The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones

Searching the Scriptures Series

290

Because I wrote Isaiah Testifies of Christ over a twenty-year period, I began to incorporate my personal journal into the exegetical explanations. One such example had to do with the September 11, 2001, attack against the World Trade Center. During lunchtime, when I worked for the University of California, I would close the door to my office and work on Isaiah, and that is why my journal below says, “as I was getting ready to come to work.”

The words beginning with Isaiah 9:10, spoken by the inhabitants of Samaria and Ephraim (both of whom had combined against Judah) are those of great conceit and arrogance. “And all the people shall know, [even] Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart: The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycomores are cut down, but we will change [them into] cedars” (Isaiah 9:9–10).   

Isaiah 9:10 seems to refer to the pride of the people of Ephraim, and particularly those in Samaria, in terms of the construction of their edifices. “Tear our buildings down,” they bragged, “and we will build them again of even stronger materials.”

And from my journal, “Just coincidentally, I have been working on this chapter of Isaiah for the last couple of months, and it was yesterday, 11 September 2001, that the horrible events surrounding the attack on the World Trade Center twin towers, the Pentagon, and so on took place. Today is the 12th of September, and as I was getting ready to come to work, a member of Congress stood up to make a declaration, which I heard on television. He quoted this verse of Isaiah with no further explanation. I do not know if he quoted in ignorance, for left alone, it is a self-accusation of the pride and arrogance of a nation that did not fear God.”

Alexander explains, “The oriental bricks are unburnt, so that most of their brick structures are as little durable as mud walls. [Sounds a little like our adobe homes in Chile.] The sycamore is durable, but too light and spongy to be used in solid building.”

Hewn refers to that which is “cut with blows of a heavy cutting instrument … to give form or shape to with or as if with heavy cutting blows” (Webster). These, perhaps, were quarried stones (see writings of Esarhaddon, in my notes to Isaiah 10:34).

The exegetes are not in agreement as to which tree is intended here by שָׁקָם, translated as sycamores. It seemed to have been a common tree of little value, in contrast to the rare, yet lofty, cedar אֶרֶז.

Rawlinson points out such a contrast in 2 Chronicles 1:15: “And the king made silver and gold at Jerusalem as plenteous as stones, and cedar trees made he as the sycomore trees that are in the vale for abundance.”

We find a similar scripture about the futility of re-building, unless one builds upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, in Malachi 1:4a, “Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down.” The pride and arrogance of the people is made clearly manifest.

Rawlinson points out such a contrast in 2 Chronicles 1:15: “And the king made silver and gold at Jerusalem as plenteous as stones, and cedar trees made he as the sycomore trees that are in the vale for abundance.” We find a similar scripture about the futility of re-building, unless one builds upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, in Malachi 1:4a, “Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down.” The pride and arrogance of the people is made clearly manifest.

Likening the Scriptures to ourselves

This week was Valentine’s Day. A few years ago I was riding a bus here in Chile around Valentine’s Day and the young people around me where speaking about long-term relationships. I spoke up and said that I had been married for about forty years.

“What is the secret of your success?” a young man asked. I smiled thinking it was a rhetorical question. But he insisted, “What is the secret of your success?” he asked earnestly.

I had to think about it for a bit and uttered the one thing that came to my mind: “The is no room for pride in a successful marriage.”

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Gregorio Billikopf belongs to the Llanquihue Branch, Puerto Montt Stake, in the south of Chile. He is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ and an emeritus academic of the University of California and professor of the University of Chile; author of Party-Directed Mediation: Facilitating Dialogue between Individuals and other books. Gregorio’s paternal grandparents are Lithuanian Jews and German Jews and on his mother’s side of the family he is Chilean. He found Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. You may contact him through bielikov2@yahoo.cl.

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