Sirach 2:7-18 – Reward and Woe

The reward of those who fear the Lord

(7)  You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; and turn not away, lest you fall.

φοβούμενοι, translated as fear, occurs four times in the New Testament in relation to God. (Acts 13.16, 26; Colossians 3.22; and Revelation 19.5) The Greek root word gives us our ‘phobia’. It is of note that the uses in Acts sees a separation from those that are following God and those that ‘fear’ God, evidently referring to the Gentiles who dwelt among the Jews.

(8)  You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your wage will not be forfeited;
(9)  You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy.

It would be faulty to see here a promise in Sirach’s mind of Eternal Life, however, to idea of the promise in his words provides great comfort, and it might be said, that along with the prophets and writers of the Old Testament, Sirach’s words were not fully understood by the author, or forgoing the idea of the unknown prophecy by an author, these words of Sirach could have later been used by the same community to argue for eternal life, which was a notion still in genesis at this time.

(9a) Because his repayment is an everlasting gift with joy

Paul, perhaps, plays on this concept here in Romans 6,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6.23 NASB)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6.23 NLT)

Sirach, and then later Paul, was casting the life of the God-fearer as a system of merit(less). For Paul, echoing Sirach, our wages are to be compared to the gift from God. Sirach, while not speaking about wages of sin, instead uses wage to mean that which we do for God. The textual variant completes the thought well within a sect which Paul would have known – that God gives. Granted, for Sirach, that gift is earned, while for Paul, that gift cannot be earned (although must be worked to keep).

(10)  Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever stood fast in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was despised?
(11)  For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.

Again, Paul echoes,

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5.5 NASB)

And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5.5 NLT)

And the author of Hebrews who wrote,

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2 NASB)

One of the common themes of this book is that Sirach calls on us to remember those that have gone on before, upon whose shoulders we now stand. In later chapters, much like Hebrews and Wisdom, he gives a list of examples of the faithful who have gone before.

The threefold woe against the unfaithful

(12)  Woe to cowardly hearts and to slack hands, and to the sinner who treads on two paths!

Chrysostom, in his Homily on Hebrews, says,

What is “let us draw near with a true heart”? That is, without hypocrisy; for “woe be to a fearful heart, and faint hands”: let there be (he means) no falsehood among us; let us not say one thing and think another; for this is falsehood; neither let us be fainthearted, for this is not [a mark] of a “true heart.” Faintheartedness comes from not believing. But how shall this be? If we fully assure ourselves through faith.

We turn to James,

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 NASB)

This subsection gives us three woes to those that trust not in the Lord, and the woes are directed against the heart that has abandoned God, perhaps as a warning to those Jews who were forsaking Israel for Greece (as was would find in the first chapter of 1st Maccabees)

(13)  Woe to the faint heart, for it has no trust! Therefore it will not be sheltered.
(14)  Woe to you who have lost your patient endurance! What will you do when the Lord makes his reckoning?

The writer of Hebrews echoes Sirach here,

For you have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God, you might receive his promise. (Hebrews 10:36 CTV)

And from Paul,

But if we expect without doubt that which we do not see, then we with patient endurance eagerly wait for it. (Romans 8:25 CTV)

Instruction on fearing the Lord

(15)  Those who fear the Lord will not disobey his words, and those who love him will keep his ways.
(16)  Those who fear the Lord will seek his good pleasure, and those who love him will be filled with the law.

‘Good pleasure’ in the Greek is εὐδοκίαν. It is used four times in the New Testament (Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:9, Philippians 2:13, 2nd Thessalonians 1:11) always in reference to the well purposed love that God has for His people. It is found only in the Septuagint and the New Testament. Vincent says,

Ἑυδοκία good pleasure, delight, is a purely Biblical word. As related to one’s self, it means contentment, satisfaction: see Sirach 29:23; Psalms of Solomon 3:4; 16:12.

We do not seek anything else in the grace of God but the pleasure of the Father.

(17)  Those who fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and will humble themselves before him.
(18)  Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of men; for as his majesty is, so also is his mercy.

Sirach simply says that the punishment of the Lord (which could bring mercy) is better than the punishment of men.

Post By Joel Watts (10,085 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).

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