According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, September 12, 2016

Phillip J. Long - Discussion of 2 Baruch

2 Baruch and the Fall of Jerusalem
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/30/2-baruch-and-the-fall-of-jerusalem/

by Phillip J. Long
August 30, 2016

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch appears to have been written in the late first century, probably around A.D. 100. Like 4 Ezra, the book is a response to the recent fall of Jerusalem. Using the persona of Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch, the author of this book is answering a theological question, "Why has God allowed the Temple to be destroyed a second time? Has God cancelled his promises to his people? Is there any future for Israel?" Since it was written about the same time as the New Testament’s Revelation, it is one of the more significant Second Temple period apocalypses.

4 Ezra and 2 Baruch share many similarities, although the direction of the influence is hard to determine. Klijn is inclined to see 2 Baruch as dependent on 4 Ezra; he therefore dates the book to the first part of the second century (OTP 1:616-52). Collins argues for a date a bit earlier based on the fall of Jerusalem in the twenty-fifth year of king Jeconiah in the first verse of 2 Baruch. This is not historically accurate, so it is possible the author is referring to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, twenty-five years in the past (Apocalyptic Imagination, 212-3). The book was written in Palestine and most likely in Hebrew originally. The book is closely related to the rabbinic literature and seems to be exhorting diaspora Jews from the perspective of Palestinian Jews (OTP 1:617).

2 Baruch 1-4 forms an introduction to the book. The author takes on the guise of Baruch son of Neriah, the companion of Jeremiah. He is told by the Lord that all of the things which happened to the northern ten tribes will happen to the south as well. Jerusalem will fall and the people will be punished. Baruch agrees this punishment cannot be resisted, but asks the Lord what will happen after the city is destroyed. Are the promises of God ever to be fulfilled? The Lord’s answer is that a New Jerusalem has been built, but it is in Paradise.

In chapter 5-9 Baruch prepares for the Babylonian invasion. He tells the people what the Lord has told him and they sit in the valley of Kidron and fast until evening. The city is surrounded the next day (ch. 6). Baruch sees four angels at the corners of the city with burning torches. He sees the temple and the Holy of Holies, including the ephod, precious stone and other temple items. These buildings are swallowed up by the earth, then the angels put their torches to the city and destroyed its foundations. Babylon enters the city and plunders it and kill many people.

The word of the Lord comes to Baruch and he is command to tell Jeremiah to go to support the captives in Babylon. Baruch delivers a lengthy lament for the city in chapter 9, striking many themes found in later apocalyptic (“better never to have been born,” verse 6, for example.) He condemns Babylon although it is not as brutal as it might be. He asks how the Lord has borne the destruction of the city (chapter 11-12).

As Baruch weeps for fallen Jerusalem, the Lord will answer his questions through a series of visions.


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A Vision on Zion – 2 Baruch 13-21
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/31/a-vision-on-zion-2-baruch-13-21/

by Phillip J. Long
August 31, 2016

While standing on Mt. Zion, Baruch hears a voice from heaven. The Lord answers an objection Baruch raised in his lament (chapter 13). This is a dialogue between God and Baruch which deals with the problem of the destruction of temple (13-20). What good is it to follow God if he allows the Temple to be destroyed and the people judged so harshly? People may ask, “why has God brought this sort of destruction down on his people?” When these people wonder if such a retribution will come upon them, Baruch is to tell them that they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath down to the dregs. After hearing this, Baruch asks the Lord what benefit is there in being righteous if everyone will be punished by the Lord (chapter 14).

The Lord’s reply (chapter 15) is that it is true all will be judged, but the righteous will have a crown of great glory waiting for them as a reward for their great struggle. Baruch wonders if the few evil years of this life are enough to inherit an unmeasurable reward (chapter 16). The Lord’s reply (chapter 18) is that the Lord does not take account of years. Adam lived 930 years but it was no profit for him if he transgressed God’s commands. Moses lived 120 years, but it would profit him nothing if he had not been the “lamp which lighted a generation.” But Baruch objections that while Moses was a lamp, few followed his light (chapter 18).

In chapter 19), The Lord points out Moses who gave them the covenant and they were judged by that standard. How happy a person is while young does not really matter if at the end of his life he transgresses and is judged. The Lord’s point seems to be that there is still time for repentance near the “end of days” for the nation. Baruch is told to go and fast for seven days and the Lord will continue his revelation to Baruch (chapter 20).

Chapter 21 contains a prayer of Baruch in response to the dialogue of chapters 13-20. In verse 4-11 he calls out to the Lord as the creator God, the God who is sovereign and in control of his creation. He decrees things so minutely he knows how many raindrops will fall on a given head (cf. Mt. 10:30, the hairs on one’s head are numbered.) Verses 12-18 develop this theme of God’s knowledge acknowledge that God has preserved the life of those who have sinned so that they may be proved righteous. Men are changeable even if God is not and God takes the time to change men. In verses 19-25 Baruch asks how long it will be that the world will continue to be polluted by sin.

Finally, He asks for God to act to reveal his glory in the world and restore creation. The restoration in mind is Israel, but this restoration will mean salvation for all creation. This resonates with Revelation, at least in the sense that the final restoration is the return of the glory of God and a “new heavens and new earth.”


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The Anointed One Will Appear – 2 Baruch 22-34
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/01/the-anointed-one-will-appear-2-baruch-22-34/

by Phillip J. Long
September 1, 2016

After Baruch prays this, he sees heaven open and his strength returns and a second dialogue begins (chapter 22). This time the Lord questions Baruch – does someone start something they cannot finish? The obvious negative answer is supplied by Baruch and the Lord continues to ask Baruch why he is so disturbed (chapter 23). When Adam sinned death was decreed, but the days are coming when the books will be opened and the righteous will be proven to be righteous (chapter 24).

Baruch has acknowledged God’s control and ultimate foreknowledge, but he also admits man does not know the things God does. He asks to know what will happen so that he can instruct the people (24:3-4). God promises to preserve Baruch until the sign the Most High gives to the whole world at the end of days (chapter 25, cf. the “sign of the Son of Man” in Mt. 24:30). In those days great terror and tribulations will seize the earth and people will say that the Most High God has forgotten the earth; people will lose hope. Baruch asks how long the distress will last (chapter 26), and the Lord responds it will be divided into twelve parts (chapter 27), which are listed, but then the duration of the time is “weeks of seven weeks” (chapter 28). Kiljn says this is an unclear indication, although Baruch himself does not complain (OTP 1:620, note a). The time is obviously based on Daniel 12 and the other references to a time, times and a half a time as well as the “seventy weeks” prophecy (Dan. 9). Perhaps the translation from Hebrew into Syriac has obscured the reference. Perhaps the “twelve times” are to be taken as kingdoms or rulers (as in 4 Ezra, The Eagle Vision, 11:1-12:51).

When that time is accomplished, the Anointed One will appear and the whole world will be fruitful and prosperous (chapter 29). This is a very significant chapter since it clearly refers to the Messiah who will put an end to a period of suffering and introduce a period of peace and prosperity. This will be a time when the clouds “distill the dew of health” and the “treasury of manna will come down from on high.” The Anointed One appears in his glory (Mt 25:31f) and all those who “sleep in hope of him will rise” (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-17, 1 Cor. 15:51f) and the treasury of the souls will open up and huge multitudes of souls will appear (chapter 30).

This is a clear reference to the resurrection at the time of the Messiah, but it is not a resurrection to an eternal life in heaven, but rather a resurrection to a very real earthly life in a peaceful world ruled by the Anointed one. What is significant is description of those who are; they are those who “put their hope in him.” The people who are raised appear to be the Jews from the Old Testament period who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

Baruch reports his vision to the people (chapters 31-34) and encourages them to “sow into their minds the fruit of the law (32:1). The building of Zion will be shaken, destroyed and left desolate, but will be rebuilt again. The Mighty one will renew is creation (32:6). The people think Baruch is going away from them, but he reassures them he will remain and do what Jeremiah command him.


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The Consolation of Zion – 2 Baruch 35-44
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/02/the-consolation-of-zion-2-baruch-35-44/

by Phillip J. Long
September 2, 2016

Baruch goes to the ruins of the Holy of Holies and sits there weeping because “that of which we were proud has become dust” (chapter 35). He falls asleep and has a vision (chapter 36-37). In this vision he sees a forest surrounded by a high mountains and rugged rocks. A fountain appears in the forest and uproots the forest and even made the top of the mountain low. All which remained was a single cedar which was finally cast down. A vine arrives when the fountain is peaceful and tranquil, and finds the cedar.

The vine speaks to the tree and tells the fallen tree the forest was destroyed because of its sin. All the cedar ever did was wickedness, never goodness. The cedar is burned to ash while the vine grows and becomes a valley full of unfading flowers. He prays for enlightenment so that he can understand the vision (chapter 38) and the Lord answers him (chapters 39-40). Israel is a vine frequently, see Isaiah 5, for example. This imagery is used in the rabbinic literature, see Sipre Deut. §312 (on Deut 32:9) and W. G. Braude and I. Kapstein, Tanna debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981) 369. For both these references, see Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Dallas, Word, 2001), 220.

Zion is the forest and it will be destroyed and rebuilt after some time. It will then be destroyed again, four times in all. The last kingdom will be the harshest and will exalt itself above the cedars of Lebanon. After the last kingdom the Anointed One will come (the vine, in the vision). This is roughly parallel to the four kingdoms scheme of Daniel 2 and 7, although the writer here does not detail who the kingdoms are who will overtake Zion. The last ruler of the final kingdom will be captured and brought to Mount Zion where the Anointed One will convict him of his wicked deeds and kill him. The dominion of the Anointed One will “last forever until this world of corruption has ended” (40:3).

Baruch asks the Lord about the timing of the events of his vision (chapter 41). He is concerned because many in the nation have “cast away the law.” What will happen to those Jews who are not prepared for this judgment? The Lord’s response (chapter 42-43) concerns those who have “withdrawn” and “mingled with the nations.” The writer seems to have in mind both natural Jews and converts to Judaism who “mingle.” They will be considered as the mountains in the vision, who were “brought low,” and “corruption will take away those who belong to it.” Baruch reports this vision to the people (chapter 44-47).

He tells them the judgment on Jerusalem was just and fair and that the people ought to dedicate themselves to the Law (44:6-7). The ones who will inherit the peaceful time in the future are those who are prepared for it (44:13-14), they have “not withdrawn from mercy and they have preserved the truth of the Law. For the coming world will be given to these, but the habitation of the others will be in the fire” (44:15).

This vision and interpretation is remarkably important for New Testament studies since it clearly shows an expectation of a Messiah who will free Zion from the oppressive last kingdom and establish a peaceful kingdom on earth for a period of time. If this expectation persisted after the fall of Jerusalem when Baruch was written, it most likely was common a generation before when Jesus was active in Galilee. For at least some Jews in the twenties and thirties Rome was oppressive and they did look forward to an Anointed One who will deliver them. Many of the themes present in Baruch could go back at least to the turn of the era.

Since context of this vision the fall of Jerusalem on A.D. 70, the final enemy must be Rome. Jews living in the post-70 world would have longed for God to act justly and punish Rome for destroying the Temple. Baruch makes it clear that the punishment received was just and fair (the cedar in the vision), but also that a restoration of the Temple (and Jerusalem) is God’s plan.


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Zeal for the Lord and the Anointed One – 2 Baruch and the Law
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/03/zeal-for-the-lord-and-the-anointed-one-2-baruch-and-the-law/

by Phillip J. Long
September 3, 2016

In order to be prepared for this coming Anointed One and the judgment he brings, people ought to not despise God’s law and “mingle” with the nations. Here we have a reflection of the problem between Jews who sought to keep the Law, probably the Palestinian Jew, and those who made some modifications to the Law so that they could live outside the Land (the Diaspora). Those Jews who lived outside Israel had several “boundary markers” (food laws, circumcision, Sabbath and synagogue worship), but in many other ways they lived and worked alongside Gentiles. It is possible some of these activities were considered to be compromises by those who lived in the Land, compromises which ran the risk of judgment when Messiah comes. The primary example of this sort of belief is Rabbi Saul prior to the Damascus Road experience.

Paul does not merely claim to be a Pharisee – he modifies this claim with the words “according to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul was “zealous” to keep the law to the point that he was willing to persecute those that did not conform to the Law. For a Pharisee to say he was a zealous keeper of the Law, the Jewish listener in the first century may have thought of Judas Maccabees, the forefather of the Pharisees himself, and his zealous defense of things Jewish in the Revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 1 Maccabees 2:24-29, for example, when Mattahias sees the other Jews breaking the Law “he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred . . . he burned with zeal for the law.”

This zealousness took the form of an armed rebellion against the Seleucids and any who supported Hellinization in Israel. Zeal in the first century was, in the words of N. T. Wright, “something that you did with a knife” (What Saint Paul Really Said, 27). Along with Judas Maccabees, Phineas (Num 25:1-18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) are examples of Old Testament characters that burned with a zealous commitment to the Lord that expressed itself in a willingness to challenge the evil head-on, killing those that practiced idolatry themselves if need be. If the Jews were to be ready when the Anointed One comes, then the Law needs to be kept now. Zeal might very well express itself in a violent reaction against those on the fringes who were “mingling.”

This zeal for the law reflected in Baruch may play into the background of the book of Galatians and the controversy of Gentiles keeping the Law. As Paul began to move the church into fully Gentile regions (Galatia, in Acts 13, the “first” missionary journey), he taught that Gentiles did not have to keep the Law. We read in Acts 15 and Gal. 1-2 that some believers from the Pharisees disagreed with Paul and went to some of the churches Paul had founded, allegedly under the authority of James, and taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised. The issue is whether Gentiles who believe Jesus is the Messiah are converting to Judaism – if so, they must be circumcised and, as Paul fully recognizes, keep the whole Law. Why would Pharisees care what was happening in synagogues in Galatia?

It may have been the belief that those who “mingle with the nations” will be judged when the Messiah comes, as found in Baruch 42-43. After A.D. 70 this belief could have become even more dramatic since it appears God has in fact judged the Jews for unbelief. Separation from the growing Christian movement would have been critical.

In summary, Baruch represents a Judaism which believes God will send a Messiah at some time to overcome the Romans (the oppressive last kingdom) and establish a time of peace and prosperity in the Land. This Anointed One will judge on Mount Zion and punish all those who have persecuted, but also those who have not kept the Law and “mingled with the nations.”


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The Messianic Age – 2 Baruch 48-51
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/03/the-messianic-age-2-baruch-48-51/

by Phillip J. Long
September 3, 2016

Following the common structure of the book, Baruch waits seven days then prays again to the Lord (48:1-24). He acknowledges that God establishes times and commands things that will take place. God is eternal, but humans live short lives; therefore Baruch asks for protection for the people and preservation for the nation (the elect). They will keep the Law of God and they will not mingle with the nations as long as the Law supports the (23-24). The Lord responds to this prayer and answers some of these concerns (44:25-50). Nothing will be destroyed, the Lord says, unless it has acted wickedly.

Baruch himself is to be “taken up” and preserved out of the time which is coming (44:30-31). The last days are described as peaceful, people will not realize judgment is coming. This is similar to Jesus in the Olivet Discourse describing “those days” as the days of Noah, simply a peaceful normal time, the judgment comes suddenly (Matt 24:37, Luke 17:26). Another similar aspect to the teaching of Jesus here is that while the judgment as unexpected, it was not without warnings (Matt 24:6, 11, 24, for example). The people who are judged are simply unaware spiritually and cannot discern the “signs of the times.”

Baruch asks the Lord about the splendor of the coming days (chapter 49). The Lord’s response (chapters 50-51) is a description of the messianic age. The earth will give back the dead (50:2-4) who will live again and recognize each other (50:4). What is more, the righteous dead will be “greater than the angels.”

2 Baruch 51:12-14 "And the excellence of the righteous will then be greater than that of the angels. For the first will receive the last, those whom they expected; and the last, those of whom they had heard that they had gone away. For they have been saved from this world of affliction and have put down the burden of anguishes."

Those who despised the Law will be judged and go away to be tormented. Miracles will appear for the saved and the “extent of paradise will spread out before them.” This eschatological reversal is typical of Jesus’ parables; wheat is gathered up and stored in the barn but the weeds are gathered and thrown on the fire.


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A Vision of Many Waters – 2 Baruch 52-73
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/06/a-vision-of-many-waters-2-baruch-52-73/

by Phillip J. Long
September 6, 2016


Baruch asks a further question about those who face woe and suffering in that time (chapter 52). He falls asleep and has a vision of a cloud coming up from a great sea (chapter 53). The cloud flashes lightning and great water begins to pour out of it. The water alternates between black and bright, finally pouring out a great amount of black water. The lightning grows in intensity and finally occupies the whole world. When he awakes, he asks the Mighty One for an explanation of this dream (chapter 54).

Baruch knows the dream concerns those who are in sin and about to be judged. Verses 19-20 are curious because they teach that Adam is responsible for his own sin and each of us, when we sin, become our own Adam. This is a semi-Pelagian if not Pelagian view of the imputation of sin and quite different than the view of Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15:24, in Adam we all sin.

The dream is interpreted by the Lord as encompassing all of the history of Israel in the alternating waters (Chapters 55-74). The great cloud was the length of the days of his world.

  • The first black waters – Adam and the first sin (56:5-16).
  • The second bright waters – Abraham and his generation, but also the hope of the “world which will be renewed” (57).
  • The third black waters – the sins the nation committed in Egypt (58).
  • The fourth bright waters – the coming of Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, and Caleb (59). Moses is said to have been shown all sorts of the “mysteries” of God such as the weight of the winds, the number of the raindrops, the height of the air and the greatness of Paradise along with the worlds to come. This makes Moses into a prototype of the apocalyptic prophet.
  • The fifth black waters – the works of the Amorites, which polluted even Israel in those days (60).
  • The sixth bright waters – David and Solomon and the building of Zion (61).
  • The seventh black waters – The perversion of ideas in the rule of Jereboam (62).
  • The eighth bright waters – The righteousness and integrity of Hezekiah (63).
  • The ninth black waters – The sins of Manasseh (64-65).
  • The tenth bright waters – The purity of the generation of Josiah (66). On account of Josiah “precious glories have been created and prepared.”
  • The eleventh black waters – The disaster of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (67).
  • The twelfth bright waters – The world which is to come when Zion is rebuilt again and the nations will honor Zion, after the fall of many nations (68).

After the twelve waters, Baruch saw some “last black waters” which were blacker than all the others he had seen. These waters are a description of the days which are coming when the “world has ripened and the harvest of seed of the evil ones and the good ones has come . . .” (Chapters 69-72). It is a time when the poor will outnumber the rich, when the wise are silent that the fools speak, the impious will be exalted over the brave. There will be war; those who save themselves from war will die in an earthquake; those who save themselves from the earthquake will die in the fire; those who save themselves from the fire will die in the famine (70:8-9).


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Eternal Peace – 2 Baruch 73-76
https://readingacts.com/2016/09/06/eternal-peace-2-baruch-73-76/

by Phillip J. Long
September 6, 2016

After the dark days, Baruch saw a last “bright waters” which indicate there will be “eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom” (Chapters 73-76). This is the messianic age when health will descend like dew and joy will encompass the earth. Wild animals will serve men and “asps and dragons” will subject themselves to a child. Those who work the fields will never tire because the produce will shoot out speedily.

Baruch responds to the vision and interpretation in prayer and worship (chapter 75) and he is instructed to wait forty days and he will depart from the earth (chapter 76). He assembles the people and explains to the (briefly) his vision and encourages them to hold to the law, since the reason Zion fell is the people forgot the law (chapter 77). The people understand this and request Baruch write a letter to the “brothers in Babylon” that they too may know this revelation from God. There is a little hint here of a difference between Jews in Jerusalem and Jews in the Diaspora. The Jerusalem Jews are concerned their brothers living far away keep the law and see their responsibility in ensuring the Jews in Babylon keep the Law correctly. Is this a hint at the problems between Palestine and Diaspora Jews in the pre-70 era discussed earlier?

Baruch writes a letter to the nine and a half tribes which are living in Babylon (chapters 78-87) explaining to them the Lord justly chastised the nation because they were unrighteous. He reports what happened when Nebuchadnezzar invaded the city (79) and his vision of the angels around the city who allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take Zion itself (80). He gives them some word of consolation as well, that the Mighty One is a God of Grace and has shown him the “mysteries of the times and the coming periods” (81).

He describes the coming time of justice for God’s people when everything will be put right and the nation will be avenged (82-83). God is fair in all of his judgments, for “if he judges us not according to the multitude of his grace, woe to all us who are born” (84:11). The youth of the world has passed away and the coming of the “times” is nearly here: the pitcher is full, the ship is near the harbor, etc. (85). When those days come he will purge the world of sin and destroy those who are polluted by sin (85:15).


[End of Baruch]


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