After all of those things had been done, the leaders came to me. They said, "The people of Israel have committed sins. Even the priests and Levites have sinned. They haven't kept themselves separate from the nations that are around them. The LORD hates the practices of those nations. He hates what the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites do. He also hates what the Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites do.
"The men of Israel have gotten married to the daughters of some of those people. They've also taken some of those women for their sons to marry. So they've mixed our holy nation with the nations around us. By getting married to women who don't worship the Lord, we leaders and officials have led the way in breaking our covenant with him. We haven't been faithful to him."
When I heard that, I tore my inner robe and my coat. I pulled hair from my head and beard. I was so shocked I sat down.
Then everyone who trembled with fear because of what the God of Israel had said gathered around me. They came because the people who had returned from Babylonia had not been faithful. So I sat there in shock until the time of the evening sacrifice.
Then I got up. I had been very sad for quite a while. My inner robe and my coat were torn. I fell down on my knees. I spread my hands out to the LORD my God.
I prayed, "You are my God. I'm filled with shame and dishonor. I can hardly look to you and pray. That's because our sins are piled up above our heads. Our guilt reaches all the way to the heavens.
We are filled with it. It has been like that ever since the days of our people who lived long ago. "Kings of other countries have killed many of us and our kings and priests with their swords. They've forced others to leave their own land. They've taken them away as prisoners. They've robbed others. They've made still others feel ashamed and dishonored. "All of those things have happened to us because we've committed so many sins. And that's how things still are to this very day.
"But you are the LORD our God. Now you have shown us your favor for a short time. You have allowed a few of us to remain here. Your temple has given us new hope. So you have made things easier for us. You have given us a little rest from our slavery.
We are still slaves. But you are our God. You haven't deserted us. You haven't left us in our slavery. You have been kind to us. The kings of Persia have seen it. You have given us new life to repair your temple and rebuild it. You have given us a place of safety in Judah and Jerusalem.
"You are our God. What can we say after the way you have blessed us? We said no to what you commanded us to do.
"You gave us your commands through your servants the prophets. You said, 'You are entering the land to take it as your own. The sinful practices of its people have polluted it. They have filled it with their unclean acts from one end to the other. The LORD hates all of their practices.
So don't let your daughters get married to their sons. And don't let their daughters marry your sons. Don't make a peace treaty with them at any time. Then you will be strong. You will eat the good things the land produces. And you will leave all of it to your children as their share. They and their children after them will enjoy it forever.'
"Our evil acts and our terrible sins have brought about the things that have happened to us. You are our God. Because we sinned so much, you should have punished us even more than you have. But you have left many of your people alive.
Suppose we don't obey your commands again. And suppose we continue to get married to people who commit sins that you hate. If we do, you will be so angry with us that you will destroy us. You won't leave us even a few people. You won't leave anyone alive.
"Lord, you are the God of Israel. You are holy. You always do what is right. Today you have left many of your people alive. Here we are with all of our guilt. You see the guilt of our sin. Because we have sinned, not one of us can stand in front of you."