The reading of the scroll to the king (Jer 36:21-36:23)

“Then King Jehoiakim

Sent Jehudi

To get the scroll.

He took it

From the chamber

Of Elishama the secretary.

Jehudi read it to the king

With all the officials

Who stood beside the king.

The king was sitting

In his winter apartment.

It was the ninth month.

There was a fire burning

In the brazier before him.

As Jehudi read

Three or four columns,

The king would cut them off

With a penknife.

He would then throw them

Into the fire

In the brazier,

Until the entire scroll

Was consumed in the fire

That was in the brazier.”

The king was not satisfied with a mere report about the scroll. He wanted the scroll itself. Thus he sent Jehudi to get the scroll and read it to them. Jehudi went back to the chamber of the secretary, Elishama, where the scroll was. He got it and came back to the king. There he read it to the king and all the royal officials. Since the king was at his winter home, there was a fire in the brazier or the fireplace, a brass coal burning stove. Thus as Jehudi read the scroll, King Jehoiakim would take 3 or 4 columns of it, cut them with a small knife that they used for the trimming of writing reeds. Then he would throw these pieces of the scroll into the fire, until they were all burned up. Thus you get some idea of the king’s opinion about the writings of Jeremiah via Baruch.

The death of the false prophets (Jer 29:21-29:23)

“Thus says Yahweh of hosts,

The God of Israel,

Concerning Ahab,

The son of Kolaiah,

As well as Zedekiah,

The son of Maaseiah.

‘They were prophesying a lie

To you in my name.

I am going to deliver them

Into the hand

Of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

He shall kill them

Before your eyes.

On account of them,

This curse shall be used

By all the exiles from Judah

In Babylon.

‘Yahweh makes you

Like Zedekiah,

Like Ahab,

Whom the king of Babylon

Roasted in the fire.’

Because they have

Perpetuated outrage

In Israel.

They have committed adultery

With their neighbors’ wives.

They have spoken in my name

Lying words

That I did not command them.

I am the one who knows.

I bear witness.

Says Yahweh.’”

Yahweh talked about two prophets whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon roasted in a fire. These two prophets were Ahab, the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah. There was a king of northern Israel in the 9th century (874-853 BCE) named King Ahab with his wife Jezebel, who had confrontations with the prophet Elijah, as found in 1 Kings, chapters 16-22. However, this Ahab is only mentioned here. Zedekiah has the same name as the current king of Judah. His father Maaseiah was also the father of the priest Zephaniah, mentioned in chapter 21. This Zedekiah is not mentioned elsewhere either. These two prophets were prophesying lies that Yahweh had not commanded, so that they deserved to be killed by the king of Babylon. We do not know exactly what lies they were telling, but they also were adulterers. They may have tried to rebel against the king. Thus their names would be a curse.

Jerusalem is not exempt from fire (Jer 21:13-21:14)

“‘See!

I am against you!

O inhabitant of the valley!

O rock of the plain!’

Says Yahweh.

‘You who say.

‘Who can come down against us?

Who can enter our places of refuge?’

‘I will punish you

According to the fruit

Of your doings.’

Says Yahweh.

‘I will kindle a fire

In her forest.

It shall devour

All that is around it.’”

Here Yahweh makes a direct attack on the royal palace and its surroundings. The rock of the plain and the inhabitants of the valley refer to the royal palace in Jerusalem. The inhabitants there think that no one could come against them in their place of refuge. However, Yahweh was clear. He was going to punish them according to their fruits, or what they did. Yahweh was going to kindle a fire in this great palace made of wood, as if it were like a great forest. This fire would devour it and all its surroundings.

The destructive fire for the house of Judah (Jer 21:11-21:12)

“To the house

Of the king of Judah

Say.

‘Hear the word of Yahweh!

O house of David!

Thus says Yahweh.

‘Execute justice in the morning!

Deliver from the hand

Of the oppressor

Anyone who has been robbed!

Otherwise my wrath

Will go forth

Like fire.

It will burn

With no one to quench it,

Because of your evil doings.’”

Having talked about the fire destruction of Jerusalem, Yahweh turned to the house of Judah, the house of David. They were to execute justice every morning. They were to help the oppressed, especially those who had been robbed. If they did not, they too would have a fire without end descend upon them because of their evil ways.

Prayer to God for his presence (Isa 64:1-64:5)

“O that you would tear open the heavens!

O that you would come down!

Thus the mountains would quake

At your presence!

Fire kindles brushwood.

Fire causes water to boil.

I want to make your name

Known to your adversaries.

Thus the nations might tremble

At your presence!

When you did awesome deeds

That we did not expect

You came down.

The mountains quaked

At your presence!

From ages past,

No one has heard,

No ear has perceived,

No eye has seen any God

Besides you.

You work for those

Who wait for you.

You meet those

Who gladly do right.

You meet those

Who remember you in your ways.”

This prophet wants Yahweh to be present among his people by tearing open the heavens to come down to earth. He wanted to see the mountains quake at his presence. He wanted Yahweh to be kindling wood in a brush that would start a fire or have that same fire make water boil. He wanted Yahweh’s name known to his adversaries. He wanted the nations to tremble at the sight of Yahweh. He wanted something unexpected to happen, like the mountains shake in his presence. He wanted something that no one had ever heard of or seen before. Only God could do this awesome deed. No one besides him. God would appear to those who waited for him. He would meet those who gladly did the right thing by remembering God’s ways.

The making and the worship of the wooden idol (Isa 44:15-44:17)

“The carpenter also makes a god.

He worships it.

He makes this carved image.

He bows down before it.

He burns half of it in the fire.

Over this half,

He roasts meat.

He eats it.

He is satisfied.

He also warms himself.

He says.

‘O!

I am warm!

I can feel the fire!’

He makes the rest of it

Into a god,

His idol.

He bows down to it.

He worships it.

He prays to it.

He says.

‘Save me!

You are my god!’”

Second Isaiah has this carpenter carve a god out of his wood and then worship it. He takes this carved image and bows down to it. With the left over wood he starts a fire, so that he was able to cook a piece of meat that he ate with great satisfaction. This fire also kept him warm. However, the rest of this wood was used to make his idol god. After he had completed his carving, he bowed down to it, worshipped it, and prayed to it. He said that his carved idol was his god, so that he wanted this own carved idol to save him. In other words, he made a god to save him.

A reproach against bribery (Isa 5:23-5:24)

“Woe to you

Who acquit the guilty

For a bribe!

Woe to you

Who deprive the innocent

Of their rights!

Therefore,

As the tongue of fire

Devours the stubble,

So their roots will become rotten.

As dry grass sinks down

In the flame,

So their blossoms will go up

Like dust.

They have rejected

The instruction of Yahweh of hosts.

They have despised

The word of the Holy One of Israel.”

However, the real scolding comes when judges acquit a guilty person because of a bribe. They thus deprive the innocent ones of their rights. They are going to end up like stubble and dry grass devoured by a fire. Their roots will become rotten. Their blossoms will be blown off like dust. They have rejected Yahweh. They have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Injustice is a real big deal.

Elijah (Sir 48:1-48:3)

“Then Elijah arose.

He was a prophet,

Like a fire.

His word burned

Like a torch.

He brought a famine

Upon them.

By his zeal

He made them

Few in number.

By the word of the Lord

He shut up the heavens.

Three times also

He brought down fire.”

Sirach seems to be relying on the Elijah cycle of stories from 1 Kings, chapters 17-18. This 9th century BCE northern prophet, Elijah, from the east side of the Jordan River in the town of Tishbe, the Gilead, went to the king of Northern Israel, King Ahab (874-853 BCE). Elijah was like a fire as his words were like a flaming torch. He foretold the famine that reduced the number of people in Israel. He foretold this famine, not brought as Sirach said. Elijah was able to control the heavens with his prayers, so that he could bring an end to this drought. He also had a faceoff with the 450 Baal priests or Jezebel’s prophets when he confronted the practices of King Ahab and his wife. Elijah then had Yahweh send down fire on his wet wood. Although the original story did not mention how many times the fire came down, Sirach mentions that it was 3 times.

The heat (Sir 43:21-43:22)

“The Lord consumes

The mountains.

He burns up

The wilderness.

He withers

The tender grass

Like fire.

A mist quickly

Heals all things.

The falling dew

Gives refreshment

From the heat.”

On the opposite end, the Lord sends heat that burns up the mountains, the wilderness, and the tender grass, almost like a fire. However, the Lord sends a mist or falling dew that gives refreshment from this heat. This middle eastern area was well accustomed to extreme heat. Clearly this is a theocratic sense of the weather and the environment, as God controlled everything.

Fear of the Lord (Sir 32:14-32:17)

“Whoever seeks God

Will accept his discipline.

Whoever rises early

To seek him

Will find his favor.

Whoever seeks the law

Will be filled with it.

But the hypocrite

Will stumble at it.

Whoever fears the Lord

Will form true judgments.

They will kindle righteous deeds

Like a light.

The sinner

Will shun reproof.

He will find a decision

According to his liking.”

Once again, Sirach has linked everything to the fear of God. Anyone who is seeking God must accept God’s discipline. You have to get up early to seek God. You should seek the law and be filled with it. The law, of course, means the commandments of God. You should not be a hypocrite who stumbles around. If you fear the Lord, you will make true judgments that will end up with righteous deeds that kindle a light like a fire. The sinner does not like to be reprimanded. The sinner likes only the decisions that fit his way of thinking.