Years ago, I got a call from a family who lived near our home. Their little boy and my youngest daughter, Charity, who was six years old at the time, often played outdoors together. Well, he was having a party in his elementary class, and part of the festivities was a show-and-tell. His mom called to tell us that she had asked him what he wanted to bring for show-and-tell, and after he thought for a moment, he said, “Charity.” He wanted to bring my daughter for show-and-tell. I didn’t know what to think about it, but we finally agreed. It was actually quite a nice compliment, and our daughter thought it was great—especially the ice-cream and cake afterward.
The people of Israel are about to become God’s show-and-tell concerning true confession and commitment. If you want to know how to confess and commit your life to God, watch them because they are going to show you how.
Nehemiah chapter 9 picks up just a couple days after the Feast of Booths. It tells us:
The people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites . . . stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. (verses 1-2)
Now that the joyful celebration is over, they show up here in humble confession of their sin. They are not playing charades either. They are genuinely confessing their sin, which is evident in their fasting, wearing sackcloth, and putting the dirt or ashes on their heads since these were all signs of mourning and contrition.
Verse 3 says:
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.
Imagine, for several hours they are confessing their sin. The content of the people’s confession is detailed at great length in this chapter, and it’s voiced by the Levites mentioned in verse 5. This is a national confession, as well as a personal one.
It’s been said—correctly—that whenever genuine revival sweeps over a people, the first evidence is a profound awareness of sin and a deep sorrow over it. Ask people today if they are sinners, and most will be offended by the thought. There is very little conscious awareness of sin in our world today.
I want to point out several key elements in this prayer of confession. First, the Levites open the prayer in verses 5-6 by exalting God as the only true and living God, saying, “Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the Lord, you alone.” God has no rival. He alone is God.
Second, they praise God as the Creator in verse 6:
“You have made heaven . . . 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.”
Third, they go on in verses 9-11 to thank God for delivering His people from Egyptian bondage. But, fourth, the prayer also admits to failing God. Verse 16 acknowledges that their forefathers in the desert “did not obey [His] commandments” but rebelled by building that golden calf as an idol (verse 18).
But then we have the fifth element in this great show-and-tell of true confession. They praise God for His faithful mercy. Verse 19 reads, “You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness.”
Verses 30-31 kind of sum up Israel’s history to this point in these words to the Lord:
“Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear . . . Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.”
Then in verse 32 the prayer comes full circle, returning to their current situation in Jerusalem.
Because of their sin, they admit that they have brought upon themselves the Lord’s judgment. And so, we read here in verse 36, “Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers.” Even though they are back in the land, they are still the servants of the Persians.
This is full and genuine confession of sin. Their sin is seen in light of God’s mercy and grace and faithfulness. There are no excuses, no downplaying of their sin—they get it; they now understand the corruption and defilement of their sin. And that is going to lead to changed behavior.
I read some time ago of a rather interesting solution to a problem in a middle school in Oregon. A number of girls were beginning to use lipstick, and they would put it on in the girls’ bathroom. After they put it on, they would press their lips to the mirrors, leaving dozens of little lip prints. It was taking a long time every day cleaning the mirrors off. So, the principal and the custodian came up with a clever plan. The principal called all the girls to the bathroom, and explained how all the lip prints were slowing down the daily cleaning. She could tell the girls were unmoved and uninterested. Then, on cue, she asked the custodian to show the girls how he had been cleaning the mirrors. He took out a long-handled brush, went over and dipped it into one of the toilets, and then walked over and scrubbed the mirror. Well, the lip prints disappeared—that behavior stopped immediately.
Beloved, we tend to downplay our sin; we manage it, instead of confessing it. We sugarcoat our selfishness; we rationalize our disobedience; we justify our pride; we excuse our disobedience. Frankly, we need to take a good look, so to speak, at what we are kissing up to. We are cozying up to nothing less than defilement and sin. Genuine confession is a heartfelt admission that we need the Lord to clean us up every single day.
Now if confession is real, it leads to commitment. Their prayer here concludes in verse 38 with just that:
“Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.”
They are saying, “We’re going to change our behavior!” And they even put their promise into writing.
Now in chapter 10 the first twenty-seven verses simply list the names of the leaders who sign this covenant, beginning with Nehemiah. Verses 28-29 add that many others, including even little children are able to join in committing themselves, as it says here, to “observe and do all the commandments of the Lord.”
Now that doesn’t mean they are going to be perfect from then on—no one is—but they are passionate now in their walk with God. And they promise to focus on three commitments.
First, they promise not to intermarry with the idolatrous people in the land (verse 30). Second, they commit to observing the Sabbath (verse 31). And third, they promise to support the temple with their tithes, contributions, and offerings (verses 32-39). In fact, the chapter concludes with their solemn promise in verse 39: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Wow, what a passage this is. These two chapters give us nothing less than a show-and-tell of true confession and true commitment. And it is nothing less than a loving response to a loving, faithful, merciful, and gracious Lord.