The Apocrypha – The Second Book of Esdras – The Ezra Apocalypse
When I worked for a comic book and used record store in high school, my bosses collected (among other things) movie posters and lobby cards. Listening to them discuss their approach to this hobby informed how I approached collecting. When presented with an opportunity, Ken ponied up the cash or passed on an item based on his collection’s needs. I had thought it odd to think of a collection having needs—didn’t you amass a collection based on what you liked?; however, he believed that a collection needed to cover a number of interests and be able to represent a good cross section of the films and actors/actresses he enjoyed.
You can’t have one of everything, so a choice must be made somewhere, with a clear, intelligent line drawn to reflect this mindset. Sometimes, it helps to have logic impose an order on something driven by emotion, as most collecting is.
The Book of Revelations does most of the apocalyptic heavy lifting in the Bible, and its dark tone is such a stark, dark contrast to most of the rest of the good book that I was sure it was an anomaly that had survived mainly due its unique character. Well, turns out the Second Book of Esdras brings the apocalyptic party as well, and I understand why the choice was made to cut it: the Apocalypse is covered better elsewhere. It also adds little to the impression of Ezra as a man who really wants to help people get back on track spiritually.
Evil must be rooted out before good can prosper (4:29-30). Part of the problem: parents need to pass on knowledge of god to their children, for kids magnify problems /sins by forgetting God and worshiping strange gods. They need to learn about and remember what God has done for them (1:13). So Ezra has been chosen to teach them and pass on a lot of info. But before he can do this, God, apparently, has a crash course to deliver to him.
Part of this involves how screwed most (heathen) people are or will be (the end is coming soon, so don’t worry) (2:34-35) and that the righteous (believers) will be taken care of (2:28-29).
Once God leaves—there’s a lot of coming and going in this book—Ezra challenges God: you spare the wicked, he says (3:30) and those who have believed have not received their reward (3:33). Dispatched to clarify things, the angel Uriel tells Ezra over and over again – You seek understanding you cannot grasp (5:40).
Then left alone to process the info (and fast), Ezra is still unsure, so Uriel returns with the same message but different metaphors to explain the situation with God: be patient; he tells Ezra that God made the world like a woman’s womb, and asking for things to happen more quickly is asking that womb to produce ten children when it does so at intervals (5:46-7). Which, you have to admit, is kinda interesting. One wonders what Ezra could have said had Octomom been alive back then.
Then God returns again and warns of mass destruction (earthquakes) coming (6: 17-18) and that after the chaos ensues (and many die, 6:24), the survivors will “reset” things (6:26).
And then the pattern of more back and forth with God leaving, Ezra fasting for seven days, still doubting, Uriel returning, more messages of destruction, etc; repeat. In the end, Ezra wants to know when all of this will go down and he’s told to look for the tell-tale signs: earthquakes, tumult, heathen plots, wavering leaders, confused princes (9). Which basically sounds like we’ve been getting the same signs for centuries.
Then Ezra, who kinda accepts what he’s been told, has a series of crazy dreams/visions, for which he asks God for clarification. Most of these would be right at home in Revelations. Near the end, he’s told by a strange voice from a bush that there is much evil coming and he needs to warn people. Some of what he’s been told, however, he will circulate (publish to the masses) and some he will withhold for the wise (14:26). Though, if you’ve read this book, it appears that all of it has been published, though perhaps the only ones reading it are the wise (i.e. believers)?
The final chapter (15) ends with a lot of fire and brimstone, where the lord tells Ezra not to fear non-believers, because they will die. And then he catalogs all the destruction headed Earth’s way. In the end, the book closes on a dark note: fear God (15:67).
So much of the Book of Ezra in the Old Testament is positive, focusing on what this man accomplished, how he stood up to authority for what was right and pleaded for religious tolerance, and then once in Jerusalem, fought to get these people back on their feet. This Second book of Esdras has a darker tone, though, and doesn’t compliment the image of Ezra I developed. In fact, given its dissonance, it unsettles that positive image in favor of a murkier one: the Book of Ezra is all about hope and fighting for what’s right—and, ultimately, succeeding. This book is all about impending destruction. Perhaps this is one of the reasons this book was cut: that apocalyptic mindset is already covered elsewhere. I can’t say I disagree with the choice to omit it.