To the crowds
That came out
To be baptized
‘You brood of vipers!
Who warned you
From the wrath
Ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς;
Luke then presented the teachings of John that can be found in all 4 gospel stories. Notice how this teaching lines up with what Jesus would say. Matthew, chapter 3:8, has something similar but it was directed at the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were coming to be baptized by John. Mark and John do not have anything about this “brood of vipers.” Luke indicated that John spoke to all the crowds who were coming out to be baptized by him (Ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ), not just a select few people. John told them that they were like a group of vipers (Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν) who would kill young people. Vipers were poisonous snakes or reptiles. Who warned them to flee from the wrath to come (τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς)? This might be a saying from the so-called Q source, since both Matthew and Luke have the exact same wording. It might also be an allusion to the prophet Amos, chapter 5:18-20. Amos saw the day of Yahweh as an angry day of judgment.
You brood of vipers!
How can you
ὄφεις, γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης;
This attack on the Pharisees and Scribes is somewhat similar to the attack that John the Baptist had against the Pharisees and Sadducees earlier in Matthew, chapter 3:7. When they came to be baptized by John, he was critical of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He told them that they were like a group of vipers or poisonous snakes (Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν), who would kill young people. Here there is no mention of the Sadducees. But the Pharisees and Scribes are called snakes (ὄφεις) and a brood of vipers or a group of poisonous snakes (γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν). Jesus wanted to know how they could escape (πῶς φύγητε) being sentenced to Gehenna or hell (ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης). The Greek word for hell “γέενναν” or the English Gehenna was based on the Hebrew word Gehinnom that was the name of the valley south of Jerusalem where burning child sacrifices would take place.
When you ask young people what they know about the Bible, they might be able to sing the little Bible song, “How do you know that Jesus loves you? I know that Jesus loves me, because the Bible tells me so.” Most of us have this sentimental approach to the Bible as a book with a lot of nice stories about Adam and Eve, Moses, and Jesus, but very little else.
“Why do you say?
‘My way is hidden from Yahweh.
My right is disregarded by my God!’
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God.
He is the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint.
He does not grow weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint.
He strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint.
They will be weary.
Young men shall fall exhausted.
But those who wait for Yahweh
Shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up
They shall run.
They shall not be weary.
They shall walk.
They shall not faint.”
This chapter concludes with a shout out to the great providence of God. Do not be concerned that God does not know about you. Yahweh is an everlasting God, the creator of everything. Although he is unsearchable, he does not grow faint or weary in his understanding of you. He gives power to the faint. He strengthens the powerless. Even if some young people grow faint, weary, and exhausted, anyone who waits for Yahweh will find renewed strength. They will fly with wings like they were eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not be faint. They just need to trust Yahweh, their God.
From your youth,
When you have gray hair,
You will still find wisdom.
Come to her like one who plows.
Come to her like one who sows.
Wait for her good harvest.
When you cultivate her,
You will toil but little.
Soon you will eat of her produce.
She seems very harsh to the undisciplined.
Fools cannot remain with her.
She will be like a heavy stone to test them.
They will not delay in casting her aside.
Wisdom is like her name.
She is not really perceived by many.”
Once again, Sirach has a series of admonitions about wisdom. The young people should choose discipline. Even when they have gray hair, they should still seek wisdom. You have to have the discipline to plow and sow in order to get a good harvest of wisdom. You do not have to work too hard to eat of her products. However, this seems very harsh to the undisciplined since fools cannot remain with her. She seems to be a test like a heavy stone to these foolish undisciplined ones. The name of wisdom implies that only a few, not many people, will actually perceive her.
“It is a snare for one to say rashly.
‘It is holy.’
Then only begin to reflect after making a vow.
A wise king winnows the wicked.
He drives the wheel over them.
The human spirit is the lamp of Yahweh.
It searches every innermost part.
Loyalty and faithfulness preserve the king.
His throne is upheld by righteousness.
The glory of young men is their strength.
The beauty of the aged is their gray hair.
Blows that wound
Cleanse away evil.
Strokes make clean the innermost parts.”
Watch out for snares or traps. When someone thinks that something is holy and then makes a vow, they might be caught because only later do they think about what they just agreed to do. A wise king winnows or gets rid of the wicked ones. Then he drives a wheel over them. The human spirit is like God’s lamp that searches his most inner part. If the king is loyal and faithful he will preserve himself. Righteousness keeps the king on his throne. The glory of young people is their strength. However, the aged are beautiful because of their wonderful gray hair. Any blows that wound people clean up any evil in them. These strokes clean the innermost parts of their human bodies. This seems like an argument for corporal punishment.
“Therefore walk in the way of good people.
Keep to the paths of the just.
The upright will inhabit the land.
The innocent ones of integrity will remain in it.
But the wicked will be cut off from the land.
The treacherous will be rooted out of it.”
The young people were to walk in the way of the good people. Thus they would become upright and righteous as they kept to the path of the just ones. The upright will then inherit, inhabit, and abide in the land. The innocent ones who live with integrity will remain on the land. However, the wicked ones will be cut off from the land. The liars and the treacherous infidels will be rooted out of the land. Notice that the big reward and punishment is the land.