Against fertility cults (Isa 57:5-57:6)

“You burn with lust

Among the oak trees,

Under every green tree.

You slaughter your children

In the valleys

Under the clefts of the rocks.

Among the smooth stones of the valley

Is your portion.

They are your lot.

You have poured out a drink offering

To them.

You have brought a cereal offering

To them.

Shall I be appeased for these things?”

Third Isaiah strongly speaks out against the persistent fertility cults among the Israelites. They lusted among the green oak trees that were considered fertility oak trees. They killed their children among the valley gods under the caves in the rocks. They brought drink offerings and cereal offerings to the altar of these gods of the hills and the valleys. What was Yahweh to do with them? How would he be appeased?

The reluctant returning children to an overcrowded land (Isa 49:19-49:21)

“Surely your waste land

Will now be too crowded

For your inhabitants.

Your desolate places

Will surely now be too crowded

For your inhabitants.

Your devastated land

Will surely now be too crowded

For your inhabitants.

Those who swallowed you up

Will be far away.

The children born

In the time of your bereavement

Will yet say in your hearing?

‘The place is too crowded for me.

Make room for me to settle.’

Then you will say in your heart.

‘Who has borne me these?

I was bereaved.

I was barren.

I was exiled.

I was put away.

So who has reared these?

I was left all alone.

Where then have these come from?’”

Second Isaiah raises the question about overcrowding if all the exiles returned. There would be a special problem for those born in exile that had never lived in Israel. Why would they want to return there? The land was wasted, desolate, and devastated, why would anyone want to live in overcrowded conditions there? Their captives were gone. However, what would entice those who had spent their entire life elsewhere to move to a place that they had never known. There was nothing there to attract them. In fact, the mothers were upset at their children. They had spent their life bereaved, barren, alone, and exiled in a far away land. Who had reared these kids? Where did they come from? Why didn’t they want to go back to Israel? Was the influence of this new country too much for their own children?

King Hezekiah sends people to Isaiah (Isa 37:2-37:4)

“The king sent Eliakim,

Who was in charge of the palace,

Shebna the secretary,

With the senior priests,

Covered with sackcloth,

To the prophet Isaiah,

Son of Amoz.

They said to him.

‘Thus says King Hezekiah.

This day is a day of distress.

This day is a day of rebuke.

This day is a day of disgrace.

Children have come to birth.

But there is no strength to bring them forth.

It may be that Yahweh your God

Heard the words of Rabshakeh,

Whom his master,

The king of Assyria,

Has sent to mock the living God.

Will you rebuke the words

That Yahweh your God has heard?

Therefore,

Lift up your prayer

For the remnant that is left.’”

Once again, this is almost word for word from 2 Kings, chapter 19. King Hezekiah decided to send his consultants, Eliakim, Shebnah, and the senior priests to the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz. Notice that Joah the recorder did not go, but instead senior priests went. They would all be wearing sackcloth because things were in distress and disgrace. In an interesting metaphor, they say that women are coming to the moment of childbirth, but have no strength to bring their children into the world. They mentioned that perhaps Yahweh had heard the mocking words of Rabshakeh, as the king of Assyria’s representative mocked the living God. How would you rebuke him? They wanted prayers for the “remnant.” This theme of the faithful few left behind occurs quite often in Isaiah.

 

The future of the house of Jacob (Isa 29:22-29:24)

“Therefore thus says Yahweh,

Who redeemed Abraham,

Concerning the house of Jacob.

‘No longer shall Jacob be ashamed.

No longer shall his face grow pale.

When he sees his children,

The work of my hands,

In his midst,

They will sanctify my name.

They will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob.

They will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

Those who err in spirit

Will come to understanding.

Those who grumble

Will accept instruction.’”

Yahweh, via Isaiah, presents an oracle about the future of the house of Jacob. Yahweh has redeemed Abraham and his family. In the future, the house of Jacob will not be ashamed or have a pale face. Just the opposite, their children will sanctify the name of the Holy One of Jacob, Yahweh. They will stand in awe of the God of Israel, Yahweh. Those who make a mistake will understand what happened to them. Those who grumbled will then accept instruction on how to improve. The future looks bright for the house of Jacob.

The outcry against Israel (Isa 1:4-1:4)

“O!

Sinful nation!

People laden with iniquity!

Offspring who do evil!

Children who deal corruptly!

They have forsaken Yahweh.

They have despised the Holy One of Israel.

They are utterly estranged!”

Yahweh in his oracle, as pronounced by Isaiah, calls out the Israelites. He calls them a sinful nation of people who are criminals. Their children do evil things and act perversely. They have forsaken the Lord, Yahweh. They have despised the Holy One of Israel, God. They have utterly estranged themselves from Yahweh.  Once again, it is not clear whether this oracle is against just the northern Israelites or also includes the people of Judah. Sometimes the term “Israel” is used for both and sometimes just for the northern Israelites.

The taking up of Elijah (Sir 48:9-48:11)

“You who were taken up

By a whirlwind of fire.

You were taken up

In a chariot

With horses of fire.

At the appointed time,

It is written,

That you are destined

To calm the wrath of God

Before it breaks out in fury.

You are destined

To turn the hearts of parents

To their children.

You are destined

To restore the tribes of Jacob.

Blessed are those

Who saw you.

Happy are those

Who were adorned

With your love.

We also shall surely live.”

The story of the taking up of Elijah is recorded 2 Kings, chapter 2, in the so-called Elisha cycle. Elijah, like Enoch, was taken up to heaven without dying, being the only 2 in all these biblical stories. Not even Moses, Aaron, David, or any other of the patriarchs, prophets, or kings had this privilege. Thus near the Jordan River, the chariots of fire came and took Elijah away in a whirlwind of fire. Elisha took Elijah’s place, as he was able to part the waters of the Jordan River. Other prophets went looking for Elijah, but to no avail. However, it is not clear where the idea of the second coming of Elijah comes from at some appointed hour. For many Christians, Jesus was the Messiah of the Second Coming. However, some believe it was John the Baptist, or as the Mormons believe with Joseph Smith in 1836. At the appointed hour, Elijah will calm the wrath of God, turn parents to their children, and restore the tribes of Jacob. Happy and blessed are those who saw and loved Elijah for they will live on.

Judges (Sir 46:11-46:12)

“The judges also,

With their respective names,

Were holy famous men.

Their hearts did not fall

Into idolatry.

They did not turn away

From the Lord.

May their memory be blessed!

May their bones send forth new life

Where they lie!

May the names of those

Who have been honored

Live again in their children!”

Sirach does not name any specific judges in his praise of these judges to whom a whole book of the Hebrew Bible describes in some detail, Judges. They did not fall into idolatry, since they did not turn away from the Lord. Their memory should be blessed. Their bones should bring life to where they have been placed. Their names should be honored, as they live again in their children. Despite this plea to honor their names, Sirach does not mention any one particular name of a judge, even though the whole institution of judges was held in high esteem.

The memory of these famous holy men (Sir 44:7-44:9)

“All these were honored

In their generations.

They were the pride

Of their times.

Some of them

Have left behind a name.

Thus others declare their praise.

But there is no memory

Of others.

They have perished

As though they had never existed.

They have become

As though they

And their children

Had never been born.”

Sirach notes that each one of these holy famous men was honored when they were alive. Their contemporaries took great pride in them. Some of these men have left behind a name or reputation, so that others can share in that pride. However, some of the others have left no memory. We do not know even who they were. They have died as if they never existed without any trace of them. Both they and their children are like they were never born. There was a great emphasis on a good name and being remembered, also a Latin and Greek ideal. Thus we do not have any memory about some good people.

The happy wise person (Sir 14:20-14:27)

“Happy is the person

Who meditates on wisdom,

Who reasons intelligently,

Who reflects in his heart on her ways,

Who ponders her secrets,

Who pursues wisdom like a hunter,

Who lies in wait on her paths,

Who peers through her windows,

Who listens at her doors,

Who encamps near her house,

Who fastens his tent peg to her walls,

Who pitches his tent near her,

Who so occupies an excellent lodging place,

Who places his children under her shelter,

Who lodges under her boughs,

Who is sheltered by her from the heat,

Who dwells in the midst of her glory.”

Sirach describes the happy person who has a relationship to wisdom. These happy people will meditate on wisdom. They will reason intelligently. They will reflect on wisdom. They will ponder the secrets of wisdom. They will pursue wisdom like a hunter who lies in wait for wisdom. They will look through the windows and listen at the doors of wisdom. They will camp near the house of wisdom. They will have tent pegs on the walls of the house of wisdom. They will have pitched a tent next to the house of wisdom, which is an excellent lodging place. They will place their children under the shelter of wisdom. They will live under the branches of wisdom, so that they will be sheltered by wisdom from the midday sun. They will live in the glory of wisdom. These happy people will really like wisdom.

Evil consequences of the worship of false idols (Wis 14:22-14:26)

“Then it was not enough for them to err

About the knowledge of God,

But they lived in great strife due to ignorance.

They called such great evils peace.

Whether they killed children in their initiations,

Or celebrated secret mysteries,

Or held frenzied revels with strange customs,

They no longer keep

Either their lives pure

Or their marriages pure.

But they either treacherously killed one another,

Or grieved one another by adultery.

All was a raging riot

Of blood,

Of murder,

Of theft,

Of deceit,

Of corruption,

Of faithlessness,

Of tumult,

Of perjury.

There was confusion over what was good.

There was forgetfulness of favors.

There was pollution of souls.

There was sex perversion.

There was disorder in marriage.

There was adultery.

There was debauchery.”

What happens to those who worship false idols? They were ignorant of God (περὶ τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ γνῶσιν). However, they lived in great strife and called it peace. They killed their children in strange initiation ceremonies. They celebrated secret mysteries (μυστήρια) with strange customs. Their lives and marriages were no longer pure. They killed each other. They committed adultery among themselves. They ended up in a riot of blood and murder. There was theft, deceit, corruption, faithfulness, tumult, perjury, sexual perversion, adultery, and debauchery. They did not know what was good.   They forgot favors. They defiled their souls.