“John the Baptist
Eating no bread
And drinking no wine.
Yet you say.
‘He has a demon.’”
ἐλήλυθεν γὰρ Ἰωάνης ὁ Βαπτιστὴς μὴ ἐσθίων ἄρτον μήτε πίνων οἶνον, καὶ λέγετε Δαιμόνιον ἔχει.
Luke indicated that Jesus took on the complaints against John the Baptist and himself. Jesus said that John the Baptist came (ἐλήλυθεν γὰρ Ἰωάνης ὁ Βαπτιστὴς) eating no bread (μὴ ἐσθίων ἄρτον) and drinking no wine (μήτε πίνων οἶνον), fasting. Yet they still said that he had a demon (καὶ λέγετε Δαιμόνιον ἔχει). Matthew, chapter 11:18, had a similar statement, indicating a possible common Q source. They said that John had a demon, because he would not eat bread or drink wine. He was an ascetic, fasting a lot, with a simple sparse lifestyle, yet they considered him demonic. Do you have an ascetic lifestyle?
“How can you say?
‘We are wise.
The law of Yahweh is with us.’
The false pen of the scribes
Has made it into a lie.
Shall be put to shame.
They shall be dismayed.
They shall be taken.
They have rejected
The word of Yahweh.
What wisdom is in them?”
Jeremiah complaints against the false written interpretations of the law by the scribes. They proclaim that they are the wise ones because they understand the law of Yahweh. However, they have turned it into a lie with their false writings. They will be dismayed and put to shame. They cannot be wise if they have rejected the word of Yahweh.
A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave, a prayer
“With my voice
I cry to Yahweh!
With my voice
I make supplication to Yahweh!
I pour out my complaint before him.
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit is faint,
You know my way!”
Psalm 142 is a maskil or wisdom song of David, when he was in the cave. There is no explicit mention of an incident in the life of David where he was being persecuted in a cave. He may have been hiding out when he was trying to escape from King Saul. There is no doubt that it is a personal lament to Yahweh. David cries with his voice to Yahweh as he makes his supplications or complaints. He was telling Yahweh his troubles because his spirit was weak or faint. Yahweh knew David so that made him hopeful.
“But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked!
Judgment and justice seize you!
Beware that wrath does not entice you into scoffing!
Let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside!
Will your cry avail to keep you from distress?
Will all the force of your strength help you?
Do not long for the night!
That is when people are cut off in their place.
Do not turn to iniquity!
Because of that you have been tried by affliction.”
Next Elihu turned on Job. He thought that Job was obsessed with wicked people. Job was receiving his judgment so that he should not be scoffing at it. Will Job’s complaints keep him from distress? Did he have enough strength to help himself. He longed for the night, but that is when people are cut off from each other. He warned Job not to choose iniquity as he was being tried or tested by this affliction.
“If I have rejected the cause
Of my male or female slaves,
When they brought a complaint against me,
What then shall I do when God rises up?
When he makes inquiry?
What shall I answer him?
Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not one fashion us in the womb?”
In an odd sort of way, Job maintained that he was respectful to his male and female slaves. There never was a question of the right or wrong of slavery itself. This is about the idea, that slave or free persons, they were all God’s children. One should be a benevolent slave owner. Even in the height of American segregation in the USA in the 1960s, people like George Wallace always maintained that the Negro was a child of God, just a different kind of child. Did Job listen to his slave complaints? He said that God could look into it and find that he tried his best. He treated them like fellow humans who came from the womb like himself.
“When Jonathan heard this, he gave orders to continue the siege. He chose some of the elders of Israel and some of the priests. He put himself in danger as he went to the king at Ptolemais. However, he took silver, gold, clothing, and numerous other gifts. He won his favor. Although certain renegades of his nation kept making complaints against him, the king treated him as his predecessors had treated him. He exalted him in the presence of all his friends. He confirmed him in the high priesthood. He gave him as many other honors as he had formerly had. He caused him to be reckoned among his chief friends. Then Jonathan asked the king to free Judea and the three districts of Samaria from tribute. He promised him three hundred talents. The king consented.”
Although Jonathan was skeptical about this meeting since he was not bringing an army, only the elders and the priests, it turned out okay. He brought some gifts of gold, silver, and clothing. Thus he won the favor of King Demetrius II, despite the bothersome renegades trying to talk bad about him. The king praised Jonathan in the presence of all. He gave him all the honors that he previously had. He continued to be a friend of the king. Jonathan, however, wanted one thing, to have a free Judea. In order to do this, he was willing to give the king 300 talents, about $300,000.00 USA dollars. King Demetrius II thought that this was a good deal.
“I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints. After thinking it over, I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them. ‘You are all taking interest from your own people.’ I called a great assembly to deal with them. I said to them. ‘As far as we are able, we have bought back our Jewish kindred who have been sold to other nations. But now you are selling your own kin that must then be bought back by us!’ They were silent. They could not find a word to say. So I said. ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations who are our enemies? Moreover I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. Return to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on the money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.’ Then they said. ‘We will restore everything. We will demand nothing more from them. We will do as you say.’ I called the priests. I made them take an oath to do as they had promised. I also shook out my garments and said. ‘May God shake out everyone from house and from property who does not perform this promise! Thus may they be shaken out and emptied.’ All the assembly said. ‘Amen.’ They praised Yahweh. The people did as they had promised.”
Nehemiah personally responded to these complaints since he was angry. This was an internal Jewish problem. The rich Jewish people were taking advantage of the poor Jewish people in their own community. Nehemiah was mad at the nobles and officials who were charging this interest on their fellow Jewish inhabitants. Although it was legal to charge interest to non-Jews, it was not legal to charge fellow Jews. He called a big assembly. He reminded them that they had been buying back other Jews from captivity. Now these officials were causing their fellow Jewish people to be put back into slave captivity. In fact, they were going to buy them then back out of captivity. He wanted all the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses returned to their owners. He wanted to stop all interest on money, grain, wine, and oil. This was a strong demand to stop interest taking among the rich Jewish people among their own people. They were struck silent. They agreed to restore everything. I am not sure why they agreed so easily. He made the priests take an oath to do this also. Perhaps, it was the rich priests who were taking advantage of their kindred. Anyone who broke this promise would lose their own house and property. They all agreed with a great ‘Amen’ as they praised Yahweh. Apparently they kept this promise after the revolt of the poor Jewish people.
“Now when the people complained in the hearing of Yahweh about their misfortunes, Yahweh heard it. His anger was kindled. Then the fire of Yahweh burned against them. It consumed some outlying parts of the camp. But the people cried out to Moses. Moses prayed to Yahweh. The fire abated. So that place was called Taberah, because the fire of Yahweh burned against them.”
The people complained and Yahweh heard it. Yahweh set a part of the camp on fire. Well, that will teach you about complaining. The fire may have been lightning, but it is not clear. The text does not say what the complaint was about. Apparently Yahweh has sensitive tin ears to heat these complaints. Yahweh gets angry easily. This does not sit well for the rest of this journey. However, Moses prayed to Yahweh and the fire abated. This place was called Taberah, because the fire of Yahweh burned against them. Taberah is an unidentified place in the Paran wilderness.
“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as Yahweh commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?’ But the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst? So Moses cried out to Yahweh, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because of the Israelites quarreled and tested Yahweh, ‘Is Yahweh among us or not?’”
They went to Rephidim, a little further southwest, but there was no water there. Once again they complained. This certainly was a complaining group, and Moses asked them why they were quarreling with him and testing Yahweh. They complained some more when they said that they would be better off if they stayed in Egypt. So Moses asked Yahweh, ‘What shall I do with these people?’ Then Yahweh told him to take his staff and go to a rock at Horeb and strike the rock, and water will come out of it. So he decided to call this place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites tested Yahweh here. The place seems to have two names. This worked because water was beneath the limestone in the Sinai area. It is difficult to tell who is doing the complaining and how widespread it is. With 600,000 men, it would be easy to find some people who would be complaining all the time.