When Nehemiah learned of the situation in Jerusalem. He wept and then he prayed. He tells us, “And I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.” No great “name it and claim” it prayer for Nehemiah!  This begins Nehemiah’s prayer which goes on for 6 verses. It seems to be in three parts. The first part is the invocation, followed by the confession of sin, then pleads with God to remember His people Israel, and concludes with Nehemiah’s prayer for success in his endeavor to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. These two verses include the invocation and the confession of sin.

David’s prayers to God in the book of Psalms seem to be filled with invocations. David asks God to be present with him, especially during times of trial and when facing persecution. When David was in danger, he would invoke God’s presence in his prayers. In Psalm 54:2, he says, “Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” In Psalm 55:1 he said, “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea.” When Jesus taught his disciples to pray in what we know as the Lord’s prayer, we see the same elements of invocation. Jesus teaches us to identify God as the omnipotent one capable of responding to all our needs. We pray, “Our Father in heaven.” We then ascribed glory to His name, “Hallowed be thy name.” One web commentator concludes his discussion on the invocation aspect of prayer by saying, “As Christians, we have access to the throne of God through faith in Christ (Ephesians 3:12). All our prayers of invocation should contain the elements of humility, praise, and reverence as we approach, in Jesus’ name, the One whose blessing we seek.”[1]

The next portion of Nehemiah’s prayer includes the confession of sin. As the Handbook for translators explains, “To confess sins is to openly acknowledge evil deeds that one has committed. Nehemiah admits the wrongs that the Israelites have committed against thee, that is, against God.” But confession has another element that shouldn’t be overlooked. It involves the acknowledgment of man’s sinfulness as a whole. Not only do we sin, but we are sinners. The Handbook goes on to say, “The Hebrew words used here do not refer to any single or specific kind of wrongdoing but rather to deeds that are in disobedience against God’s commandments.” The invocation identifies God as omnipotent and righteous. Then proceeds to contrast our moral standing with His. In his prayer, Nehemiah is careful not to cast the blame on anyone else, or the nation as a whole. He accepts responsibility himself. “Nehemiah shifts abruptly from speaking about the people of Israel in the third person to speaking in the first person plural. He includes himself as one of them by saying we have sinned. It includes the speaker and those with whom he identifies, but it excludes God to whom he is speaking in his prayer.” Nehemiah acknowledges that “I and my father’s house have sinned.”[2] It seems that in our political realm today, no one accepts the blame for any bad situation but blames the system, some foreign powers, the environment, or the preceding administration. This was not Nehemiah’s approach. He did not blame his fathers for the problems he faced. He identified with them and acknowledged his identity with the problem and humbly began his prayer for deliverance despite their national failure. “Leaders must not consider themselves superior to others; admission of fault will not ruin effectiveness.”[3]

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/invocation-prayer.html

[2] Noss, Philip A., and Kenneth J. Thomas. 2005. A Handbook on Ezra and Nehemiah. Edited by Paul Clarke, Schuyler Brown, Louis Dorn, and Donald Slager. United Bible Societies’ Handbooks. New York: United Bible Societies.

[3] Breneman, Mervin. 1993. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Electronic ed. Vol. 10. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.