Genesis 42 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:55 mins 12 secs

Confession Prayers of Ezra, and Nehemiah. Genesis 42


There are two key passages in the Mosaic law related to confession. The first is found in Leviticus 16:21. This is the ritual of the scapegoat that took place at the day of Atonement every year. The high priest would take two goats and would cast lots to determine which of these goats would be offered as a sacrifice as a sin offering and which would be the scapegoat. Then what Aaron would do would be to lay his hands on the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel. There is no emotion, he is not putting on sackcloth and ashes, he is not going through any level of histrionics; all he has to do is admit, acknowledge, identify what the Israelites had done in terms of violation of the law. By putting his hands on the goat he is showing identification, that that goat then is symbolically receiving those sins. Then he takes the goat and sends it out into the wilderness. The other goat is sacrificed as a sin offering, picturing the payment of the sin price by Jesus Christ on the cross. The goat that goes out into the wilderness pictures the removal and forgiveness of those sins so that they are no longer an issue between Israel and God. The Scripture says that our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west. God forgets them and we are to forget them. They are no longer an issue when they are admitted and acknowledged. That is the picture in the Old Testament of what happens in confession. It is an admission of guilt that we have done something.


The next key passage which is foundational to understanding the confession prayers that we find later on in Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, is found in Leviticus chapter 26 which outlines the five stages of divine discipline that God warned Israel that He would take them through if they were disobedient. Each one is progressively worse than the previous stage as God is trying to get their attention, until finally, if they continue in idolatry, that He will remove them from the land. We have to understand these five stages of discipline within the context of two things: the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. These five stages of discipline don't apply to any other nation, they were for Israel only. This is a covenant that outlines that they will enjoy the Abrahamic blessing of the land of they are obedient, and if they are disobedient they will be removed from that land until there is a generation that is obedient.


Leviticus 26:40, 42 NASB "If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me….then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land." The first part of v. 40 should be translated "And they shall confess their iniquity." There is no "If" in the original. We need to know that there is an admission of wrongdoing. Secondly, the confession generation has humbled themselves under the authority of God. That means authority orientation. Third, they still have to spend the time out of the land under divine discipline; it is still enacted. Understanding Leviticus 26:40-43 gives us a foundation for understanding Daniel's prayer of confession in Daniel chapter nine. Daniel put on sackcloth and ashes, and that was a sign of his humility and grief for the nation. He is representing the nation. Emotion can be present but it is not the emotion that makes the confession efficacious, it is simply the admission of the guilt.


In 538 BC Cyrus gave an edict to Zerubbabel to return to the land. In 536 was the first return of Jews under Zerubbabel to build the temple. Notice the order. Daniel confesses the sin. The people then are allowed to return to the land. But have they repented? Daniel confessed but there is no repentance on the part of the people. They have all these problems, they are trying to build the temple, they become discouraged by the opposition of the various factions. Finally, under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah they complete the temple. It is dedicated about 516 BC. Then there is a period of time from the completion of the temple until the second return under Ezra which takes place about 445 BC. Ezra has a major problem because the people are engaged in activities where they are compromising with the pagan population. Specifically, they have been intermarrying with the Gentile population, which is a violation of the Mosaic law. Now it isn't a huge percentage of those who have returned but it is large enough to create a potential problem. The problem with inter-marriage wasn't a racial thing, it was because the Gentile wives brought with them their pagan religions. The mothers had the greatest influence over the children and so this would have been just another fulfilment of that prophecy, that suggestion by Balaam where he encouraged the king of Moab that the way to really destroy the Jews was to get them to intermarry with a bunch of pagan women, and then the women will influence them to get away from their worship of God. This was the danger and there has to be a confession. There really hasn't been a national change, i.e. repentance. National confessions had taken place but there was no change yet, and the people are still messing around and compromising with paganism and with all of the human viewpoint of the Gentile population there. So it is time for another national repentance based on Leviticus 26.


Wen Ezra returned he discovered (Ezra chapter nine) that there is a certain percentage of the Jews that have not separated themselves from the gentiles, and so they are still being influenced by the religious thought of the Canaanites. Ezra 9:1 NASB "Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, {those} of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites." The reason they had been taken out of the land in 586 was that they had for generations compromised with the Canaanites and become more and more idolatrous as they rejected the revelation of God. This exhibited itself in this marriage with the Gentile women [2] "For they have taken some of their daughters {as wives} for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness."

This is a violation of the Mosaic law, so Ezra reacts: [3] "When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled." His emotional reaction which is a righteous reaction is not what makes his prayer of confession efficacious. There is nothing wrong with getting emotional over something we have done wrong, it is just that that isn't what makes God forgive us, it is the confession. This is serious, they might be kicked out of the land again and this is what Ezra recognizes. [4] "Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering." What is going on here is that as Ezra began to read the law people begin to hear him and gather around him to listen to what he has to say and what he is saying about what God has revealed. [5] "But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God." This is a position of obedience, the posture of worship.

Then the prayer of confession:  [6] "and I said, "O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens." The action here has been decades of national rejection of the law and sin. Since they got back into the land they had been marrying amongst Gentile people, so this sin has become extremely horrible. It calls for an exaggerated reaction because of the horrible nature of this ongoing sin and the people have just treated it licentiously as if it didn't matter. [7] "Since the days of our fathers to this day we {have been} in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings {and} our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as {it is} this day." He confessed their sin and their fathers. [8] "But now for a brief moment grace has been {shown} from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage." God has not kicked them out of the land again but has continued to bear with them in the land, just as he does with us when we are out of fellowship. God continues to deal with us in grace and He doesn't immediately discipline us as we deserve. [9] "For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem." That is what occurred under the ministries of Zechariah and Haggai back in the era of Zeubbabel. [10] "Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments, (That is the confession) [11] which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end {and} with their impurity." 

This is again going back historically to what God has warned them about through the mouth of the prophets. The role of the prophet was to act as a district attorney or attorney general for God. He is someone who is pressing a law suit from the Supreme Court of heaven against the covenant partner. Foretelling future events is only secondary to the purpose of prosecuting the law suit. This is a legal contractual relationship from God and Israel, and as Israel has violated the contract God sends his lawyer to challenge them and point out what they have done wrong and what the consequences are going to be. But in that expression of the consequences God always reminds them that of the fact that there will be future grace and a final restoration to the land. That is where the foretelling comes in.

[12] "So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons…" So there is the challenge to the people not to continue this sinful practice.

Then what happens as we get into chapter 10, we read, 10:1, "Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly." The use of the three verbs—confessing, weeping, and bowing down—indicates that these activities are not synonymous. Weeping and bowing down before the house of God is not confession. These are three different activities. Then we read that Shecaniah comes up with a proposal. He has an admission of guilt. [2] "We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. [3] So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law." There is the confession of the sin, and then subsequent to that there is the recognition that they can't go on sinning. There had been confession by Daniel but they kept right on sinning the same sin. Now they are getting the idea that confession isn't enough. It isn't enough to confess and get forgiveness, confess and get forgiveness, and all through this period from the time they came back to the land up to now they have married these pagan wives. There was no change, no repentance, so there is no real recovery.

It is great to be back in fellowship with God and as we come to the New Testament we understand that the issue isn't being in fellowship, the issue is staying in fellowship. In confession we just acknowledge our sin to God and we are forgiven. But then the issue once we are forgiven is to grow, and we grow by walking by means of the Spirit, by staying in fellowship, by abiding in Christ. That is what they have to recognize here. They have to implement a plan of change, so the plan is that they are going to put away these Gentile wives and their children. Why is that? Well the mothers have already influenced the children with their pagan ideas, so there has to be this complete separation from paganism. They can't be conformed to the world, they have to be transformed, so they are going to geographically separate themselves from the sin. They are going to divorce their pagan wives because it is an illegal marriage to begin with in terms of the Mosaic law. They set up this plan, discussed it, and then the people say, Wait a minute, this is a pretty involved procedure, so we need a little time in order to implement this. This is described, starting in verse 9. It takes place late in November of December of around 456-457 BC. The people who were guilty of this agreed to divorce their foreign wives, and because this involved people all over the nation they wanted a couple of months to put this into practice so that they could do this in an orderly manner. They are going to go back to their local towns and villages and handle the situation there. This only involves a total of 113 Israelite men (women could not divorce men), and of these 16 were priests, 10 were Levites, and the rest were all rank and file Jews. So that was the confession and they implemented a plan for change.

Then there is a third return that takes place when Artaxerxes in 444 BC gives that famous decree to Nehemiah that is the foundation for Daniel's 70 weeks. We see the structure of this in Nehemiah chapter one. Nehemiah received word that the walls had not been rebuilt yet around Jerusalem. This is some ten or twelve years after the events we have just discussed with Ezra.

Nehemiah 1:4 NASB "When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven." This is his humbling himself, orienting himself to the authority of God, recognizing the tragedy that has occurred. Here God has extended His grace under Zerubbabel and Ezra and they still haven't finished the project yet. What is the problem? The problem if sin. [5] "I said, "I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments." What kind of language is that? That is covenant language, it goes right back to language in Deuteronomy and Leviticus; he reminds God about His covenant and His mercy [chesed]—loyalty to the covenant. Then his request: [6] "et Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned." He is going through the same Leviticus 26 type of prayer confession. [7] "We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses." They have been just bouncing back and forth, in and out of fellowship. They haven't reached that point where they are really implementing a spiritual change in the people. So his confession is in v. 7. [8] "Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; (Deuteronomy 4:25-27; 28:64. So he reminds God of what He has said and promised) [9] " but {if} you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell." Verse 9 should begin, "but you will return to Me." This is a reiteration of God's promises in Leviticus 26:40-43. This is his prayer of confession.

What is going to happen is he will take a group back to the land, and they will rebuild the walls despite opposition. When it is over with they are going to have a time of national confession involving the people. This is found in Nehemiah chapter nine.

Nehemiah 9:1NASB "Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them." That is the sign culturally of their humility before God. This is a national assembly, by the way. [2] "The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers." They really hadn't completed the implementation after Ezra chapter ten. They had divorced those wives but then it wasn't long before they were back into the practice of assimilating with paganism. So now they have to separate themselves from the foreigners. [3] "While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for {another} fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God." It is going to be the Word of God that is going to be the foundation of real change. Think about this verse. They have everybody out there for one fourth of the day, standing up. Let's just assume that this is not talking about the whole 24-hour period but just the daylight hours. So for three hours they are standing there while Nehemiah and the priests are reading the law orally to the people. The way they would have done this was to have various priests out in the crowd in different places, reading the law out aloud to different groups of people. Then for another fourth, for the next three hours, they are confessing their sins and worshipping the Lord their God.

Then there is a list of Levites who were the leaders in this, and then a record of what they prayed. This is a great prayer of national confession. They began with their address to the people [5] "Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! [6] You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host [angels] bows down before You. [7] You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham." Notice this doesn't go back to Adam, it goes back to Abraham. "You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give {him} the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give {it} to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise, For You are righteous." The foundation of what they are doing is the Abrahamic covenant and God's unconditional promise. Remember that when we studied this earlier in Genesis we saw that that is analogous to the believer's positional truth, our unconditional union with Christ at the instant of salvation that can't ever be lost. We won't experience the blessings that God has for us unless we are walking in obedience. The Jews would not experience the blessing of being in the land unless they were an obedient generation.

Then the next episode is brought in in verse 9. This is an emphasis on God's grace to the Jews. "You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. [10] Then You performed signs and wonders…" It is a recitation of all the things that God did to bring the Jews out of their slavery in Egypt, which is the picture of redemption. Then God's leadership after He brought them through the red Sea [12] "And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way in which they were to go." [13] Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke (gave revelation) with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments." God's provision of the law. Then how God gave them manna, nourishment needs, water needs … but [16] "But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. [17] They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them." One again there is that return to grace. But then there is another recitation of ongoing sins.

[18] Even when they made for themselves A calf of molten metal And said, 'This is your God Who brought you up from Egypt,' And committed great blasphemies." Contrast that with v.19 which is a recitation of God's ongoing grace. [19] "You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go… [22] "You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, And allotted {them} to them as a boundary. They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon And the land of Og the king of Bashan." This gets into the period of the conquest and the period of the Judges. [26] "But they became disobedient and rebelled against You…" That is their confession of sin. [28] "But as soon as they had rest, they did evil again before You; Therefore You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they ruled over them. When they cried again to You, You heard from heaven, And many times You rescued them according to Your compassion." This was that cycle of in and out fellowship with no growth, no repentance, no change.

This goes on until we get down to about verse 33 where there is confession again: "However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. [34] For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. [35] But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. [36] Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it." This is their confession. So they sign a covenant in chapter ten that they are going to abide by the law of the land, so there is a genuine change that finally takes place during this time for a short period, during the time of Nehemiah.

The reason we have gone through this is so that we can learn historically from the Scriptures what confession looks like, and what the difference is between confession and repentance. Confession has to do with restoring that relationship with God but repentance has to do with the application of doctrine, that change that is exemplified in Romans 12:2, that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is a change that takes place, and tis is why when we get into the New testament, the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, that the reason they focus on repentance and not confession is that the issue wasn't simply fellowship (although it was at Laodicea), the issue is that they needed to change behaviour.

This is what we see in the life of Judah. He is a changed individual by the time we see him in Genesis chapters 42 and 43.