“But the wise ones
Took flasks of oil
With their lamps.”
αἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι ἔλαβον ἔλαιον ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις μετὰ τῶν λαμπάδων ἑαυτῶν.
This parable story is unique to Matthew. Jesus said that the wise bridesmaids took flasks of oil (αἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι ἔλαβον ἔλαιον ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις) with their lamps (μετὰ τῶν λαμπάδων ἑαυτῶν). Just the opposite of the foolish ones, the wise or prudent bridesmaids took extra oil in vessels with them, so that they were better prepared for the future. Their oil of righteousness made them ready for the bridegroom.
“How the gold
Has grown dim!
How the pure gold
The sacred stones
At the head
Of every street.”
This lamentation begins with talk about the dimming gold and sacred stones scattered all over the streets, especially at the head of the street or the street corners. This is a reference to the holy treasures and vessels of the Temple that have been stolen due to the attack on Jerusalem. This first verse of this single verse acrostic poem starts with the Hebrew consonant letter Aleph. Each verse after this will use the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
“But the workers are not concerned
That mortals are destined to die.
Their life is brief.
But they compete with workers
They compete with workers
They imitate workers
They count it as a glorious thing
To mold counterfeit gods.
Their heart is ashes.
Their hope is cheaper than dirt.
Their lives are of less worth than clay.
Because they failed to know
The one who formed them.
They failed to know
Who inspired them with active souls.
They failed to know
Who breathed a living spirit into them.
They considered our existence an idle game.
They considered our life a festival held for profit.
They say one must get money
However one can,
Even by base means.
For these persons,
More than all others,
Know that they sin
When they make from earthy matter fragile vessels,
When they make graven images.”
These idol makers do not care about their short lives. They are competing with other artisans making gold, silver, and copper molded items. They are making counterfeit gods. They have hearts (καρδία αὐτοῦ) like ashes and hope cheaper than dirt (γῆς). Their lives are less worthy than their own clay images. They do not know the one who formed them. They do not know the one who inspired them with a living soul (ψυχὴν). They do not know that their living spirit (πνεῦμα ζωτικόν) came from God. They consider life to be an idle game or a festival played for profit. They maintain that they need money, so that even a low base means (πορίζειν) is okay. More than others, they know that they are sinning. They make these vessels and carved images from mere earth.
“While such was the state of affairs, it happened that the people of Tarsus and of Mallus revolted because their cities had been given as a present to Antiochis, the king’s concubine. So the king went hurriedly to settle the trouble. He left Andronicus, a man of high rank, to act as his deputy. But Menelaus, thinking he had obtained a suitable opportunity, stole some of the gold vessels of the temple. He gave them to Andronicus. As it happened, he had sold other vessels to Tyre and the neighboring cities. When Onias became fully aware of these acts he publicly exposed them. He had first withdrawn to a place of sanctuary at Daphne near Antioch. Therefore Menelaus, taking Andronicus aside, urged him to kill Onias. Andronicus came to Onias. Resorting to treachery, he offered him sworn pledges and gave him his right hand. He persuaded Onias, though still suspicious, to come out from the place of sanctuary. Then, with no regard for justice, he immediately put him out of the way.”
When there was a revolt in Tarsus and Mallus because of a present to his concubine, King Antiochus IV had to go there to settle the problem. He left Andronicus as his deputy in charge. Menelaus then stole some gold vessels from the Temple and gave them to Andronicus. Menelaus then sold other vessels to Tyre and the neighboring seacoast towns. When deposed high priest Onias III heard about this he first went to an Apollo sanctuary in Daphne about 5 miles from Antioch. There he publically exposed the actions of Menelaus. Menelaus then persuaded the deputy of the king, Andronicus, to kill Onias. Andronicus tricked Onias when he swore not to hurt him, but when he came out of the sanctuary, he killed him. There was no regard for justice.
“When King Antiochus king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took to his bed. He became sick from grief because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. He lay there for many days because deep disappointment continually gripped him. He concluded that he was dying. So he called all his friends. He said to them.
‘Sleep has departed from my eyes.
I am downhearted with worry.
I said to myself.
‘To what distress I have come!
Into what a great flood I now am plunged!
For I was kind and beloved in my power.’
But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem.
I seized all her vessels of silver and gold.
I sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judah without good reason.
I know that it is because of this
That these misfortunes have come upon me.
Here I am perishing of bitter disappointment in a strange land.’”
King Antiochus IV was astonished and shaken by the news that he heard about Judah. In quite a melodramatic way, he took to his bed because things had not turned out the way that he had planned them. He was very despondent. Thinking that he was dying, he called his friends. He tried to clear his soul with a confession to his friends. He could no longer sleep because he was so worried. He was in great distress that he himself had caused. He had been a kind and beloved king, until he went to Jerusalem. There he took the silver and gold vessels and destroyed the people of Jerusalem for no reason. He believed that all his misfortunes stemmed from that incident. Now he was going to die disappointed in a strange land, Persia.
Why was I born to see this?
The ruin of my people,
The ruin of the holy city,
I had to live there when it was given over to the enemy.
The sanctuary was given over to aliens.
Her temple has become like a person without honor.
Her glorious vessels have been carried into exile.
Her infants have been killed in her streets.
Her youth have been killed by the sword of the foe.
What nation has not inherited her palaces?
What nation has not seized her spoils?
All her adornment has been taken away.
She is no longer free.
She has become a slave.
Our holy place,
Our glory have been laid waste.
The gentiles have profaned it.
Why should we live any longer?’
Mattathias and his sons tore their clothes. They put on sackcloth. They mourned greatly.”
Once again we have poetic fragment. This one is ascribed to Mattathias as he laments the state of Jerusalem. He wanted to know why he was born and why should he live. The situation in Jerusalem was so bad with the ruin of his people and the holy city as it was given over to the alien enemy. Her sanctuary and vessels were defamed and all gone. There was no honor, as infants were killed in the streets. Young people were killed. Every nation has seized some part of her palaces. Jerusalem was not free, but a slave. The holy, beautiful places of glory lay wasted. He and his sons tore their clothes and put on sackcloth. They mourned greatly over Jerusalem with the traditional signs of mourning, ashes and sackcloth. They left their wonderful Jerusalem in shambles.
“While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem. In the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king. I returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. I was very angry. I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room. Then I gave orders to cleanse the chambers. I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”
Nehemiah had left Jerusalem because he had agreed to stay there only 12 years. He then returned to serve the Persian King Artaxerxes. Once again, he asked the king to return to Jerusalem around the year 433 BCE. The text says Babylon but it was Persia as in the beginning of this book. When he got back, he was shocked and angry at what he saw. He was so angry that he threw out all the furniture of Tobiah in the Temple storehouse. He had it cleansed and restored it with grain offerings and frankincense.
“Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen with them. I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the vessels. These were the offerings for the house of our God that the king, his counselors, and his lords as well as all Israel present had offered. I weighed out into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver and silver vessels worth a hundred talents. I also weighted out a hundred talents of gold, twenty bowls of gold worth a thousand darics, and two vessels of fine polished bronze as precious as gold. I said to them. ‘You are holy to Yahweh. The vessels are holy. The silver and the gold are a freewill offering to Yahweh, the God of your ancestors. Guard them! Keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests, the Levites, and the heads of families in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of Yahweh.’ So the priests and the Levites took over the silver, the gold, and the vessels, as they were weighed out, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.”
Ezra himself set aside 12 priests with 2 leaders, Sherebiah and Hashabiah. Sherebiah was a very important post-exilic priest. Hashabiah was important too but that was a common name shared by about 10 other people. Once again, notice the first person singular “I.” He weighted some silver and gold and then gave it to them. A talent was roughly the equivalent of small person about 125 pound. So that when you convert pounds to ounce you get a huge amount of silver and gold. 650 talents of silver would be worth about 10 million USA dollars today. The 100 talents of gold would be worth about 100 million USA dollars. This was quite a rich fortune, over 100 million dollars. This money was vowed to Yahweh. Thus these priests and Levites had to take good care of these precious items as they brought them to Jerusalem to the house of God there.
“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to the priest Ezra, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven: Peace! Now I decree that any one of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. You are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God, which is in your hand. You are to convey the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem. You are to bring all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia. Any freewill offerings of the people and the priests can be given willingly for the house of their God in Jerusalem. With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings. You shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem. Whatever seems good to you and your colleagues to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. Whatever else is required for the house of your God, which you are responsible for providing, you may provide out of the king’s treasury.”
The Persian kings seem to refer to the God of heaven. Apparently King Artaxerxes had 7 counselors with him. In some sense, Ezra is a personal envoy of the king and his counselors to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem. He was to bring silver and gold from the king and his counselors for the house of the God of Israel in Jerusalem. He could collect free willing offerings to buy animals for sacrifice at the Temple. They may do whatever they want with the money left over. If they need more money, the king’s treasury is available. The Persian king is very generous to Ezra and his group. All this assumes that the Temple had been built already. This is more about the upkeep and the sacrifices at the Temple. In fact, it almost seems like a state supported religion. The king seems to know a lot about the kind of sacrifices that will take place in the house of the God of Jerusalem. Slowly Yahweh is becoming the God of Jerusalem.