Sit in the dust!
O virgin daughter Babylon!
Sit on the ground
Without a throne!
O daughter Chaldea!
You shall no more
Be called tender!
You shall no more
Be called delicate!
Take the millstones!
Grind the meal!
Remove your veil!
Strip off your robe!
Uncover your legs!
Pass through the rivers!
Your nakedness shall be uncovered.
Your shame shall be seen.
I will take vengeance.
I will spare no one.
Is the Holy One of Israel.
Yahweh of hosts
Is his name!”
This is a unique kind of Hebrew lamentation. Yahweh God has stripped the unconquered virgin Babylon of its royal throne. The Chaldeans, who were from the southern part of Babylon, would no longer be considered tender and delicate. Now they were to do the work of slaves, grinding the meal with millstones. On top of that, they were to strip down, taking their veils off and removing their robes, so that their legs would be uncovered. They would be shamefully naked as washing in a river. Yahweh with his army was going to take vengeance on them, so that no one would be spared. Yahweh is the redeemer and the Holy One of Israel.
“Wickedness burned like a fire.
It consumed briers.
It consumed thorns.
It kindled the thickets of the forest.
They swirled upward
In a column of smoke.
Through the wrath of Yahweh of hosts
The land was burned.
The people became
Like fuel for the fire.
No one spared another.
They gorged on the right.
But they were still hungry.
They devoured on the left.
But they were not satisfied.
The flesh of their own kindred.
Manasseh devoured Ephraim.
Ephraim devoured Manasseh.
Together they were against Judah.
Thus his anger has not turned away.
His hand is still stretched out.”
Isaiah says that wickedness burned like a fire consuming all briers and thorns, like a forest fire. The northern Israelites would be like swirling smoke because the wrath of God would come upon them. He would burn their land with the people on it as fuel for the fire. No one would be spared because they would become like cannibals, eating their own relatives, but never satisfied. They would turn on each other. Even the 2 northern brother tribes of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, would turn on each other. They would also attack Judah. Once again, this statement ends with the refrain that the angry hand of Yahweh was still outstretched against northern Israel.
Ruler of my life!
Do not abandon me
To their designs!
Do not let me fall
Because of them!
Who will set whips
Over my thoughts?
Who will set
The discipline of wisdom
Over my mind?
Do not spare me
In my errors!
Do not overlook my sins!
Otherwise my mistakes
May be multiplied.
My sins may abound.
I may fall
Before my adversaries.
My enemy may rejoice
The hope of your mercy
Sirach prays to the Lord, the Father, the ruler of his life. He did not want to fall into the hands of his enemies. He wanted to be disciplined with wisdom. He did not want to be spared from his errors and sins. If these sins and errors were not corrected now, they would multiply. His sins would increase exponentially. He would fall before his adversaries. Then his enemies would rejoice over him. He knew that he had no chance of mercy from them, unlike the mercy of God that protected his life.
“But even these you spared,
Since they were but mortals.
You sent wasps
As forerunners of your army.
They were to destroy them
Little by little.
You were not unable
To give the ungodly
Into the hands of the righteous in battle.
You were able to destroy them
With one blow
By dread wild beasts.
You were also able to destroy them
With your stern word.
But judging them
Little by little
You gave them an opportunity to repent.
You were not unaware
That their origin was evil.
You were not unaware
That their wickedness was inborn.
You were not unaware
That their way of thinking
Would never change.
They were an accursed race
From the beginning.
It was not through fear of any one
That you left them unpunished
For their sins.”
This section on the Canaanites is loosely based on Exodus, chapter 23 and applied to all the inhabitants prior to the Israelite takeover, not just the Canaanites. The Israelites are called the righteous (δικαίοις), while the original inhabitants of this land are called the ungodly (ἀσεβεῖς). Some people were spared since they were fellow human beings. However, he had sent wasps, hornets, or pestilence before the Israelite army attacked in order to destroy them, little by little. Not all the ungodly were handed over to the Israelites in battle, even though God had the ability to destroy them with one blow or one word. Instead he gave them time to repent (μετανοίας) with this gradual takeover. These ungodly inhabitants were evil with inborn wickedness. They would never change or repent since they were an accursed seed or race. God did not let their sins go unpunished because of fear of anyone. There is a definite prejudice against the former inhabitants of the Promised Land, before the Israelites arrived. Yahweh wanted them all destroyed, but some persisted.
“My soul languishes for your salvation.
I hope in your word.
My eyes fail with watching for your promise.
‘When will you comfort me?’
I have become like a wineskin in the smoke.
Yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
Arrogant men have dug pitfalls for me.
They flout your law.
All your commandments are enduring.
I am persecuted without cause.
They have almost made an end of me on earth.
But I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love,
Spare my life!
Thus I may keep the decrees of your mouth.”
This psalmist was in a bad situation. He longed for salvation because he hoped in the word of God. His eyes were failing. He wanted to know when Yahweh would comfort him. Even though he was like a smoking wineskin, he still had not forgotten the statutes of Yahweh. He wanted to know how long he had to wait before God would judge and persecute the arrogant men who were setting pitfalls for him. They were flouting the law so that he was persecuted without any real reason. He cried to God for help. They had almost killed him. Despite all this, the psalmist still had not forsaken the precepts of Yahweh. Yahweh’s steadfast love had spared his life. He had the decrees of Yahweh in his mouth. So ends this section on the eleventh consonant letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Kaph.
“O, I know your thoughts.
I know your schemes to wrong me.
For you say.
‘Where is the house of the prince?
Where is the tent in which the wicked live?’
Have you not asked those who travel the roads?
Do you not accept their testimony?
The wicked are spared in the day of calamity.
The wicked are rescued in the day of wrath.
Who declares their way to their face?
Who repays them for what they have done?
When are they carried to the grave?
A watch is kept over their tomb.
The clods of the valley are sweet to them.
Everyone will follow after.
Those who went before are innumerable.
How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”
Job continued to respond to his detractors. In the end he called them liars. They were trying to wrong him. Where was the house of the wicked? Where were their tents? Ask anyone you meet on the roads. The wicked will be rescued and spared from disaster on the day of wrath. Who got in their face? Who repaid them for what they did? The wicked dead ones have a grave, a tomb, and someone to watch over them. There were many examples of this. He did not want them to try to comfort him with empty sayings. They were answering falsely.