The People’s Penitential Prayer after Hearing the Teaching

Nehemiah 9

Persian Period, 5th–4th Century BCE

1On the twenty-fourth day of this month, the Israelites assembled, fasting, in sackcloth, and with earth upon them. 2Those of the stock of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3Standing in their places, they read from the scroll of the Teaching of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day, and for another fourth they confessed and prostrated themselves before the Lord their God. 4On the raised platform of the Levites stood Jeshua and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried in a loud voice to the Lord their God. 5The Levites Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, and Pethahiah said, “Rise, bless the Lord your God who is from eternity to eternity: ‘May Your glorious name be blessed, exalted though it is above every blessing and praise!’

6“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, the highest heavens, and all their host, the earth and everything upon it, the seas and everything in them. You keep them all alive, and the host of heaven prostrate themselves before You. 7You are the Lord God, who chose Abram, who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and changed his name to Abraham. 8Finding his heart true to You, You made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite—to give it to his descendants. And You kept Your word, for You are righteous. 9You took note of our fathers’ affliction in Egypt, and heard their cry at the Sea of Reeds. 10You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all the people of his land, for You knew that they acted presumptuously toward them. You made a name for Yourself that endures to this day. 11You split the sea before them; they passed through the sea on dry land, but You threw their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into the raging waters.

12“You led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way they were to go. 13You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven; You gave them right rules and true teachings, good laws and commandments. 14You made known to them Your holy sabbath, and You ordained for them laws, commandments and Teaching, through Moses Your servant. 15You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry, and produced water from a rock when they were thirsty. You told them to go and possess the land that You swore to give them. 16But they—our fathers—acted presumptuously; they stiffened their necks and did not obey Your commandments. 17Refusing to obey, unmindful of Your wonders that You did for them, they stiffened their necks, and in their defiance resolved to return to their slavery. But You, being a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, long-suffering and abounding in faithfulness, did not abandon them. 18Even though they made themselves a molten calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you out of Egypt,’ thus committing great impieties, 19You, in Your abundant compassion, did not abandon them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud did not depart from them to lead them on the way by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to give them light in the way they were to go. 20You endowed them with Your good spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold Your manna from their mouth; You gave them water when they were thirsty. 21Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell.

22“You gave them kingdoms and peoples, and allotted them territory. They took possession of the land of Sihon, the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og, king of Bashan. 23You made their children as numerous as the stars of heaven, and brought them to the land which You told their fathers to go and possess. 24The sons came and took possession of the land: You subdued the Canaanite inhabitants of the land before them; You delivered them into their power, both their kings and the peoples of the land, to do with them as they pleased. 25They captured fortified cities and rich lands; they took possession of houses filled with every good thing, of hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive trees, and fruit trees in abundance. They ate, they were filled, they grew fat; they luxuriated in Your great bounty. 26Then, defying You, they rebelled; they cast Your Teaching behind their back. They killed Your prophets who admonished them to turn them back to You; they committed great impieties.

27“You delivered them into the power of their adversaries who oppressed them. In their time of trouble they cried to You; You in heaven heard them, and in Your abundant compassion gave them saviors who saved them from the power of their adversaries. 28But when they had relief, they again did what was evil in Your sight, so You abandoned them to the power of their enemies, who subjugated them. Again they cried to You, and You in heaven heard and rescued them in Your compassion, time after time. 29You admonished them in order to turn them back to Your Teaching, but they acted presumptuously and disobeyed Your commandments, and sinned against Your rules, by following which a man shall live. They turned a defiant shoulder, stiffened their neck, and would not obey. 30You bore with them for many years, admonished them by Your spirit through Your prophets, but they would not give ear, so You delivered them into the power of the peoples of the lands. 31Still, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God.

32“And now, our God, great, mighty, and awesome God, who stays faithful to His covenant, do not treat lightly all the suffering that has overtaken us—our kings, our officers, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all Your people—from the time of the Assyrian kings to this day. 33Surely You are in the right with respect to all that has come upon us, for You have acted faithfully, and we have been wicked. 34Our kings, officers, priests, and fathers did not follow Your Teaching, and did not listen to Your commandments or to the warnings that You gave them. 35When they had their own kings and enjoyed the good that You lavished upon them, and the broad and rich land that You put at their disposal, they would not serve You, and did not turn from their wicked deeds. 36Today we are slaves, and the land that You gave our fathers to enjoy its fruit and bounty—here we are slaves on it! 37On account of our sins it yields its abundant crops to kings whom You have set over us. They rule over our bodies and our beasts as they please, and we are in great distress.”


Reprinted from Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1985 by the Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 1.

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