“Run to and fro the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her … O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them, but they felt no anguish … They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent” (Jeremiah 5:1-3).
Think about it. God promises to forgive an entire city if just one person deals honestly, seeks the truth, and humbly repents. What kind of repentance does that?
“Identificational repentance” is not a prayer for the dead (to absolve them of personal accountability before God); nor is it vicarious repentance (to stand as a substitute of others). Identificational repentance seeks relief from the consequences of the sins of previous generations for the present generation.
There are many examples of identificational repentance in the Bible. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel did not commit the sins they confessed, but chose to humbly identify with and confess the corporate sins of others.
Moses sought God’s forgiveness on a corporate level after Israel’s worship of the golden calf (Ex 32:9-14; 34:8-9; Deut 9:18-29; 10:10-11; Ps 106:6, 23). He also warned Israel that they would suffer “because of the iniquities of their fathers … But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers” God would reaffirm his covenant with them (Lev 26:38-40). Jeremiah confessed the sins of his generation and his forefathers: “We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you” (Jer 14:20). In Daniel’s prayer for his people, he repeatedly used “we”: “we have sinned … we have not listened … we have rebelled … we have not entreated the favor of the Lord” (9:3-19). You’ll find that both Ezra and Nehemiah’s identificational repentance (Ezra 9:6-15; Neh 1:6-9) led to corporate repentance (Ezra 10:1-4; Neh 8:9-11; 9:1-2).
Moses, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel all humbly identified with and repented of the sins of their nation. The question is: what would happen if you did? According to Jeremiah, God is looking for one person.