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.

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Mentors in Scripture

Every time I read the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs, I cannot help but notice how often Solomon addresses his wisdom to “my son.” I count 19 times in the first 8 chapters where Solomon refers to the hearer or reader of his words as “son” or “sons.”

What a fantastic resource the book of proverbs can be to a young man who is growing up, or has grown up, without a father in his life. What a rich source of fatherly guidance.

For that matter, the book of proverbs is a wonderful resource for all of us, young or old, male or female, whether we had two parents in the home or not. After all, the Bible tells us, “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men… and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations.” (1 Kings 4:29-31)

Even if you had the most wise and loving parents in the universe, there is still more wisdom for you to find in the book of Proverbs. Even if your friends are the best examples of godly living that anyone could imagine, they are still imperfect humans who may sometimes lack the perfect knowledge revealed in scripture.

Let Solomon be a mentor to you through the book of Proverbs.

Of course, the reason why Solomon was so wise was because he got his wisdom from God. The words recorded in the book of Proverbs are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). When we open the Bible to learn, we are literally being taught by God. Jesus Himself said so in John 6:45, “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.”

We all need someone wiser than us to help us to learn and grow in life. Think of a classic mentor-trainee relationship such as Daniel and Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid.” That is what God offers to be for us. In John 13:13 Jesus said “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.” In Luke 6:40 He said, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”

Will you allow God to be your teacher? Will you submit yourself to His instructions, even when you do not understand them, knowing that He can help you to become more like Him?

And will you spend time with the mentors that God has appointed throughout history to teach us various lessons, both through listening to their wisdom and through observing their mistakes?

There is much to learn from the words and actions of men and women like Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, Moses, Zipporah, Miriam, Joshua, Rahab, Deborah, Gideon, Jael, Sampson, Naomi, Ruth, Hannah, Samuel, David, Abigail, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Esther, Mordecai, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jonah, John the Baptist, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the sister or Martha, Anna the Prophetess, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul, Silas, Pheobe, Priscilla and Aquilla, Lydia, Dorcas, Barnabas, Timothy, and Titus. And that is just to name a few!

The Bible is full of father figures, mother figures, big brother and sister figures, and friends to help you learn and grow. Hebrews 12:1 describes them as a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us and cheering us on in our walk of faith.

Avail yourself to their guidance and support through God’s word.

Is Your Church a Family?

The Bible is full of descriptions of the church as family.

We are fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The term “brethren” refers to fellow Christians over 100 times in the New Testament, and is often translated as “brothers and sisters” in contemporary translations.

Paul set an example in this regard by taking Timothy under his wing as “my beloved son” (2 Timothy 1:2), as well as Titus, “my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). He requested that the saints in Rome greet his friend Rufus, and “also his mother and mine,” or as the NIV puts it “his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:13).

We have each been “adopted to sonship” (Romans 8:15), and we live together in the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19), united in “brotherly love” (1 Peter 3:8).

We not only have familial ties to each other, but to Christ. He is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), and a faithful follower of His is His “brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

This role of church as family is extremely important. Many, including some who we may not suspect, may have suffered the lack of a healthy or functional earthly family, and the church has a special opportunity to be supportive to them.

The truth is that all of us, in today’s fast paced, individualistic society need the social, emotional, and spiritual closeness and support that the church offers. What a tragedy when a church ceases to embody the role of a family.

What can you do to bring more familial love into your congregation? Family members ought to spend time with each other, teach each other, provide for each other, eat meals with each other, have fun with each other, and be supportive of each other. For some, these things come naturally while for others, they are a real challenge. But for each and every person, God’s invitation is to be a part of the family whose defining characteristic is love (John 13:35)
family group

Biblical Manhood

Society has its own ideas of what makes a man. But the Bible paints its own beautiful, powerful picture of what manhood should look like.

Society teaches that a man is someone who gets whatever he wants. He is surrounded by beautiful women, nice cars, and big screen TV’s. Jesus, however, the only perfect man to ever live, didn’t even get married or have a girlfriend, and he acquired almost no personal possessions. Instead, He was busy pouring Himself out for a broken world, speaking powerfully about His Father, and spending time alone in the wilderness.

The Bible contains a great deal of information about manhood. Maybe you did not have a father figure in your life, or maybe he was not a very good example. Even if you have a great father, painting a Biblical picture of manhood can help us understand even more clearly what God’s intentions are for men.

Men are:
Morally disciplined and upstanding. “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies.” (2 Kings 2:2)

Calculated in their actions.
“A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” -Proverbs 24:5-6

Concerned with the spiritual welfare of themselves and others.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Gentle and kind.
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” – 1 Peter 3:7

Concerned with things of importance.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

Mature.
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” -1 Corinthians 14:20

Hard working.
“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” – Lamentations 3:27

If we are tempted to think that Biblical men are emasculated, devoid of any real adventure or danger or passion, we need only look to the examples of Godly men in the Bible to find otherwise. What could be more adventurous than Paul’s ancient travels around the world, with the threat of death at every turn? What could be more dangerous that David’s rise to power, starting with a band of 400 thugs and ending in the uniting of the kingdom of Israel? What could be more passionate than the power with which Jesus gave His life up for us on a crucifix, knowing well that He could strike us all dead if He so desired?

Let us aspire to hold up God’s picture of manhood.

Statue of a Man