Understanding God leads to praise and repentance

Dr Jason Atkinson

Dr Jason Atkinson, BST Hebrew and Old Testament Lecturer

The Bible is replete with accounts of believers coming together to pray to God. An interesting account occurs toward the end of the book of Nehemiah, which records the people of God coming together for a half day of fasting and prayer. Why would they ever do such a thing?

According to Nehemiah chapter 7, the community of God’s people assembled to read and study the Bible together. By chapter 9, this resulted in an overwhelming consensus that their new-found knowledge of God required from them a humble, comprehensive, and direct response to God in prayer.

So, what did the people in Nehemiah’s day pray for? Did they pray for an end to their poverty and enslavement to Persian overlords? Did they pray for a restoration of their broken-down nation? Well, yes, their material needs and political circumstances are implicit throughout their long prayer. Yet as they gathered together in Jerusalem, in the midst of the rubble and ruined glory of their capital city, the overwhelming focus of their prayer to God was praise and repentance.

Now, praise and repentance are not distinct elements, rather they are intertwined. Turning their attention to God’s glory, it’s as if a spot-light now shines upon their own depravity. This can be seen in chapter 9 verses 5–15 where the people’s praise of God’s power in creation and his work in salvation history eventually serve to highlight the extent of their recent treachery and waywardness. Accordingly, in verses 16–35, the people of God recognise their fickleness, their inadequacies, and their failure to trust. They corporately repent of their sins against God and they acknowledge that, although they deserve punishment, nevertheless Godforgives them — a fact which conversely serves to highlight more brightly the greatness of God and his abounding love.

Now, isn’t this the ultimate purpose for a college like BST? What other litmus test is there for a “school of theology” other than it aim to promote an accurate understanding of God, through the teaching of his word, so that people will respond to God, not least in praise and repentance? Along these lines, when was the last time you were so thrilled with what you have newly understood about the Lord that it drove you to him in prayer?