Introduction: What does it mean to “repent?” What does it mean
to “confess sin?” I thought I knew. But in the last few years
I’ve begun to rethink those terms based on my study of the
Bible. Let’s plunge into our study of Nehemiah and see what we
can learn. Perhaps you will adjust your understanding of those

  1. Confession

    1. Read Nehemiah 9:1-2. Do you notice anything strange
      in these two verses? Something that does not fit
      with your understanding of the confession of sin?
      (They confessed the sins “of their ancestors.”)

      1. What has been your understanding of “confess
        your sins” when a minister calls for repentance
        and confession? (I traditionally understood it
        as a confession of something that I had done.)

    2. Read Matthew 6:12. What do you think Jesus is
      talking about here? (I think He is talking about my
      traditional understanding of the confession of sin.)

    3. Read 1 John 1:9. What do you think the Bible is
      talking about here?

    4. Re-read Nehemiah 9:2. I’m going to assume that at
      least some of the “ancestors” to which Nehemiah
      refers were dead. Certainly the people would not be
      referring to their personal sins when they confessed
      the sins of their ancestors. How do you understand
      this use of the term “confessed their sins?”
      (Logically, this has to be some sort of “corporate”
      confession. It is contrary to the way confession is
      referred to in 1 John 1:9 or Matthew 6:12.)

    5. Read Matthew 3:1-2. Have you ever thought about the
      logic of this call by John the Baptist? Why would
      you repent because of something that is near in
      terms of time or space? Why would you repent at all
      because of something someone else is doing?

    6. Read Matthew 4:17. Jesus says the same thing. What
      do you think is the “kingdom of heaven?” (I think
      Jesus is referring to Himself.)

      1. If I’m right, why would the people repent about
        that? Why not rejoice?

    7. Read Matthew 11:20. Why would you repent because
      great things were done in your city? Why wouldn’t
      you rejoice instead?

    8. As you contemplate all of the ways that “confess”
      and “repent” are used, what meaning would include
      all of them? (I think the common thread among all of
      these is attitude. Nehemiah’s call is to confess the
      wrong attitude that generations of God’s people had
      towards God. When John the Baptist and Jesus call
      for repentance, they are asking the people to change
      their understanding of the Messiah. The people are
      called to change their attitude about the nature of
      sin and forgiveness – for the Kingdom of Heaven is
      here! Even when we are thinking about our personal
      sins, Jesus asks us to change our attitude about the
      sin in our life. By the power of the Holy Spirit be
      honest about the sin in your life and determine to
      change course.)

  2. Praise

    1. Read Nehemiah 9:3. What do you think about the order
      of these activities? First read the Bible, then
      confess, then worship. Does that seem logical?

      1. Does that seem consistent with our discussion of
        what it means to repent? (One reason why the
        GoBible questions always start with reading a
        Bible text is that it is essential to know God’s
        word. Once we contemplate His word, then we see
        where our lives are out of line. When we are
        sincere about following God, our attitudes are
        changed by the Holy Spirit, and we experience
        joy that turns to praise.)

    2. Read Nehemiah 9:4-5. Does anything like this ever
      happen in your church? Do the people “cry out with
      loud voices” and “stand up and praise” God?

      1. If not, why not? (I recall church members
        criticizing this kind of praise because it was
        too “Pentecostal,” or “evangelical.” These are
        false arguments. The question is not whether
        some church (or group) does it, the question is
        what does the Bible say about it.)

    3. Read Nehemiah 9:6. What is the first reason for
      praising God? (He is the Creator.)

      1. How important is the acknowledgment of this?
        (I’ve studied this before. God’s primary claim
        to our allegiance is that He is our Creator.)

        1. Does belief in our God as Creator have an
          impact on our attitude about current

    4. Read Nehemiah 9:7-12. What is the next reason for
      praising God? (What He has done in their life and
      the lives of their ancestors.)

      1. My wife keeps a journal of the times in our life
        when God did great things for our family. Do you
        do this? If not, you are missing a great source
        of encouragement.)

    5. Read Nehemiah 9:13-14. Are the Ten Commandments and
      the Sabbath a reason for praising God?

      1. If you answered, yes, explain why? (The Sabbath
        and the laws are meant to be a blessing to us.
        So many people have the wrong attitude about the
        nature of God’s law.)

      2. A few minutes ago I saw an article about “death
        bed” conversions. The idea is that I’ll do what
        I want, and just at the last moment I’ll confess
        so I can go to heaven. If confession is about
        attitude, what does that say about your
        attitude? (This is like a promise to make you
        rich – and you decide that you will reject this
        offer until just a moment before you die.
        Clearly, you have the wrong attitude about what
        is being offered!)

    6. Read Nehemiah 9:15. What else has God done for His
      people? (He fed them, gave them water, and gave them
      a home.)

  3. Rebellion and Reaction

    1. Read Nehemiah 9:16-19. When you pray, do you
      normally recite the errors of your ancestors?

      1. Why do it here? (Note that the prayer is not
        simply about rebellion, it is about God’s
        gracious reaction to it.)

      2. Do you have any explanation for why the people
        would cite the rebellion that occurred in the
        Exodus from Egypt, as opposed to the more recent
        rebellion that resulted in their Babylonian
        captivity? They were just coming out of the
        Babylonian captivity!

    2. Read Nehemiah 9:20. What does this teach us about
      the Holy Spirit? (Sometimes we think that the Holy
      Spirit is active only in the New Testament. This
      shows us that He was so important in the Old
      Testament that the people were specifically noting
      His work.)

      1. Notice the nature of what is being discussed:
        water, food, and the Holy Spirit. How essential
        are water and food? What does this say about the
        Holy Spirit?

    3. Let’s skip down and read Nehemiah 9:25-28. Does this
      answer our earlier question about why they confessed
      the Exodus sins and not the later sins? (Yes. They
      had not yet gotten to that point in their history.)

    4. Let’s skip down and read Nehemiah 9:36-38. What is
      the conclusion that the people reach in their
      prayer? (They are going to enter into a “binding
      agreement” with God!)

    5. We are going to study this agreement next week.
      Right now, let’s analyze this prayer. We’ve been
      calling it a prayer, even though it seems to be a
      praise that has turned into a long statement of the
      history of the people. Should you periodically
      review your entire history with God?

      1. What are the highlights of this review? (God has
        been faithful while the people have been largely

      2. Is this what you hear from people today? When
        people are suffering, do they generally
        acknowledge their part in the suffering?

      3. My father’s mother remarried when she was 62
        years old. The man she married was a recovered
        alcoholic who was on fire for God. I recall him
        telling me how sad he was that he had wasted so
        much of his life in addiction. That kind of
        honesty made a big impression on me!

    6. Friend, the central part of repentance and
      confession, is not about a single sin, but rather
      about your attitude. Nothing helps get our attitude
      right more than studying God’s word and then
      honestly considering of our history with God. Will
      you commit to taking time for an honest review of
      your history with God? Will you review God’s
      kindness to you? Will you commit to Bible study?

  4. Next week: God and the Covenant.