After all this had been done, some of the leaders of the people of Israel came and told me that the people, the priests, and the Levites had not kept themselves separate from the people in the neighboring countries of Ammon, Moab, and Egypt or from the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Amorites. They were doing the same disgusting things which these people did.
Jewish men were marrying foreign women, and so God's holy people had become contaminated. The leaders and officials were the chief offenders.
When I heard this, I tore my clothes in despair, tore my hair and my beard, and sat down crushed with grief.
I sat there grieving until the time for the evening sacrifice to be offered, and people began to gather around me - all those who were frightened because of what the God of Israel had said about the sins of those who had returned from exile.
When the time came for the evening sacrifice, I got up from where I had been grieving, and still wearing my torn clothes, I knelt in prayer and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God.
I said, "O God, I am too ashamed to raise my head in your presence. Our sins pile up higher than our heads; they reach as high as the heavens.
From the days of our ancestors until now, we, your people, have sinned greatly. Because of our sins we, our kings, and our priests have fallen into the hands of foreign kings, and we have been slaughtered, robbed, and carried away as prisoners. We have been totally disgraced, as we still are today.
Now for a short time, O Lord our God, you have been gracious to us and have let some of us escape from slavery and live in safety in this holy place. You have let us escape from slavery and have given us new life.
We were slaves, but you did not leave us in slavery. You made the emperors of Persia favor us and permit us to go on living and to rebuild your Temple, which was in ruins, and to find safety here in Judah and Jerusalem.
"But now, O God, what can we say after all that has happened? We have again disobeyed the commands
that you gave us through your servants, the prophets. They told us that the land we were going to occupy was an impure land because the people who lived in it filled it from one end to the other with disgusting, filthy actions.
They told us that we were never to intermarry with those people and never to help them prosper or succeed if we wanted to enjoy the land and pass it on to our descendants forever. 1
Even after everything that has happened to us in punishment for our sins and wrongs, we know that you, our God, have punished us less than we deserve and have allowed us to survive.
Then how can we ignore your commandments again and intermarry with these wicked people? If we do, you will be so angry that you will destroy us completely and let no one survive.
Lord God of Israel, you are just, but you have let us survive. We confess our guilt to you; we have no right to come into your presence."