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On a cold, wet, windy day, a small group of people from Britain toured the ruins of the convict settlement of Port Arthur in southern Tasmania to learn more about the convict history of Tasmania (a state of Australia). They listened appalled as the guide described how some of the worst punishments human beings can devise were inflicted on the convict prisoners of this place. They accompanied the guide into the chapel where prisoners had been forced to listen to sermons about their extreme wickedness, while locked into individual compartments, devoid of any human contact.
However, this team from Britain were no ordinary tourists - they were a group of intercessors who had come to Australia specifically to repent of the sins of the nation of England towards its former colony. Inside the chapel they knelt before us and wept, confessing the sins that were perpetrated against Australia and its convict settlers asking for our forgiveness. These scenes were repeated all over Australia during their 6 week visit as the team visited Aboriginal settlements, orphanages and prisons repenting of the sins of their nation.
None of these intercessors were personally responsible for the sins of Britain towards Australia. They came, not to repent of their own personal sin, but the sins of the nation they represented, Britain. This was a very powerful example of identificational (or representational) repentance.
National guilt and repentance
Christians are familiar with the concept of personal repentance (metanoia). We know that each one of us is personally responsible for our own sin, and that we need to acknowledge our sin, repent of it and turn away from it. However, in Old Testament times, guilt and repentance were also understood on a corporate, or national level. When an individual sinned, the whole nation became guilty. Joshua 7:1 tells us that Achan took some things from Jericho that were destined for destruction, and hid them. Yet in verse 11, God emphasised that Israel had sinned, that the whole nation was guilty, and therefore worthy of the judgement of God. The whole nation was under judgement until that individual's sin had been dealt with. The sin in the nation affected every individual - they all shared the responsibility, even if they had not personally committed the sin.
To deal with sin on the corporate level, there were times when God called the whole nation together to a time of prayer and fasting and confession of sin (e.g. Nehemiah 9:1-2; 1 Sam 7:6). At other times, an individual representing the people intervened or mediated between the people and God, confessing the sins of the nation and pleading for God's righteous judgement on the people to be averted (Exodus 32:11-14, 30-34; Ezra 9:6-15, Daniel 9:4-19).
Moses' Mediation between God and Israel
Moses was the leader of an unruly mob of ex-slaves. They were a rebellious, complaining, cantankerous lot and at times they tested Moses' patience to the limit. They also tested God's patience to the limit, and provoked His severest judgement. After they had been given the ten commandments, while Moses was still on Mt. Sinai communicating with God, the people turned away from God and made a golden calf and worshipped it. Because of this gross rebellion, God proposed to consume the lot of them (Ex. 32:10). It was only Moses' intercession that saved them. Even though he was himself appalled at what they had done, he stood with the people, identified with them and sought to make atonement for their sin. He prayed, "Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin - and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written (Ex. 32:31-32). In effect, he said to God, "If you are going to destroy these people, you will have to destroy me too, because I am one of them". Through Moses' identification with his people, and his supplication for forgiveness on their behalf, God forgave them.
Moses was the primary mediator between the people of Israel and God, and he interceded in times of crisis and rebellion, as when they worshipped the golden calf. However, to deal with the sins that the people of Israel committed every day, God set up another system of mediation, the priesthood. The priesthood consisted of the High Priest, initially Aaron, and his sons (and descendants). The priesthood also involved one man representing the people before God confessing their sins, and seeking forgiveness on their behalf.
Daniel's Prayer of Identificational Repentance
Daniel was a man who walked in God's ways from his youth. As a youth, he was "without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king's palace." (Daniel 1:4) He demonstrates his heart after God early on, by choosing to take a stand for God and not defile himself in eating unclean foods from the king's table just after he'd been taken captive to Babylon. (Daniel 1:8-17). God blessed Daniel for his stand for holiness, and prospered him tremendously (Daniel 1:19-20, Daniel 2:48, Daniel 6:1-3). Daniel risked his life to remain faithful to God and continue his discipline of prayer after Darius made it illegal for a season (Daniel 6:4-28). Daniel is clearly a righteous man who honored God from his youth, and as a result God honored him.
Yet in Daniel 9, we find Daniel praying in a manner where he confesses the sins of Israel and repents. He does not say "our fathers did this sin" ... or "our ancestors did that sin" or "they sined against You." Instead we see him entering into the position of the people he was praying for. We see him saying, in verse 5:
'We' have sinced and done wrong. 'We' have been wickeded and have rebelled; 'we' have turned away from your commands and laws.
The pray goes on. Over and over we see Daniel using "we" and "our sins". He has taken ownership of sins that were committed before he was even born. He personally did not sin. But as an intercessor, he steps into the place of being identified with those who did sin, and of offering his sincere repentance before God for the sins that were committed. We see him asking God to release grace and forgiveness. It begins in verse 17 and goes through verse 19:
So Daniel, a man known for his godliness and faith and for his stands for God enters into identificational repentance. If ever there was one person who did not do what the nation did, it was Daniel. And yet the Lord moves him to identify with the sins of his forefathers and sincerely repent for them.
And God shows that, on the basis of his personal relationship with God, Daniel's prayers are heard and answered. We see this in Daniel 9:20-23
Many bible scholars believe that it was Daniel's identificational repentance, under the Holy Spirit's prompting, that paved the way for Jerusalem and the temple to be rebuilt. In verse 23, we see that the answer was given immediately, but Daniel had to war and persist in the spirit to see it through. So it is sometimes with identificational repentance. There are sometimes elements of enemy resistance that cause us to have to stand firm in our prayers over that period of time from when the answer is given to when we see the results.
If God calls you to identificational repentance, stand firm and confident in the knowledge that He will hear your prayers and answer them, just as He did with Daniel.