1 When we had done all these things, the Jewish leaders came to speak to me. They said, ‘Some of the Israelites have done disgusting things, like the people of other nations do. Some priests and Levites have done the same bad things. They live in the same way as the other people who live in this land, the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have not kept themselves separate. 2 They have married some of the foreign people's daughters. They have let their sons do the same thing. In this way, God's holy people have become mixed with the foreign people who live near to them. Our own leaders and officers have led the way in these bad things.’
3 When I heard this, I was very upset. I tore my shirt and my coat. I pulled out hair from my head and my beard. I was angry and ashamed. I sat down. 4 Then everyone who respected the words of Israel's God came round me. They were afraid of what God might do, because the Israelites who came from Babylon had not obeyed him. I continued to sit there, until the time of the evening sacrifice. I was still very upset.
5 When the time came for the evening sacrifice, I stood up. I still wore my shirt and coat that I had torn because I was so sad. Then I went down on my knees. I held out my hands and I prayed to the Lord, my God. 6 I said,
‘My God, I am too ashamed to look up at you. Our sins are very great. They are so many that they reach far above us. We are completely guilty. 7 Since our ancestors were alive, we have continued to do wrong things. Because of our sins, you have given our enemies power over us, our kings and our priests. Foreign kings and their armies have killed some of our people. They have made some of us prisoners. They have robbed us and they have caused us to be ashamed. And we are still ashamed today.
8 But now, for a short time, the Lord our God has been kind to us. He has let some of us remain alive. He has given us a safe place to live in this holy place. He has made our lives happier. He has given us rest from work as slaves. 9 We are still slaves, but our God has not left us alone to serve other people. Because he loves us, he has caused the kings of Persia to be kind to us. He has let us live so that we can build again the temple of our God. It had become a heap of stones, but now we have built it again. He has given us a safe place to live in Jerusalem and the other towns of Judah.
10 Our God, we can say nothing good about ourselves. We have turned away from your commands. 11 Your servants the prophets told us your laws. You said, “You are going to live in a land that is unclean. The people who live there have done wicked things. The whole land has been made unclean by all the evil things that they have done. 12 So, you must not let your daughters marry their sons. And do not let your sons marry their daughters. Do not ever help them to live in peace and become strong. If you make yourselves separate from them, you will be strong yourselves. The land will give you good food to eat. After you die, the land will belong to your children, and to your descendants for ever.”
13 All these bad things have happened to us because we are guilty of many wicked things. But, our God, you still have not punished us as much as we deserve. You have let some of us remain alive. 14 But now we still refuse to obey your commands! Some of us have married foreign people who do disgusting things. If we continue to do that, you may destroy us all. None of us will remain alive! 15 Lord God of Israel, you are righteous. Only a few of us escaped from exile and remain as your people today. Now we stand before you as guilty people. Because of our sins, we do not deserve to come near to you.’