It was the 24th day of the seventh month. The people of Israel gathered together again. They didn't eat any food. They wore black clothes. They put dust on their heads.
The people of Israel separated themselves from everyone else. They stood and admitted they had sinned. They also admitted that their people before them had done evil things.
They stood where they were. They listened while the Levites read parts of the Scroll of the Law of the LORD their God. They listened for a fourth of the day. They spent another fourth of the day admitting their sins. They also worshiped the LORD their God.
The Levites stood on the stairs. They included Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel and Shebaniah. They also included Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. With loud voices they called out to the LORD their God.
Then some Levites spoke up. They included Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani and Hashabneiah. They also included Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah. They said to the people, "Stand up. Praise the LORD your God. He lives for ever and ever!" So the people said, "Lord, may your glorious name be praised. May it be lifted high above every other name that is blessed and praised.
You are the one and only Lord. You made the heavens. You made even the highest heavens. You created all of the stars in the sky. You created the earth and everything that is on it. And you made the oceans and everything that is in them. You give life to everything. Every living being in heaven worships you.
"You are the LORD God. You chose Abram. You brought him out of Ur in Babylonia. You named him Abraham.
You knew that his heart was faithful to you. And you made a covenant with him. You promised to give to his children after him a land of their own. It was the land of the Canaanites, Hittites and Amorites. The Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites also lived there. You have kept your promise. That's because you always do what is right and fair.
"You saw how our people suffered long ago in Egypt. You heard them cry out to you at the Red Sea.
You did miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh. You sent plagues on all of his officials. In fact, you sent them on all of the people of Egypt. You knew how they treated our people. They looked down on them. But you made a name for yourself. That name remains to this very day.
"You parted the Red Sea for the people of Israel. They passed through it on dry ground. But you threw into the sea those who chased them. They sank down like a stone into the mighty waters.
By day you led them with a pillar of cloud. At night you led them with a pillar of fire. It gave them light to show them the way you wanted them to go.
"You came down on Mount Sinai. From heaven you spoke to our people. You gave them rules and laws. Those laws are right and fair. You gave them orders and commands that are good.
You taught them about your holy Sabbath day. You gave them commands, orders and laws. You did it through your servant Moses.
"When the people were hungry, you gave them bread from heaven. When they were thirsty, you brought them water out of a rock. "You told them to go into the land of Canaan. You told them to take it as their own. It was the land you had promised to give them. You had even raised your hand and taken an oath to do it.
"But our people before us became proud and stubborn. They didn't obey your commands.
They refused to listen to you. They forgot the miracles you had done among them. So they became stubborn. When they refused to obey you, they appointed a leader for themselves. They wanted to go back to being slaves in Egypt. But you are a God who forgives. You are gracious. You are tender and kind. You are slow to get angry. You are full of love. So you didn't desert them.
"They made for themselves a metal statue of a god that looked like a calf. They said, 'Here is your god. He brought you up out of Egypt.' And they did evil things that dishonored you. But you still didn't desert them.
"Because you loved them so much, you didn't leave them in the desert. During the day the pillar of cloud didn't stop guiding them on their path. At night the pillar of fire didn't stop shining on the way you wanted them to go.
You gave them your good Spirit to teach them. You didn't hold back your manna from their mouths. And you gave them water when they were thirsty.
For 40 years you took good care of them in the desert. They had everything they needed. Their clothes didn't wear out. And their feet didn't swell up.
"You gave them kingdoms and nations. You even gave them lands far away. They took over the country of Sihon. He was king of Heshbon. They also took over the country of Og. He was king of Bashan.
You gave them as many children as there are stars in the sky. You told their parents to enter the land. You told them to take it over. And you brought their children into it.
Their children went into the land. They took it as their own. You brought the people of Canaan under Israel's control. The Canaanites lived in the land. But you handed them over to Israel. You also handed their kings and the other nations in the land over to Israel. You allowed Israel to deal with them just as they wanted to.
"Your people captured cities that had high walls around them. They also took over the rich land in Canaan. They took houses that were filled with all kinds of good things. They took over wells that had already been dug. They took many vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees. They ate until they were very full and satisfied. They were filled with joy because you were so good to them.
"But they didn't obey you. Instead, they turned against you. They turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets. The prophets had warned them to turn back to you. But they did very evil things that dishonored you.
"So you handed them over to their enemies, who beat them down. Then they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them. You loved them very much. So you sent leaders to help them. The leaders saved them from the powerful hand of their enemies.
"But as soon as the people were enjoying peace and rest again, they did what was evil in your sight. Then you handed them over to their enemies. So their enemies ruled over them. When they cried out to you again, you heard them from heaven. You loved them very much. So you saved them time after time.
"You warned them to obey your law again. But they became proud. They didn't obey your commands. They sinned against your rules. Anyone who obeys them will live by them. But the people didn't care about that. They turned their backs on you. They became very stubborn. They refused to listen to you.
"For many years you put up with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. In spite of that, they didn't pay any attention. So you handed them over to the nations that were around them.
But you loved them very much. So you didn't put an end to them. You didn't desert them. That's because you are a gracious God. You are tender and kind.
"Our God, you are great, mighty and wonderful. You keep the covenant you made with us. You show us your love. So don't let all of our suffering seem like a small thing in your sight. We've suffered greatly. So have our kings and leaders. So have our priests and prophets. Our people who lived long ago also suffered. And all of your people are suffering right now. In fact, we've been suffering from the time of the kings of Assyria until today.
"In spite of everything that has happened to us, you have been fair. You have been faithful in what you have done. But we did what was wrong.
Our kings and leaders didn't follow your law. Our priests and our people before us didn't follow it either. They didn't pay any attention to your commands. They didn't listen to the warnings you gave them.
They didn't serve you. They didn't turn from their evil ways. They didn't obey you even when they had a kingdom. You were very good to them. And they enjoyed it. You gave them a rich land. It had plenty of room in it. But they still didn't serve you.
"Now look at us. We are slaves today. We're slaves in the land you gave our people long ago. You gave it to them so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces.
But we have sinned against you. So its great harvest goes to the kings of Persia. You have placed them over us. They rule over our bodies and cattle just as they please. And we are suffering terribly.
"So we are making a firm agreement. We're writing it down. Our leaders are stamping it with their seals. And so are our Levites and priests."