“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.“ Nehemiah 9:1-2
There comes a point in every journey of recovery and reformation where you have to look back and acknowledge, confess, and repent of whatever it was that you had done that had caused you to need recovery and reformation.
It was the Spanish philosopher and writer George Santayana that coined the proverb, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The truth of these words has been demonstrated time and time again. We shake our heads in dismayed wonder at the blockheaded stupidity demonstrated by otherwise intelligent men as they repeatedly commit the same mistakes as their fathers and grandfathers.
But remembering the sins of the past doesn’t guarantee that you won’t repeat them.
It requires our both remembering and repenting to ensure that we’re not condemned to repeating the sins of the past.
Many people think that repenting means that we say we’re sorry for something. But sorrow for sin in just a small part of what repentance is. The primary meaning of repentance is that we turn from our sinful actions and choose to do righteousness instead.
The people of Israel, having completed Jerusalem’s wall, and having celebrated the feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Booths, now gather before God and the Temple to covenant themselves to live faithfully before God. They recount God’s providence and mercies and they confess the sins of their forefathers from the golden calf a Mt. Sinai to their idolatry in the generations of the kings of Israel and Judah.
The people know that they aren’t any better about obedience than their fathers were but they also know that the only way forward is dependence upon the mercy and goodness of God so they confess their sins and covenant themselves to live righteously before God.
History shows us that in some ways the Jewish people from Nehemiah’s day forward were more obedient than their fathers were but it also shows that they were a long way from the righteousness God calls his people to. While they repented of their fathers idolatry they still repeated many of their other sins. And sin, any sin, harbored in the heart will eventually wreck all kinds of destruction.
We too are far from the righteousness God calls us to. We too are prone to a partial repentance.
O Father, teach us to see sin as you do. Show us how to truly sorrow for our sins. Give us the gift of a true and deep repentance. Teach us the joy of obedience and righteousness.