Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers.
Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain."
Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine."
Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.
Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others."
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.
I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them
and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.
So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?
I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop!
Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them--the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil."
"We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say." Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised.
I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, "In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!" At this the whole assembly said, "Amen," and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year--twelve years--neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor.
But the earlier governors--those preceding me--placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.
Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it--though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates--
Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: "Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono." But they were scheming to harm me;
so I sent messengers to them with this reply: "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?"
Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter
in which was written: "It is reported among the nations--and Geshem says it is true--that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king
and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: `There is a king in Judah!' Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together."
I sent him this reply: "Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head."
They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed." [But I prayed,] "Now strengthen my hands."
One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, "Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you--by night they are coming to kill you."
But I said, "Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!"
I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.
Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.
When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them.
For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah.
Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed.
I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.
I said to them, "The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses."
Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.
So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there:
These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town,
in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah): The list of the men of Israel:
the descendants of Parosh 2,172
of Shephatiah 372
of Arah 652
of Pahath-Moab (through the line of Jeshua and Joab) 2,818
of Elam 1,254
of Zattu 845
of Zaccai 760
of Binnui 648
of Bebai 628
of Azgad 2,322
of Adonikam 667
of Bigvai 2,067
of Adin 655
of Ater (through Hezekiah) 98
of Hashum 328
of Bezai 324
of Hariph 112
of Gibeon 95
the men of Bethlehem and Netophah 188
of Anathoth 128
of Beth Azmaveth 42
of Kiriath Jearim, Kephirah and Beeroth 743
of Ramah and Geba 621
of Micmash 122
of Bethel and Ai 123
of the other Nebo 52
of the other Elam 1,254
of Harim 320
of Jericho 345
of Lod, Hadid and Ono 721
of Senaah 3,930
The priests: the descendants of Jedaiah (through the family of Jeshua) 973
of Immer 1,052
of Pashhur 1,247
of Harim 1,017
The Levites: the descendants of Jeshua (through Kadmiel through the line of Hodaviah) 74
The singers: the descendants of Asaph 148
The gatekeepers: the descendants of Shallum, Ater, Talmon, Akkub, Hatita and Shobai 138
The temple servants: the descendants of Ziha, Hasupha, Tabbaoth,
Keros, Sia, Padon,
Lebana, Hagaba, Shalmai,
Hanan, Giddel, Gahar,
Reaiah, Rezin, Nekoda,
Gazzam, Uzza, Paseah,
Besai, Meunim, Nephussim,
Bakbuk, Hakupha, Harhur,
Bazluth, Mehida, Harsha,
Barkos, Sisera, Temah,
Neziah and Hatipha
The descendants of the servants of Solomon: the descendants of Sotai, Sophereth, Perida,
Jaala, Darkon, Giddel,
Shephatiah, Hattil, Pokereth-Hazzebaim and Amon
The temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon 392
The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel:
the descendants of Delaiah, Tobiah and Nekoda 642
And from among the priests: the descendants of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai (a man who had married a daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name).
These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.
The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there should be a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim.
The whole company numbered 42,360,
besides their 7,337 menservants and maidservants; and they also had 245 men and women singers.
There were 736 horses, 245 mules,
435 camels and 6,720 donkeys.
Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 drachmas of gold, 50 bowls and 530 garments for priests.
Some of the heads of the families gave to the treasury for the work 20,000 drachmas of gold and 2,200 minas of silver.
The total given by the rest of the people was 20,000 drachmas of gold, 2,000 minas of silver and 67 garments for priests.
The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns. When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns,
all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.
He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.
Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
The Levites--Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah--instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.
They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve."
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law.
They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month
and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: "Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths"--as it is written.
So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim.
The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads.
Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers.
They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God.
Standing on the stairs were the Levites--Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani--who called with loud voices to the LORD their God.
And the Levites--Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah--said: "Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. " "Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.
You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
"You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.
You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.
"You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.
You sent miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day.
You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters.
By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.
"You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.
You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.
In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.
"But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands.
They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,
even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, `This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,' or when they committed awful blasphemies.
"Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.
You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.
For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.
"You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan.
You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess.
Their sons went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you handed the Canaanites over to them, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased.
They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.
"But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.
So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.
"But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.
"You warned them to return to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, by which a man will live if he obeys them. Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen.
For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples.
But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
"Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes--the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings and leaders, upon our priests and prophets, upon our fathers and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today.
In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.
Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the warnings you gave them.
Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.
"But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces.
Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.
"In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it."
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.