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.