Some time later after all this had happened, the leaders* came and told me, “The people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the people around us whose disgusting religious practices are similar to those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. Some Israelites have even married women from these people, both themselves and their sons, mixing the holy race with these people of the land. Our leaders and officials are at the forefront of this sinful behavior.”
When I heard about this, I tore my clothes, pulled out some hair from my head and beard, and sat down, absolutely appalled. Everyone who respected the instructions of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this sin on the part of the exiles. I sat there shocked and appalled until the evening sacrifice.
At the evening sacrifice, I stood up from where I had been sitting in grief, with my clothes torn, and I kneeled down and held out my hands to the Lord my God. I prayed, “My God, I am so ashamed and embarrassed to come and pray to you, my God, because we are in over our heads in sin, and our guilt has risen to the heavens. From the time of our forefathers to now, we have been deeply guilty. Because of our sins, we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the earth, killed and taken prisoner, robbed and humiliated, just like we are today.
Now for a short time the Lord our God has given us grace, preserving a few of us as a remnant, and giving us safety§ in his holy place. Our God has brightened our lives* by giving us some relief from our slavery. Though we are slaves, our God did not abandon us in our slavery, but he showed us his trustworthy love by making the kings of Persia kind to us, by reviving us so we could rebuild the Temple of our God and repair its ruined state, and by giving us a wall of protection around Judah and Jerusalem.
10 But now, our God, what do we have to say for ourselves after all this? For we have given up following your commands 11 that you gave through your servants the prophets, telling us, ‘The land you are entering to become its owners is contaminated by the sins of its peoples, the disgusting religious practices that they have filled it with, from one side to the other. 12 So do not let your daughters marry their sons, or allow their daughters marry your sons. Never make a peace or friendship treaty with them, so that you may live well and eat the good food the land produces, and give the land as an inheritance to your children forever.’
13 Now that we are receiving all this punishment because of our sinful actions and our terrible guiltthough you, our God, have not punished us as much as our sins deserve, and have still given us this remnant 14 shall we break your commandments once again and intermarry with the peoples who commit these disgusting religious practices? Wouldn't you become so angry with us that you would destroy us? No remnant would be left, not a single survivor. 15 Lord, God of Israel, you do what is right. Today we're all that is left, a remnant. We are before you in our guilt, but no one can stand before you because of it.”
* 9:1 These were civil leaders, not religious leaders. 9:4 “Everyone who respected the instructions of the God of Israel”: literally, “Everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel.” The emphasis here is not so much fear but an openness to instruction and obedience to what God had said. 9:6 “To come and pray to you”: literally, “to lift up my face to you.” § 9:8 “Safety”: literally, “tent peg.” * 9:8 “Lives”: literally, “eyes.” 9:13 “Remnant”: referring to those who had returned from exile.