Against the complacent women in Jerusalem (Isa 32:9-32:14)

“Rise up!

You women who are at ease!

Hear my voice!

You complacent daughters!

Listen to my speech!

In little more than a year

You will shudder!

You complacent ones!

The vintage will fail!

The fruit harvest will not come!

Tremble!

You women who are at ease!

Shudder!

You complacent ones!

Strip!

Make yourselves bare!

Put sackcloth on your loins!

Beat upon your breasts

For the pleasant fields,

For the fruitful vine,

For the soil of my people,

Growing up in thorns,

Growing up in briers!

All the joyous houses

In the joyful city

Will be no more.

The palace will be forsaken.

The populous city will be deserted.

The watchtower will become a den.

The hills will become a den forever

For the joy of wild donkeys,

As a pasture for flocks.”

Isaiah attacks the easy going complacent Jerusalem women. Apparently this was a year before the attack on Jerusalem around 703 BCE. Isaiah always wanted people to listen to him, since they appear to be not listening. He reminded the complacent women that next year the vintage would fail and there would not be any fruit harvest. Isaiah wanted these complacent women to take off their clothes and go into mourning for their city. They should put on sackcloth and beat their breasts for the coming death of the pleasant fields and fruit vines that were about to be turned into thorns and briers. The joyful houses, the city, and the palace would be abandoned. This heavily populated city would be deserted. The towers and the hills would become a den for wild donkeys and a grazing area for animals.

The devastation of the land (Isa 7:23-7:25)

“On that day,

Every place where

There used to be a thousand vines,

Worth a thousand shekels of silver,

Will become briers.

They will become thorns.

With bow and arrows,

One will go there.

All the land

Will be briers and thorns.

All the hills

That used to be hoed with a hoe,

One will not go there

For fear of the briers,

For fear of the thorns.

But they will become a place

Where cattle are let loose.

They will become a place

Where sheep tread.”

On this faithful day, the vineyards will shrivel up. Thousands of vines worth about $23,000 in silver shekels in today’s money would be abandoned to thorns and briers. Places that were hoed before would now be overrun with briers and thorns. People would be afraid to go there because of these briers and thorns. Only the cattle would roam all over the place. The sheep would also tread on any crops that might be growing. Things would be bad, as the land was devastated.

The response of Yahweh (Isa 6:11-6:13)

“Then I said.

‘How long?

O Lord!’

Yahweh said.

‘Until cities lie waste

Without inhabitants.

Until houses are

Without people.

Until the land is

Utterly desolate.

Until Yahweh sends

Everyone far away.

Until vast is

The emptiness

In the midst of the land.

Even if a tenth part remains in it,

It will be burned again.

It will be like a terebinth.

It will be like an oak

Whose stump remains standing

When it is felled.’

The holy seed is its stump.”

Isaiah wanted to know how long his prophetic work would have to be. Yahweh responded with an indication that the holy land would be destroyed. He would continue until the cities had nobody living in them, until there were houses abandoned, left empty. The land would be desolate. Everybody would be sent away, so that the land itself would be left bare. Probably a tenth of those would remain. Just like when an oak tree or a terebinth bush is burned, the stump still remained until someone came along to dig it up and chop it into pieces. Likewise, the holy seed of Israel is like a stump.

Put wisdom into practice (Sir 51:26-51:30)

“I resolved to live

According to wisdom.

I was zealous for the good.

I shall never be disappointed.

My soul grappled with wisdom.

In my conduct

I was strict.

I spread out my hands

To the heavens.

I lamented my ignorance of her.

I directed my soul to her.

In purity

I found her.

With her,

I gained understanding

From the first.

Therefore I will never be forsaken.

My heart was stirred to seek her.

Therefore I have gained a prize possession.

The Lord gave me my tongue

As a reward.

I will praise him with it.”

Sirach or this author wanted to live according to wisdom, to put wisdom into practice. He was zealous for the good things, so that he was never disappointed. He was strict in his conduct, as his soul wrestled with wisdom. He admitted in prayer that he was ignorant of wisdom, but he tried to purify his soul to find out more. Finally, he gained the understanding that he would never be abandoned by God. His heart was stirred to seek her even more. The result was a prize possession, the Lord gave him a speaking tongue so that he could praise the Lord even much more.

Joseph (Sir 49:15-49:15)

“Nor was anyone born

Like Joseph,

The leader of his brothers,

The support of the people.

Even his bones

Were cared for.”

Sirach gives Joseph only one verse, as he seems to have an odd spot here. The story of Joseph and his activity in Egypt can be found in 13 chapters of Genesis, 37-50. Although abandoned by his brothers, he turns out to be their leader and the support of his people. He wanted his bones returned to Canaan, but they were buried in an Egyptian tomb until Moses took them in Exodus, chapter 13. They were finally buried at Shechem in Joshua, chapter 24. Two of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, make up part of the 12 territorial tribes since Levi did not get any territory.

The bad kings (Sir 49:4-49:5)

“Except for King David,

Except for King Hezekiah,

Except for King Josiah

All of them were

Great sinners.

They abandoned

The law of the Most High.

The kings of Judah

Came to an end.

They gave their power

To others.

They gave their glory

To a foreign nation.”

Sirach points out that all the kings, whether in Judah or Israel, were great sinners, except for King David, King Hezekiah, and King Josiah. But even these kings also committed some sins. The worst, of course, were the later kings, just before the exile. Somehow these bad kings were responsible for the downfall of the Israelite and Judah kingdoms because these great sinners abandoned the law of the Most High God. They lost their power and gave away their glory to foreign nations.

The divine judge (Sir 17:15-17:24)

“Their ways are always known to him.

They will not be hid from his eyes.

Their ways from youth tend towards evil.

They are unable

To make for themselves hearts of flesh

In place of their stony hearts.

In the division of nations of the whole earth

He appointed a ruler for every nation.

But Israel is the Lord’s own portion.

Being his firstborn,

He brings them up with discipline.

He allots to them

The light of his love.

He does not neglect them.

All their works are as clear

As the sun before him.

His eyes are continually upon their ways.

Their iniquities are not hidden from him.

All their sins are before the Lord.

The Lord is gracious.

He knows how they were formed.

He has not left them.

He has not abandoned them.

But he has spared them.

One’s almsgiving is

Like a signet ring with the Lord.

He will keep a person’s kindness

Like the apple of his eye.

Afterward he will rise up.

He will repay them.

He will bring their recompense on their heads.

Yet to those who repent,

He grants a return.

He encourages those who are losing hope.”

The Lord is a diving judge. He knows human ways. You cannot hide from him. He appointed rulers for the various countries, but he is the ruler of Israel. Since the time of the Exile in the 6th century BCE, there was no king of Israel. As Israel is the first born, the Lord has disciplined and loved Israel. He would not neglect them as he watches them continually. Their works are as clear as the sun. They cannot hide their sins, but he has not abandoned them. Almsgiving is like the Lord’s ring. Kindness is the apple of his eye. However, he will repay them for their sins. Nevertheless, those who repent can return. In fact, he tries to encourage those who are losing hope.

I am alone (Ps 142:3-142:4)

“In the path where I walk,

They have hidden a trap for me.

Look on my right hand!

See!

There is no one who takes notice of me.

No refuge remains to me.

No one cares for me.”

David feels abandoned. His enemies have a set a hidden trap for him so that they can catch him when he walks. He says that he should be careful, looking on his right hand. However, no one seems to notice him. No one cares for him since there is no refuge for him.

The rejection (Ps 89:38-89:45)

“But now you have spurned him.

You have rejected him.

You are full of wrath against your anointed.

You have renounced the covenant with your servant.

You have defiled his crown in the dust.

You have broken through all his walls.

You have laid his strongholds in ruins.

All who pass by despoil him.

He has become the scorn of his neighbors.

You have exalted the right hand of his foes.

You have made all his enemies rejoice.

Moreover,

You have turned back the edge of his sword.

You have not supported him in battle.

You have removed the scepter from his hand.

You hurled his throne to the ground.

You have cut short the days of his youth.

You have covered him with shame.”

Selah

Now there is a switch in tone in this psalm. Instead of the everlasting dynasty of David, this psalmist complains that God has abandoned David. In a series of complaints directly to God, using the second person “you,” he says that God has spurned and rejected David. His wrath or anger has turned on David. God has renounced the covenant with David. He has thrown his crown on the ground. He has broken down all the walls and ruined his fortresses. His foes now plunder him and scorn him as all the enemies now rejoice. The edge of his sword has turned on himself as he no longer has any support in battles. His scepter is gone as well as his youth. He is full of shame. This could be at the time of the revolt against David or a metaphor for the captivity that came to the descendents of David. The Israelites saw this captivity as a punishment from God. This section also ends with the musical interlude pause of Selah.

The face of Yahweh (Ps 27:7-27:10)

“Hear!

Yahweh!

When I cry aloud,

Be gracious to me!

Answer me!

Come!

My heart says.

‘Seek his face!

I seek your face!

Yahweh!’

Do not hide your face from me!

Do not turn your servant away in anger!

You have been my help!

Do not cast me off!

Do not forsake me!

O God of my salvation!

If my father and my mother have forsaken me,

Yahweh will take me up.”

This seems to be the song or chant that David sang in the Temple. He wanted Yahweh to listen to his cry or plea. He wanted Yahweh to be gracious to him. He wanted to seek the face of Yahweh. He did not want Yahweh to turn his face away in anger. Yahweh had been helpful. He did not want him to cast him off or forsake him. Yahweh was his God of salvation. Even if his parents abandoned him, Yahweh would always be there for him.