“I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.” (Nehemiah 1:6b)
When admitting our faults, there are safe contexts and less safe contexts. In some contexts, we have particular customs for acknowledging your failure. For example, in volleyball, it is (or was) customary to raise your hand when you were the one who lost control of the ball. I always understood this to say, “This is a team sport, and on that occasion, I let the team down”. If everyone in the team follows this practice, it feels quite safe to admit your fault. Another (recent) custom is to say “My bad” to acknowledge a mistake you’ve made. Perhaps you can think of other examples of ways we admit that we were at fault. I know you can think of examples of how humans avoid admitting mistakes!
In today’s text, Nehemiah has returned from exile to Jerusalem. He finds the walls and gates of Jerusalem have been broken down, and God’s holy dwelling has been compromised. Nehemiah wonders if there is something he can do on behalf of the Hebrew people — something that will make a difference. His choice is to repent.
I imagine Nehemiah being one of the first to raise his hand and say “My bad” — firstly, because he is truly repentant, and secondly, as an invitation for others to consider joining him in repenting Israel’s failure to obey God’s laws.
In his prayer, Nehemiah quotes God’s words: “But if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them” (Nehemiah 1:9, quoted from Deuteronomy 30:4).
Words that were spoken in a different time become significant for the Hebrew people in their present brokenness and confusion. So Nehemiah firstly repents, then secondly claims God’s promise of restoration on behalf of the people.
Would you stand (or kneel) in the gap until others join you in repentance? Perhaps you’re already doing this. Will it make a difference? Might it open some doors?
Lord, I confess that I have sinned against You, that we as Your people have sinned against You. Have mercy on us and grant us forgiveness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.