“The Pharisees came.
They were asking him
For a sign
To test him.”
Καὶ ἐξῆλθον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ ἤρξαντο συνζητεῖν αὐτῷ, ζητοῦντες παρ’ αὐτοῦ σημεῖον ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, πειράζοντες αὐτόν.
This seeking of signs was common among the gospel writers, in Luke, chapter 11:16, and especially in Matthew, chapters 12:38 and 16:1-4. The Pharisees wanted a sign. There was no mention of the Scribes here, as in Matthew. These Pharisees were a political party, a social movement, and a religious school of thought that became the basis for later Rabbinic Judaism. They had they own expert explanations of Jewish law that sometimes appeared to be hypocritical or arrogant, with the letter of the law above its spirit. They had a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple. The Pharisees in the New Testament, often engaged in discussion and disputes with Jesus and his disciples, as here. Mark said that some of these Pharisees came to Jesus (Καὶ ἐξῆλθον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι). They began to argue, dispute, or discuss with Jesus (καὶ ἤρξαντο συνζητεῖν αὐτῷ). They asked him to show them a sign from heaven or a heavenly validation of his work (ζητοῦντες παρ’ αὐτοῦ σημεῖον ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ). They wanted to test or tempt Jesus (πειράζοντες αὐτόν). Heavenly signs had been common among the prophets to prove their authenticity.
Theology is an interaction. First Arius gave a theological interpretation on the role of Christ and God. Second the leaders of the Church considered it carefully and came up with their decision. Then Arius did not accept the decision. He then was removed and excommunicated or cut off from the communion of the Church. This problem led to discussion and consensus. The lived faith in the worship service experience led to a consensus about the most appropriate expression. The final result was the Nicene Creed, the oldest and most important creed. Most dogmas came out of disputes. Over the last two thousand years there have been many more disputes within Christianity.
“Now they will say.
‘We have no king!
We do not fear Yahweh!
What could a king
Do for us?’
They utter mere words.
They make covenants
With empty oaths.
Litigation springs up
Like poisonous weeds,
In the furrows of the field.”
Now the Israelites would say that they did not need a king. They did not fear Yahweh. What good would a king do for them? The Israelites had become very independent. As a result, they uttered mere words. They made false treaties. This then led to contentious litigation and lawyers springing up like poisonous weeds in the well tilled fields. This state of anarchy led to all kinds of disputes.
Son of Amoz
Now begins a series of divine oracles against foreign countries. Obviously despite the title indicating that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw this, the Babylonian captivity did not happen in the 8th century BCE, but in the 6th and 7th century BCE. Babylon was the largest city in the world with over 200,000 people, probably the first city to have this many people living in one place during the 18th century BCE (Hammurabi, 1792–1750 BCE), and 6th-7th century BCE (Nebuchadnezzar II, 604–561 BC). This city was located about 50 miles south of present day Baghdad, in present day Hillah, Iraq, between the Tigris River and the Euphrates River, but mostly on the Euphrates River. Babylon was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire from around 911-609 BCE. In 539 BCE, the Persians put an end to the Assyrians after a century of disputes. In the 4th century BCE the Greeks under Alexander the Great took over Babylon. Babylon may have been the inspiration for the story about the Tower of Babel in Genesis, chapter 11.
“Yahweh has sent a word
It fell on Israel.
All the people knew it.
Ephraim with the inhabitants of Samaria
In pride with arrogance of heart,
‘The bricks have fallen.
But we will build
With dressed stones.
The sycamores have been cut down.
But we will put cedars in their place.’
Thus Yahweh raised adversaries
He stirred up their enemies.
The Syrians were on the east.
The Philistines were on the west.
They devoured Israel
With an open mouth.
For all this,
His anger has not turned away.
His hand is still stretched out.”
This poem shows how Israel in the north is being devastated by the Philistines on the west coast and Syrians to the northeast. Yahweh sent his word of vengeance on them via these invaders. The people of Samaria and the whole territory of Ephraim knew it was coming. Nevertheless their pride and their arrogance told them not to worry. Although bricks of ordinary houses were falling and sycamores were chopped down, they contended that they would rebuild with fine stones and fine cedar wood in place of them, so that the new houses would be more like palaces. Yahweh, the Lord, stirred up their enemies so that they devoured the northern territory of Israel. Yahweh had stretched out his hand against them and he continued to do so up to the present time. This refrain will be repeated twice more in the next few sections. The various 8th century BCE disputes between Judah and Israel, as well as between Israel with the Syrians can be found in 2 Kings, chapters 14-17, and 2 Chronicles, chapters 25-28.
“Refrain from strife.
Your sins will be fewer.
The hot tempered kindle strife.
The sinner disrupts friendships.
The sinner sows discord
Among those who are at peace.
In proportion to the fuel,
So will the fire burn.
In proportion to the obstinacy,
So will strife increase.
In proportion to a person’s strength,
So will be his anger.
In proportion to his wealth,
So he will increase his wrath.
A hasty quarrel kindles a fire.
A hasty dispute sheds blood.
If you blow on a spark,
It will glow.
If you spit on it,
It will be put out.
Yet both come out of your mouth.”
Sirach reminds us of the problems with quarrels and arguments. If you refrain from conflicts, your sins will be less. Usually it is the hot tempered people who start disputes. Sinners disrupt friendships. They sow discord among peacemakers. Then Sirach has a number of proportional examples. The more fuel you have, the more the fire burns. The more stubborn you are, the more disagreements you create. The stronger you are, the more you will be angry. The more wealth that you have, the more fury you will have. Sometimes it is a hasty quarrel that starts a fire that leads to bloodshed. However, you have control with your mouth. You can either blow on the spark to increase the flame or spit on the spark to put it out. The choice is yours, spit or blow on the spark of a fire to increase or decrease the argument.
“Wisdom rescued from troubles
Those who served her.
When a righteous man fled
From his brother’s wrath,
She guided him on straight paths.
She showed him the kingdom of God.
She gave him knowledge of holy things.
She prospered him in his labors.
She increased the fruit of his toil.
When his oppressors were covetous,
She stood by him.
She made him rich.
She protected him from his enemies.
She kept him safe
From those who lay in wait for him.
In his arduous contest
She gave him the victory.
Thus he might learn
That godliness is more powerful
Than anything else.”
Wisdom also helped the righteous Jacob as we have a condensed version of the story of Jacob in Genesis, chapters 25-32. Of course, the unnamed Jacob is called a just man (δίκαιον) who served wisdom (σοφία). He fled from his brother’s anger after he had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Jacob had dreams that told him about the kingdom of God (βασιλείαν Θεοῦ) and the heavenly angels. Jacob went to live with Laban, the brother of his mother, or his uncle. He then married his 2 first cousins, Rachel and Leah, while he worked for his uncle. He then became rich before he got into a fight with his uncle Laban. For some reason, Jacob was considered righteous as opposed to Esau and Laban in their various disputes.
“Casting the lot puts an end to disputes.
Casting lots decides between powerful contenders.
An ally offended is stronger than a city.
Such quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
From the fruit of the mouth,
One’s stomach is satisfied.
The yield of the lips
Death and life
Are in the power of the tongue.
Those who love it
Will eat its fruits.”
Casting lots was a way of finding out God’s will. This is how you put an end to disputes and arguments between powerful people. If you offend your ally he will become stronger than a city. This kind of quarreling is like the bars on a castle that cannot be torn down or bring about reconciliation. You satisfy your stomach through your mouth. So too the words of your lips will bring satisfaction. Life and death are in power of the tongue. When you love something, you will eat its fruits or enjoy the results.
“Fine speech is not becoming to a fool.
Still less is false speech becoming to a ruler.
A bribe is like a magic stone
In the eyes of those who gives it.
Wherever they turn,
Whoever forgives an affront
But whoever dwells on disputes
Will alienate a friend.
A rebuke goes deeper into a discerning person
Than a hundred blows into a fool.”
Fools do not have fine speech. Rulers should not lie. A bribe is a like a magic stone for the one who gives bribes. Things seem to happen for them magically, as they prosper. If you forgive someone who has offended you, you are actually fostering friendship. However, if you dwell on disputes, you will alienate a friend. You can criticize a discerning person with some reward, but it would be foolish to try to change a fool with a 100 blows or lashes.