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2 Esdras: Chapter 8

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1He answered me and said, “The Most High made this world for the sake of many, but the world to come for the sake of only a few. 2But I tell you a parable, Ezra. Just as, when you ask the earth, it will tell you that it provides a large amount of clay from which earthenware is made, but only a little dust from which gold comes, so is the course of the present world. 3Many have been created, but only a few shall be saved.”

4I answered and said, “Then drink your fill of understanding, c Syr: Lat Then release understanding O my soul, and drink wisdom, O my heart. 5For not of your own will did you come into the world, d Syr: Meaning of Lat uncertain and against your will you depart, for you have been given only a short time to live. 6O Lord above us, grant to your servant that we may pray before you, and give us a seed for our heart and cultivation of our understanding so that fruit may be produced, by which every mortal who bears the likeness e Syr: Lat place of a human being may be able to live. 7For you alone exist, and we are a work of your hands, as you have declared. 8And because you give life to the body that is now fashioned in the womb, and furnish it with members, what you have created is preserved amid fire and water, and for nine months the womb f Lat what you have formed endures your creature that has been created in it. 9But that which keeps and that which is kept shall both be kept by your keeping. d Syr: Meaning of Lat uncertain And when the womb gives up again what has been created in it, 10you have commanded that from the members themselves (that is, from the breasts) milk, the fruit of the breasts, should be supplied, 11so that what has been fashioned may be nourished for a time; and afterwards you will still guide it in your mercy. 12You have nurtured it in your righteousness, and instructed it in your law, and reproved it in your wisdom. 13You put it to death as your creation, and make it live as your work. 14If then you will suddenly and quickly g Syr: Lat will with a light command destroy what with so great labor was fashioned by your command, to what purpose was it made? 15And now I will speak out: About all humankind you know best; but I will speak about your people, for whom I am grieved, 16and about your inheritance, for whom I lament, and about Israel, for whom I am sad, and about the seed of Jacob, for whom I am troubled. 17Therefore I will pray before you for myself and for them, for I see the failings of us who inhabit the earth; 18and now also h Syr: Lat but I have heard of the swiftness of the judgment that is to come. 19Therefore hear my voice and understand my words, and I will speak before you.”

The beginning of the words of Ezra's prayer, i Syr Ethiop; Lat beginning of Ezra's words before he was taken up. He said: 20“O Lord, you who inhabit eternity, j Or you who abide forever whose eyes are exalted k Another Lat text reads whose are the highest heavens and whose upper chambers are in the air, 21whose throne is beyond measure and whose glory is beyond comprehension, before whom the hosts of angels stand trembling 22and at whose command they are changed to wind and fire, a Syr: Lat they whose service takes the form of wind and fire whose word is sure and whose utterances are certain, whose command is strong and whose ordinance is terrible, 23whose look dries up the depths and whose indignation makes the mountains melt away, and whose truth is established b Arab 2 : Other authorities read truth bears witness forever— 24hear, O Lord, the prayer of your servant, and give ear to the petition of your creature; attend to my words. 25For as long as I live I will speak, and as long as I have understanding I will answer. 26O do not look on the sins of your people, but on those who serve you in truth. 27Do not take note of the endeavors of those who act wickedly, but of the endeavors of those who have kept your covenants amid afflictions. 28Do not think of those who have lived wickedly in your sight, but remember those who have willingly acknowledged that you are to be feared. 29Do not will the destruction of those who have the ways of cattle, but regard those who have gloriously taught your law. c Syr have received the brightness of your law 30Do not be angry with those who are deemed worse than wild animals, but love those who have always put their trust in your glory. 31For we and our ancestors have passed our lives in ways that bring death; d Syr Ethiop: Meaning of Lat uncertain but it is because of us sinners that you are called merciful. 32For if you have desired to have pity on us, who have no works of righteousness, then you will be called merciful. 33For the righteous, who have many works laid up with you, shall receive their reward in consequence of their own deeds. 34But what are mortals, that you are angry with them; or what is a corruptible race, that you are so bitter against it? 35For in truth there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted wickedly; among those who have existed e Syr: Meaning of Lat uncertain there is no one who has not done wrong. 36For in this, O Lord, your righteousness and goodness will be declared, when you are merciful to those who have no store of good works.”

37He answered me and said, “Some things you have spoken rightly, and it will turn out according to your words. 38For indeed I will not concern myself about the fashioning of those who have sinned, or about their death, their judgment, or their destruction; 39but I will rejoice over the creation of the righteous, over their pilgrimage also, and their salvation, and their receiving their reward. 40As I have spoken, therefore, so it shall be.

41“For just as the farmer sows many seeds in the ground and plants a multitude of seedlings, and yet not all that have been sown will come up f Syr Ethiop will live; Lat will be saved in due season, and not all that were planted will take root; so also those who have been sown in the world will not all be saved.”

42I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, let me speak. 43If the farmer's seed does not come up, because it has not received your rain in due season, or if it has been ruined by too much rain, it perishes. a Cn: Compare Syr Arab 1 Arm Georg 2 : Meaning of Lat uncertain 44But people, who have been formed by your hands and are called your own image because they are made like you, and for whose sake you have formed all things—have you also made them like the farmer's seed? 45Surely not, O Lord b Ethiop Arab Compare Syr: Lat lacks O Lord above! But spare your people and have mercy on your inheritance, for you have mercy on your own creation.”

46He answered me and said, “Things that are present are for those who live now, and things that are future are for those who will live hereafter. 47For you come far short of being able to love my creation more than I love it. But you have often compared yourself c Syr Ethiop: Lat brought yourself near to the unrighteous. Never do so! 48But even in this respect you will be praiseworthy before the Most High, 49because you have humbled yourself, as is becoming for you, and have not considered yourself to be among the righteous. You will receive the greatest glory, 50for many miseries will affect those who inhabit the world in the last times, because they have walked in great pride. 51But think of your own case, and inquire concerning the glory of those who are like yourself, 52because it is for you that paradise is opened, the tree of life is planted, the age to come is prepared, plenty is provided, a city is built, rest is appointed, d Syr Ethiop: Lat allowed goodness is established and wisdom perfected beforehand. 53The root of evil e Lat lacks of evil is sealed up from you, illness is banished from you, and death f Syr Ethiop Arm: Lat lacks death is hidden; Hades has fled and corruption has been forgotten; g Syr: Lat Hades and corruption have fled into oblivion; or corruption has fled into Hades to be forgotten 54sorrows have passed away, and in the end the treasure of immortality is made manifest. 55Therefore do not ask any more questions about the great number of those who perish. 56For when they had opportunity to choose, they despised the Most High, and were contemptuous of his law, and abandoned his ways. 57Moreover, they have even trampled on his righteous ones, 58and said in their hearts that there is no God—though they knew well that they must die. 59For just as the things that I have predicted await h Syr: Lat will receive you, so the thirst and torment that are prepared await them. For the Most High did not intend that anyone should be destroyed; 60but those who were created have themselves defiled the name of him who made them, and have been ungrateful to him who prepared life for them now. 61Therefore my judgment is now drawing near; 62I have not shown this to all people, but only to you and a few like you.”

Then I answered and said, 63“O Lord, you have already shown me a great number of the signs that you will do in the last times, but you have not shown me when you will do them.”


c Syr: Lat Then release understanding

d Syr: Meaning of Lat uncertain

e Syr: Lat place

f Lat what you have formed

g Syr: Lat will with a light command

h Syr: Lat but

i Syr Ethiop; Lat beginning of Ezra's words

j Or you who abide forever

k Another Lat text reads whose are the highest heavens

a Syr: Lat they whose service takes the form of wind and fire

b Arab 2 : Other authorities read truth bears witness

c Syr have received the brightness of your law

d Syr Ethiop: Meaning of Lat uncertain

e Syr: Meaning of Lat uncertain

f Syr Ethiop will live; Lat will be saved

a Cn: Compare Syr Arab 1 Arm Georg 2 : Meaning of Lat uncertain

b Ethiop Arab Compare Syr: Lat lacks O Lord

c Syr Ethiop: Lat brought yourself near

d Syr Ethiop: Lat allowed

e Lat lacks of evil

f Syr Ethiop Arm: Lat lacks death

g Syr: Lat Hades and corruption have fled into oblivion; or corruption has fled into Hades to be forgotten

h Syr: Lat will receive

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

7.116–8.3 :

Conflicting views of the judgment.

116–126 :

Ezra recapitulates his point of view: Sin is universal, inherited from Adam, and therefore the promises of the world to come can only sharpen the sorrow of life in this world.

127–131 :

Uriel insists, quoting from Deut 30.19 , that salvation has always been promised only to those who choose to live according to God's law.

132–140 :

Ezra expresses his belief in God's mercy through a word-by-word commentary on Ex 34.6–7 , a passage frequently quoted in Jewish prayers. The style of the commentary resembles a rabinic midrash. *

8.1–3 :

The angel's only response is to remind Ezra of the illustration from nature that he used earlier ( 7.52–61 ) to justify the destruction of the many.

8.4–36 :

Ezra's prayers for mercy. Unable to accept Uriel's hard-line position, Ezra decides to appeal directly to God.

4–5 :

To show his exasperation with the angel, he first addresses himself, in much the same way that he invoked the earth in 7.62 .

6 :

Ezra seems to be praying for a reversal of the situation described in 3.20–22 . Who bears the likeness of a human being: The original probably read, “who bears the likeness of Adam”; the name Adam means “human being” in Hebrew.

7–12 :

The author views pregnancy and child-rearing as creative acts of God.

13–14 :

Ezra cannot believe that God would create so many people only to destroy them.

15 :

He gives up on his appeal for the mass of humanity and reverts to his earlier concern with the fate of Israel.

19 :

The beginning…He said: This heading is present in all the extant versions, but it appears to have been added to the original text. For the idea that Ezra was taken up to heaven, see 14.9 and comment on 14.48 .

20–36 :

Although influenced by the prayers of confession found in Ezra 9, Neh 9 , and Dan 9 , Ezra's prayer is more a petition for mercy than an acknowledgment of guilt.

20–23 :

The prayer begins with praise of God's might.

24–30 :

Like the biblical intercessors he named in 7.106–111 , Ezra pleads the cause of his people.

31–33 :

God's reputation for mercy (compare 7.132–140 ) rests on his treatment of sinners; the righteous have no need of mercy.

34 :

Compare Job 7.17–18; Ps 8.4 .

35–36 :

Although Ezra continues to define righteousness as freedom from sin, he acknowledges Uriel's claim that some people have a store of good works (see 7.76–77 ).

8.37–62 :

Final dispute.

37–40 :

Completely ignoring the emotional intensity of Ezra's appeal, Uriel reaffirms that God has no interest in sinners.

41 :

He uses the familiar analogy of sowing to imply that God does not have as much invested in the creation of human life as Ezra supposes.

42–45 :

For the first time, Ezra finds fault with one of the angel's analogies, arguing that humanity is created in God's own image (Gen 1.26–27 ). He again appeals directly to God for mercy.

46–62 :

Uriel does not even acknowledge Ezra's point; he simply recapitulates his own points, beginning with the doctrine of the two worlds.

47–51 :

More emphatically than above ( 7.76–77 ), he assures Ezra of his own salvation.

52 :

Compare 7.119–125 .

53–54 :

Compare 7.113–114 . The root of evil is equivalent to the “evil heart”; see 3.22 .

56–58 :

Compare 7.22–24 .

59–60 :

God is not to blame for the destruction of the many; human beings choose their own fates (compare 7.72 , 129–131 ).

62 :

A few like you: The revelations of the dialogues are to be shared only with other righteous persons. Later in the book, Ezra is told to keep his visions secret from all but the wise: 12.37–38; 14.26, 46–47 .

8.63–9.22 :

The purpose of the signs. In spite of Ezra's question, this discourse is less specific about the timing of the signs than those at the end of the first two dialogues. The emphasis is on their punitive purpose (see comment on 6.25 ).

9.2 :

To visit often connotes punishment; compare 5.56 .

3 :

Compare Mk 13.7–8 .

5–6 :

The text of these verses is corrupt, but Uriel may be likening the world to a living being, in that it has a clear beginning and end.

7 :

Throughout the book, faith and good works are assumed to go hand in hand; therefore, the author is probably not suggesting that these are two alternative paths to salvation.

8 :

The survivors of the signs will enjoy the earthly rewards of the messianic kingdom (compare 7.27–28; 12.34 ) prior to the day of judgment.

9–12 :

The terrible signs that will bring about the death of the ungodly who are living at the time of the end will be only a foretaste of the punishments that await them after the judgment.

15–16 :

Ezra has accepted the fact that only a few will be saved, but his feelings about it remain the same.

17–20 :

In life as in agriculture, results depend on both materials and effort. God gave humanity the materials for success in this world, but they have nearly destroyed the earth along with themselves.

21–22 :

The imagery (compare 5.23 ) suggests the biblical notion that God will spare only a tiny remnant of Israel (see Isa 17.4–6; Am 3.12 ). The concept of a remnant, however, contradicts what Uriel has been saying all along about the righteous saving themselves, and about Israel having no privileged status.

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