Confessing the Sins of a Nation

There are many great examples of humility and repentance in scripture. One of those examples is found in the opening chapter of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is a man of Jewish heritage who is in exile in Babylon. He has just learned that the city of Jerusalem, the center for worship to the LORD, is in ruins. The scripture tells us that Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven,” with these words:

“‘I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.’ Now I was the cupbearer to the king.”

It is interesting to see that Nehemiah mentions not only his own sins but also “the sins of the sons of Israel” which “we” have sinned, including “I” and “my father’s house.”

Normally we think of confession as something that we would only do for ourselves. Passages like Ezekiel 18:20 teach us that sons are not responsible for the sins of their parents, nor parents for the sins of their children. If this is so, what is the benefit of confessing sins that other people have done, as if they could gain forgiveness based on our confession instead of their own, or as though we bore the guilt for what they did in ourselves?

One benefit that might come from confessing the sins of our forefathers and of the communities in which we live, is that it can help us to recognize how pervasive and serious the brokenness of the world around us really is.

This might also help us to recognize how we got in such bad shape and what must be done to turn things around.

Furthermore, in attributing these sins both to “I” and “my father’s house,” Nehemiah may also be articulating the fact that he learned a lot of his bad habits from the culture and the environment into which he was born, and thus rather than “inheriting” their sins automatically, he has nonetheless adopted their sins into his own life and replicated them for himself by his own free will.

We tend to think of past generations as being the backward ones, while our generation has learned from the mistakes of the past. But often times, we are making our own mistakes that may be superficially different, but are in many ways analogous to the sins of those before us.

Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” Before we point the finger solely at our forefathers or at the world around us, maybe we should make sure that we ourselves are not doing the same kind of things.

Humble Confession – by Austin Gonzales

Following God’s instructions concerning one aspect of life will help us follow His instructions in other aspects, as well, so that we can live better lives overall.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this in regards to humility and confession.

(James 4:10) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(1 Peter 5:5b) …all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

(James 5:16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

(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.

In my (limited) experience, if I am going to truly apologize for an offense, or if I want to try and obey the command to confess my sins to a brother in Christ, it definitely requires swallowing my pride. In turn, it helps me develop humility – just a little bit at a time – when I sincerely apologize to someone, or confess a sin that I have been hiding.

When we apologize; we are admitting to God, to our friend, and to ourselves that what we did was wrong – no matter how valid our excuses may seem to our prideful selves. Similarly, when confessing sin, we are admitting that it was indeed a sin. So we have no excuse – since “with the temptation [God] will provide the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) – and we realize the need to resist any desire to do it again. Therefore it helps us, when we confess wrongs, to humble ourselves by understanding that some things are wrong no matter our reason – the ends do not always justify the means. And in so doing, it can also help us with obedience to God.

We have a need to confess not just our sins, but also the struggles we go through. How are our brethren supposed to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2-3) or “look out for [not only their] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), if we do not let them know what we are going through? Except, of course for the deep, painful wounds that “they can’t do much to help with,” right? No! Rather, we especially need to confess those kinds of inward struggles!

Even if there is nothing that a fellow member can actively do to help; they can listen. Simply the action of speaking your thoughts and emotions out loud does much to help us understand and process such issues. Also spiritually, the deep, hidden wounds are just the opportunity Satan can best use to tempt us with – especially the ones that nobody else knows you are thinking about. This is also where humility comes in. We do not want to appear ignorant, weak, or un-Christ- like, etc.; so we don’t want to let people know that we hurt. But humility tells us that we are ignorant, weak, and un-Christ- like. Everyone is, except for the LORD Himself. That is why humility tells us that we must confess our need and appeal for His help – as well as the help of His church.

Confession and humility can also give us tools to be proactive and take preventative measures to avoid or resist temptation. Accountability, for one thing (Galatians 6:2-3). As I have just mentioned, humbling ourselves to admit struggles, or sins that we struggle with, means that others can help us through them. However, this requires communication and complete honesty – both of which, humility can help with; and both of which can help to build humility. When we “tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” then our brethren can most effectively help us out. It may have to do with keeping an eye out for situations that they know may tempt us. Or maybe they can get us in contact with someone who has been through the same struggles. In addition to such things, communication and honesty build stronger relationships between us.

Advice I hear about marriage or relationships nearly always includes being honest
and/or constantly improving communication. It is how we become close to our family in Christ – and it helps us come closer to Christ Himself.

Humility is also required when we are hearing confessions or apologies from someone else. When someone comes to us in such a way, it is easy to be tempted to judge them, gossip about them, or not to forgive them – maybe in not so many words. But if we keep in mind that we have committed offenses of our own, and that God has been so gracious to forgive us, it helps us to forgive them and to honor their confidentiality – to pay it forward. Colossians 3:12-13 tells us, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Additionally, when hearing confessions; humility can tell us that we do not always have the answers. When someone opens up to us, we may really want to help with any advice we can offer. But humility can teach us to think before we speak. Not always – but sometimes – the best thing we can do is to listen.

To sum up, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” if we humble ourselves and confess our sins.