by Fr. William Most
Author and Date: The work was originally written by Jeshua ben
Eleazar ben Sira (cf.50.27; 51.30). From internal evidence it
seems he completed his work in Hebrew after 190 BC.but before
175.BC. For he praises the high priest Simon II (220-195BC).He
prays to the Lord to deliver Jerusalem - which fits the
situation after 190BC. In 189 BC At Magnesia (north of
Ephesus) the Roman army defeated Antiochus III (223-187). Yet
there is no sign of the reign of terror under Antiochus IV
His grandson translated the work into Greek in Egypt in
132 BC,the 38th year of Ptolemy Euergetes. About three
quarters of the original Hebrew have been recovered from
manuscripts in Cairo, Masada and Qumran.
By about 200 B.C. there were more Jews living outside
Palestine than in there. Although Antiochus III was tolerant
of Jewish customs, yet Hellenistic influence continued to come
into Jewish society. Especially in Jerusalem,the upper classes
were tempted to look on their own literature as lower than
Greek drama,poetry,and philosophy. So Sirach aimed at the best
young Jews of his day to try to keep them from falling under
the spell of Hellenism.
The author was a well-traveled man, and seems familiar
with Greek and Egyptian literature. He reflects Homer in 14.18
and seems to reflect also the sayings of an Egyptian sage
Phibis, who probably lived in the third century B.C.
Unfortunately the numbering system in many
versions,including the RSV,which we are following, does not
match that of the either the Hebrew of the Greek(same is true
of the NAB and NEB,but not of the NRSV).
Most of the Hebrew text was discovered in a Genizah (a
storehouse for worn out copies of sacred books in Cairo in
1896. Other fragments came from Qumran and Masada. The Cairo
copy dates from probably 9-12 century AD.(For most of the
known Hebrew text cf. - The Hebrew Text of the Book of
Ecclesiasticus-in Semitic Studies III (Leiden,1951. A
translation based on the Hebrew,with notes comparing Greek and
Hebrew texts, is found in La Sagrada Escritura,Antiguo
Testamento V, Biblioteca de Autores Christianos,Madrid,1970).
Canonicity and inspiration: We distinguish canonicity from
inspired character. This book went through the usual
vicissitudes of the deuterocanonical books.
The Rabbis meeting at Jamnia in 90 AD,.after the ruin of
Jerusalem and trying to decide how to go on, did not accept
Sirach as canonical,even though it was originally written in
It is not in the canonical list of Melito of Sardes
(c.280AD) or Origen (321.AD) of the Council of Laodicea (
360AD).But it is in the list of the Apostolic Constitutions
middle of 3rd century,of Gelasius (382AD) and the African
Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397AD).But doubts about
its canonicity lasted into the Middle Ages,especially under
the influence of St.Jerome,who preferred the Palestinian
Canon.such doubts lasted even after the Council of Florence
(1441) which included it in the list of sacred books without
denying its canonicity. Is canonicity was finally defined at
the Council of Trent.
Yet is was used for devout reading,and was considered as
inspired not only by those Fathers who adopted the longer
Alexandrian Canon,but also by those who held only the shorter
Palestinian.They include even St.Jerome (In Epist.ad Jul.PL
22.961 and On Is 3.13:PL 24.67,and against Pelagians 2.5, PL
23.541. It was also accepted as inspired by Clement of
Alexandria,in Paidagogos 1.1 and Stromata 10.3; by Origen Peri
archon 2.8; Against Celsus 6.7.12; On John 32.14; by
St.Athanasius Paschal Letter 39,and Against Arians 2.79; by
St.Cyril of Jerusalem 6.3; by St.Epiphanius,Against Heresies
3.1.76;and by St.Cyprian,Epistle 5.45.60; by Tertullian,
Against Marcion 1.16, and by St.Augustine, Speculum de
Scriptura sacra, PL 34.948ss.
Outline: Unlike Proverbs, which is so very miscellaneous, Some
think that Sirach does have some organization:
I.Nature,precepts and benefits of Wisdom: 1.1 - 23.37.
II.Excellence and social characteristics of wisdom: 24.1
III.Wisdom and the nature of Israel: 42.15 - 50.28.
Yet the organization is rather loose if there at all..
And the book is long,having 51 chapters. We could not take the
space to comment on each chapter.But we can pick out certain
specially important and helpful things.
Chapter 1 - Praise of Wisdom: The Lord is the source of all
wisdom. It is with Him forever. Sirach then admires the
countless grains of sand,the drops of rain,the days of
eternity,the height of the sky,the breadth of the earth,the
abyss. No man can measure these. So he is led to be amazed at
the wisdom of God who made and arranged all these things.
(more of this in chapter 43). Similarly St.Paul, in Romans
1,20-21, said that whoever does not come to know God through
the marvels of creation is inexcusable. That was true in the
days of St.Paul,.as in the days of Sirach. It is even more
true today,when, thanks to wondrous advances in the natural
sciences we see the marvels of God's work far more than these
ancient sages could possibly dream.
We know something of the expanse of the heavens.There are
literally billions of stars up there. Objects that seem
tiny,like Antares in Scorpio, are actually huge - if the
present distance from the earth to the sun, which is around 93
million miles, were tripled, Antares still could not find room
to pass between the earth and the sun. And the Quasars-- we do
not know how distant they are. Many astronomers think the most
remote of them may lie at 14 million light years distant,
though a light year is the distance light travels in a year,
racing day and night at something over 186,000 miles per
Turning our gaze within instead to the giants of the
skies, we know that ever speck of matter is teeming with
atoms. Even the simplest, hydrogen, has one electron and a
nucleus. If the power within it were unleased,it would blast a
city into oblivion. Many atoms are so complex that they used
to be compared to a tiny solar system, with a core and several
orbits for electrons. That idea now has been revised in the
direction of vagueness, for we cannot know for
certain.Therefore we speak of energy levels.
And the human brain has about 100 billion neurons - no
two entirely alike - making a total of something of the order
of 100 trillion synapses, connections, between them .
All this, which our best scientists can understand only
imperfectly - could it have just put itself together out of
matter it created for itself, by its own power, without any
aid from God? It would be like lifting oneself off the floor
by pulling on shoelaces - which does not work, since no one
can give himself what he doesn't have - altitude in this case.
Many think they have proved an atheistic evolution, in which
all these marvels put themselves together. From reason alone,
without the help of faith or theology, we know that,as we
said, a lower form could not give itself higher being as it
would advance up through each scale of complexity. God would
be needed to supply the higher component at each step.
Yet God gives a share in this wisdom to those who love
Him- which means,those who obey Him.|For to love is to will
good to another for the other's sake.But we cannot will God to
God,infinite goodness, all we can do it make ourselves open to
His benefactions, which Her is please to be able to give to
those who are open. His commands, which are wisdom, tell us
how to be open to receive. To in 1.26: "If you want
wisdom,keep the commandments."
"At the day of his death he will be blessed for
" he who fears the Lord,says 1.13. Sirach still has not been
privileged to see what we see, that although God does often
reward in this life, the immeasurably best and greatest is yet
to come,in the next life.
Especially contrary to wisdom is an outburst of
unrighteous anger.The patient man will wait and endure,and
then at last,joy will burst forth for him.
Chapter 2: Even though reward is promised for living by wisdom
yet if one comes to serve the Lord for and in wisdom, he
should be ready for trial or temptation. It will come.Sirach
did not know about the great future vision,but what he did
know was true enough.
St.Paul told the thessalonians (1. 3.3) that trouble
(=thlipsis) was their lot. For,if one gathers up things from
all over Paul's Epistles we find that the whole Christian
regime can be summed up in this: We are saved and made holy
if and to the extent that we are members of Christ,and also
like Him. For (Rom 8.17) :we are fellow heirs [of God]
together with Christ, provided we suffer with Him so we may
also be glorified with Him."Sirach saw this only partly .Yet
he could write (2.5): "Gold is tested in the fire,and men who
are acceptable in the furnace of humiliation."
Chapter 3: Sirach returns to a great theme of Proverbs: honor
to Father and Mother.and He advances by saying: "He who honors
Father,atones for sins." The concept that sin is a debt,which
the Holiness of God wants paid, is found all over Scripture,in
both Old and New Testaments,in the Intertestamental
Literature,in the Fathers of the Church,in the Rabbis:
cf.Wm.Most,The Thought of St.Paul, appendix. Sirach adds that
one should not scorn or neglect a father whose mind has
decayed from old age. Kindness to a Father God will not forget
- The fourth Commandment promised long life for it -and it
will be credited against the man's sins - that is, will
rebalance the scales of the objective order. In
3.30,almsgiving also atones for sin: it is a rebalance of the
In all these things,humility is essential: (3.18) The
greater one is, the more humble he should be. St.Paul will add
that every bit of good we are and have and do is simply God's
gift to us:(1 Cor 4.7). So what have we, of ourselves that we
can boast of? Nothing at all.
Chapter 4: v.1-10 Stresses goodness to the poor.If in
bitterness the poor man you reject curses you,God will hear
him.But if a man is generous,he will be like a son of God.
Vv.17-19 Have an unusual thought:Wisdom at first will bring
fear and cowardice on a man and will torment him with her
discipline until she find she can trust him. Then she will
reveal her secrets to him. This fits with the general theme
that God disciplines us like a father does to a son he loves.
A remarkable thought in v.30: Do not be a lion in your
home, or hard on your servants. This seems to imply a man
might have two patterns of conduct, one at home, another
elsewhere. We are able to live in as it were compartments,
such that we are not aware that our ways in one are quite
different from our ways in another area. Only if one comes to
see this can he correct the inconsistency.
Chapter 5: Warns against setting one's heart on wealth. This
really mean: practice detachment,the sort of thing St.Paul
calls for in l Cor 7.29-32: Use things as though not having
them.That is, do not let them get such a hold on you that they
could draw you to sin, or even imperfection. The more free
one is from such pulls, the better will be his spiritual
eyesight, for then the promptings of grace toward God's will
will be picked up by the mind.
It is a mistake (vv.4-7) to say that since God is slow
to anger we can sin more freely. God has both mercy and
wrath, and presumption is dangerous.
Chapter 6: Several verses speak of good friends. It urges, let
those whose advice you listen to be few, but when you get a
real friend, test him, do not trust him at once. However a
real friend who will stay with you in times of trouble is a
Chapter 7: V.17 urges great humility, for "the punishment of
the wicked is fire and worms." So reads the Septuagint. The
Hebrew, which is a bit older than the LXX, says:"The
expectation of man is worms." So the LXX seems to know of
hell,while the Hebrew could mean merely decay of the body.
V.19 urges the reader to have a good and wise wife:she
is worth more than gold (cf.7.26).We need to keep this in mind
when we read some of the seemingly strongly oppposite texts
about wives later on in chapter 25.13-24.
In 7.28 we have the divine social security system, as in
the fourth commandment: when we were little, they did
everything for us, made great sacrifices, even gave us life.
If they break down in old age, it is our turn.
Chapter 8: At the start one is advised not to quarrel with a
rich or powerful man: his money may weigh more than yours.
And gold has ruined many, even kings.
V.17 advises against giving a secret to a fool - he will
not keep it. And not only fools, but many ordinary people are
poor at keeping secrets.
Chapter 9: At the start Sirach returns to advice on women, a
topic he speaks more on than do the other wisdom books. He
urges one not to let a woman, whether a wife or a prostitute,
to get a hold on a man - she can dominate him if he lets her
get the upper hand by giving in without restraint to his
passions. If she can keep her cool while he is almost out of
his head with emotion, she can control him.Men can easily be
blinded with emotion. In v.5 he echoes Job 31.1 ,who made a
policy not even to look at a virgin. So Sirach advises against
even dining with another man's wife.
Some today say the words of Sirach on women are
unfortunate. But they are inspired, so we must not say that.
Really, we must notice two kinds of statements: one kind
which warns against illicit sex and also warns against an evil
wife; another kind that praises a good wife lavishly.
Both kinds of statements are true. We saw one kind
above. (We can add also 25.13-26). In the other kind (such as
7.19; and 26.1-4, Sirach praises a good wife, says her charm
is worth more than gold. We might recall also the ideal
praise of the fine wife in Proverbs 31.10-31.
Actually,Pope Paul VI said well when he wrote to the
National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center; The Pope
Speaks 1,1966,p.10): "Christian marriage and the
Christian family demand a moral commitment. They are not an
easy way of Christian life...Rather it is a long path toward
sanctification." The reason is that male and female psychology
are so greatly different that once the initial ardor of
feeling cools, soon the partners discover the truth, each one
can honestly say: I need to give in most of the time to make
this work. But that it the opposite of selfishness, it is
selflessness, a wonderful part of spiritual growth. If they
work as our Father designed marriage, each will be deeply
concerned with the happiness and well-being of the other, and
also of the children. There are many mothers and fathers who
are splendidly selfless and generous to each other and to the
children. That really is the fruit of a long path towards
sanctification (cf. fill-in in Wm.Most, Our Father's Plan,
pp.145-50).Even though he did not express this clearly, yet
Sirach must have seen examples of it.
Chapter 15: Sopme commentators foolishly say that vv.11-20 are
a statment of free will and indidivual responsibility and
contradict Exodus 20.5-6.
It is sad to see such comments- do none of the writers
know that one Holy Spirit inspired all of Scripture. Really,
the problem is easy to solve. Exodus 20.5-6 quotes God as
saying He blesses the children of the just for a thousand
generations,but punishes the wicked to the fourth generation.
Chapter 10: In v.1,a nation can rise or fall by insolence
brought on my wealth.Then another nation may conquer it.The
beginning of pride is sin.Really there are two kinds of
pride:brand name,and generic we might call them. Generic pride
is implied in every sin: the sinner in effect says:God may
know what is good in some things,but in this thing,I know
better.He says it is bad; I know it is good. Brand name
pride,that which is explicit,is what Sirach speaks specially
He even advises (v.26) against making a display of one's
wisdom - it can bring pride,which brings a fall.
Chapter 11: V. 2 advises not to praise a man for physical good
looks- they are not really worth anything,and can lead to bad
judgment. So (v.4) even when one is honored,he should be
humble inwardly; acting humble outwardly could even be seeking
for praise for humility.
Vv 18-19 remind us of the rich man in the Gospel who built
larger barns and thought he was all set for years to
come.Jesus warned him he could not count on one more day.The
weakness is in presumption.
VV 21-28 say God can reward a man before his death.Very
true. It seems Sirach did not know of future retribution.
Chapter 12: In v .2 one should do good to one who fears the
Lord.He will be repaid,if not by men,surely by God.
VV 8-18 give sage advice:value a real friend,but be
careful of an enemy.Even if the enemy acts in a humble way,he
may be laying a trap. If a snake charmer is bitten by the
snake,people will see: he took too many chances.
Chapter 13: In v .1: just as one who touches pitch will get
dirty,so one who associates with a proud man may become like
him. A rich man who does not fear God will exploit someone as
long as the other can be useful.But in need the false friend
will forsake the other.
VV 8-12 give advice on dining with the powerful: one
should be reserved,and so many be invited again.But beware:
the powerful man though smiling may really be examining you.
Chapter 14: Raises questions about the future life. In 11-
12:Treat yourself well,death is coming. Similarly in 16-
17:There is no luxury in Hades,so take it now.
The charge against Sirach says that he denies an
afterlife or retribution in the afterlife. The chief line is
14:16-17: "Give and take and enjoy yourself, for it is not
possible in Sheol to seek luxury. All flesh grows old as a
garment. For the decree of ages is: You must surely die."
Some commentators have thought this is a denial of the
future life.Not at all. They assert the Hebrews had a
unitary concept of man: a body with breath. Then there could
be no survival. Even though we do not see in Sirach any
positive indication of retribution in Sheol, that does not
mean they thought that the dead were non-existent (these are
two separate questions: survival, and retribution in the
future life). Jesus Himself answered the Sadducees on this
point (Mt.22:29-33) by citing from the Pentateuch - perhaps
the only part of the OT they accepted - from Ex 3:6, the words
of God to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
the God of Jacob" and Jesus added: "He is not the God of the
dead but of the living." The Sadducees were silenced, they
could not answer His reasoning. Further, it was necessary to
give repeated commands in the OT against necromancy,
consulting the dead, which indicates it was being done, and
done persistently: e.g., Lv 19:31; 20:6,27; Dt.18:11 and many
more texts. Saul himself had a medium bring up the spirit of
Samuel in 1 Sam 28:8-19. Even if we say the mediums were
fakes, it remains true that there was persistent belief that
the dead did exist. (We will consider some added problem texts
in Qoheleth in treating that book).
Really, it would seem strange after some centuries in
Egypt, where the concept of an afterlife was so strong and
clear, if the Hebrews had no concept of survival at all.
Some confusion comes from the Hebrew word nefesh, which
has many meanings including soul, but those who hold for the
unitary concept refuse to accept that meaning of soul. Really,
we think the Hebrews were acting according to proper
theological method, without realizing that technically of
course. In divine matters we may meet with two truths, which
seem to clash. Even after rechecking our study they are still
there. Then we must hold both, hoping sometime to find how to
reconcile them. They saw two things: 1)Man seems to be a unit;
2)They knew, as we saw, that there was some survival after
death (with or without retribution there). How to fit these
together they did not know, but they held both.
A major key to understanding many texts is the fact that
before the death of Christ, heaven was closed (cf.DS 780,1000)
even to those who were just and fully prepared. So what was
existence like in Sheol? There was no praise of God. Psalm 6:6
asks: "Who in Sheol can give you praise?" Sirach 17:27-28 has
the same thought. Again, Isaiah 38:18-19 says: "Death cannot
praise you. Those who go down into the pit cannot hope for
your faithfulness." M.Dahood (Anchor Bible, Psalms 16,p.38)
comments that the writer of Psalm 6 does not suffer from an
inability to remember God in Sheol, but from not being able to
share in the grand liturgical praise of God as in the public
worship, which the people of Israel sincerely loved. (They
loved the externals so much that God complained in Is 29:13:
"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are
far from me"). We could add that the very Hebrew words used
in Isaiah 38:18-19 for praise or thanks of God also appear in
1 Chron 16:4 and 2 Chron 5:13 and 31:2 for the liturgical
praise of God.
Is 38.18-20 says they cannot hope for God's
faithfulness: it is because the covenant does not extend to
Sheol - the word used is regular for God's faithfulness to the
covenant. But this does not mean that God does not watch over
Sheol: Job 26:6 says: "Sheol is naked before God."
Qoheleth 9:10 says: "There is no work or reason, or
knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol." Of course the dead in Sheol do
not work. Nor have they any natural means of knowing what goes
on on earth - they get this only if God chooses to reveal
something to them. Cf.Job 14:21. (More on Qoheleth in our
comments on that book).
But the second question is when did they come to know of
future retribution? We reply that in the second century
B.C.when they reached the concept of man as made of body and
soul (under stimulus of Greek thought and the horrible deaths
of the martyrs under Antiochus IV), they finally knew how to
do it. Not all Jews accepted that, but many did, especially
the Pharisees. And St.Paul was a Pharisee.
Chapter 15: VV. 11-20 here are a strong statement of free will
and individual responsibility.Some object that there is a
contradiction in Exodus 20.5-6 in which God told Moses that He
would punish the sins of Fathers in their children for four
generations. But in Ezekiel 18.2-4 He also said:The son shall
not bear the iniquity of the father. How can this be?
Both texts are true. Children born to evil parents have
two effects:1) they grow up with evil person,and naturally,
children tend to imitate the patterns they see at home in
their parents. 2)there is such a thing as somatic
resonance,that is,the bodily condition that runs parallel to
spiritual conditions. Studies have shown special patterns in
trace elements - part of somatic resonance - in violent
criminals, compared to normal persons.These things do not
force them to do wrong, but they leave them more prone to do
so. And so often people follow the grooves. (Cf.Science News,
Aug 20,1983,pp.122-25 and Oct 14,1989,-P.250).
So, the children of evil parents are still free,but yet
have the two influences we described,in a bad
direction,without violating their freedom.
Chapter 16. Here v.21 returns to the theme of the majesty of
God and His works,which we saw in chapter 1: Most of the works
of God are concealed,like the power of a tempest which no man
can see. So v.22 says the foolish man will not understand
the ways of God's justice.
Chapter 17: There is much discussion of what it means to say
that God created man in His own image and likeness.
Commentators ar divided. The words of vv.3-4, might be taken
to favor the view that God gave man dominion over all
creation,a share in His own dominion.
VV 27-28 says that no one praises God in Sheol.We
already explained this thought in commenting above on Chapter
Chapter 18: V.2 says the Lord alone will be declared
righteous. That refers to His Holiness,the quality in which He
loves all that is good,and considers sin a debt which His
Holiness wants paid. Cf.comments above on chapter 3.
VV 9-14 says that God considers even a long life of man
as nothing in comparison to eternity. So He has compassion on
all. We add what Sirach say only dimly if at all:He tries
mightily to bring all to salvation. He has myriad means of
working towards this end.
Chapter 19: V.12 says that a word inside a fool is like an
arrow stuck in the flesh - the man wants to pull it out.So the
fool will not keep a secret. We could add: So many people,not
just fools, are very poor at keeping secrets.Yet there is a
moral obligation.And if a promise of secrecy was given after
learning, there is a greater obligation; if the promise was
given before being told the secret,then the obligation is
Chapter 20: More on talking. Some (v.5) keep silent,and are so
considered wise - not entirely without reason.But one who is
too talkative is detested.The wise man will be silent until
the right moment comes for speaking.A fool or a braggart go
beyond that moment.
V.25 adds that a thief is better than a habitual liar-
but both are headed for ruin.
Chapter 21: In v.5:Those who hate to accept correction are
likely to sin,while one that fears the Lord will repent in his
heart.-- Most people tend to bridle at even deserved
corrections.so in giving them,great wisdom is needed.
V 20 warns that a fool laughs loudly; instead,the
prudent man smiles quietly.
Chapter 22: To try to teach a fool (v.7) is like trying to
glue together potsherd pieces. If one tells a story to a
fool,the fool is drowsy.At the end he may show he did not
understand it at all.-- Very often people who are not so far
down the scale as fools seem to be listening,but in reality
are not interested.They are actually just thinking ahead to
what they want to say next.
Chapter 23: V.7 continues on the theme of sins of
speech.Sinners and revilers and arrogant men are tripped by
their own words.
In vv.16-27: Sirach speaks of three kinds of sexual
sins: he begins by speaking of the man who indulges himself
sexually alone, in masturbation.The fire will not go out, it
will consume him. The sense is that this vice is like an
addiction,indulging it makes it grow stronger.Secondly, the
one who sins with just any woman,even close relatives (v. 17:
"to the fornicator all food tastes sweet"), will not stop
until the fire burns him up. Thirdly the man who commits
adultery thinks no one will see him.but he maybe caught,and
punished in the streets of the city when he least suspects
it.The woman,his partner,sins against God,against her
husband,and against the children of such a sin. She lost all
property rights she would have had from her marriage (cf.
M.Sota 6.1.And the children cannot belong to the community
Chapter 24: Most of the chapter is a beautiful poem on Wisdom.
Wisdom can praise herself-- dangerous for an ordinary person -
but wisdom always keeps within the bounds of God's law.
St.Paul several times told his people to imitate him,since he
imitated Christ. He knew what he said in Phil 2.13 and
assimilated it at every depth of his being.
Like Proverbs 8.22-31, this section is part of the
optional readings -- formerly used more often - of the Common
for Masses of the Blessed Virgin. It is quite suitable,for
even though the text did not refer to her directly yet
inasmuch as her Son Jesus IS the wisdom of the Father (cf.1
Cor 1.24) and she,as Pius XII said (Munificentissimus
Deus,1950) is "always sharing His lot," in a way it does apply
to her. Vatican II in Lumen gentium chapter 8 worked out fully
all the implications of those words of Pius XII, showing her
constant union with Him,beginning with the eternal decree for
the Incarnation,continuing through the OT prophecies,then
going on through every one of the mysteries of His life and
death, while showing her cooperation in each, and continuing
even past the end of time, when for all eternity she is Queen
of the Universe besides Her Son,the eternal King.
Chapter 25: In 13-26 we have a long warning against evil
women. Better to try to live with a lion or dragon than with
an evil wife. It is especially bad if she supports her
husband.Hence he may have a gloomy face,drooping hands,and
We met such thoughts before in 7.19, and more in chapter
9.Please recall our comments there. Wives, like men,can be
either very good or very bad - and all points in between.In
the next chapter, Sirach will speak much of the other part of
the picture:the good wife.
Verse 24 here is of special interest:From a woman came
the beginning of sin, because of her we all die. There is at
last some thought of original sin her.Definitely he thinks of
the fact that Eve fell first,and induced her husband to fall
likewise."Because of her we all die" seems to mean that death
came from such a beginning. Does it mean physical or spiritual
death or both? The Jews seem to have had little to say of
original sin in general. Job 14.1 "Who can make clean from the
unclean? Not one" Could refer to it,but not entirely
clear,could refer to the evil yetzer, the inclination to sin
of which the Rabbis spoke. Psalm 51.7: "In iniquity was I
brought forth, and in sin did my mother conceive me." But this
may refer to ritual impurity. Wisdom 2.23-24:"God crated man
in incorruptibility and made him the image of his own
eternity. [variant: nature]. By the envy of the devil death
entered into the world."
Genesis 3 however if one meditates on it,does contain
original sin,even if the Jews do not seem to have noticed it
much. For God clearly gave to adam and Eve three kinds of
gifts:1)The life of the body 2)a coordinating gift to make it
easy to keep all drives in their proper place--Gen 3.10,'I hid
myself because I was naked" implies that whereas before
sin,nudity didn't bother Adam,afterwards it did disturb
him:that rebellious sex drive began its revolt.Before sin,he
must have had something to make it easy to keep it in its
proper place; 3)The life of grace.It is obvious God intended
they should pass on all these gifts to their descendants.But
they could not,since by sin they lost all but the first
level,basic humanity.For a child,then to come into the world
without the life of grace,means it comes with the lack of what
should have been there- for original sin is a privation of
In the Intertestamental Literature,things written after
the end of the Old Testament,we find a few texts that might
refer to original sin: IV Ezra 3.20 and 7.46-49 (prob.late 1st
cent.ad); II Baruch 18.2; 23.4;48.42-43; 54.15-16; 56.5-6
(early 2nd century AD); Testament of Adam (3.3 (2nd -5th
century AD); Pseudo Philo 62.5 (prob.1st century AD).
Chapter 26: Here (vv.1-4) is the counterpart to the unpleasant
picture of chapter 15: If a husband has a good wife,the
number of days of his life will be doubled.His face is always
cheerful. Also (vv.13-18) says a good wife puts fat on his
bones,she adds charm to charm,her beauty is like that of the
rising sun, her face like a stately pillar.
But there is danger from others(6-12): If there are
several wives,they may quarrel and make him miserable. Her
harlotry may show in her eyes. She may sit at every
post,opening her quiver to arrows (euphemism for intercourse).
She may have a wayward daughter.
The last verse says that a merchant can hardly keep to
honesty. Of course a good merchant can and will.But the
temptations are great.
Chapter 27: Here we find extended warnings against those who
violate secrets. But one who does that will be shunned: a
wound could be bandaged, but one who betrays secrets is
without hope. To your face such a man may be all pleasantness,
but later he will twist your words. However,he who digs a pit
will fall into it.
Chapter 28: V 1 says he who takes vengeance will receive
vengeance from the Lord.But the Hebrew concept is that of
naqam: action by the supreme authority to right things when
they are out of line. God does this - it means He will
rebalance the objective order of morality. Vengeance, in the
normal English sense of the word,means willing evil to another
so it may be evil to him. God does not do that,it is the
opposite of love, nor should we (cf.the vision of the martyrs
under the altar in Apoc/Rev. 6.9-11).
Vv.13-19 warn of slander.In the strict sense that means
charging another with a fault of which we know he is not
This has destroyed strong cities,overturned the houses of
great men. More have fallen by it than by the edge of the
Chapter 29: Even though there are some who consider a loan as
a windfall and make trouble,and stall when it is time to
repay-Sirach urges making loans. Money then was hardly
productive.So Deuteronomy 23.21, while wanting no interest on
loans to other Jews, did allow interest taking on loans to
outsiders. For interest is not necessarily wrong. How much
interest is justified depends on the productivity of money,and
on the matter of risk. Taking a risk does justify some reward.
The Fifth Lateran Council (a General Council) in 1515 AD (DS
1442) taught "This is the proper interpretation of [excessive]
interest [usura]: when gain and increase is sought from the
use of a thing that is nonproductive and with no labor,no
expense,and no risk."
Almsgiving can be stored up as in a treasury say vv.12-
13. More than a shield and a heavy spear it will profit in a
fight against an enemy. In other words,good works can bring an
Chapter 30: Has long and strong advice on raising a son:
chastise him often.Then when the father dies he will have one
like himself. But if the father pampers a child,the child will
come to frighten him,cause grief. V.10:Urges do not laugh
with him,for that might lead to sorrow over him later.Give the
son no authority while he is still young.
V.17 asserts that death is better than a miserable life.
Of course it does not warrant suicide or killing. And the
fact that suffering can be of eternal worth was not yet known
then.Please recall comments on chapter 2,and comments in the
introduction to our commentary on Job.
Chapter 31: Vv 8-11 say that a rich man who has been blameless
has done something wonderful.For wealth brings so many
In v.12 we see the beginning of what is largely worldly
advice,reminding us of the spirit of Egyptian wisdom
literature, on how to act at a dinner given by a great man.
The advice is not required by religious principle,though
principle is not opposed to it. So one should not be greedy at
the meal or reach for everything you see. Moderate eating
makes for better sleep,while an overload makes sleep
Chapter 32: V 1 says if you are made the master of a feast,
do not exalt yourself. Here there is reference to the Greek
custom of choosing an architriclinos who seated the
guests,selecting the wines, preparing the menu: cf. John 2.8-
An older man may speak,but even he should not "pour out
talk". A young man should speak only if necessary, but no more
than twice,and then only if asked. Interestingly,Clement of
Alexandria in his book The Educator (In Greek: Paidagogos) has
lengthy advice on banquets,starting at the beginning of Book
II. He sems to think it a matter of religious rule, but it is
really largely worldly wisdom. In 2.7 he cites our present
passage,seeming to think it is a religious principle - quite
entertaining to read, cf.the Fathers of the Church series
Chapter 33: First first verse says that no evil will happen to
a man who fears the Lord. We see again that Sirach did not
know the spiritual value of suffering- though what he says
comes true in many cases.
V.13 is easily misunderstood: Just as clay in the hand
of the potter,so are all the ways of man in God's hand. St.
Paul uses this comparison in Romans 9.19-22,to say that God
can grant or not grant the special,added favor of full
membership in the people of God,as He wills. It most
emphatically has nothing to do with predestination to Heaven
or Hell,as so many have thought in the past--they could think
that only by ignoring the context: all of chapters 8,9,10,11
deal with full membership in the Church (we speak of full
membership to indicate there could be a lesser degree also:
cf.Wm.Most, Our Father's Plan, appendix). -- Here the
reference is to God's ways in the external economy, of which
we spoke in our comments on chaper 21 of Proverbs.
In vv.16-18 Sirach says he was the last on the watch- he
means all the prophets came before him,and he did well by the
blessing of the Lord.
It is imprudent to distribute all your property before
the time of your death -- those who get it may make you beg
for what you need later on.Gratitude is one of the least
strong instincts of man.
Slavery presents problems in vv 24-31.First he speaks of
the bad slave- afterwards of the good slave,in 30-31. It is
not entirely forbidden in the OT.Most slaves would be captives
in war. The thought seems to have been: we could have killed
you for your offense against our nation. But we will let you
live if you just work for us. There were regulations to call
for humane treatment, for the Jews were reminded they had been
slaves in Egypt: Dt 15.15. The Sabbath was a day off for
slaves as well as free men: Ex 20.10; If a master assaulted
his slave,the slave went free: Ex 21.26. Israelites who became
slaves because of poverty (Lev 25.39-40) - viewed probably as
working off a debt that could not be paid otherwise - were
distinguished from foreign slaves who were bought or captured
in battle: 1 Kgs.9.20-21. Israelite slaves were to get their
freedom in six years: Ex 21.2. All Israelite slaves were to
be freed in the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25.40-41.
As for a good slave, v v.30-31 say:"Let him be as
yourselves, treat him as a brother, you will need him as much
as your own life.
Even as to the verses speaking of treating bad slaves
like asses - the ass in those days was better treated and more
esteemed than now.
Chapter 34: The first 8 verses speak of dreams,and war on
heeding them,unless of course,in the usual and special case in
which God may use a dream to give insructions as He did with
Joseph the Fosterfather of Jesus.
VV 18-26 speak of sacrifices. The major prophets had
spoken harshly of sacrifices that were mere externalism,
without the needed disposition of obedience in the heart of
the one who offered. Therefore a sacrifice in which the victim
is wrongfully obtained or even taken from the property of the
poor - such an offering is worse than worthless.
Chapter 35: Vv 1.1-7 continue thoughts on sacrifice. One who
obeys gives a good sacrifice. Returning a kindness or giving
alms show the right disposition. For the material things given
are of no use to God - He does not accept bribes. He values
the thing only as the expression of the righteous heart. But
the prayer of the righteous pierces the clouds and reaches
even to the Lord.
In v.13 in spite of an "option for the poor" - meaning
an inclination to help them -- we must not be dishonest,or
really violate the law for the sake of the poor.
Chapter 36: Sirach calls for God strike foreign nations,for
they commonly oppressed Israel and went out for conquest for
the sake of conquest.Yet the attitude was not one of
vengeance,it was that of naqam which we explained in comments
on chapter 28.
Verses 21-24 praise a good wife. Let us recall comments
above on chapters 7 and 25.
Chapter 37: Returns to the theme of the good and the
treacherous friend: chapter 6.
Similarily one should not trust just anyone who offers advice-
first learn what the counsellor is seeking for himself.So do
not ask a woman about her rival,or a coward about war,or a
merchant about barter or a merciless man about kindness.Rather
go to the man who fears the Lord.
v.28 oberves that not all things are good for
everyone.Even in spirituality,there is a diversity of
spiritual attractions. There are two tiers of rules in
spirituality.On the basic level are those which no one can
violate without a loss.But there is a secondary level in which
there are many approaches valid in themselves,not all equally
suited to everyone.Compare for example St.Francis de Sales,a
refined gentleman,to St.Benedict Joseph Labre,who lived like a
tramp.Or St.Francis of Assisi who was loath to allow books,wih
Chapter 39:" Urges us to honor the physician. Not very much
was known about medicine in those days,but those who knew even
that little were honored and prized.Some things they did
depended on the placebo effect,which is very powerful even
today. But there are also natural medicines in some
plants,which the Lord has put there.
So one should pray when sick,but also make use of what
natural means are at hand,the help of the physician.
Whatever healing he brings about however,is really God's
gift,for,in v.2 "healing comes from the Most High." Even
today,physicians ,with so much more knowledge and skill,really
in many things chiefly arrange things so that the power of
nature,given by God, may heal. For example,no physician can
make a wound heal: he just makes conditions favorable for the
power God has put in our flesh to rectify itself.
38.5 speaks of a wood that made the water sweet - the
allusion is to the event in Exodus 15.23.
As for the dead: we should mourn them for the set time-
but not prolong mourning unduly.That does the dead no good,and
the mourner no good. Yet we are not seeking that attitude of
Stoicism.Even Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus,who was not
even a relative,just a good friend.
Chapter 39: At the end chapter 38 had spoken of the various
kinds of skill of various craftsmen. Yet, it said,they are not
called to the council.So chapter 39 continues and praises the
spirit of understanding the Lord gives to him who studies His
law.From that law is wisdom,as we saw early in Sirach.
Everything the Lord has created is good,and nothing is
marvelous to Him.For He made each thing for its proper use.To
the holy, the path is straight; to the wicked, it is an
God made even the winds, and the teeth of wild beasts
and scorpions and vipers for a good purpose.They rejoice in
doing His Will.
Chapter 40: Much labor was created for man- for labor saving
devices were hardly known at that time. But even today, with
so many such things, life is not always easy.
The thought of death was difficult for Sirach and for
the men of his time, since they did not know clearly the
retribution God gives in the next life,though they did know of
living after death. Please recall our comments on chapter 14
Verses 18-27 have a series of "better than" statements.A
blameless wife is better than children and a good name. Wine
and music make the heart glad-- but love of wisdom is better.A
friend is a great help,but a good wife is still
better.Brothers are great in time of need,but almsgiving
rescues better than they. And the fear of the Lord is better
than riches and strength.
Chapter 41: thoughts on death continue. Whether one lives ten
or a thousand years, he must go to Sheol. The days of a good
life are numbered,but a good name lasts forever.
So, one should be ashamed of all that is wrong: then he
will find favor.
Chapter 42:The chapter opens with many things of which one
should NOT be ashamed: the Law of God, rendering judgment to
acquit those who fear God, accuracy with scales and weights
In v.9 we read that a daughter may cause worry to her
father: that she may not find a husband,that she may commit
fornication,that she be unfaithful to her husband,that she may
be childless. So Sirach advises watching carefully to avoid
Next in v 12 Sirach advises against letting the beauty
of a woman influence one - it can entice into sin.
In that context comes verse 14. Translations here vary
much. The LXX reads: Better is the wickedness of a man,than a
woman doing good. In the Greek "doing good"is agathopoios.
The translation of the RSV, following LXX, is superficial. To
say that the wickedness of a man is better than a woman who
does good - that is sheer nonsense.No wickedness is better
than real goodness. So it is evident that a qualification is
needed here, one in view of the context of vv.12-13, which
warn of the dangers of looking on a woman's beauty. So the
sense of "doing good" must mean: doing things that look good
to a man, that is enticing him into illicit sex by being very
nice to him, by wiles.
So the translation proposed by Rodriguez of Salamanca, in
Biblia Comentada is good,for it speaks of a mujuer
zalamera,one who flatters. The comment in NJBC,p.507 is
tragic:"The meanest and grossest statement of all" against
women. The writer did not note that since the book is
inspired, to say such a thing is to attribute the distortion
to the Holy Spirit,for whatever is asserted by the inspired
writer, is asserted by the Holy Spirit,as Vatican II wrote,in
Dei verbum #11.
Next, then: Better is a frightened woman than disgrace.
Finally, in vv.15-25 Sirach marvels at the works of the
Lord. No one can recount them. No thought escapes Him.
Chapter 43: Here Sirach continues with the last thought of
chapter 42: He praises the splendor of the firmament,of the
sun with heat greater than that of a furnace. He admires the
moon and the glory of the stars,and the rainbow, and the
driving snow and the clouds, and hailstones and other natural
wonders. We think again of the remarks on chapter 1 above.
So: Praise the Lord as much as you can,and He will
surpass even that praise.
Chapter 44: Chapters 44-50 are praise of the ancient good and
great men.Some were men who ruled with wisdom in their
kingdoms. Some composed music and wrote verses.Rich men
furnished resources.There were men who have perished as though
they never lived. But the men of whom we speak were men of
mercy, their righteous deeds are not forgotten, and their
posterity continues forever.
Enoch pleased the Lord,and so was taken.Genesis does not
say he did not die,though that could easily be supposed.
Hebrews 11.5 says he was translated, "so as not to see
death." Wisdom 4.10-14 probably refers to Enoch. It speaks of
the just man who did not live long, but does not name Enoch.
The Hebrew here says he was an exmaple of knowledge or
wisdom.The Greek calls him an example of repentance.The Hebrew
tradition is reflected in Apocalyptic intertestamental
literature. In it Enoch is to reveal Divine secrets to men.
The Greek may be a Rabbinic reaction to the Hebrew tradition,
supposing Enoch was not even firm in faith and so needed to
There is a mysterious passage in Apoc/Rev. 11.3-13
which speaks of two witnesses. Some think they are Peter and
Paul, standing for all martyrs. Many Fathers think they are
Enoch and Elijah, and so Enoch is to return before the end.
Noah was found perfect in the time of God's wrath with the
whole race.Because of him a remnant was left after the flood.
An Everlasting covenant was made with him,that God would never
again destroy the world by a deluge:Genesis 9.12-17.
Abraham was the father of many nations,as God had promised Him
in Genesis 15.5-6.
Sirach in 44.21 says that the Lord assured Abraham that
the nations,gentiles, would be blessed through his posterity.
Very true in the sense that Christ descended from Abraham.
Further,the allusion here is probably to Genesis 12.3
(cf.18.18). In Gen 12.3 (repeated in 18.18) we find a text of
ambiguous meaning. We could render either: "All families of
the earth will invoke blessings on one another through
you,i.e, will want to be blessed by God as you are (May you be
blessed like Abraham!)". Or as passive: "All nations will be
blessed in you." LXX and Paul follow this second. The Hebrew
could be either reflexive or passive. St.Paul explains how
this was to be done: People are to get blessing by imitating
the faith of Abraham,not by mediation of the Jews as a whole.
Gal 3:7-9 says those who imitate the faith of Abraham will be
Does the text mean that the Jews are to be blessings to
all the world? As we have seen,St.Paul does not take it that
way. Rather those who imitate the faith of Abraham will
inherit the blessing.
Some tend to misunderstand God's election or choice of
Israel. In the original context it meant they were to receive
the land and other material blessings. There is a difference
between God's providentially destining someone to be part of
His chosen people,and His destining someone for Heaven. The
election meant, and means only the former,that is a destininig
of people to be part of His chosen people.It does not imply a
predestination to heaven. In regard to membership in the
chosen people, St.Paul in Ephesians 3.5 reveals a mystery not
known to previous generations: the gentiles too are to be part
of the People of God, along with those Jews who accept their
As to heaven, final salvation, St.Paul, in chapter 4 of
Romans, made clear that it is not enough to be racially
descended from Abraham: one must also imitate the faith of
Isaac got only a brief mention in Sirach: God gave the same
assurance to Isaac for the sake of Abraham.
Jacob received God's blessing and the twelve tribes came from
him. The mention is brief: Sirach may have had in mind Jacob's
behavior to his brother Esau,and the way he stole the blessing
Moses was descended from Jacob,and found favor in the sight of
all flesh. God made Moses equal in glory to the holy ones--
Hebrew elohim which could mean God,often meant angels or even
human judges.Here probably stands for angels.By the word of
Moses God causes signs and miracles to happen and to cease.
God glorified Moses before kings-- Pharaoh,Agag,Og,and Sihon
come to mind. God gave Moses commands for his people-- the
Law. God showed Moses part of His glory:" Moses had asked to
see God. God said He would put Moses in the cleft of the rock
and hold His hand in the way as He passed,so Moses might not
see Him completely: Exodus 33.18-23.
God led Moses into the thick darkness, which hung over
Sinai when God gave Moses the commandments. V.5 says God gave
him comands "face to face".This does not mean Moses actually
saw God,as we just explained. But that expression means God
owuld speak to Moses and let Moses speak as clearly as two
humans might converse together:Exodus 33.11.
Aaron brother of Moses and holy like him,was of the tribe of
Levi. God gave to the Levites an everlasting priesthood. After
Moses came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf, he
ordered many killed. The Levites did so,and as a result the
tribe was dedicated to the Lord: Exodus 32.25-29. God gave
Aaron splendid vestments to be the High Priest: Exodus chapter
28. The Ephod (Exodus 28.5ff) seems to have been a sleeveless
garment of fine twined linen decorated with gold and blue,
purple and scarlet cloth.There were two shoulder pieces and a
belt. In the shoulder pieces were two onyx stones engraved
with the names of the 12 tribes. It seems to have had a pocket
to contain the Urim and Thummim, which were used for
divination of God's replies to questions.They were probably
two small stones, one to indicate an affirmative reply, the
other a negative one.
Moses ordained Aaron and his sons (44.15)The word used
is to fill the hands, probably with offerings.The ritual is in
The high priest was to have authority to give decisions:
v.17.Cf.Dt.17.8-9 and 21.5. In parallel, Jesus gave to Peter
and the Apostles the authority to bind and loose.
Dathan, Abiram,and Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron,in
Numbers chapter 26. they said not only Moses is holy -the
whole community is holy (Reminds one of today's demands for
the Church to be a democracy). God dramatically destroyed them
for their arrogance: the earth opened up and swallowed them
alive, and a fire broke out and killed 250 of their followers.
The Levites were to have no cities of their own, but were to
live by the offerings given by the people: 45.20-22.
Phinehas son of Eleazar.Eleazar carried out the census of the
people and distributed the land to them: Numbers 26. 1-4. But
Sirach does not even mention this event, preferring to speak
of the great deed of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, in the Numbers
25. When Israel was at Shittim, on the eve of their entrance
into the promised land, many gave into women of Moab who
invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. One man of
Israel was so bold as to bring into the camp a Midianite woman
in the sight of Moses. When Phinehas saw this, he took a spear
and pierced both the man of Israel and the woman. Then the
plague was stayed. It had killed about 24,000 Isrelites. So
the Lord told Moses that Phinehas and his descendants were to
have a perptual priesthood.
St. Paul in 1 Cor 10 tells of this event to warn the
Corinthians that the mere fact they belonged to the people of
God would not make their salvation safe: they did not have the
foolish "infallible salvation," such that they could sin a
thousand times a day and not be "separated from the Lamb" as
Luther later said people could sin with impunity.
David the great hero of Israel,gets only a short notice at
this point--more to come later-- which says that the dignity
of king was to descend from him, as was the dignity of the
priesthood from Aaron and his descendants.
Joshua as the assistant and success of Moses. He became a
"savior" of the people. There is a play on the meaning of the
name Joshua, which means: God saves.A later form of the same
name was Jesus. Sirach says Joshua "took vengeance" on the
enemies of Israel.The RSV and NRSV word vengeance is
unfortunaate. NAB is better:to punish. The Greek here has
ekdikesai which reflects the sense of Hebrew naqam,which means
righting the objective moral order,and not vengeance .46.2
says Joshua lifted up his hands against the cities (cf .Dt.7-
1-5.)There is an archeological difficulty in finding the site
of Ai today. However, the exact location is under dispute.
The people of Gibeon under pretense made a convenant
with Joshua, which he however honored, so that when a
coalition of kings atacked Gibeon, Joshua went to defend it.
In the course of the battle, the Lord threw great hailstones
from the sky against the invaders. Joshua then, according to
Numbers 10.12-14 prayed that God might make the sun stop
still so he would not lose them in the darkness. God did it,
there was day of double length. Does the OT guarantee the
reality of this incident? In 10.13 we read "Is not this
written in the Book of Jashar", seemingly an extrascriptural
source. Therefore it is hard to be certain that Scripture
means to assert, or guarantee that the sun really did stand
still: it may only guarantee that the Book of Jashar contains
such an account, and at least that part of the book seems to
have been poetic (On the matter of asserting cf.Vatican II On
Divine Revelation §11).
Also, when Moses had sent spies to look at the land of
Canaan, and the spies had given a false report, that the
inhabitants were giants, only Joshua and Caleb told the truth
-which the people did not believe. Therefore God ordered them
to return to the wilderness for forty years, until all those
who refused to beleive would have died off. Only Joshua and
Caleb God kept alive to enter the promised land (Numbers
chapters 13 -14.
The Judges were charismatic leaders, some of whom became
unfaithful to God: Gideon (Judges 9/27) did turn to idolatry.
His son Ahimelek in chapter 9,became very wicked. Samson
became unfaithful to God:Judges chapters 13-16. Sirach prays
that their bones may revive. Is he thinking of a resurrecton?
This is debated. Yet if the dating of Sirach we gave in the
introduction was correct,then many did know of a resurrection
by the time of composition.
Samuel anointed the first king of Israel, Saul. He also
anointed David as the next ruler. In 1 Sam 7.7 when the
Philistines gathered against Israel and the people were
fearful, he offered up an unweaned lamb and brought victory.
Before his death he challenged the people to say if he had
taken anyone's property:1 Sam 12. 1-5.After his death the
medium of Endor, at Request of Saul, called up the spirit of
Samuel, who then told Saul he would be with him, dead, the
next day:1 Sam 28.8-24.
David: In 1 Sam.17.32-37,before going out against Goliath,
David told Saul he had killed a lion and a bear. He slew the
giant Golith with a stone from a sling. In chapter 18 the
women afer this victory sang:Saul slew his thousands, David
his ten thousands. Saul became insanely jealous-perhaps really
insane, and tried much to kill David. David had more than one
opportunity to kill Saul when Saul was pursuing him,but did
not do so. After Saul's death David became king of part of
Israel at Hebron, but soon king of all: 2 Sam chapters 2 - 5.
God ordered David to wage many wars,and he subdued the
Philistines. He also arranged to make the worship in the
temple glorious with great rituals and singers: 1 Chron
In 47.11 we read that God took away his sins- for he
commited adultery with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. Then to try
to cover up, had Uriah put in the front lines and deserted, so
that he was killed. Nathan the prophet reproached David. He
promptly acknowledged his sin and repented.
At one time he thought of building a great temple:2
Samuel chapter 7. Nathan told him God did not want David to
build it, but his son Solomon. But God promised an eternal
dynasty to David - which was fulfilled in Christ. For after
the great exile, there were no more Davidic kings. But as
Isaiah 11.1 foretold, a sprout came from the stump of Jesse
(David's father),which was the Messiah as even the Targum
In 1 Chron.22.8 God tells David he must not build the
temple: he has so much blood on his hands - even though God
had commanded his wars. Yet in 1 Kings 14.8 God says David was
a perfect man. The answer is that although David had not
sinned in these wars, yet it was a matter of fittingness that
the temple should be built by one with hands free of blood.
Similarly, later an early Christian writer, Origen, said that
Christians should pray for victory in war, but not fight
Solomon was at first a wise son to David. He built a house for
God, the first great temple. At the start of his reign God
offered Solomon any gift he might wish. Solomon wished for
wisdom to rule the people. God was very pleased, gave it to
him richly: 1 Kings 3.5-14. Solomon also built the temple
using materials and skilled craftsmen David had provided.
After the dedication of the temple, "The Lord appeared to him
a second time" 1 Kings 9.1-14. He said if Solomon was faithful
his throne would last forever. But if he and the people were
unfaithful, then God would destroy the temple, and scatter
them over the face of the earth. And those who would see the
ruins would wisper: Why? And the reply: Because they deserted
the Lord. Sadly that came true: the same threat was repeated
in Jeremiah 22.1-9.
His name reached distant lands, so that the Queen of
Sheba came to visit and admire him - 1 Kings 10. But Solomon
married many foreign wives, and they wanted shrines to their
gods, which Solomon gave: 1 Kings 11. Therefore God told him
he would punish this sin,but not until after Solomon's death-
for the sake of David. The punishment came when God took away
wisdom and even common sense from his son Rehoboam. When the
people asked him to let up on the forced labor and heavy
taxes, Rehoboam said: My father beat you with whips; I will
beat you with scorpions: 1 Kings 12. Result: the northern
tribes left,and made Jeroboam their king, thus starting the
division into two kingoms. To keep people fom coming to
Jerusalem, Jerobom established shrines in the north for them.
Elijah the prophet arose like a fire. He brought a famine on
them and brought down fire from the sky. He even raised a
corpse from the dead: 1 Kings chapters 17-19.
At the end, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot.
Sirach 48:19 tells us that Elijah is to return before the end
to calm the wrath of God. Cf.Malachi 3.23-24.since St.Paul
predicts the conversion of the Jews to
Christ before the end: Romans 11.25-26, we may perhaps suppose
that Elijah is to be the agent of their conversion.
Elisha was chosen by Elijah as his assistant and successor: 1
Kings 19.16-21. He was fearless before kings. Even after his
death, contact with his dead body brought a man back to life:
2 Kings 13.20-21.
Yet the people did not repent even after seeing the
wonders he wrought. So they were taken into exile: 2 Kings
Hezekiah (about 715-687) was one of the few good kings- as
Sirach tells us in 49.4 only David, Hezekiah and Josiah were
good. All the other kings were wicked.
He fortified Jerusalem and dug a great tunnel- still to be
seen- to bring water in case of a siege: 2 Kings 20.20 and 2
Chron 32.30. When Sennacherib, King of Assyria came against
the city, Hezekiah prayed and called Isaiah: cf 2 Kings
chapter 19 and Isaiah chapters 36-37. God slew 185,000 in the
camp of the Assyrians.
When Hezekiah became very ill, and Isaiah told him he
must die, he prayed to the Lord. Isaiah returned and promised
him 15 yeasr more of life, and to confirm it he caused the
shadow on the steps (like a sundial it seems) to go back ten
steps: Isaiah 38. An embassy (Isaiah chapter 39) came to
congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery. We wonder: was the sun
miracle visible even in Babylon? We do not know. After that
embassy Isaiah came and foretold the Babylonian captivity:
chapter 39,to happen after the death of Hezekiah.
Josiah ruled about 640-609 BC. In the 12th year of his reign
he purged Judah of the pagan high places, the Asherim and the
idols: 2 Chr 334.3. He even tried to extend his reform into
the northern kingdom: 2 Kings 23.1-25; 2 Chr 34.1-7. Second
Kings 22.8-20 tells us that in the 28th year of his reign the
high priest Hilkiah found a book of the law in the temple,
which may have been hidden in that period of Assyrian
oppression. Some think it was the whole Penteteuch; most think
it was only Deuteronomy or a part of it, esp. chapters 12-26.
He pledged to follow the covenant: 2 Kings 23.1-3. But it
seems the people did not join whole heartedly in his reforms:
cf.Jer 1-20. He fell in battle against Pharaoh Neco at
But he was the last of the good kings- there were only 3
in all as we noted above. God was much offended by the others,
and so Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Jerusalem in 596,and
came again in 586. He destroyed the city and temple and took
most of the people into captivity. They had not heeded the
warnings of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Ezekiel saw the vision of the
glory of God leaving Jerusalem: Ezek chapter 6.
Sirach prays that the bones of the twelve prophets may
revive. Very interestingly, Matthew 27.53 says that at the
death of Jesus, many bodies of holy persons came back to life.
Further St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to Magnesia 9.2
wrote: "the prophets being disciples of His in the spirit were
expecting Him as their teacher. And for this reason, when he
came who they rightly awaited, He raised them from the dead."
Postexilic great men: Zerubbabel seemed to have been the
leader of a second wave of Jews returning from Babylon.
Clearly in 520 when work resumed on rebuilding the temple, he
was governor. He was the Lord's servant:Zech 3.8 and 6r.12-13.
Working with him in restoring the temple was Joshua the high
priest, son of Jozadak: cf. Haggagi 2.2.
The memory of Nehemiah is also everlasting for his
raising of the walls of Jerusalem again: Neh.2.1-8;2,
Simon II brother of Jonathan of the Maccabees, was famed for
his work in restoring the temple, and for carrying out
elaborate worship there. But before that, he had been a leader
of the Maccabean army against the forces of Trypho: 1
Macc.chapter 13-16. He even made an alliance with Rome.
Finally, he was murdered by treachery by Ptolemy, governor of
the plains of Jericho.
Conclusion: From 50.22 we have largely a praise of God and of
wisdom. He does however interject mention of those nations who
vex him: the Edomites, traditional enemy of the Jews,
especially after the exile. The Philistines were conquered by
David, but a real enmity remained. In their coastal region
Greek culture triumphed and with it paganism. The most odious
were the Samaritans. who lived on the mountians of Ephrem.
They were a mixture of a few Israelites left by the Assyrians,
with pagans whom the Assyrians sent in. They did, it seems,
worship the true God, but with various mixtures with pagan
practices. After the exile the Samaritans offered to help
rebuild the temple - the Jews refused to accept the help, and
the enmity solidified.
Finally Sirach tells how he had always sought wisdom
even from his youth and in his travels. To get it is worth any