After Nehemiah invoked God’s ear to hear his prayer, he confessed the sinfulness of the people God had called out of Egypt and placed in the land. They turned against God despite his miraculous deliverance. By shifting his prayer from the third person “they” to the first person “we,” Nehemiah identifies with the sinful nation but then reminds God of His promises to them. Nehemiah 1:7-9 continues his prayer, “We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant, Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant, Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’”

I’ve always found the song by Jimmy Buffet, “Margaritaville,” interesting. We have this guy “wasting away” in Mexico, eating shrimp and drinking margaritas. He’s been exiled to a foreign country and suggests “there’s a woman to blame.” But he ends the first verse by saying, “it’s nobody’s fault.” The second verse says the same thing but ends with, “it could be my fault.” The song’s last verse comes through with the truth, “It’s my own damn fault.” Finally, Jimmy accepts responsibility for his situation. You can’t blame it on a woman! Looking over the history of Israel leading up to their captivity in Babylon, you see plenty of figures who could be to blame. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, might be the woman to blame. Maybe, it was their daughter Athaliah, who usurped the throne of the southern Kingdom of Judah and led the nation into idolatry. The exiles could have struggled with their role in the situation, but it took Nehemiah to clear up any confusion and acknowledge that the people as a whole were responsible for the situation they were in. Nehemiah identifies with the nation as a whole and accepts the responsibility for their exile in Babylon also.

Just as God had promised the people through Moses, the nation found that they had been scattered among the nations. But Nehemiah knew the rest of God’s promises. He knew that repentance would lead to restoration, just as promised. Jesus wanted all sinners to recognize this truth. In Luke 15:20-24, He tells about the prodigal son. He wanted us to know that He loves us and is waiting for us to accept responsibility so he could welcome us home. It’s a beautiful story of forgiveness and restoration. We read, And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this, my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” David repented of his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah in Psalm 51. He might have said, “there’s a woman to blame, but he didn’t. What’s missing from that song, unlike “Margaritaville,” is the attempt to blame others. One web blogger writes of Psalm 51, “Noticeably missing is the mention of anyone else. He did not attempt to assign even partial blame to someone else and did not ponder if God was going to hold someone else accountable. He did not offer context about his stage of life or the pressures he faced as king. Saul’s response to confrontation was very different as he shifted responsibility to people around him, implicating the troops and his desire to please the people. Sincere confessions contain no qualifiers. When confession has a qualifier, the confession is disqualified as sincere.”[1] When we try to explain our sins by pointing to the pressures we face, other people around us, or a phase of life, we have failed to fully own our sins. The prodigal son and David both accepted responsibility for their failures and leaned on God’s mercy for restoration. They were not disappointed. Neither are we.