The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Second Book of Esdras or the Book of Nehemias
Then, on the twenty-fourth day of this same month, the men of Israel met together, fasting, and with sackcloth about them, and sprinkled with dust,
and the whole breed of Israel severed itself from all contact with alien folk. They met to confess their sins, and all the guilt their fathers had brought on them.
The day was divided into four parts; first they would stand in their places, while the terms of the Divine law were read to them, then they would make confession, and offer worship to the Lord their God.
It was for the Levites to mount upon the pulpit, Josue, Bani, Cedmihel, Sabania, Bonni, Sarebias (Bani), and Chanani, and cry out in a loud voice to the Lord their God.
…This was the prayer offered by the Levites, Josue, Cedmihel, Bonni, Hasebnia, Serebia, Odaia, Sebnia and Phathahia. Up, friends, and bless the Lord your God, as blessed he must be from the beginning to the end of time! Blessed be thy glorious name, O Lord, that is beyond all blessing, and all praise!
Heaven is of thy fashioning, and the heaven of heavens, and all the hosts that dwell there, earth and sea, and all that earth and sea hold; to all these thou givest the life they have; none so high in heaven but must pay thee worship.
It was thou, Lord God, that didst make choice of Abram, and beckon him away from Chaldaea, from the City of Fire.✻ And now thou wouldst call him Abraham;
a loyal servant thou didst find him, and didst make a covenant with him, promising that his race should inherit the lands of Chanaanite and Hethite, Amorrhite and Pherezite, Jebusite and Gergesite. That promise, in thy faithfulness, thou didst make good.
Thou hadst an eye for the affliction our fathers suffered in Egypt, an ear for their cry of distress at the Red Sea;
the pride of Pharao and Pharao’s court and all his people had not passed unregarded; there were portents, and marvels, and thy name won renown, as it has won renown this day.
Thou didst part the waters at their coming, so that they crossed the sea dry-shod, didst hurl their pursuers into the depths of it, so that they sank like a stone beneath the rushing waves.
Thou thyself didst lead thy people on their journey, hidden by day in a pillar of cloud, by night in a pillar of fire, to light the path they must tread.
There, on mount Sinai, thou didst keep tryst with them; thy voice came from heaven to teach them thy just decrees, thy abiding law with all its observances, all its wholesome bidding.
There thou didst reveal to them how thy sabbath should be kept holy; law and observance and award thou, through Moses, didst hand down to them.
When they were hungry, thou didst give them bread from heaven; when they were thirsty, thou didst bring water out of the rock; and for the goal of their journey didst beckon them on to take possession of this same land, which thou hadst sworn to give them.
But now our fathers sinned through pride in their turn; spurned the yoke, and would not listen to thy commandments.
No memory of the wondrous protection thou hadst given them could win their obedience; they would spurn the yoke, and take their own defiant path, the path that led back to slavery. But thou, a God so indulgent, so kind, so merciful, so patient, so pitying, wouldst not abandon them;
not even when they made a molten calf, and hailed it very blasphemously as the God that had rescued them from Egypt;
still in thy great mercy thou wouldst not cast them off in the desert. Never lacked they by day the pillar of cloud that led them, never by night the pillar of fire that shone upon their path;
still thy gracious spirit gave its warnings, still thou wouldst not refuse manna to feed them, water to quench their thirst.
All those forty years in the desert thou didst feed them, and nothing did they lack; never a garment threadbare, never a foot sore with travel.
Whole kingdoms, whole nations thou didst subdue before them, to allot them lands of their own; nothing Sehon possessed, that reigned at Hesebon, or Og, that was king in Basan, but should be theirs.
By now, thou hadst given increase to their race till they were countless as the stars in heaven; it was the fathers thou hadst first bidden to invade the land and take possession of it,
but it was their sons that reached the goal. At their coming, thou didst crush the pride of the Chanaanites that dwelt here, kings and people alike were a prey for the conqueror, left at his mercy.
So it was that our fathers gained cities well fortified, lands well tilled; houses full of all they needed, wells other men had dug for them, vineyard and olive-yard and orchard already planted. Now they might eat their fill, glut their appetites with all the good things thy mercy had bestowed.
Then it was they defied thy anger, thy worship forsaken, thy laws forgotten, and slew the prophets that adjured them to come back to thee. And thou, in return for such foul impieties,
didst give their enemies the mastery over them, till they fell into sore distress. But when, in their misery, they cried out to thee, thou, in heaven, didst not refuse them audience; ever thou wouldst send, of thy great mercy, a champion to bring them rescue.
Still the days of peace saw them defying thy will, until thou must needs put them at their enemies’ mercy; still their repentant cries reached thy hearing, and won them merciful deliverance.
And thou, all the while, wast pleading with them to return to thy allegiance, while they, too proud to heed thy bidding, transgressed the commandments that bring man life; always the unwilling shoulder, the stubborn neck, the deaf ear.
Through long years thy patience lasted, and thou wast content to warn them through inspiration given to thy prophets; then at last, when these went unheard, thou didst give thy people up into the hands of the Gentiles.
And even so, in thy clemency, thou wouldst not make an end of us; even now thou hast not abandoned us, so pitying, so merciful a God thou art.
To thee, then, we turn, who art our God, to thee, the great, the strong, the terrible God, who dost not forget thy covenant, or the mercy thou hast promised. Do not think scorn of all the misery that has come upon us, king and prince, priest and prophet, in our fathers’ time and since, from the day when the king of Assyria became our enemy.
The fault was never thine, if all this has overtaken us; thine the faithfulness, ours the unnatural rebellion.
King and prince and priest together, our fathers have neglected thy law; the decrees thou hadst enjoined, the warning thou gavest, went alike unheeded.
The royal majesty, the blessings showered on them, the wide domains thou didst subdue at their onslaught, were not enough to win obedience from them, or recall them from their rebellious ways.
Here are we, this day, living as slaves; here are the wide lands, the rich lands thou gavest to our fathers, to till and to enjoy, and we are living on them in slavery.
The harvests ripen for alien kings, our masters now in punishment of our guilt; our bodies, our beasts are theirs, to treat as they will, and oppression is all about us.
In such a plight we turn to thee, binding ourselves by a covenant; that covenant we here record in writing, rulers and Levites and priests have set their names to it.
The Holy Bible