“At that time,
They had a notorious prisoner,
After they had gathered,
Pilate said to them.
‘Whom do you want me
To release for you?
Who is called Christ
That it was out of jealousy
That they had handed
εἶχον δὲ τότε δέσμιον ἐπίσημον λεγόμενον Βαραββᾶν.
συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πειλᾶτος Τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν, Βαραββᾶν ἢ Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν;
ᾔδει γὰρ ὅτι διὰ φθόνον παρέδωκαν αὐτόν.
This is something like this in Mark, chapter 15:7-10, with a longer description of Barabbas as a rebel who had committed murder in an insurrection. Luke, chapter 23:18-19, also talked about Barabbas as a rebel who had murdered somebody. In John, chapter 18:39-40, Barabbas was simply called a bandit. Matthew simply called Barabbas a notorious prisoner without any indication of what he had done. A few manuscripts called him Jesus Barabbas (Ἰησοῦν Βαραββᾶν.). Matthew said that at that time, there was this notorious prisoner called Barabbas (εἶχον δὲ τότε δέσμιον ἐπίσημον λεγόμενον Βαραββᾶν). Thus, after they had gathered (συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν), Pilate asked the crowd (εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πειλᾶτος) who did they want him to release for them (Τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν), Barabbas (Βαραββᾶν) or Jesus (ἢ Ἰησοῦν), who was called Christ, the Messiah (τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν)? He knew or realized (ᾔδει γὰρ) that it was out of jealousy (ὅτι διὰ φθόνον) that these Jewish leaders had handed Jesus over to him (παρέδωκαν αὐτόν).
“Thus says Yahweh of hosts,
The God of Israel,
The son of Kolaiah,
As well as Zedekiah,
The son of Maaseiah.
‘They were prophesying a lie
To you in my name.
I am going to deliver them
Into the hand
Of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
He shall kill them
Before your eyes.
On account of them,
This curse shall be used
By all the exiles from Judah
‘Yahweh makes you
Whom the king of Babylon
Roasted in the fire.’
Because they have
They have committed adultery
With their neighbors’ wives.
They have spoken in my name
That I did not command them.
I am the one who knows.
I bear witness.
Yahweh talked about two prophets whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon roasted in a fire. These two prophets were Ahab, the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah. There was a king of northern Israel in the 9th century (874-853 BCE) named King Ahab with his wife Jezebel, who had confrontations with the prophet Elijah, as found in 1 Kings, chapters 16-22. However, this Ahab is only mentioned here. Zedekiah has the same name as the current king of Judah. His father Maaseiah was also the father of the priest Zephaniah, mentioned in chapter 21. This Zedekiah is not mentioned elsewhere either. These two prophets were prophesying lies that Yahweh had not commanded, so that they deserved to be killed by the king of Babylon. We do not know exactly what lies they were telling, but they also were adulterers. They may have tried to rebel against the king. Thus their names would be a curse.
“Why do you seek further beatings?
Why do you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick.
The whole heart is faint.
From the sole of the foot
Even to the head,
There is no soundness in it.
There are only bruises.
There are only sores.
There are bleeding wounds.
These have not been drained.
These have not been bound up.
These have not been softened with oil.”
The oracle of Yahweh, via Isaiah, continued with a comparison of this society to a sick or injured rebel. Why would they want to receive more whippings? Why did they continue to rebel against Yahweh? Their heads are sick and their hearts are weak. There is no health in them, from the soles of their feet to the tip of their head. They are bruised, with sores and bleeding wounds that have not been drained, bounded up, or cared for with oil. They are just plain suffering from head to toe.
Forgave their iniquity.
He did not destroy them.
Often he restrained his anger.
He did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh.
They were a wind that passes
And does not come again.
How often they rebelled against him
In the wilderness.
They grieved him in the desert!
They tested God again and again.
They provoked the Holy One of Israel.”
Instead of destroying them all, the compassionate God forgave them. He restrained his anger as he remembered that they were only human. They were like the wind that passes away never to return. They continued to rebel in the wilderness as they grieved him in the desert. Thus the wilderness time lasted longer than they had expected. They continually tested and provoked the God of Israel.
“There are those who rebel against the light.
They are not acquainted with its ways.
They do not stay in its paths.
The murderer rises in the dark,
In order to kill the poor and the needy.
In the night he is like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
‘No eye will see me.’
He disguises his face.
In the dark they dig through houses.
By day they shut themselves up.
They do not know the light.
Deep darkness is morning to all of them.
They are friends with the terrors of deep darkness.”
This is a diatribe against the darkness. The wicked rebel against the light. They do not like the light. That is why murderers like the darkness. They are like a thief at night. They attack the poor and the needy. The adulterers think that no one will see them at night. In fact, they prefer the twilight and do not like the morning sun. Deep darkness is all around them and their terrors. Thus the common theme of darkness, black, and bad versus light and goodness.
“When a false rumor arose that King Antiochus was dead, Jason took no fewer than a thousand men. He suddenly made an assault on the city. When the troops upon the wall had been forced back, at last the city was taken. Menelaus took refuge in the citadel. Jason kept relentlessly slaughtering his compatriots, not realizing that success at the cost of one’s kindred is the greatest misfortune. He imagined that he was setting up trophies of victory over enemies and not over compatriots. He did not, however, gain control of the government. In the end he got only disgrace from his conspiracy. He fled again into the country of the Ammonites. Finally he met a miserable end. He was accused before Aretas the ruler of the Arabs. He had to flee from city to city, pursued by everyone, hated as a rebel against the laws, and abhorred as the executioner of his country and his compatriots. He was cast ashore in Egypt. There he who had driven many from their own country into exile died in exile. He embarked to go to the Lacedaemonians in hope of finding protection because of their kinship. He who had cast out many to lie unburied had no one to mourn for him. He had no funeral of any sort and no place in the tomb of his ancestors.”
Jason, the former high priest, thought that the Syrian King Antiochus IV had died. Since Jason was pro-Egypt, he wanted to take back Jerusalem for them. He attacked Jerusalem with 1,000 troops. He was initially successful as he forced the high priest Menelaus to flee to the Seleucid citadel in Jerusalem. However, like the late 18th century French revolutionaries, he started killing his fellow Israelites in Jerusalem. He thought that he was killing the enemy but it was his own Jewish compatriots. He was not successful. He was once again driven into the land of Ammonites, east of the Jordan River. However, the Arabs pursued him from country to country. He finally made his way to Egypt but he was not accepted there either. Finally, he died in Sparta where no one mourned for him since he had no funeral or ancestral tomb.
“It was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall. There was no gap left in it, although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates. Sanballat and Geshem sent to me. ‘Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.’ But they intended to do me harm. I sent messengers to them, saying. ‘I am doing a great work. I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?’ They sent to me this message four times. Each time I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written. ‘It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel. That is why you are building the wall. According to this report, you wish to become their king. You have also set up prophets in Jerusalem concerning you who say. ‘There is a king in Judah.’ Now it will be reported to the king according to these words. So come, therefore! Let us confer together.’ Then I sent to him, saying. ‘No such things as you say, has been done. You are inventing them out of your own mind.’ They all wanted to frighten us. They were thinking. ‘Their hands will drop from the work. It will not be done. But now, O God, strengthen my hands.’”
Once again, we pick up on the intrigues of Sanballat and Tobiah that we saw earlier in chapter 4. Geshem, the Arab, also was in chapter 2 of this work. This time they intended to do more than mock the Jews in Jerusalem. They knew that there were no more gaps in the wall, even though not all the doors on the gates were complete. They invited Nehemiah to the plains of Odo to harm him. 4 different times they tried to persuade him to come to Odo. Each time, Nehemiah said no. On the 5th time, they said that building the wall was like an act of rebellion. They thought that Nehemiah wanted to be the king of Judah. Nehemiah responded that they were inventing things out of their own minds. They just wanted to frighten him. They thought that the Jerusalem Jews would drop from the work, which did not happen. Nehemiah ended with a prayer to God to strengthen his hands.