2 Esdras 4

1 The angel Uriel, who had been sent to me, replied,
2 "You can't even understand what happens in this world. Do you think you can understand the ways of God Most High?"
3 "Yes, sir, I do!" I answered. The angel continued, "I have been sent to ask you to solve three riddles about what happens in this world.
4 If you can explain even one of them to me, I will answer your questions about God's ways and teach you why the human race has an evil impulse."
5 "I agree, sir," I said. Then he said to me, "Good! How do you weigh out a pound of fire? How do you measure a bushel [a] of wind? How do you bring back a day that has passed?"
6 I answered, "Why do you ask me such questions? No human being could answer them."
7 Then he said, "What if I had asked you how many dwelling places there are at the bottom of the sea? How many rivers flow into the waters beneath the earth? How many rivers are there above the dome of the sky? Where are the exits from the world of the dead? Where are the entrances to [b] Paradise?
8 If I had asked you these questions, you might have answered, "I have never gone down into the waters beneath the earth, and I have not yet entered the world of the dead. I have never gone up to heaven.'
9 But all I have asked you about is fire, wind, and the day that has just passed - things that you have experienced. Yet you have given me no answer.
10 You can't even understand things that you have been familiar with since you were a child.
11 How then can your little mind understand the ways of God Most High? Can someone already worn down by this corrupt world understand the ways of the incorruptible God?" When I heard this, I fell face downward on the ground [c]
12 and said to him, "It would have been better if we had never been born than to have to live in a world of sin and suffering without understanding why things happen as they do."
13 The angel Uriel answered, "I once went into the woods and heard the trees plotting together.
14 They were saying, "Let's go to war against the sea and push it back, so that we may have more room.'
15 But the waves of the sea also plotted together and said, "Let's conquer the woods and extend our territory.'
16 But all the plotting of the trees was useless because fire came and destroyed them.
17 And the plotting of the sea was just as useless because the sand stood firm and blocked its advance.
18 Now, if you were the judge and had to decide between them, which would you pronounce right?"
19 I replied, "They were both wrong, because trees belong on the land, and waves belong in the sea."
20 "You have given the right answer," he said. "So why can't you see the answer to your own problems?
21 For just as trees have their place on land, and waves have their place in the sea, so the people of this world can understand only what goes on in this world, and only heavenly beings can understand what goes on in heaven." 1
22 "Please tell me, sir," I asked, "why then was I given the ability to understand anything?
23 I am not interested in asking questions about what goes on in the heavens; I am only concerned about things that go on around us. Why has God allowed Israel to be disgraced by foreign nations? Why has he let the nation he loves be handed over to the power of godless nations? Why do the Law and the covenant that were given to our ancestors mean nothing any more?
24 Why do we die as quickly as insects? Why is our life shorter than a breath? Why does God think us unworthy of his mercy?
25 Why doesn't God do something to help his own people? These are the questions that I want to ask."
26 Uriel answered, "If you live long enough, you will be surprised at what you will see, because this age is rapidly passing away.
27 This age is so full of misery and imperfection that it cannot hold all the blessings that God has promised the righteous in the time to come.
28 The evil about which you have asked me has already been planted, but the time for its harvesting has not yet arrived.
29 This evil must be harvested, and this world where it was planted must be removed, before the new age where the good is to be planted can appear.
30 At the beginning of time one grain of evil seed was sown in the heart of Adam. See how much wickedness it has already produced! Think of how much more it will produce before it is cut down and threshed out at Judgment Day. 2
31 You can see for yourself what a big crop this one evil seed has produced.
32 How terrible will be the harvest on Judgment Day when these countless heads of grain are threshed out!"
33 Then I asked, "How long do we have to wait before this happens? Why are our lives so short and so full of misery?"
34 Uriel answered, "Don't be in a greater hurry than God Most High! You are thinking only of yourself, but God has to be concerned about everybody.
35 Your questions are the same ones asked by the souls of the righteous dead in the places where God is keeping them waiting: "How long must we wait here? When will the day of judgment come, when we will get our reward?'
36 The archangel Jeremiel answers them, "It will happen as soon as the complete number of those who have suffered as you have are here. For God has weighed this age, 3
37 measured the years, and numbered the days. Nothing will be changed until time has run its predetermined course.'"
38 "But, sir," I replied, "all of us here on earth are such wicked sinners.
39 Is it possible that because of our sin the righteous dead are having to wait for their reward?"
40 His answer was, "Can a pregnant woman keep her child from being born after her nine months are up?"
41 "No, sir, she cannot," I answered. And he continued, "In the world of the dead, the place where God has stored the souls is like a womb.
42 It is as eager to return the souls entrusted to it from the beginning of the world as a woman is to end her labor pains.
43 When that happens, you will have the answer to all your questions."
44 "Please, sir," I asked, "if you think I am able to understand it, can you
45 tell me one more thing? Is the time that is still to come longer than the past that has already gone by?
46 I know how long the past has been, but I don't know the future."
47 "Come here and stand at my right," he commanded, "and I will show you a vision and explain its meaning."
48 So I stood by him and looked, and I saw a blazing fire pass by in front of me, and when it was gone, I saw that smoke was still there.
49 Then a rain cloud passed by in front of me, bringing a heavy downpour of rain; and when the downpour was over, there was still a light rain.
50 "Think about this," said Uriel. "Just as the downpour was greater than the light rain that followed it and the fire was greater than the smoke left behind, in the same way the time that has passed is much longer than the time to come. The time that is left is like the light rain and the smoke."
51 "Please tell me," I asked, "do you think I will live until that time? If not, who will be alive when it happens?" 4
52 He answered, "I can tell you some of the signs of the end, if that is what you are asking about; but I am not here to tell you how long you will live, and in any case, I don't know.

Cross References 4

  • 1. 4.21Isaiah 55.8, 9;John 3.31;1 Corinthians 2.14.
  • 2. 4.302 Esdras 3.20.
  • 3. 4.362 Esdras 2.41;Revelation 6.11.
  • 4. 4.51--5.19Matthew 24.4-31;Mark 13.5-27;Luke 21.8-28.

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. [Some ancient translations] bushel; [Latin] blast.
  • [b]. [Some ancient translations] exits from . . . entrances to; [Latin] exits from.
  • [c]. [Verse 11 in Latin is unclear.]
  • [d]. [Verse 34 in Latin is unclear.]
Scripture taken from the Good News Translation - Second Edition, Copyright 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.