1) Then shall the righteous one with great assurance
his oppressors who set at
naught his labors.
COMMENTARY: We have such a powerful need
to not just escape our oppressors, not just thrive in spite of them, but to
confront them. We don’t even necessarily
want revenge, although that’s a common emotion.
We want to communicate with the very people that logically one would
think would be the last ones that the sufferer would want any relationship with
at all. We want them to know, once and
for all, that they have wronged us and we want them to regret it. We desire this even though it makes no
material change in our circumstances, such as the saved confronting the damned. I’m still trying to puzzle out why.
Yet in the prevalent Jewish concept of an afterlife at that time, such a
confrontation could have the effect of bringing about, in the damned the
self-recrimination necessary to trigger the fires of destruction. In effect, it would invite the damned to
erase themselves, so that Heaven would not be troubled by their selfishness and
Even without this, though, we want to see the faces of those who hurt us when
they realize what a terrible mistake they made.
We want that vindication. It’s
stronger than logic.
2) Seeing this, the wicked shall be shaken with dreadful
and be amazed at the
COMMENTARY: Unexpected salvation of
their victims, that is. That there is an
afterlife, and that they, for their deeds, are not invited to it, but the one
they despised is.
3) They shall say among themselves, rueful
and groaning through
anguish of spirit:
“This is the one whom once
we held as a laughingstock
and as a type for mockery,
fools that we were!
His life we accounted
and death dishonored.
COMMENTARY: In the upside-down logic of
the wicked, honor belongs to those who claw their way to a peak of selfish attainment
by any means necessary, while those who let ethics stand in their way are “losers”. Here in the afterlife the writer depicts an
altogether different scale of worth that the evildoers hadn’t reckoned on.
5) See how he is accounted among the heavenly beings;
how his lot is with the
COMMENTARY: Literally, “heavenly beings”
translates as “sons of God.” Considering
all of the possible controversial interpretations that this could have among
Christians, Jews, Pagans, and various groups considered Christian by themselves
but called Heretics by others, it’s understandable why the translators decided
to dodge a literal translation!
6) We, then, have strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of
righteousness did not shine for us,
and the sun did not rise
COMMENTARY: A very poetic description of
the realization that all that they thought illuminating has turned out to be an
7) We were entangled in the thorns of mischief and of
we journeyed through
but the way of the LORD we
COMMENTARY: When one cares only about
oneself, pleasures become addictions and traps, and seeking one’s own way
leaves one feeling hopelessly lost and empty, which then entraps one in still
more unsatisfying compulsions.
8) What did our pride avail us?
What have wealth and its
boastfulness afforded us?
COMMENTARY: What seemed like
achievements now turned out to be anything but.
We were born to love; nothing attained without love gives any lasting
9) All of them passed like a shadow
and like a fleeting rumor;
Like a ship traversing the heaving
when it has passed, no
trace can be found,
no path of its keel in the
Or like a bird flying through the
no evidence of its course
is to be found—
But the fluid air, lashed
by the beating of pinions,
and cleft by the rushing
Of speeding wings, is
and afterward no mark of
passage can be found in it.
Or as, when an arrow has been shot
at a mark,
the parted air straightway
flows together again
so that none discerns the
way it went—
Even so, once born, we abruptly
came to naught
and held no sign of virtue
but were consumed in our
14) Yes, the hope of the wicked is like chaff borne by
and like fine,
Like smoke scattered by
and like the passing
memory of the nomad camping for a single day.
COMMENTARY: What a lyrical way of
describing nothingness and meaninglessness!
What especially stings is that the wicked believe that their deeds cause
them to stand out as better than others.
15) But the righteous live forever,
and in the LORD is their
and the thought of them is
with the Most High.
COMMENTARY: This period saw considerable
development of and attention to thoughts of an afterlife, previously somewhat
taboo. But then Egyptian Jews would give
more thought to an afterlife, being surrounded by a culture that had paid such
extravagant attention to it in their history.
16) Therefore shall they receive the splendid crown,
the beautiful diadem, from
the hand of the LORD,
For he will shelter them
with his right hand,
and protect them with his arm.
COMMENTARY: The diadem at this time
denoted power and dignity, awarded to leaders, royalty, and winning athletes. It could be a band of cloth or metal, ornate
in either case. If cloth, it would be
tied at the back of the head, leaving two long, fringed strips to drape over
the shoulders; kings wore this before they wore crowns.
17) He shall take his zeal for armor
and arm creation to
requite the enemy,
Shall put on righteousness for a
wear sure judgment for a
Shall take invincible holiness for
and sharpen his sudden anger for a
The universe will war with
him against the foolhardy;
COMMENTARY: At first glance the text
seemed ambiguous as to who was doing this.
Turns out it’s God, even though people have quoted this as applying to
believers. It’s God’s place, not ours,
to wage war.
21) Well-aimed bolts of lightning will go forth
and from the clouds will
leap to the mark as from a well-drawn bow;
COMMENTARY: It’s interesting how
thunderbolts seem to be the weapon of choice for deities among peoples in every
inhabited continent, perhaps because they are sudden, unpredictable, unearthly,
and instantly devastating.
22) and as from a sling, wrathful hailstones shall be
The waters of the sea will
and flooding rivers will
COMMENTARY: Not to be confused with
sleet, hail forms within thunderclouds, and is much bigger, nastier, and more
destructive. I had to look this up
because I grew up where hail is rare.
23) A mighty wind will confront them
and winnow them like a
Thus lawlessness will lay
waste the whole earth
and evildoing overturn the
thrones of the mighty.
Interesting, in that in the New Testament, a “mighty wind” also heralds
the coming of the Holy Spirit. To winnow
is to toss harvested grain in the air with the intention of separating the
heavier edible parts from the inedible chaff, which blows away. It’s a sort of physical judgment process.