Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.
Now — The next day, but one after the feast of tabernacles, which begun on the fourteenth day, and ended on the twenty second, for their consciences having been fully awakened and their hearts filled with grief for their sins, which they were not allowed to express in that time of publick joy; now they resume their former thoughts, and recalling their sins to mind, set apart a day for solemn fasting and humiliation.
 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
Separated — From all unnecessary society with the Heathens, and particularly from those strange women whom some of them had married. For though Ezra had done this formerly, yet, it seems, there were some criminals, without his knowledge, or, these were some new delinquents, that since that time had fallen into the same error, and shewed the truth of their repentance by forsaking their beloved sins, and dearest relations.
 And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.
Book of the law — As they did before, giving them the sense of what they read.
Fourth part — For three hours; there were twelve hours in their day, probably they began after the morning sacrifice, and continued their work till the evening sacrifice. The work of a fast-day is good work. We should endeavour to make a day's work, a good day's work of it.
 Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.
Stairs — Upon such stairs, or pulpits, as the Levites used to stand upon, when they taught the people. But they stood upon several pulpits, each of them teaching that part of the congregation which was allotted him, or praying, or blessing God with them.
Loud voice — Thereby testifying their deep sense of their sins and miseries, and their servant, and importunate desire of God's mercy.
 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:
Good statutes — The moral and judicial precepts were all founded on natural equity. And even the ceremonial were tokens of God's goodness, being types of gospel-grace.
 And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.
 Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.
Divide — The Heathen nations, whom God in a great measure destroyed, and the remainders of them he dispersed into corners; that whereas before the Israelites came, they had large habitations, now they were cooped up, some in one town, and some in another, in the several corners of their land, while the Israelites dwelt in a large place, and had the possession of their whole land, some few and small parcels excepted.
 Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.
Mercy — He adds mercy, because the covenant in itself was not a sufficient ground of hope, because they had so basely broken it. God was discharged from keeping it, and therefore they fly to God's free and rich mercy for relief.
 Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:
Thou art just. … — It becomes us, when we are under the rebukes of providence, be they ever so sharp, or ever so long continued, still to justify God, and to own we are punished less than our iniquities deserve.
 And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.
Yieldeth much, … — We plow, and sow, and labour, and thou givest thy blessing to our endeavours; and yet in a great measure this is not for ourselves, as formerly it was, but for our kings, to whom we pay heavy tributes.
Dominion — Pressing or forcing both us and our beasts to go and to do what they please.
 And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.
Sure covenant, … — It was sealed and left upon record, that it might be a witness against them, if they dealt deceitfully.