From the Bible that is Rarely Read: Sirach 39.1-11

*I am not trying to design these as a commentary, but as a point for discussion and perhaps as a bit of a devotional. They are a spiritual and mental exercise for me. If I find an error in Sirach that I cannot rectify, then it must be considered mortal and merely a good read. Until then, if then, I will continue to read and learn from Sirach. Please feel free to point me in the right direction.

In studying the book of Sirach, I found nothing to disagree with the Christian faith as handed down by the Apostles. Instead, it often times edifies that Faith. In this passage, we find what might be considered a prophecy of the Apostle Paul as well as  a picture the ideal disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a fundamentalist (although that is arguable) I approach the Bible as the Word of God, divinely inspired, and without imperfection in the Original. I believe that the spirit of God moved the holy men of old to write His words and His thoughts and because this, they are scared and must never be removed. In Sirach, although not recognized as inspired by Protestants and others, is a book of immense value and spiritual insight. It has provided many of the early Christian writers with a foundation to stand on, even in opposition to the Jews who dismissed it. Perhaps, it is because of passages like this, which point, seemingly to Christianity, even in part.

As a fundamentalist, I am not shy about my belief that biblical prophecy is a direct revelation from Jesus Christ, nor am I shy in saying that we find these prophecies, most of the time, after they happen. With reason, I am ready to hesitantly say that I believe that the Lord foresaw the Apostle Paul and through Inspiration, we read Sirach’s words,

Sirach 39:1-11 from the Revised Standard Version

(1)  On the other hand he who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be concerned with prophecies;

Sirach is finishing a discussion on those that seek their own counsel, and turns to the discussion of those that are the righteous. The New English Translation of the Septuagint separates the clauses of this verse, leaving the first clause with the last chapter. Following the KJV, the RSV does not.

We see a full picture of a man who devotes himself to the Law of God, the Torah then, and now the Church. The ancients of Sirach must be considered the Apostles and the Word of God which they left, first and foremost, and then the early Christian writers must then be measured against them and so on with every generation of writers and thinkers even unto the student himself. This keeps the Doctrine of the Church aligned, the overseers overseen, and the Saints without poison. It keeps the Body of Christ without cancer and sickness which is the False Doctrine – the new and the now.

What is his concern? It is what can be gained from the Fathers. If the wisdom of the Apostles were correct and unhindered by mortality, then to hold that wisdom, the student would gain the same security. We are not saved by knowledge, but by the Faith in Jesus Christ, but it is the Doctrine which keeps us alive just as the wrong doctrine will slaughter. For Sirach, and indeed, nearly every observant Jew even today, was concerned with the prophecies of the Messiah. The Church must then be concerned with those prophecies concerning Christ’s return.

Judaism is a religion of wait and see, whereas Christianity is a Faith that requires work until the Day is done. This is the concern of the student.

(2)  he will preserve the discourse of notable men and penetrate the subtleties of parables;
(3)  he will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs and be at home with the obscurities of parables.

With each successive generation, we have translated the Bible, told the stories, and preached repentance. We have preserved the narrative (NETS) of these men – the Apostles, the Fathers, and even our mentors and teachers – and have built upon them to edify our life. The Church must never be shy about holding up those that have gone before as examples of life and preserve their words in our own speech.

What do we make of the parables? We know that Christ spoke in parables throughout His ministry. Further, we know that in a sense, the cryptic apocalypse of John and Paul, are parables, hidden and twisted illustrations (NETS) what a student of the Word may rightly decipher.

Sirach illustrates for us that one who devotes himself to the Word of God will be at home in these parables – of Christ and His Apostles – and find them in common language, as common as his own. This is true of doctrine and the hidden things of God.

The Apostle Paul writes,

But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2nd Corinthians 4:3-4 KJV)

The verses before can be used to point to many good students of the Word from Sirach even to our own time. Yet, this entire passage has a higher value, and that of identifying the work of the Apostle Paul, as the following passage cannot tell about any other Apostle except for Paul.

(4)  He will serve among great men and appear before rulers; he will travel through the lands of foreign nations, for he tests the good and the evil among men.

Paul stood before kings Felix, Festus, Herod, and Agrippa. He stood before Caesar, in some fashion, and was able to convert some of Caesar’s household to the Christian Faith. (Philippians 4.22)  As well get to later, this must not be mistaken as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, as we know that Christ did not travel the foreign nations.

(5)  He will set his heart to rise early to seek the Lord who made him, and will make supplication before the Most High; he will open his mouth in prayer and make supplication for his sins.
(6)  If the great Lord is willing, he will be filled with the spirit of understanding; he will pour forth words of wisdom and give thanks to the Lord in prayer.

Who among us can rightly say that the Apostle Paul did not have the spirit of understand, he who detailed the doctrine of the Church, preaching it in the synagogues and the pagan temples?

There is an instinct to connect this with the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 11.2 which speaks about a spirit of wisdom and understanding. To apply Isaiah here is to make Christ a student of the Law instead of the Law Maker.

(7)  He will direct his counsel and knowledge aright, and meditate on his secrets.
(8)  He will reveal instruction in his teaching, and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant.
(9)  Many will praise his understanding, and it will never be blotted out; his memory will not disappear, and his name will live through all generations.
(10)  Nations will declare his wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim his praise;

‘Congregation’ in the KJV/RSV is assembly in the NETS, translated from ἐκκλησία, or Church. How unique this prophecy then, that this student will be proclaim him for generations.

(11)  if he lives long, he will leave a name greater than a thousand, and if he goes to rest, it is enough for him.

Paul did not live long, cut down by Nero’s madness in Rome. Clement tell us,

“By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance.” (1st Clement 5.5-6)

Paul tells us of himself,

For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (Galatians 1:12-17 NKJV)

In this passage we find a call to a student of the Word of God and an biographical sketch of the life of Apostle Paul. When we approach the Bible through another’s tradition, we loose a great deal of our own. Some of the earliest Christian writers would quote these books that the Protestants so quickly gave up. Here we may find a simply defense of the Apostle Paul. No other early Christian writer, indeed, no Apostle, meets Sirach’s prophecy, save for the Apostle Paul.

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,153 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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20 thoughts on “From the Bible that is Rarely Read: Sirach 39.1-11

  1. Joel,

    I am reading Brevard Childs new book: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus. Great so far!

    We must always say it that the Church thought of itself as the New Israel of God! But St. Paul still believed in a “covenant” for the people of Israel! (Rom.11:25-29) But this “calling” is however far above the literal Israel ideas. The Church is always involved, as there is simply only one redemptive BODY…Christ!

    Fr. Robert

  2. Joel,

    No, the Pauline idea of salvation is one covenant, both Jew & Gentile, but for the Jews (as the Gentiles) their salvation comes thru the Church!

    Fr.R.

  3. Of this we agree, Fr. Robert, but there is a movement that seems restrict to the States that Israel must be saved first. Literally, ministers are preaching that the Jews must receive the Gospel first and only after Israel has had a chance, then the Gentiles may partake. I find this against the Gospel and against the Pauline concept of the one Body (Ephesians 2).

    I had not seen this from the evangelical European theologians, where Israel is consider separate from the Church and in some manner, over and above the Church. John Hagee is a proponent of some of this theology

  4. Joel,

    I must confess that I don’t read just every book that comes down the theological pike anymore. I read just certain American writers. D.A, Carson is often good. As Childs new book. We have both types here also.

    We are always going to have a certain amount of pop prophecy books. Sad, but itching ears will always go for such, both here and in America.

    Israel is more pop oriented in the US also. Perhaps the best I have read about Israel was by Karl Barth in his later Romans.

    One of the best books I have ever read about Revelation, was by the Englishman Austin Farrer: The Revelation of St. John The Divine, (Oxford, 1964). Also his book: an earlier study on the Revelation, under the title ‘A Rebirth of Images’ is very good.

    Dispensationalism is bad theology…period!

    The best modern book on Revelation I have read is the American writer, G.K. Beale, the NIGTC…The New International Greek Testament Commentary. It follows the whole Recapitlation as a characteristic of the Prophetic and Apocalypic Lit.

    I love the Nation of Israel and her people…Jews! I taught and lived there. But, she is far from perfect. And the real “prophetic” is not always an easy task. But the Jewish people in their land, is always of an interest. But that means little sometimes. It is to the NT Church we must look!

    Fr. Robert

  5. Fr. Robert, sorry for the delay in responding, had to take care of my wife and then it was a somewhat busy day at work. The only thing that I can say to this comment is ‘amen’.

  6. Do you think that in Luke 6, it appears that Jesus is giving a rebuttal of Sirach 12:4-7.?

    •Sirach: “Give to the godly man, but do not help the sinner” (v.4)
    •Jesus: “Do good to those who hate you;” Give to every one who begs from you” (vv.27-30)
    •Sirach: “Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly” (v.5)
    •Jesus: “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that for you?” (v.33)
    •Sirach: “Hold back his bread, and do not give it to him” (v.5)
    •Jesus: “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (v.35)
    •Sirach: “For the Most High also hates sinners and will inflict punishment on the ungodly” (v.6)
    •Jesus: “And you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (v.35).

  7. Philly, if you will give me a few hours to get to my bible and my own pc, I will give you a better answer.

    It does look like a rebuttal, and it may very well be, however, Christ rebuts several parts of the Law (murder, adultery, Gentiles, etc…) as He brings in the Law of Grace.

  8. Matthew 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

    Matthew 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

    Matthew 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

    1 John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

    Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

    Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

    Romans 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

    Romans 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

    TRUST ME, GOD HATES SINNERS EVEN THOUGH HE SAID WHAT HE SAID. IF YOU THINK SINNERS WILL BE IN THE KINGDOM THEN YOU DECEIVE YOURSELF.

    1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    HE CAME NOT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS BUT TO CALL SINNERS(OF HIS PEOPLE) TO REPENTANCE.

    Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

  9. Luckycharms… is that a nickname or the place where you get your theology?

    What does your comment have to do with this?

    Further, you statement that God hates sinners even though God said what God said is silly. God did not just come to call Israel, but the entire world.

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