The faith of a renewed Israel needed to be more than ceremonial. After the celebration of the festival of Tabernacles, the leaders of the people led the entire covenant community in an official time of repentance and commitment before the Lord. The chapter before us recorded their communal repentance and the next chapter their covenant obligation.
The words of repentance were accompanied by fasting and the cultural practices of deep mourning. Then the Book of the Law was read in their hearing followed by a time of confession and worship. The spiritual leaders of the people called the congregation into the presence of the Lord as they acknowledged their guilt.
Their prayer follows the story of God’s people through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and beyond. The Word of the Lord is the basis for their solemn entreaty. The Lord, the Creator, the God who keeps His promises, was acknowledged as the One before whom they needed to humble themselves, not only for their own sins, but also for the sins of their fathers.
God had made a promise to Abraham. He kept that commitment by delivering Israel out of Egypt and bringing them into a land He had given to them. In the process of this great redemption the Lord had revealed Himself through deeds of power and through the words of His oracles. But Israel had not obeyed the Lord’s commandments. Despite very memorable provocations against His holy Name the Lord continued in mercy to His people.
Continuing with the history recorded in Joshua and Judges, the people acknowledged the guilt of their ancestors and the many mercies of the Lord. The nation continually turned away from God, but when they cried out to Him He sent them “saviors” who rescued them from hands of oppressing nations who were too strong for them. Despite the forbearance of the Lord the people habitually slid back into disobedience. The problem was not only their outward behavior but also the stubbornness of their hearts.
Many centuries of kings and prophets were summarized here. The pattern remained the same. The Lord was faithful in His discipline and the nation continually disobeyed her God.
The returned exiles now cried out again to the Lord asking Him to look upon their hardships from the most recent centuries since the days of the Assyrian empire. They did not blame the Lord for their troubles. “You have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.” They appealed to the Lord as slaves of the Persians who knew that they had deserved the Lord’s discipline.
In every generation we who worship God need to acknowledge our transgressions before the Lord. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. The cross of Christ makes no sense if we are faultless. Our disobedience demands honest confession and sincere repentance but it also demands an effective atonement. Only the blood of a perfect substitute can remove our debt. We still need to repent, but we can boldly approach the throne of grace knowing that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, when we truly repent, our hope shines forth in the brilliance of Your grace. Thank You for the day of conviction of sin. Thank You for the will and determination that You grant to Your servants to worship You. Teach us to remember Your great acts of redemption that You have done for Your people in previous days. You have given us a good rule of life, and have provided for all the needs of our bodies and souls. Would we return to the slavery of sin? You will not let us go in the way of foolishness forever. You sustain us, and You lead us. All of Your promises are absolutely faithful. There can be no question about Your goodness. There is also no doubt concerning our sin. We have been hardhearted. We have hated both Your Law and Your prophets. You have sent us the greatest Savior, Your Son Jesus Christ. According to Your abundant mercy, turn us again to the way of life in Him. Do not make an end of us. Do not forsake us. You who keep covenant for generations, look upon our hardships and have mercy. With true sorrow we acknowledge our sins. Look on us now. We must have You. We give ourselves over to You again. It is our solemn intention to follow You. Never forsake us. Bring us to a place where we will finally and fully give up our love of sinning.