“And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God” (Nehemiah 9:3 ESV)
When God’s people approach the throne in humble confession, what should they say? What should be their posture? What serves as their guide? Nehemiah 9 gives us insight into what corporate confession looks like.
First, we see that the people confessed their sins with the scriptures opened. They read from the book of the Law for a quarter of the day! (v3) Confession was no mere introspection or monologue. Rather, they desired to hear from God. As we hear the law, God’s character is revealed and our sins are brought into sharper perspective, making confession more specific.
Second, confession also involves worship. The people focused on God’s character and found delight in him. Verse 6 says, “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” When we see God as big, we not only see our own sin more greatly, but also are moved to worship him.
Third, confession needs remembrance. This third characteristic is a result of the first two: with an open Bible and a proper picture of God, the people can recall all that God has done for them. The majority of the prayer in Nehemiah 9 is just that: remembering the cycle of sin that Israel had undertaken throughout their history and the steadfast faithfulness of the Lord and his mercy.
The people who confess their sins are not the only ones who must remember, however. In this prayer, the people are, in a sense, asking God to remember his own nature and his own covenant. This is not to suggest that God forgets anything, but that the people are demonstrating to God that they understand why it is part of his very nature, and proven by his perfect track record, that he should hear their confession and forgive their sins.
May the Lord use our study of Nehemiah 9 to give us great fervency in confessing our sins to God.