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2 Esdras 4Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Limitations of the Human Mind

Then the angel that had been sent to me, whose name was U′riel, answered and said to me, “Your understanding has utterly failed regarding this world, and do you think you can comprehend the way of the Most High?” Then I said, “Yes, my lord.” And he replied to me, “I have been sent to show you three ways, and to put before you three problems. If you can solve one of them for me, I also will show you the way you desire to see, and will teach you why the heart is evil.”

I said, “Speak on, my lord.”

And he said to me, “Go, weigh for me the weight of fire, or measure for me a measure[a] of wind, or call back for me the day that is past.”

I answered and said, “Who of those that have been born can do this, that you ask me concerning these things?”

And he said to me, “If I had asked you, ‘How many dwellings are in the heart of the sea, or how many streams are at the source of the deep, or how many streams are above the firmament, or which are the exits of hell, or which are the entrances[b] of paradise?’ Perhaps you would have said to me, ‘I never went down into the deep, nor as yet into hell, neither did I ever ascend into heaven.’ But now I have asked you only about fire and wind and the day, things through which you have passed and without which you cannot exist,[c] and you have given me no answer about them!” 10 And he said to me, “You cannot understand the things with which you have grown up; 11 how then can your mind comprehend the way of the Most High? And how can one who is already worn out[d] by the corrupt world understand incorruption?”[e] When I heard this, I fell on my face[f] 12 and said to him, “It would be better for us not to be here than to come here and live in ungodliness, and to suffer and not understand why.”

Parable of the Forest and the Sea

13 He answered me and said, “I went into a forest of trees of the plain, and they made a plan 14 and said, ‘Come, let us go and make war against the sea, that it may recede before us, and that we may make for ourselves more forests.’ 15 And in like manner the waves of the sea also made a plan and said, ‘Come, let us go up and subdue the forest of the plain so that there also we may gain more territory for ourselves.’ 16 But the plan of the forest was in vain, for the fire came and consumed it; 17 likewise also the plan of the waves of the sea, for the sand stood firm and stopped them. 18 If now you were a judge between them, which would you undertake to justify, and which to condemn?”

19 I answered and said, “Each has made a foolish plan, for the land is assigned to the forest, and to the sea is assigned a place to carry its waves.”

20 He answered me and said, “You have judged rightly, but why have you not judged so in your own case? 21 For as the land is assigned to the forest and the sea to its waves, so also those who dwell upon earth can understand only what is on the earth, and he who is above the heavens can understand what is above the height of the heavens.”

The New Age Will Make All Things Clear

22 Then I answered and said, “I beseech you, my lord, why[g] have I been endowed with the power of understanding? 23 For I did not wish to inquire about the ways above, but about those things which we daily experience: why Israel has been given over to the Gentiles as a reproach; why the people whom you loved has been given over to godless tribes, and the law of our fathers has been made of no effect and the written covenants no longer exist; 24 and why we pass from the world like locusts, and our life is like a mist,[h] and we are not worthy to obtain mercy. 25 But what will he do for his name, by which we are called? It is about these things that I have asked.”

26 He answered me and said, “If you are alive, you will see, and if you live long,[i] you will often marvel, because the age is hastening swiftly to its end. 27 For it will not be able to bring the things that have been promised to the righteous in their appointed times, because this age is full of sadness and infirmities. 28 For the evil about which[j] you ask me has been sown, but the harvest of it has not yet come. 29 If therefore that which has been sown is not reaped, and if the place where the evil has been sown does not pass away, the field where the good has been sown will not come. 30 For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now, and will produce until the time of threshing comes! 31 Consider now for yourself how much fruit of ungodliness a grain of evil seed has produced. 32 When heads of grain without number are sown, how great a threshing floor they will fill!”

When Will the New Age Come?

33 Then I answered and said, “How long[k] and when will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” 34 He answered me and said, “You do not hasten faster than the Most High, for your haste is for yourself,[l] but the Highest hastens on behalf of many. 35 Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here?[m] And when will come the harvest of our reward?’ 36 And Jeremiel the archangel answered them and said, ‘When the number of those like yourselves is completed;[n] for he has weighed the age in the balance, 37 and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled.’”

38 Then I answered and said, “O sovereign Lord, but all of us also are full of ungodliness. 39 And it is perhaps on account of us that the time of threshing is delayed for the righteous—on account of the sins of those who dwell on earth.”

40 He answered me and said, “Go and ask a woman who is with child if, when her nine months have been completed, her womb can keep the child within her any longer.”

41 And I said, “No, lord, it cannot.”

And he said to me, “In Hades the chambers of the souls are like the womb. 42 For just as a woman who is in travail makes haste to escape the pangs of birth, so also do these places hasten to give back those things that were committed to them from the beginning. 43 Then the things that you desire to see will be disclosed to you.”

How Much Time Remains?

44 I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, and if it is possible, and if I am worthy, 45 show me this also: whether more time is to come than has passed, or whether for us the greater part has gone by. 46 For I know what has gone by, but I do not know what is to come.”

47 And he said to me, “Stand at my right side, and I will show you the interpretation of a parable.”

48 So I stood and looked, and behold, a flaming furnace passed by before me, and when the flame had gone by I looked, and behold, the smoke remained. 49 And after this a cloud full of water passed before me and poured down a heavy and violent rain, and when the rainstorm had passed, drops remained in the cloud.

50 And he said to me, “Consider it for yourself; for as the rain is more than the drops, and the fire is greater than the smoke, so the quantity that passed was far greater; but drops and smoke remained.”

51 Then I prayed and said, “Do you think that I shall live until those days? Or who will be alive in those days?”

52 He answered me and said, “Concerning the signs about which you ask me, I can tell you in part; but I was not sent to tell you concerning your life, for I do not know.


  1. 2 Esdras 4:5 Syr Ethiop Arab Georg: Lat a blast
  2. 2 Esdras 4:7 Syr Compare Ethiop Arab 2 Arm: Latin omits of hell, or which are the entrances
  3. 2 Esdras 4:9 Other Latin manuscripts read from which you cannot be separated
  4. 2 Esdras 4:11 The text here is uncertain
  5. 2 Esdras 4:11 Syr Ethiop the way of the incorruptible?
  6. 2 Esdras 4:11 Syr Ethiop Arab 1: Latin is corrupt
  7. 2 Esdras 4:22 Syr Ethiop Arm: Latin is corrupt
  8. 2 Esdras 4:24 Syr Ethiop Arab Georg: Lat a trembling
  9. 2 Esdras 4:26 Syr: Lat live
  10. 2 Esdras 4:28 Syr Ethiop: Latin is uncertain
  11. 2 Esdras 4:33 Syr Ethiop: Latin is uncertain
  12. 2 Esdras 4:34 Syr Ethiop Arab Arm: the Latin is corrupt
  13. 2 Esdras 4:35 Syr Ethiop Arab 2 Georg: Lat How long do I hope thus?
  14. 2 Esdras 4:36 Syr Ethiop Arab 2: Lat number of seeds is completed for you
Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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