Stopping one’s ears from hearing bloodshed: how is it a good thing?

March 14, 2007 at 1:34 pm (Religion, Theology, War)

I came across an interesting passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 33:14-15) in the canticle for today’s Morning Prayer. According to KJV (emphasis added):

The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil

The official translation for The Liturgy of the Hours has it (again, emphasis added):

On Zion sinners are in dread, trembling grips the impious; “Who of us can live with the consuming fire? Who of us can live with the everlasting flames?” He who practices virtue and speaks honestly, who spurns what is gained by oppression, brushing his hands free of contact with a bribe, stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed, closing his eyes lest he look on evil.

(The Liturgy of the Hours. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 1976, volume II, p. 1424.)

This is sort of confusing. Why is it good to stop one’s ears from hearing of bloodshed? Are we not obligated to hear of bloodshed so that we can boldly speak up on behalf of victims of violence, so that we can admonish the oppressor and, if need be, end the oppressor’s evil acts? Isn’t stopping our ears to ignore such acts? It seems almost the opposite: ignoring news of bloodshed makes us shirk our responsibilities to defend the weak and oppressed.

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3 Comments

  1. dicentra said,

    My first impression is that the clue is in the phrase that follows, “closing his eyes lest he look on evil.”

    I wonder if “looking on evil” and “hearing of bloodshed” might mean partaking in evil, or participating in the world’s way of doing things. Isaiah might be saying that we have to separate ourselves from the world’s wicked ways, which include murders and such, in order to participate in the everlasting burnings.

    Just my 2¢

  2. Wacky Hermit said,

    I don’t think it means that we should never hear about evils being done in the world, I think it means more like seeking out prurient violence for entertainment. I’m put in mind of avoiding watching gladiator shows or their modern equivalents, gory movies. You can’t help but look on evil when you open your eyes in the world, but you can certainly avoid watching it for entertainment.

  3. Angus McDonald said,

    The New International Version might make this clearer:

    14 The sinners in Zion are terrified;
    trembling grips the godless:
    “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”

    15 He who walks righteously
    and speaks what is right,
    who rejects gain from extortion
    and keeps his hand from accepting bribes,
    who stops his ears against plots of murder
    and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil-

    The point being to not take part in evil, rather than not hearing about the results of it. Have a look at the Bible Gateway for a comparison of how different translations handle this:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah%2033:14-15&version=31

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