As a part of the Jews celebration of the feast of booths, it says in Nehemiah 9:2 that the people separated themselves from the strangers that were living in Jerusalem “and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.” The process of confessing their sins was not what most people today might think of it. The Hebrew word translated confessed, yadah means literally to use the hand, especially to revere or worship God with extended hands (3034). The act of raising their hands may have been symbolic of their dependence on God or a sign of their adoration of him. Rather than being something that the Jews were forced to or expected to do, the raising of their hands was likely an involuntary response to what they were hearing. It could have been a spiritual reaction to the conviction they felt in their hearts.
One way to describe what was happening when the Jews confessed their sins would be a spiritual revival. The likely trigger for the Jews revival was remembering the past. Psalm 85, which focuses on the Jews return from captivity, contains a question that was asked of God, “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Psalm 85:6). Revival and rejoicing were connected with each other because the natural response to restored fellowship with God was rejoicing or cheerfulness (8055). Hearing the word of God had the effect of brightening the people’s outlook on the future and made them realize that their lives would be blessed by God because they chose to go back to the Promised Land.
In Psalm 85, the psalmist went on to say, “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10). After the word of God was read, the people remembered that the creator of the universe had made a covenant with Abraham, and also delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. With a new perspective, the Jews saw that God’s mercy was available to them. All they needed to do was repent and ask for his help. At the end of their experience, it says in Nehemiah 9:38, “And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” The people’s renewed commitment was recorded so that there would be no misunderstanding going forward that their allegiance was pledged to God.