The three separate disasters for the people of Jerusalem (Ezek 5:11-5:12)

“Says Yahweh God!

‘Surely as I live,

Because you have defiled

My sanctuary

With all your detestable things,

With all your abominations,

Therefore I will cut you down.

My eye will not spare.

I will have no pity.

One third of you

Shall die

Of pestilence,

Or be consumed

By famine among you.

One third of you

Shall fall

By the sword

Around you.

One third of you,

I will scatter

To every wind.

I will unsheathe

The sword

After them.”

The God Yahweh was mad at the people of Jerusalem. They had defiled his sanctuary. They had brought in all those detestable abominations into the Temple. Thus Yahweh was not going to spare them, but cut them down. He was not going to show any pity. Using language similar to Jeremiah, there were three main options for dying. However, Ezekiel was more precise. One third of them would die from pestilence or famine. Another third would fall by the sword. The final third would be scattered to the winds in every direction. Yahweh was going to let his sword loose on them.

They did not obey (Bar 2:24-2:26)

“But we did not obey

Your voice.

We did not serve

The king of Babylon.

You have carried out

Your threats

That you spoke

By your servants,

The prophets.

The bones of our kings,

The bones of our ancestors

Would be brought out

Of their resting place.

Indeed

They have been

Thrown out

To the heat of day

And the frost of night.

They perished

In great misery,

By famine,

By sword,

By pestilence.

You have made

The house

That is called

By your name

As it is today,

Because of the wickedness

Of the house of Israel,

Of the house of Judah.”

However, they did not obey the voice of the Lord to serve the Babylonian king. Then God carried out the threats that he spoken through his prophetic servants. Thus the bones of their kings and their ancestors were brought out from their graves. They were exposed to the elements of the weather, the heat of day and the frost at night. Meanwhile, they all perished in great misery by either of the 3 famous ways of dying in Jeremiah, the famine, the sword, or the pestilence.  The Temple or the house of God was torn down because of the wickedness in the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

Against Damascus (Jer 49:23-49:27)

“Concerning Damascus.

‘Hamath is confounded.

Arpad is confounded.

They have heard bad news.

They melt in fear.

They are troubled

Like the sea

That cannot be quiet.

Damascus has become feeble.

She turned to flee.

Panic seized her.

Anguish has taken hold of her.

Sorrows have taken hold of her,

As a woman in labor.

How the famous city is forsaken!

The joyful town!

Therefore her young men

Shall fall

In her squares.

All her soldiers

Shall be destroyed,

On that day.’

Says Yahweh of hosts!

‘I will kindle a fire

At the wall of Damascus.

It shall devour

The strongholds of Ben-hadad.’”

Damascus had been under the control of the Assyrians since around 740 BCE, before the fall of the northern Israelites to Assyria in 724 BCE. Now the Babylonians were taking over for the Assyrians. The two other cities mentioned with Damascus, were Hamath and Arpad. Hamath was in upper Syria with Arpad nearly a 100 miles further north. These northern towns were upset and troubled over the news about southern Damascus. They felt like they were on troubled waters and could not be quiet. Damascus itself was weak and in panic. This former joyful town saw people fleeing with panic. Once again they had become weak like women in labor. Their young men were dying in the squares since the soldiers had been killed. The soldiers also died. There was a huge fire that destroyed the walls and royal buildings of Ben-hadad. King Ben-hadad was a 9th century BCE king of Damascus who had some battles with King Asa of Judah and King Omri of Israel, in 1 Kings, chapter 20. However, there were 2 other kings with the same name, so that it clearly referred to the royal palaces or fortresses in Damascus. Once again there is no mention of a restoration for Damascus.

Offerings to the queen of heaven (Jer 44:17-44:18)

“Instead,

We will do everything

That we have vowed.

We will make offerings

To the queen of heaven.

We will pour out libations

To her.

Just as we,

Our ancestors,

Our kings,

Our officials

Did

In the towns of Judah,

In the streets of Jerusalem.

We used to have

Plenty of food.

We prospered.

We saw no misfortune.

But from the time

We stopped making offerings

To the queen of heaven

And pouring out libations

To her,

We have lacked everything.

We have perished

By the sword

And by famine.”

The Judean refugees insisted that they would complete their vows to the queen of heaven. They would make offerings and libations to her just as their ancestors, their kings, and their officials had done in Judah and Jerusalem. When they were making these sacrifices, they had plenty of food and prospered. Since they stopped, they have been lacking everything. They have been dying by the sword and famine. Who then was this queen of heaven? For many Catholics, this might be a veiled reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus, since there are some Catholic churches with that name, Queen of Heaven. However, this is a clear reference to a popular goddess of fertility since Jeremiah had already mentioned this queen in chapter 7. In both places, here and there, this queen of heaven is a reference to the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar, or the Canaanite goddess Astarte, the wife of the god Baal. The Greek equivalent would have been the goddess Aphrodite or the Roman goddess Venice, the goddess of love. Thus the practice of worshipping to this fertility “Queen of heaven” was quite popular already in Judah and Jerusalem, before they came to Egypt.

Live or die (Jer 38:2-38:3)

“Thus says Yahweh!

‘Those who stay

In this city

Shall die

By the sword,

By famine,

Or by pestilence.

But those who go out

To the Chaldeans

Shall live.

They shall have their lives

As a prize of war.

They will live.’

Thus says Yahweh!

‘This city shall surely

Be handed over

To the army

Of the king of Babylon.

It shall be taken.’”

Jeremiah delivered an oracle of Yahweh that said that they had a choice, stay in the city and die or live by surrendering to the Babylonians. If they remained in the city of Jerusalem, they would die by the sword, famine, or pestilence, the 3 common ways of dying. However, they would live, if they surrendered to the Chaldeans. They would save their lives as a reward, thus a prize of war. This is practically identical to what was said in chapter 21. Jeremiah was clear. The city of Jerusalem was going to fall into the military hands of the king of Babylon, one way or another.

The four options (Jer 15:2-15:2)

“When they ask you.

‘Where shall we go?’

You shall say to them.

‘Thus says Yahweh.

‘Those destined for pestilence,

Go to pestilence!

Those destined for the sword,

Go to the sword!

Those destined for famine,

Go to the famine!

Those destined for captivity,

Go to captivity.’”

Yahweh told Jeremiah that these people had 4 options. They would either end up dying from pestilence, the sword, famine, or captivity. It seems like the sword was the quickest and the most fatal. The other options were more long lasting punishments, but some of them might be able to survive these punishments.

The deadly sickness of King Hezekiah (Isa 38:1-38:1)

“In those days,

King Hezekiah became sick.

He was at the point of death.

The prophet Isaiah,

Son of Amoz,

Came to him.

Thus says Yahweh.

‘Set your house in order.

You shall die.

You shall not recover.’”

Once again, this is almost word for word from 2 Kings, chapter 20. There is some kind of vague time indication with “in those days.” This section may have preceded the invasion of King Sennacherib. King Hezekiah became so sick that he was dying. The prophet Isaiah came to him and told him that Yahweh had said that he should get his house in order because he was not going to recover, but rather die.

Oracle against the valley of Hinnom (Isa 22:1-22:4)

“The oracle concerning the valley of Hinnom.

What do you mean

That you have gone up,

All of you,

To the housetops?

You who are full of shouting!

You are a tumultuous city!

You are an exultant town!

Your slain are not slain

By the sword!

Nor are they dead in battle!

Your rulers have fled together.

They were captured

Without the use of a bow.

All of you who were found

Were captured,

Though they had fled far away.

Therefore I said.

‘Look away from me!

Let me weep bitter tears!

Do not try to comfort me!

There is the destruction

Of my beloved people.’”

The valley of Hinnom, just south of the walls of Jerusalem, appears 11 times in the biblical writings. In the Christian biblical writings of the first century CE it is usually referred to as Gehenna with its almost eternal fire for the wicked ones. However, the context here is the terrible situation inside of Jerusalem. People were on the housetops shouting. They were dying, but not from the sword or in battles. The rulers had fled to escape, since they were captured by the Assyrians, either in 711 or 705 BCE. Then the oracle of Yahweh, via Isaiah, told the people to look away. He wanted to weep bitter tears over the destruction of his beloved people in Jerusalem.

A reproach against carousing (Isa 5:11-5:13)

“Woe to you

Who rise early in the morning,

In pursuit of strong drink!

Woe to you

Who linger in the evening

To be inflamed by wine!

These feasts consist of

Lyre,

Harp,

Tambourine,

Flute,

And wine.

They do not regard

The deeds of Yahweh!

They do not see

The work of his hands!

Therefore my people

Go into exile

Without knowledge.

Their nobles

Are dying of hunger.

Their multitude

Is parched with thirst.”

Isaiah turns to those who think only about drinking and carousing around. The first thing they think of in the morning is where their next drink is coming from. At night, they only worry about drinking wine while others played musical instruments like the lyre, harp, tambourine, and the flute. While the Israelites were going into exile, these people had no regard for the work of Yahweh and his deeds since they lacked knowledge. The nobles and the people were dying of malnutrition and thirst. However, these folks continued to play on.

Give to others (Sir 14:15-14:19)

“Will you not leave

The fruit of your labors

To another?

What you acquired by toil

Is to be divided by lot.

Give!

Take!

Indulge yourself!

Because in Hades,

One cannot look for luxury.

All living beings become old

Like a garment.

The decree from of old is.

‘You must die!’

Like abundant leaves

On a spreading tree

That sheds some leaves,

But that puts forth others,

So are the generations

Of flesh and blood.

One dies.

Another is born.

Every work decays.

Every work ceases to exist.

The one who made it

Will pass away with it.”

After all is said and done, you will leave the results of your work to others either by chance or design. Thus give and take things. Indulge yourself, because you will not be able to enjoy luxuries after your death in Hades, the afterlife underworld. Everyone is like an old garment that is wearing out. Like leaves on a tree, some are falling off, while others are blooming. Life is full of people who are either dying and or being born. Every work decays and ceases to exist. So too will the person who made these things pass away.