The breach in the city wall (Jer 52:7-52:7)

“Then a breach

Was made

In the city wall.

All the soldiers fled.

They went out

From the city

By night,

By the way of the gate

Between the two walls,

By the king’s garden,

While the Chaldeans

Were all around the city.

They went in the direction

Of the Arabah.”

There are a couple of problems with this section as regards the story earlier in chapter 39 of Jeremiah and the story in 2 Kings, chapter 25. The earlier Jeremiah story has an exact date here, while it is not explicitly mentioned here. In the Kings story, it said that the king also escaped with his troops, but he is not explicitly mentioned here, but may be presumed to be with his troops. However, all the stories have them escaping between the walls in the king’s gardens, as they were headed for the Arabah in the Jordan River valley.

The primary mission of the servant prophet (Isa 61:1-61:1)

“The Spirit of Yahweh God is upon me.

Because Yahweh has anointed me.

He has sent me

To bring good news to the oppressed.

He has sent me

To bind up the brokenhearted.

He has sent me

To proclaim liberty to the captives.

He has sent me

To release the prisoners.”

The question immediately rises is this about prophets in general, the prophet Isaiah, or the servant of Yahweh? Definitely the Spirit of Yahweh was upon this person. Not only that, but this disciple or prophet of Yahweh has been anointed, either like a priestly or a royal anointing. However, the primary mission is not cultic, but rather social in nature, what we might call social justice. Having been called by the Spirit and anointed by Yahweh, he was sent out. This would imply a time when there was no Temple, basically the exilic time. The generic mission was simple. Bring good news to the oppressed. The good news concept was later adapted by the early followers of Jesus who talked about the good news of the gospel. This basic mission included binding up the broken hearted and freeing prisoners that were clearly exilic problems and terms.

The perfect future time (Isa 11:6-11:9)

“The wolf shall live

With the lamb.

The leopard shall lie down

With the kid goat.

The calf shall be with the lion.

The lion and the fatling shall be together.

A little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze together.

Their young shall lie down together.

The lion shall eat straw

Like the ox.

The nursing child shall play

Over the hole of the asp.

The weaned child shall put his hand

On the adder’s den.

But they will not get hurt.

They will not destroy

All my holy mountains.

The earth shall be full

Of the knowledge of Yahweh,

Just as the waters cover the sea.”

Isaiah points out that this future messianic king will be Davidic, with the Spirit of Yahweh, just, and live in an ideal perfect time, where all disagreements would disappear. All our problems would be solved in this idyllic perfect age to come, like the paradise that was lost. The wolf and the lamb would get along. So too, the leopard and the kid goat would be fine together. Calves, lions, and feed animals would all be as one. The cow and the bear would graze on the same field. A little child would be able to lead them, since they are so tame. Lions would eat grass and straw, just like oxen. Little nursing children would play by an asp nest or put their hands into adder’s den, and still not get hurt. No one will hurt the holy mountains. The whole earth would be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh, the Lord, just as there is the right amount of water in the seas.

Problems caused by sinful humans (Sir 40:8-40:11)

“With all human creatures,

With all animal creatures,

But with sinners seven times more,

Come many problems.

There is death.

There is bloodshed.

There is strife.

There is the sword.

There are calamities.

There are famines.

There are afflictions.

There are ruins.

There are plagues.

All these were created

For the wicked.

On their account,

The flood came.

All that is of earth

Returns to earth.

What is from above,

Returns above.”

Sirach points out that all creatures, human and animals, have problems, but the sinners have 7 times as many problems as the non-sinners. What are these problems? They are death, bloodshed, strife, the sword, calamities, famines, ruin, and plagues. The reason that we have all these problems is due to the wicked ones who caused God to send the flood. In other words, we might have been okay except for the sinful humans who brought all these problems to our earthly existence. The things of this earth return to this earth, while the things from above return to above.

Quarrels (Sir 28:8-28:12)

“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.

Watch your mouth (Sir 23:7-23:8)

“My children!

Listen to instruction

Concerning the mouth!

Whoever observes it

Will never be caught.

Sinners are overtaken

Through their lips.

By them,

The reviler is tripped up.

By them,

The arrogant are tripped up.”

Sirach wanted his readers to listen to his instructions about their mouths. Do not get caught up by saying something you might regret. It is usually the words that you utter from your mouth that causes problems for sinners, revilers, and the arrogant.

Friends (Sir 6:5-6:13)

“Peasant speech multiplies friends.

A gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.

Let those who are friendly with you be many.

But let your advisers be one in a thousand.

When you gain friends,

Gain him through testing.

Do not trust them hastily.

There are friends,

Who are such,

When it suits them.

But they will not stand by you

In time of trouble.

There are friends

Who changes into enemies.

They disclose a quarrel to your disgrace.

There are friends

Who sit at your table.

But they will not stand by you

In time of trouble.

When you are prosperous,

They become your second self.

They lord it over your servants.

But if you are brought low,

They will turn against you.

They will hide themselves from you.

Keep away from your enemies.

Be on guard with your friends.”

Sirach has a warning about friends. They come and go. Pleasant speech and a gracious tongue will get you many friends. However, your advisors should be few, 1 in 1,000. Test people who are becoming your friends. Some will be friends when it suits them. They will not stand by you when there is trouble. Some will change into enemies. Even some who eat at your table will not stay with you when problems arise. Some like to be your friends when you are prosperous. They lord it over your servants. However, if you are brought low, they will hide themselves from you. Sirach’s final advice was to stay away from your enemies, but be on guard with your friends.

Wisdom is demanding (Sir 4:17-4:19)

“At first,

She will walk with them on tortuous paths.

She will bring fear upon them.

She will bring dread upon them.

She will torment them by her discipline,

Until she trusts them.

She will test them with her ordinances.

She will come straight back to them again.

She will gladden them.

She will reveal her secrets to them.

If they go astray,

She will forsake them.

She will hand them over to their ruin.”

Wisdom does not come easy. There are problems and demands. She will walk with them on dangerous paths as they will be filled with fear and dread. Her discipline will torment them until she finally trusts them. She will test them with various rules. In the end, she will return to them and gladden them, as she reveals her secrets to them. On the other hand, if they go astray and give up on her, she will bring ruin to them.

Wickedness (Wis 17:11-17:14)

“Wickedness is a cowardly thing.

It is condemned

By its own testimony.

Distressed by conscience,

It has always exaggerated the difficulties.

Fear is nothing but a giving up of the helps

That come from reason.

Fear gives up hope.

It is defeated

By this inward weakness.

It prefers ignorance of what causes the torment.

Throughout the night,

That was really powerless,

Which came upon them

From the recesses of powerless Hades.

They all slept the same sleep.”

Wickedness (πονηρία) is cowardly. Its own witness (μαρτυρεῖ) condemns it. Wickedness always exaggerates difficulties so that it fears (φόβος) everything that comes from reason (λογισμοῦ). The wicked give up hope. They are defeated by their own inner weakness. They prefer ignorance of what causes problems. They are powerless throughout the night, like a powerless hell or Hades (ἀδυνάτου ᾅδου). However, everyone sleeps the same sleep, no matter what.

The wise Qoheleth (Eccl 1:15-1:18)

“‘What is crooked cannot be made straight.

What is lacking cannot be counted.’

I said to myself.

‘I have acquired great wisdom.            

My wisdom surpasses all

Who were over Jerusalem before me.

My mind has had great experience of wisdom.

My mind has had great experience of knowledge.

I applied my mind to know wisdom.

I applied my mind to know madness.

I applied my mind to know folly.

I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

In much wisdom

Is much vexation.

Those who increases knowledge

Increase sorrow.’”

This book once again has the first person singular of Qoheleth speaking. He points out, quite correctly, that the crooked cannot be made straight. However, you can come close. On the other hand, there is no doubt that you cannot count something that is not there. Then Qoheleth gets quite personal. He explains that he has great wisdom and knowledge, greater than anyone whoever was in Jerusalem before him. He knows the difference between wisdom, madness, and folly. In a kind of reversal of the Proverbs, he seems to imply that that with all this wisdom, he is still like chasing after the wind. More problems and vexation come with wisdom. There is an increase in sorrow that comes with more knowledge. Wisdom is not the be all and end all like in Proverbs.