God’s Work in Creation
I said, ‘O Lord, you spoke at the beginning of creation, and said on the first day, "Let heaven and earth be made", and your word accomplished the work. Then the spirit was blowing, and darkness and silence embraced everything; the sound of human voices was not yet there. Then you commanded a ray of light to be brought out from your store-chambers, so that your works could be seen.
‘Again, on the second day, you created the spirit of the firmament, and commanded it to divide and separate the waters, so that one part might move upwards and the other part remain beneath.
‘On the third day you commanded the waters to be gathered together in a seventh part of the earth; six parts you dried up and kept so that some of them might be planted and cultivated and be of service before you. For your word went forth, and at once the work was done. Immediately fruit came forth in endless abundance and of varied appeal to the taste, and flowers of inimitable colour, and odours of inexpressible fragrance. These were made on the third day.
‘On the fourth day you commanded the brightness of the sun, the light of the moon, and the arrangement of the stars to come into being; and you commanded them to serve humankind, about to be formed.
‘On the fifth day you commanded the seventh part, where the water had been gathered together, to bring forth living creatures, birds, and fishes; and so it was done. The dumb and lifeless water produced living creatures, as it was commanded, so that therefore the nations might declare your wondrous works.
‘Then you kept in existence two living creatures; one you called Behemoth and the name of the other was Leviathan. And you separated one from the other, for the seventh part where the water had been gathered together could not hold them both. And you gave Behemoth one of the parts that had been dried up on the third day, to live in it, where there are a thousand mountains; but to Leviathan you gave the seventh part, the watery part; and you have kept them to be eaten by whom you wish, and when you wish.
‘On the sixth day you commanded the earth to bring forth before you cattle, wild animals, and creeping things; and over these you placed Adam, as ruler over all the works that you had made; and from him we have all come, the people whom you have chosen.
Why Do God’s People Suffer?
‘All this I have spoken before you, O Lord, because you have said that it was for us that you created this world. As for the other nations that have descended from Adam, you have said that they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and you have compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket. And now, O Lord, these nations, which are reputed to be as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. But we your people, whom you have called your firstborn, only-begotten, zealous for you,
and most dear, have been given into their hands. If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?’
Response to Ezra’s Questions
When I had finished speaking these words, the angel who had been sent to me on the former nights was sent to me again. He said to me, ‘Rise, Ezra, and listen to the words that I have come to speak to you.’
I said, ‘Speak, my lord.’ And he said to me, ‘There is a sea set in a wide expanse so that it is deep and vast, but it has an entrance set in a narrow place, so that it is like a river. If there are those who wish to reach the sea, to look at it or to navigate it, how can they come to the broad part unless they pass through the narrow part? Another example: There is a city built and set on a plain, and it is full of all good things; but the entrance to it is narrow and set in a precipitous place, so that there is fire on the right hand and deep water on the left. There is only one path lying between them, that is, between the fire and the water, so that only one person can walk on the path. If now the city is given to someone as an inheritance, how will the heir receive the inheritance unless by passing through the appointed danger?’
I said, ‘That is right, lord.’ He said to me, ‘So also is Israel’s portion. For I made the world for their sake, and when Adam transgressed my statutes, what had been made was judged. And so the entrances of this world were made narrow and sorrowful and toilsome; they are few and evil, full of dangers and involved in great hardships. But the entrances of the greater world are broad and safe, and yield the fruit of immortality. Therefore unless the living pass through the difficult and futile experiences, they can never receive those things that have been reserved for them. Now therefore, why are you disturbed, seeing that you are to perish? Why are you moved, seeing that you are mortal? Why have you not considered in your mind what is to come, rather than what is now present?’
The Fate of the Ungodly
Then I answered and said, ‘O sovereign Lord, you have ordained in your law that the righteous shall inherit these things, but that the ungodly shall perish. The righteous, therefore, can endure difficult circumstances while hoping for easier ones; but those who have done wickedly have suffered the difficult circumstances and will never see the easier ones.’
He said to me, ‘You are not a better judge than the Lord,God; or wiser than the Most High! Let many perish who are now living, rather than that the law of God that is set before them be disregarded! For the Lord strictly commanded those who came into the world, when they came, what they should do to live, and what they should observe to avoid punishment. Nevertheless, they were not obedient, and spoke against him;
they devised for themselves vain thoughts,
and proposed to themselves wicked frauds;
they even declared that the Most High does not exist,
and they ignored his ways.
They scorned his law,
and denied his covenants;
they have been unfaithful to his statutes,
and have not performed his works.
That is the reason, Ezra, that empty things are for the empty, and full things are for the full.
The Temporary Messianic Kingdom
‘For indeed the time will come, when the signs that I have foretold to you will come to pass, that the city that now is not seen shall appear, and the land that now is hidden shall be disclosed. Everyone who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders. For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice for four hundred years. After those years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.all who have continued in faith and in patience. Then the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings, so that no one shall be left. After seven days the world that is not yet awake shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. The earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who rest there in silence; and the chambers shall give up the souls that have been committed to them. The Most High shall be revealed on the seat of judgement, and compassion shall pass away, and patience shall be withdrawn. Only judgement shall remain, truth shall stand, and faithfulness shall grow strong. Recompense shall follow, and the reward shall be manifested; righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. The pit shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight. Then the Most High will say to the nations that have been raised from the dead, "Look now, and understand whom you have denied, whom you have not served, whose commandments you have despised. Look on this side and on that; here are delight and rest, and there are fire and torments." Thus he will speak to them on the day of judgement— a day that has no sun or moon or stars, or cloud or thunder or lightning, or wind or water or air, or darkness or evening or morning, or summer or spring or heat or winter or frost or cold, or hail or rain or dew, or noon or night, or dawn or shining or brightness or light, but only the splendour of the glory of the Most High, by which all shall see what has been destined. It will last as though for a week of years. This is my judgement and its prescribed order; and to you alone I have shown these things.’
Only a Few Will Be Saved
I answered and said, ‘O sovereign Lord, I said then and I say now: Blessed are those who are alive and keep your commandments! But what of those for whom I prayed? For who among the living is there that has not sinned, or who is there among mortals that has not transgressed your covenant? And now I see that the world to come will bring delight to few, but torments to many. For an evil heart has grown up in us, which has alienated us from God, and has brought us into corruption and the ways of death, and has shown us the paths of perdition and removed us far from life—and that not merely for a few but for almost all who have been created.’
He answered me and said, ‘Listen to me, Ezra, and I will instruct you, and will admonish you once more. For this reason the Most High has made not one world but two. Inasmuch as you have said that the righteous are not many but few, while the ungodly abound, hear the explanation for this.
‘If you have just a few precious stones, will you add to them lead and clay?’ I said, ‘Lord, how could that be?’ And he said to me, ‘Not only that, but ask the earth and she will tell you; defer to her, and she will declare it to you. Say to her, "You produce gold and silver and bronze, and also iron and lead and clay; but silver is more abundant than gold, and bronze than silver, and iron than bronze, and lead than iron, and clay than lead." Judge therefore which things are precious and desirable, those that are abundant or those that are rare?’
I said, ‘O sovereign Lord, what is plentiful is of less worth, for what is more rare is more precious.’
He answered me and said, ‘Consider within yourself what you have thought, for the person who has what is hard to get rejoices more than the person who has what is plentiful. So also will be the judgement that I have promised; for I will rejoice over the few who shall be saved, because it is they who have made my glory prevail now, and through them my name has now been honoured. I will not grieve over the great number of those who perish; for it is they who are now like a mist, and are similar to a flame and smoke—they are set on fire and burn hotly, and are extinguished.’
Lamentation of Ezra, with Response
I replied and said, ‘O earth, what have you brought forth, if the mind is made out of the dust like the other created things? For it would have been better if the dust itself had not been born, so that the mind might not have been made from it. But now the mind grows with us, and therefore we are tormented, because we perish and we know it. Let the human race lament, but let the wild animals of the field be glad; let all who have been born lament, but let the cattle and the flocks rejoice. It is much better with them than with us; for they do not look for a judgement, and they do not know of any torment or salvation promised to them after death. What does it profit us that we shall be preserved alive but cruelly tormented? For all who have been born are entangled in iniquities, and are full of sins and burdened with transgressions. And if after death we were not to come into judgement, perhaps it would have been better for us.’
He answered me and said, ‘When the Most High made the world and Adam and all who have come from him, he first prepared the judgement and the things that pertain to the judgement. But now, understand from your own words—for you have said that the mind grows with us. For this reason, therefore, those who live on earth shall be tormented, because though they had understanding, they committed iniquity; and though they received the commandments, they did not keep them; and though they obtained the law, they dealt unfaithfully with what they received. What, then, will they have to say in the judgement, or how will they answer in the last times? How long the Most High has been patient with those who inhabit the world!—and not for their sake, but because of the times that he has foreordained.’
State of the Dead before Judgement
I answered and said, ‘If I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, show this also to your servant: whether after death, as soon as everyone of us yields up the soul, we shall be kept in rest until those times come when you will renew the creation, or whether we shall be tormented at once?’
He answered me and said, ‘I will show you that also, but do not include yourself with those who have shown scorn, or number yourself among those who are tormented. For you have a treasure of works stored up with the Most High, but it will not be shown to you until the last times. Now concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone out from the Most High that a person shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. If it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, who have despised his law and hated those who fear God— such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, always grieving and sad, in seven ways. The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High. The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance so that they may live. The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High. The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days. The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet. The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will cross over into torments. The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High in whose presence they sinned while they were alive, and in whose presence they are to be judged in the last times.
‘Now this is the order of those who have kept the ways of the Most High, when they shall be separated from their mortal body. During the time that they lived in it, they laboriously served the Most High, and withstood danger every hour so that they might keep the law of the Lawgiver perfectly. Therefore this is the teaching concerning them: First of all, they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders. The first order, because they have striven with great effort to overcome the evil thought that was formed with them, so that it might not lead them astray from life into death. The second order, because they see the perplexity in which the souls of the ungodly wander and the punishment that awaits them. The third order, they see the witness that he who formed them bears concerning them, that throughout their life they kept the law with which they were entrusted. The fourth order, they understand the rest that they now enjoy, being gathered into their chambers and guarded by angels in profound quiet, and the glory waiting for them in the last days. The fifth order, they rejoice that they have now escaped what is corruptible and shall inherit what is to come; and besides, they see the straits and toil from which they have been delivered, and the spacious liberty that they are to receive and enjoy in immortality. The sixth order, when it is shown them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on. The seventh order, which is greater than all that have been mentioned, because they shall rejoice with boldness, and shall be confident without confusion, and shall be glad without fear, for they press forward to see the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified. This is the order of the souls of the righteous, as henceforth is announced; and the previously mentioned are the ways of torment that those who would not give heed shall suffer hereafter.’
Then I answered and said, ‘Will time therefore be given to the souls, after they have been separated from the bodies, to see what you have described to me?’
He said to me, ‘They shall have freedom for seven days, so that during these seven days they may see the things of which you have been told, and afterwards they shall be gathered in their habitations.’
No Intercession for the Ungodly
I answered and said, ‘If I have found favour in your sight, show further to me, your servant, whether on the day of judgement the righteous will be able to intercede for the ungodly or to entreat the Most High for them— fathers for sons or sons for parents, brothers for brothers, relatives for their kindred, or friends for those who are most dear.’
He answered me and said, ‘Since you have found favour in my sight, I will show you this also. The day of judgement is decisive and displays to all the seal of truth. Just as now a father does not send his son, or a son his father, or a master his servant, or a friend his dearest friend, to be ill or sleep or eat or be healed in his place, so no one shall ever pray for another on that day, neither shall anyone lay a burden on another; for then all shall bear their own righteousness and unrighteousness.’
I answered and said, ‘How then do we find that first Abraham prayed for the people of Sodom, and Moses for our ancestors who sinned in the desert, and Joshua after him for Israel in the days of Achan, and Samuel in the days of Saul, and David for the plague, and Solomon for those at the dedication, and Elijah for those who received the rain, and for the one who was dead, that he might live, and Hezekiah for the people in the days of Sennacherib, and many others prayed for many? So if now, when corruption has increased and unrighteousness has multiplied, the righteous have prayed for the ungodly, why will it not be so then as well?’
He answered me and said, ‘This present world is not the end; the full glory does not remain in it; therefore those who were strong prayed for the weak. But the day of judgement will be the end of this age and the beginning of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away, sinful indulgence has come to an end, unbelief has been cut off, and righteousness has increased and truth has appeared. Therefore no one will then be able to have mercy on someone who has been condemned in the judgement, or to harm someone who is victorious.’
Lamentation over the Fate of Most People
I answered and said, ‘This is my first and last comment: it would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning. For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants. For what good is it to us, if an immortal time has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death? And what good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed? Or that safe and healthful habitations have been reserved for us, but we have lived wickedly? Or that the glory of the Most High will defend those who have led a pure life, but we have walked in the most wicked ways? Or that a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it because we have lived in perverse ways? Or that the faces of those who practised self-control shall shine more than the stars, but our faces shall be blacker than darkness? For while we lived and committed iniquity we did not consider what we should suffer after death.’
He answered and said, ‘This is the significance of the contest that all who are born on earth shall wage: if they are defeated they shall suffer what you have said, but if they are victorious they shall receive what I have said. For this is the way of which Moses, while he was alive, spoke to the people, saying, "Choose life for yourself, so that you may live!" But they did not believe him or the prophets after him, or even myself who have spoken to them. Therefore there shall not be grief at their destruction, so much as joy over those to whom salvation is assured.’
Ezra Appeals to God’s Mercy
I answered and said, ‘I know, O Lord, that the Most High is now called merciful, because he has mercy on those who have not yet come into the world; and gracious, because he is gracious to those who turn in repentance to his law; and patient, because he shows patience towards those who have sinned, since they are his own creatures; and bountiful, because he would rather give than take away; and abundant in compassion, because he makes his compassions abound more and more to those now living and to those who are gone and to those yet to come— for if he did not make them abound, the world with those who inhabit it would not have life— and he is called the giver, because if he did not give out of his goodness so that those who have committed iniquities might be relieved of them, not one ten-thousandth of humankind could have life; and the judge, because if he did not pardon those who were created by his word and blot out the multitude of their sins, there would probably be left only very few of the innumerable multitude.’
He 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. But 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. Many have been created, but only a few shall be saved.’
Ezra Again Appeals to God’s Mercy
I answered and said, ‘Then drink your fill of understanding, O my soul, and drink wisdom, O my heart. For not of your own will did you come into the world, and against your will you depart, for you have been given only a short time to live. O 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 of a human being may be able to live. For you alone exist, and we are a work of your hands, as you have declared. And 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 endures your creature that has been created in it. But that which keeps and that which is kept shall both be kept by your keeping. And when the womb gives up again what has been created in it, you have commanded that from the members themselves (that is, from the breasts) milk, the fruit of the breasts, should be supplied, so that what has been fashioned may be nourished for a time; and afterwards you will still guide it in your mercy. You have nurtured it in your righteousness, and instructed it in your law, and reproved it in your wisdom. You put it to death as your creation, and make it live as your work. If then you will suddenly and quickly destroy what with so great labour was fashioned by your command, to what purpose was it made? And now I will speak out: About all humankind you know best; but I will speak about your people, for whom I am grieved, and 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. Therefore I will pray before you for myself and for them, for I see the failings of us who inhabit the earth; and now also I have heard of the swiftness of the judgement that is to come. Therefore hear my voice and understand my words, and I will speak before you.’
The beginning of the words of Ezra’s prayer, before he was taken up. He said: ‘O Lord, you who inhabit eternity, whose eyes are exalted and whose upper chambers are in the air, whose throne is beyond measure and whose glory is beyond comprehension, before whom the hosts of angels stand trembling and at whose command they are changed to wind and fire, whose word is sure and whose utterances are certain, whose command is strong and whose ordinance is terrible, whose look dries up the depths and whose indignation makes the mountains melt away, and whose truth is established for ever— hear, O Lord, the prayer of your servant, and give ear to the petition of your creature; attend to my words. For as long as I live I will speak, and as long as I have understanding I will answer. O do not look on the sins of your people, but on those who serve you in truth. Do not take note of the endeavours of those who act wickedly, but of the endeavours of those who have kept your covenants amid afflictions. Do not think of those who have lived wickedly in your sight, but remember those who have willingly acknowledged that you are to be feared. Do not will the destruction of those who have the ways of cattle, but regard those who have gloriously taught your law. Do not be angry with those who are deemed worse than wild animals, but love those who have always put their trust in your glory. For we and our ancestors have passed our lives in ways that bring death; but it is because of us sinners that you are called merciful. For if you have desired to have pity on us, who have no works of righteousness, then you will be called merciful. For the righteous, who have many works laid up with you, shall receive their reward in consequence of their own deeds. But what are mortals, that you are angry with them; or what is a corruptible race, that you are so bitter against it? For in truth there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted wickedly; among those who have existed there is no one who has not done wrong. For in this, O Lord, your righteousness and goodness will be declared, when you are merciful to those who have no store of good works.’
Response to Ezra’s Prayer
He answered me and said, ‘Some things you have spoken rightly, and it will turn out according to your words. For indeed I will not concern myself about the fashioning of those who have sinned, or about their death, their judgement, or their destruction; but I will rejoice over the creation of the righteous, over their pilgrimage also, and their salvation, and their receiving their reward. As I have spoken, therefore, so it shall be.
‘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 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.’
I answered and said, ‘If I have found favour in your sight, let me speak. If 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. But 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? Surely not, O Lord above! But spare your people and have mercy on your inheritance, for you have mercy on your own creation.’
Ezra’s Final Appeal for Mercy
He 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. For you come far short of being able to love my creation more than I love it. But you have often compared yourself to the unrighteous. Never do so! But even in this respect you will be praiseworthy before the Most High, because 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, for many miseries will affect those who inhabit the world in the last times, because they have walked in great pride. But think of your own case, and inquire concerning the glory of those who are like yourself, because 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, goodness is established, and wisdom perfected beforehand. The root of evil is sealed up from you, illness is banished from you, and death is hidden; Hades has fled and corruption has been forgotten; sorrows have passed away, and in the end the treasure of immortality is made manifest. Therefore do not ask any more questions about the great number of those who perish. For when they had opportunity to choose, they despised the Most High, and were contemptuous of his law, and abandoned his ways. Moreover, they have even trampled on his righteous ones, and said in their hearts that there is no God—though they knew well that they must die. For just as the things that I have predicted await you, so the thirst and torment that are prepared await them. For the Most High did not intend that anyone should be destroyed; but 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. Therefore my judgement is now drawing near; I have not shown this to all people, but only to you and a few like you.’
Then I answered and said, ‘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.’
More about the Signs of the End
He answered me and said, ‘Measure carefully in your mind, and when you see that some of the predicted signs have occurred, then you will know that it is the very time when the Most High is about to visit the world that he has made. So when there shall appear in the world earthquakes, tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders, confusion of princes, then you will know that it was of these that the Most High spoke from the days that were of old, from the beginning. For just as with everything that has occurred in the world, the beginning is evident, and the end manifest; so also are the times of the Most High: the beginnings are manifest in wonders and mighty works, and the end in penalties and in signs.
‘It shall be that all who will be saved and will be able to escape on account of their works, or on account of the faith by which they have believed, will survive the dangers that have been predicted, and will see my salvation in my land and within my borders, which I have sanctified for myself from the beginning. Then those who have now abused my ways shall be amazed, and those who have rejected them with contempt shall live in torments. For as many as did not acknowledge me in their lifetime, though they received my benefits, and as many as scorned my law while they still had freedom, and did not understand but despised it while an opportunity of repentance was still open to them, these must in torment acknowledge it after death. Therefore, do not continue to be curious about how the ungodly will be punished; but inquire how the righteous will be saved, those to whom the age belongs and for whose sake the age was made.’
The Argument Recapitulated
I answered and said, ‘I said before, and I say now, and will say it again: there are more who perish than those who will be saved, as a wave is greater than a drop of water.’
He answered me and said, ‘As is the field, so is the seed; and as are the flowers, so are the colours; and as is the work, so is the product; and as is the farmer, so is the threshing-floor. For there was a time in this age when I was preparing for those who now exist, before the world was made for them to live in, and no one opposed me then, for no one existed; but now those who have been created in this world, which is supplied both with an unfailing table and an inexhaustible pasture, have become corrupt in their ways. So I considered my world, and saw that it was lost. I saw that my earth was in peril because of the devices of those who had come into it. And I saw and spared some with great difficulty, and saved for myself one grape out of a cluster, and one plant out of a great forest. So let the multitude perish that has been born in vain, but let my grape and my plant be saved, because with much labour I have perfected them.
‘Now, if you will let seven days more pass—do not, however, fast during them, but go into a field of flowers where no house has been built, and eat only of the flowers of the field, and taste no meat and drink no wine, but eat only flowers— and pray to the Most High continually, then I will come and talk with you.’
The Abiding Glory of the Mosaic Law
So I went, as he directed me, into the field that is called there I sat among the flowers and ate of the plants of the field, and the nourishment they afforded satisfied me. After seven days, while I lay on the grass, my heart was troubled again as it was before. Then my mouth was opened, and I began to speak before the Most High, and said, ‘O Lord, you showed yourself among us, to our ancestors in the wilderness when they came out from Egypt and when they came into the untrodden and unfruitful wilderness; and you said, "Hear me, O Israel, and give heed to my words, O descendants of Jacob. For I sow my law in you, and it shall bring forth fruit in you, and you shall be glorified through it for ever." But though our ancestors received the law, they did not keep it and did not observe the statutes; yet the fruit of the law did not perish—for it could not, because it was yours. Yet those who received it perished, because they did not keep what had been sown in them. Now this is the general rule that, when the ground has received seed, or the sea a ship, or any dish food or drink, and when it comes about that what was sown or what was launched or what was put in is destroyed, they are destroyed, but the things that held them remain; yet with us it has not been so. For we who have received the law and sinned will perish, as well as our hearts that received it; the law, however, does not perish but survives in its glory.’
The Vision of a Weeping Woman
When I said these things in my heart, I looked around, and on my right I saw a woman; she was mourning and weeping with a loud voice, and was deeply grieved at heart; her clothes were torn, and there were ashes on her head. Then I dismissed the thoughts with which I had been engaged, and turned to her and said to her, ‘Why are you weeping, and why are you grieved at heart?’
She said to me, ‘Let me alone, my lord, so that I may weep for myself and continue to mourn, for I am greatly embittered in spirit and deeply distressed.’
I said to her, ‘What has happened to you? Tell me.’
And she said to me, ‘Your servant was barren and had no child, though I lived with my husband for thirty years. Every hour and every day during those thirty years I prayed to the Most High, night and day. And after thirty years God heard your servant, and looked upon my low estate, and considered my distress, and gave me a son. I rejoiced greatly over him, I and my husband and all my neighbours; and we gave great glory to the Mighty One. And I brought him up with much care. So when he grew up and I came to take a wife for him, I set a day for the marriage feast.
‘But it happened that when my son entered his wedding-chamber, he fell down and died. So all of us put out our lamps, and all my neighbours attempted to console me; I remained quiet until the evening of the second day. But when all of them had stopped consoling me, encouraging me to be quiet, I got up in the night and fled, and I came to this field, as you see. And now I intend not to return to the town, but to stay here; I will neither eat nor drink, but will mourn and fast continually until I die.’
Then I broke off the reflections with which I was still engaged, and answered her in anger and said, ‘You most foolish of women, do you not see our mourning, and what has happened to us? For Zion, the mother of us all, is in deep grief and great distress. It is most appropriate to mourn now, because we are all mourning, and to be sorrowful, because we are all sorrowing; you are sorrowing for one son, but we, the whole world, for our mother.
Now ask the earth, and she will tell you that it is she who ought to mourn over so many who have come into being upon her. From the beginning all have been born of her, and others will come; and, lo, almost all go to perdition, and a multitude of them will come to doom. Who then ought to mourn the more, she who lost so great a multitude, or you who are grieving for one alone? But if you say to me, "My lamentation is not like the earth’s, for I have lost the fruit of my womb, which I brought forth in pain and bore in sorrow; but it is with the earth according to the way of the earth—the multitude that is now in it goes as it came"; then I say to you, "Just as you brought forth in sorrow, so the earth also has from the beginning given her fruit, that is, humankind, to him who made her." Now, therefore, keep your sorrow to yourself, and bear bravely the troubles that have come upon you. For if you acknowledge the decree of God to be just, you will receive your son back in due time, and will be praised among women. Therefore go into the town to your husband.’
She said to me, ‘I will not do so; I will not go into the city, but I will die here.’
So I spoke again to her, and said, ‘Do not do that, but let yourself be persuaded—for how many are the adversities of Zion?—and be consoled because of the sorrow of Jerusalem. For you see how our sanctuary has been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed; our harp has been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing has been ended; the light of our lampstand has been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been almost profaned; our children have suffered abuse, our priests have been burned to death, our Levites have gone into exile, our virgins have been defiled, and our wives have been ravished; our righteous men have been carried off, our little ones have been cast out, our young men have been enslaved and our strong men made powerless. And, worst of all, the seal of Zion has been deprived of its glory, and given over into the hands of those that hate us. Therefore shake off your great sadness and lay aside your many sorrows, so that the Mighty One may be merciful to you again, and the Most High may give you rest, a respite from your troubles.’
While I was talking to her, her face suddenly began to shine exceedingly; her countenance flashed like lightning, so that I was too frightened to approach her, and my heart was terrified. While I was wondering what this meant, she suddenly uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound. When I looked up, the woman was no longer visible to me, but a city was being built, and a place of huge foundations showed itself. I was afraid, and cried with a loud voice and said, ‘Where is the angel Uriel, who came to me at first? For it was he who brought me into this overpowering bewilderment; my end has become corruption, and my prayer a reproach.’
Uriel’s Interpretation of the Vision
While I was speaking these words, the angel who had come to me at first came to me, and when he saw me lying there like a corpse, deprived of my understanding, he grasped my right hand and strengthened me and set me on my feet, and said to me, ‘What is the matter with you? And why are you troubled? And why are your understanding and the thoughts of your mind troubled?’
I said, ‘It was because you abandoned me. I did as you directed, and went out into the field, and lo, what I have seen, and can still see, I am unable to explain.’
He said to me, ‘Stand up like a man, and I will instruct you.’
I said, ‘Speak, my lord; only do not forsake me, so that I may not die before my time. For I have seen what I did not know, and I hear what I do not understand —or is my mind deceived, and my soul dreaming? Now therefore, I beg you to give your servant an explanation of this bewildering vision.’
He answered me and said, ‘Listen to me, and I will teach you, and tell you about the things that you fear; for the Most High has revealed many secrets to you. He has seen your righteous conduct, and that you have sorrowed continually for your people and mourned greatly over Zion. This therefore is the meaning of the vision. The woman who appeared to you a little while ago, whom you saw mourning and whom you began to console (you do not now see the form of a woman, but there appeared to you a city being built) and who told you about the misfortune of her son—this is the interpretation: The woman whom you saw is Zion, which you now behold as a city being built. And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, the reason is that there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it. And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son. And as for her telling you that she brought him up with much care, that was the period of residence in Jerusalem. And as for her saying to you, "My son died as he entered his wedding-chamber", and that misfortune had overtaken her, this was the destruction that befell Jerusalem. So you saw her likeness, how she mourned for her son, and you began to console her for what had happened. For now the Most High, seeing that you are sincerely grieved and profoundly distressed for her, has shown you the brilliance of her glory, and the loveliness of her beauty. Therefore I told you to remain in the field where no house had been built, for I knew that the Most High would reveal these things to you. Therefore I told you to go into the field where there was no foundation of any building, because no work of human construction could endure in a place where the city of the Most High was to be revealed.
‘Therefore do not be afraid, and do not let your heart be terrified; but go in and see the splendour or the vastness of the building, as far as it is possible for your eyes to see it, and afterwards you will hear as much as your ears can hear. For you are more blessed than many, and you have been called to be with the Most High as few have been. But tomorrow night you shall remain here, and the Most High will show you in those dream visions what the Most High will do to those who inhabit the earth in the last days.’
So I slept that night and the following one, as he had told me.