Nehemiah 9

The people pray to God

1 On the 24th day of the same month, the Israelite people met together. They did not eat or drink. They wore sackcloth and they put dust on their heads.

9:1Sackcloth is rough cloth. It is not comfortable to wear. Jews wore sackcloth to show that they were sorry. They put dust on their heads to show that they were sad or in trouble.

2 The Israelite people made themselves separate from foreign people. They stood up and they told God that they were sorry for their sins. They agreed that their ancestors had also done many bad things. 3 While the Israelites stood there, they read from the book of God's Law during a quarter of the day. During another quarter of the day they told the Lord their God about their sins and they worshipped him. 4 The Levites stood on some high steps. They called out in a loud voice to the Lord their God. Those Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. 5 Then the Levites (Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah) said, ‘Stand up and praise the Lord your God. He lives always and for ever.’

They said, ‘Your name is great and wonderful. We praise you more than words could ever say. 6 Only you are the Lord. You made the sky and the heavens above the sky. You made all the stars, the earth and everything on it. You made the seas and everything in them. You give life to everything. The great crowd of angels in heaven bend down low to worship you.

9:5They said or Ezra said

7 You are the Lord God who chose Abram. You brought him out of Ur, in Babylonia. You changed his name to be Abraham. 8 You knew that Abraham trusted you, so you made a covenant with him. You promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. That was the country where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites lived. You have done what you promised to do, because you are righteous.

9 You saw that our ancestors had trouble and pain in Egypt. You heard them cry to you for help at the Red Sea. 10 You did great miracles to show your power against Pharaoh, his officers and all his people. You knew that they were being cruel to your people. You showed everyone that you are a great God. And people still know that it is true. 11 You divided the sea into two parts so that your people could cross it on a dry path. When Pharaoh's soldiers chased after them, you threw them into the sea. They drowned in the water, like a heavy stone. 12 During the day, you led your people with a pillar of cloud. At night, you led them with a pillar of fire to give them light. You showed them the way that they should travel.

9:10Pharaoh was Egypt's king.

13 At Sinai mountain, you came down from heaven and you spoke to your people. You gave them your laws, rules and commands, which are good, fair and true. 14 You told them about the Sabbath and how to make it a special day. You gave all your laws to Moses so that he would teach them to your people. 15 You gave your people bread from heaven when they were hungry. You gave them water from a rock to drink when they were thirsty. You commanded them to go to the land that you had promised to give them. You told them to take it for themselves.

16 But our ancestors turned away from you. They would not agree to obey your commands. 17 They refused to obey you. They forgot about all the miracles that you had done to help them. Instead, they turned against you. They chose a leader to take them back to Egypt, where they had been slaves. But you are a God who forgives people. You are kind to people. You are slow to get angry and your love for your people always continues. So you did not leave your people alone.

18 Our ancestors made an image of a young cow to be their god. They said to each other, “This is our god who brought us out of Egypt.” They insulted you in that way, but you still did not turn away from your people.

9:18A calf is a young cow. The Jews used gold to make something in the shape of a calf. Then they worshipped it.

19 You were kind to them while they travelled in the desert. You continued to lead them with a pillar of cloud in the day. At night, you continued to show them the way with a pillar of fire. So they always knew which way to go. 20 You gave them your good Spirit to teach them what to do. You continued to give them manna from heaven to eat. You gave them water from a rock to drink. 21 During 40 years you took care of them in the desert. Their clothes did not spoil. Their feet did not become big with pain.

22 You gave kingdoms and nations to your people. The borders of their land reached a long way. The land of King Sihon of Heshbon became theirs. So did the land of King Og of Bashan. 23 You caused your people to have many descendants, as many as the stars in the sky. You brought them to the land that you had promised to their ancestors. You had told them to go and live in it. 24 Their descendants went there and they took the land for themselves. You gave them power over the Canaanites and the other kings and nations who lived there. They could do whatever they wanted with those people. 25 They took their strong cities and their good land for themselves. The houses of those people were full of many good things. Your people could use the things that were already there. They had their wells, their vineyards, their olive trees and other fruit trees. They had as much food as they could eat, so they became fat. The many good things that you gave them made them very happy.

26 But your people did not obey you. They turned against you. They stopped obeying your laws. You sent your prophets to warn your people to return to you. But they killed the prophets that you sent to them. Your people insulted you in many bad ways. 27 So you put them under the power of their enemies. And their enemies were cruel to them. Then your people called to you for help because they were in trouble. You heard them from your home in heaven. Because you are so kind, you gave them strong leaders. And those leaders saved them from their enemies.

28 But when your people were living safely again, they did evil things again. So you left them to the power of their enemies. Your people called to you again for help. You heard them again from your home in heaven. Because you are so kind, you rescued them like that many times. 29 You warned them to obey your laws. But they refused to listen to you. They did not obey your commands. You had given them rules which would help them to have true life if they obeyed them. But they would not obey your laws. They turned away from you and they continued to do bad things.

30 You continued to help your people for many years. You sent your prophets to tell them messages from your Spirit. You warned them, but they refused to listen. So you put them under the power of the nations who lived near them. 31 But because you are very kind, you did not turn away from them or destroy them. You are a God who is very kind and you forgive people.

32 So we pray to you, our God. You are great and powerful. You continue to love your people as you have promised in your covenant with us. Please see how much trouble has come to us! Our kings, our leaders, our priests, our prophets and our ancestors and your people all belong to you. We have all had many great troubles since the time that the kings of Assyria attacked us. 33 But when you punished us like that, you were right to do it. You have always been faithful. It is us who have done wicked things. 34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our ancestors have not obeyed your laws. They have not listened to your commands. You warned them but they would not listen. 35 When they had their own kingdom, they still would not agree to serve you. You gave them a good land to live in, with plenty of food. They enjoyed your good gifts, but they would not obey you. They did not stop doing evil things.

36 So today we live like slaves. Yes, we are slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors. You wanted them to enjoy all the good things that grow here. 37 But because of our sins you have caused foreign kings to rule over us. They take the food that grows in our fields. They use us and our animals in any way that they like. So we are very upset!’

The people promise to obey the Lord

38 ‘Because of this we Israelite people are all making a promise. We are writing down our agreement to serve the Lord. Our leaders, our Levites and our priests will write their names on it to give it their authority.’