. So You made a name for Yourself, as it is this day. 11 And You divided the sea before them, So that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; And their persecutors You threw into the deep, As a stone into the mighty waters.

  1. God is blessed because of His deliverance.  After the Hebrews had gradually been enslaved by the Egyptians, God heard their cry & brought them out with a mighty hand & outstretched arm!  God heard His people & God acted according to His promise.  (No different with us today.  God will hear His people because of the work of Jesus Christ, and God will always act in accordance with His word.)  God made His name known in a land that refused to acknowledge Him, and God judged those who had persecuted His people.
  2. We can praise God for His deliverance – and that’s exactly what we celebrate when we remember the cross of Jesus Christ & the empty tomb!  We’ve been delivered from sin & death – we’ve been delivered from slavery to our enemy – our enemy has been judged & sentenced by God…we’ve been delivered!

 

12 Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar, And by night with a pillar of fire, To give them light on the road Which they should travel. 13 “You came down also on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. 14 You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger, And brought them water out of the rock for their thirst, And told them to go in to possess the land Which You had sworn to give them.

  1. God is blessed because of His provision.  When in the wilderness, God did not abandon His people.  He provided them with guidance (the pillar) – He provided them with commandments (the Law) – He provided for their daily needs (manna/water) – He provided for their future home (the land).  In a covenant relationship, this is what a King does for His people…He provides for their needs, and the people promise to serve Him in return.  God had shown Himself to be a benevolent King to His people, and for that He was worthy of praise.
  2. Again, we can also praise God for His provision.  Not only has He provided for our forgiveness from sin & salvation from death, God has provided us with guidance (through the leading of the Holy Spirit) – God has provided us with commandments (through the word of God) – God provides for us our daily needs (we seek 1st the kingdom of God, and God gives us the rest) – and God provides for us our future home (the New Jerusalem – the Kingdom).  On top of all of this, God provides for us sonship – a mediator – a seal of ownership – and far more!  Our God is blessed as our Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord our provider!

 

16 “But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments. 17 They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them.

  1. God had shown Himself to be worthy of blessing & honor, but the people had not.  The King was faithful to His part of the covenant, but how did His people respond?  In rebellion.  Much of the rest of the chapter will go into specifics, but vss. 16-17 are a general statement of Israel’s stubborn rebellion against their merciful God.
  2. Note that this wasn’t neglect or ignorance; this was a refusalto obey.  Israel specifically chose NOT to obey God, but instead dismiss the work of God they had seen with their own eyes & continue in rebellion against Him.
    1. Many times we find ourselves in exactly the same situation.  Generally, it’s not a matter of us not knowing what the Lord views as sin; it’s a matter of us not caring that the Lord views it as sin.  We want to do what we want to do, and we stubbornly refuse to obey the clear teaching of the word of God on the matter.
    2. What do we do when we find ourselves in that situation?  There are really only two options: humble ourselves, or be humbled by God.  The former is far better than the latter! …
  3. Yet even in their rebellion, God continued to show Himself merciful.  He did not forsake them & He was ready to pardon them at the moment of their repentance. The same thing can be said of God today!  God does not change!  He is still “Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness…”  Are we ready to receive of that kindness by humbling ourselves before Jesus Christ?  God is ready to pardon any who come to Him in repentance & faith…

 

18 “Even when they made a molded calf for themselves, And said, ‘This is your god That brought you up out of Egypt,’ And worked great provocations, 19 Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go. 20 You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out And their feet did not swell.

  1. 1st example of rebellion: the wilderness.  The nation of Israel had not even left the foot of Mt. Sinai when they rebelled against God through idolatry.  While Moses had been receiving the instructions from God regarding how to build the tabernacle, the people engaged in gross idolatry by building the golden calf, provoking the Lord to anger.
  2. Yet God’s response?  After Moses interceded on their behalf, God did not forsake His people.  He had every right to do so – God could have wiped them off of the face of the earth!  But because God was faithful to His promises to Abraham (and others) & because God is merciful & gracious, He continued to remain with them.  God did not forsake them through His presence (the pillar) – He did not forsake them through His instruction (by the Spirit) – He did not forsake them through His provision (the manna, clothes, etc.).
  3. This is the merciful God that we serve!  Because of the work of Jesus Christ, we’ve been given the firm promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us – He’ll be with us always, even to the end of the age – that the work God has begun in us, He will complete in us.  Is this because of our grand faithfulness?  Of course not – we’re not faithful at all!  But God IS.  Because God is faithful, He continues to show us mercy…

 

22 “Moreover You gave them kingdoms and nations, And divided them into districts. So they took possession of the land of Sihon, The land of the king of Heshbon, And the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You also multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, And brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers To go in and possess. 24 So the people went in And possessed the land; You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, The Canaanites, And gave them into their hands, With their kings And the people of the land, That they might do with them as they wished. 25 And they took strong cities and a rich land, And possessed houses full of all goods, Cisterns already dug, vineyards, olive groves, And fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and grew fat, And delighted themselves in Your great goodness.

  1. God is blessed because of His faithfulness.  The promised land didn’t remain merely a “promise”; it became reality when God brought the people into the land.  Whether it was the 1st taste of the land in the Trans-jordan region (Sihon & Bashan), or whether it was the fullness of the land of promise on the other side of the Jordan (the very region God had shown unto Abraham), God was absolutely faithful.  God was faithful to the promise of the land (to the point of giving them houses & olive groves they didn’t even work for) – God was faithful to the promise of making Israel into a great nation of multitudes – and although the people of Judah had not yet seen it, God was also faithful to the promise of a Messiah…God is faithful!
  2. Our God is incredibly good in His faithfulness!  Every promise God has ever made that was supposed to have been fulfilled has indeed been fulfilled…and thus we can trust that every promise that is yet to be fulfilled WILL be fulfilled!  Be it the promise of the peace that passes understanding when we surrender our requests to the Lord Jesus – or the promise of wisdom when we ask without doubting – or the promise of salvation to everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord & believes that God has raised Him from the dead – or the promise that Jesus will come back again & receive us to Himself.  EVERY promise of God is true & God will be shown faithful on every count!

 

26 “Nevertheless they were disobedient And rebelled against You, Cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets, who testified against them To turn them to Yourself; And they worked great provocations. 27 Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their enemies, Who oppressed them; And in the time of their trouble, When they cried to You, You heard from heaven; And according to Your abundant mercies You gave them deliverers who saved them From the hand of their enemies.

  1. 2nd example of rebellion: the time of the judges.  The history of the Hebrews is filled with account after account of the people engaging in rebellion against God, God allowing the people to be overrun by their enemies, the people seeking the Lord in repentance, and the Lord raising up a deliverer.  Over & over again, the people continued to provoke the Lord & yet over & over God continued to demonstrate His abundant mercies.

 

28 “But after they had rest, They again did evil before You. Therefore You left them in the hand of their enemies, So that they had dominion over them; Yet when they returned and cried out to You, You heard from heaven; And many times You delivered them according to Your mercies, 29 And testified against them, That You might bring them back to Your law. Yet they acted proudly, And did not heed Your commandments, But sinned against Your judgments, ‘Which if a man does, he shall live by them.’ And they shrugged their shoulders, Stiffened their necks, And would not hear.

  1. Are the Jews just repeating themselves here?  A bit – but this was their cycle of rebellion throughout the time of the judges & the kings.  During the judges, it was the people who provoked the Lord; during the time of the kings many times it was the king himself that led the people into rebellion & the people willingly followed.  Like a dog returning to its vomit, the Jews continued to return to their folly & sin & provocation of the Lord God, whom they were supposed to love & serve.
  2. Notice how the Jews describe their forefathers’ rebellion: pride.  “Yet they acted proudly.”  They looked into the law of God & thought they knew better than what the Scripture commanded.  (Have we ever been guilty of the same?)  Pride always leads to sin!  A man becomes proud in his ability to be faithful, and he’s taken down by temptations of lust.  A woman becomes proud in her knowledge of the Bible, and finds herself looking down upon others.  Pride goes before destruction & a haughty spirit before a fall (Pro 16:18) – we need to beware of pride.  God resists the proud, yet gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6).  Those who remain broken & humble before the Lord Jesus will go far in keeping themselves from temptation.

 

30 Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful.

  1. God continued to reach out to His people through prophets & the Scripture.  God continued to show Himself merciful to them through the decades & centuries, though they had been unfaithful to Him.  Finally, as a last resort, God gave His people over to captivity – “the hand of the peoples of the lands.
  2. Yet even in this we see the mercy of God!  Note that they were taken into captivity; they weren’t destroyed.  God had every right to destroy the people – He had every reason to wipe them off of the face of the earth…but He didn’t.  He did not “utterly consume them nor forsake them”…why?!  If we were God, surely we would have killed them off & started over…why didn’t God?  Because of God’s great mercy!  God is merciful to His people because they are His covenant people.  God is true when every man is a liar – even if every single Hebrew had proven himself to be faithless unto God, God would have shown Himself to be faithful because of His grand covenant promise.  He promised not to forsake His people, thus He demonstrated infinite mercy towards them & allowed them to live & even flourish until the day He could bring them back into the land.
    1. If that is true regarding God’s relationship with Israel under the old covenant, how much more is it true regarding God’s relationship with us through Jesus Christ & the new covenant? Our God (your God) is GREAT in His mercy & grace!  Those who are in Christ Jesus experience the abundance of the riches of His great glory because of His unbreakable faithfulness.
    2. BTW – this is exactly what the empty tomb demonstrates!  We need not ever doubt the grandness of the grace of God towards us because Jesus not only died for our sins, but He is risen from the dead.

 

32 “Now therefore, our God, The great, the mighty, and awesome God, Who keeps covenant and mercy: Do not let all the trouble seem small before You That has come upon us, Our kings and our princes, Our priests and our prophets, Our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria until this day. 33 However You are just in all that has befallen us; For You have dealt faithfully, But we have done wickedly. 34 Neither our kings nor our princes, Our priests nor our fathers, Have kept Your law, Nor heeded Your commandments and Your testimonies, With which You testified against them. 35 For they have not served You in their kingdom, Or in the many good things that You gave them, Or in the large and rich land which You set before them; Nor did they turn from their wicked works.

  1. The petition: they prayed that God would hear them based upon His covenant.  God obviously knows what they’ve been through in the last 70 years in captivity – He knows what happened in bringing them back into the land.  The people acknowledge that they are not worthy of God’s grace & favor (they’ve never been one to heed the commandments) – but even in the midst of all of this, the people are now turning back to God as their Covenant Lord, and they humbly ask for God to hear them.
  2. This is the essence of confession.  It’s the admission that we’ve done wrong & that there’s nothing we could possibly do to somehow “deserve” God’s favor – but we’re asking for that favor anyway.  Not because of our merit, but because of everything Jesus Christ has already done…we’re appealing to God for forgiveness based upon the work of Jesus Christ & the covenant that He has given to us. Hebrews 4:14–16 “(14) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” []

 

36 “Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, To eat its fruit and its bounty, Here we are, servants in it! 37 And it yields much increase to the kings You have set over us, Because of our sins; Also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle At their pleasure; And we are in great distress. 38 “And because of all this, We make a sure covenant and write it; Our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.”

  1. Conclusion of the prayer: submission unto God.  True, the Jews had basically lost their kingdom – they were now serving the kings of Persia (and later the Romans) that God had set over them…but ultimately their covenant was with God.  Thus they affirmed their covenant relationship with God & submitted themselves into His hand, despite all the external circumstances around them.
  2. If we’ve stopped short of submitting unto God in confession then we’ve missed the point.  Ultimately, confession is agreement with God.  What are we agreeing with?  (1) That sin is sin, and (2) that God is God.  People will sometimes think that once they’ve confessed a certain sin unto the Lord that they can go right back out & commit that sin again.  That’s NOT Biblical repentance!  Repentance is more than verbal confession & apologies; it’s a change of mind and/or direction – it’s a submission unto God that we will follow Him as our Lord & King & no longer ourselves.

 

Conclusion:

So the covenant has been reaffirmed.  The people blessed God for His work in creation – His covenant promises – His deliverance – His provision – His faithfulness.  They confessed their own history of repeated rebellion, not leaving anything unsaid.  They submitted themselves to God & appealed to the great mercy & covenant promises of their Lord & King.  And that’s exactly where God wanted them to be!  Was the rest of their situation ideal?  Obviously not – but their relationship with God was what it had needed to be all along.

So what about you?  What’s been left unsaid & un-confessed to God?  Leave it all out on the table tonight – don’t attempt to ignore it…just confess it & be cleansed from it.  The wonderful promise is that our God has not changed.  He is just as faithful today as He was with the rebellious Hebrews.  And we have even more assurance of His faithfulness in the cross & resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Take your sins to the foot of the cross, confess them & leave them there – submitting yourself unto our gracious Lord & King!

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