The sinful prophets and priests (Lam 4:13-4:13)

Mem

“It was for the sins

Of her prophets

With the iniquities

Of her priests.

They shed

The blood

Of the righteous

In the midst of her.”

Yahweh was angry because the prophets had sinned and the priests had committed iniquities. They had shed the blood of the righteous in the middle of Jerusalem. Everyone was at fault, especially the leaders of the city who should have known better. This verse starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Mem in this acrostic poem.

Hymn to Yahweh (Jer 20:12-20:13)

“O Yahweh of hosts!

You test the righteous!

You see the heart!

You see the mind!

Let me see your retribution

Upon them!

I have committed my cause

To you!

Sing to Yahweh!

Praise Yahweh!

He has delivered

The lives of the needy

From the hands of evildoers.”

Jeremiah praises Yahweh. He knows that God tests the righteous ones because he sees their hearts and minds. Jeremiah wanted retribution to come upon those who had opposed him. However, he has committed his cause to Yahweh. They were to sing and praise Yahweh, because he has delivered the lives of the needy from the evildoers.

The waiting prayer (Isa 26:7-26:9)

“The way of the righteous

Is level.

O just one!

You make smooth

The path of the righteous.

Yahweh!

In the path of your judgments,

We wait for you.

Your name

Is the soul’s desire!

Your renown

Is the soul’s desire!

My soul yearns for you

In the night!

My spirit within me

Earnestly seeks you!

When your judgments

Are in the earth,

The inhabitants of the world

Will learn righteousness.”

This prayer of Isaiah is waiting on Yahweh to come. Yahweh has made a smooth paved path for the righteous. Following the judgments of Yahweh, he is waiting for him. He knows that Yahweh’s name is great. His soul desires and yearns for Yahweh at night. His spirit is with him. Thus he earnestly seeks Yahweh. He wanted God’s judgments to be known among all the inhabitants of the world, so that they might learn righteousness.

The survivors at Jerusalem (Isa 4:2-4:3)

“In that day,

The branch of Yahweh

Shall be beautiful.

The branch of Yahweh

Shall be glorious.

The fruit of the land

Shall be the pride

Of the survivors of Israel.

The fruit of the land

Shall be the glory

Of the survivors of Israel.

Whoever is left in Zion,

Whoever remains in Jerusalem,

Will be called holy.

They will be recorded

For life in Jerusalem.”

Despite all, Isaiah says that some branches of Yahweh will continue as beautiful and as glorious as ever. The fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. There are good things to come for the remnant or those remaining in Israel. These faithful few who remain in Zion and Jerusalem will be called the holy ones, the righteous remnant of Israel.

The high priest Simon the builder (Sir 50:1-50:4)

“Simon the high priest,

Son of Onias,

Was the leader

Of his brothers.

He was

The pride of his people.

In his life

He repaired the house.

In his time,

He fortified the temple.

He laid the foundations

For the high double walls.

These were

The high retaining walls

For the temple enclosure.

In his days,

A water cistern was dug.

He made a reservoir

Like the sea in circumference.

He considered

How to save his people

From ruin.

He fortified the city

Against any siege.”

Sirach ends his work with a whole chapter about the high priest Simon, son of Onias. Who is this guy and why is he important? This high priest Simon is Simeon the just or the righteous one. He may have been one of the last members of the questionable Great Assembly. There is a question whether he was Simeon I (310-273) or Simeon II (220-195) since both their fathers were called Onias. The general consensus today is that it is the later which would make him a contemporary of Sirach. Maybe that is why he got so much ink. He certainly was a leader among his fellow priests and a source of pride for the people. He repaired and fortified the Temple, always a good thing to do. He put down some foundations to make the walls higher around the Temple. He helped to build a large reservoir of water for the city. He tried to save his people from ruin so that he fortified the city against any kind of siege.

The generous spirit of sacrifice (Sir 35:6-35:12)

“Do not appear

Before the Lord

Empty-handed!

All that you offer

Is a fulfillment of the commandments.

The offering of a righteous person

Enriches the altar.

Its pleasing odor

Rises before the Most High.

The sacrifice of the righteous

Is acceptable.

It will never be forgotten.

Be generous

When you worship the Lord!

Do not stint

The first fruits of your hands!

With every gift

Show a cheerful face!

Dedicate your tithe

With gladness!

Give to the Most High

As he has given to you!

Be as generous

As you can afford!”

Sirach wanted every Temple sacrificial offering to be generous. You should never appear before the Lord empty-handed. You should fulfill the commandments. Your offering should enrich the altar with a pleasing odor that reaches to the Most High God. The acceptable sacrifices of the righteous will never be forgotten. Thus, you should be generous when you worship the Lord. You should not be stingy with your offering of the first fruits. Every tithe gift that you bring should be with a cheerful glad face. Remember that you are giving to the Most High God as he has given to you. You should be as generous as you can afford to be.

The power of fire (Wis 16:15-16:19)

“To escape from your hand

Is impossible.

The ungodly,

Refusing to know you,

Were flogged

By the strength of your arm.

They were pursued

By unusual rains.

They were pursued

By hail.

They were pursued

By relentless storms.

They were utterly consumed

By fire.

Most incredible of all,

In water,

Which quenches all things,

The fire had still greater effect.

The universe defends the righteous.

At one time,

The flame was restrained.

Thus it might not consume the creatures

Sent against the ungodly.

But seeing this,

They might know

That they were being pursued

By the judgment of God.

At another time,

Even in the midst of water

It burned more intensely than fire.

Thus they destroyed the crops

Of the unrighteous land.”

It is impossible to escape from the hand of God (σὴν χεῖρα), so that the ungodly (ἀσεβεῖς) were flogged with his hands. God pursued them with unusual rains, hail, and storms. However, they were consumed by fire. The water was not able to put out the powerful fire (δύναμιν φλέγει). In fact, the righteous and the creatures against the ungodly were saved. The ungodly, however, were to learn that they were pursued by the judgment of God (Θεοῦ κρίσει). Even in the middle of water the fires destroyed the crops of the unrighteous.

The Canaanites (Wis 12:8-12:11)

“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.

The punishment of the unjust (Wis 3:10-3:13)

“But the ungodly will be punished.

As their reasoning deserves,

They disregarded the righteous.

They rebelled against the Lord.

Whoever despises wisdom,

Whoever despises instruction,

Are miserable.

Their hope is vain.

Their labors are unprofitable.

Their works are useless.

Their wives are foolish.

Their children are evil.

Their offspring are accursed.”

The ungodly, unjust ones (ἀσεβεῖς) will be punished because they disregarded the righteous. They rebelled against the Lord (τοῦ Κυρίου ἀποστάντες). Whoever despises wisdom and instruction (σοφίαν γὰρ καὶ παιδείαν) will be miserable. Their hope is useless. Their labors are not profitable. Their wives are foolish (αἱ γυναῖκες αὐτῶν ἄφρονες) and their children are evil (πονηρὰ τὰ τέκνα αὐτῶν). They will have accursed offspring (ἐπικατάρατος ἡ γένεσις αὐτῶν).

The immortality of the just (Wis 3: 1-3:6)

“The souls of the righteous

Are in the hand of God.

No torment will ever touch them.

In the eyes of the foolish

They seemed to have died.

Their departure was thought

To be an affliction.

Their going from us was thought

To be their destruction.

But they are at peace.

Though in the sight of others,

They were punished.

Their hope is full of immortality.

Having been disciplined a little,

They will receive great good.

God tested them.

God found them worthy of himself.

Like gold in the furnace

He tried them.

Like a sacrificial burnt offering

He accepted them.”

The souls of the righteous (δίκαιον δὲ ψυχαι) or just ones are in the hands of God (ἐν χειρὶ Θεοῦ). What a great thought! They have no more torments. In the eyes of the foolish, they seem to have died. The fools thought that it was a disaster and destruction, but they are at peace (εἰρήνῃ). They seem to have been punished, but their hope is in full immortality (ἡ ἐλπὶς αὐτῶν ἀθανασίας πλήρης), the opposite of dead, fully non-dead. Once again, we have the idea that the just do not die. They were disciplined a little, but they received a great good. They were tested but found worthy. They were like gold in a furnace or an accepted sacrificial offering.