Barber gives a conclusion which he reached years ago – and I agree with him today, especially since it effects my exegesis paper project. I remember reading F.F. Bruce, on the subject of canonical texts who noted that our text is canon in of itself… Anyway, I digress into a subject which I am not yet prepared to address. Dr. Barber, however, is:
1. The myth that the Palestinian canon was closed by 100 C. E.
2. The notion, even held by Jerome, that the divergent readings of the Christian LXX could simply be chalked up to Hellenizations. Scholars now recognize that the varying readings of the LXX and the MT have their origins in different Hebrew Vorlage.
3. (Closely related to 2): That the MT reading represents a more ancient textual tradition than that of the LXX.
4. The idea that the criterion used by the rabbis to determine the canonical status of the Biblical books was based on solid historical evidence. (In fact, anti-Christian prejudices shaped in their determination.)
5. That when the fathers speak of “canonical” books they always referred to the exhaustive list of books they consider part of Scripture. Indeed, there was not even a neatly divided list of protocanonical and deuterocanoical books – many included Esther in the category of disputed books.
The original Hebrew text of the apocryphal book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) lies at the very heart of the story of the discovery of the Cairo Genizah and the subsequent dispersal of its contents to the libraries of Europe and the United States. Indeed, the discovery of the Genizah may be dated to 1865, the year when Jacob Saphir visited the repository in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, as reported in his book Even Sapir (Lyk, 1866). However, it was not until 1896 that the effort to recover and acquire Genizah manuscripts began in earnest, for this was the year when the twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson returned from a trip to Cairo with a number of leaves from the Genizah that they had succeeded in purchasing. When they showed these leaves to Solomon Schechter at Cambridge University, he quickly recognised among them the remains of the Hebrew Ben Sira. Schechter’s discovery touched off a bitter rivalry between himself and Adolf Neubauer of Oxford University, the object of which was the identification of further fragments of this book. It was in the course of this rivalry that Schechter traveled to Cairo and secured permission to transfer the bulk of the contents of the Genizah to Cambridge University Library (for further details see Reif 1997 and Jefferson 2009).
One interesting finding concerning a BL fragment from Ben-Sira is worth mentioning. This fragment was already identified by Margaliouth (JQR 12, 1899) and then described and transcribed in the Appendix of Margaliouth Catalog (vol. 1, 273-277). Still, no microfilm of this fragment is available at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem, and it seems that since Margaliouth nobody really examined the original. Even in the latest edition of Ben-Sira Fragments (Beentjes, Leiden, 1997), the fragment is mentioned only as [British Museum], without a shelfmark. Well, the fragment is now displayed as Or. 5518, to the great joy, we hope, of all interested researchers
Sirach is a beautiful book, timely, inspired, given and often ignored because it was discarded by the Jews after the destruction of the Temple and later still by Christians, first by Melito of Sardis. Yet, it endures to give us ancient wisdom for a modern world. While others simply only to regulate it as ‘Apocrypha’ it is by far more valuable than most of the self-help books on the shelves today. Further, it was used in early debates and should be used today for Christology.
(24) A hard heart will be afflicted at the end, and whoever loves danger will perish by it.
The Hebrew adds to this verse,
But he that loves the good things shall walk in them
(25) A hard heart will be weighed down by troubles, and the sinner will add sin to sins.
Paul can be found to echo this thought in his Roman letter,
But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Romams 2:5-6 NLT)
This passage in Sirach concerns the heart of the man, which may be humble and given to God, or arrogant and given in to sin. Like the previous section of contrast, Sirach brings to us the contrast of the heart and the end of each one. Like Paul several centuries later, Sirach knew that the end of the arrogant heart, the heart which stood before God instead of kneeling, would end with no remedy, but the heart that was humble, will have a good future.
(26) The arrogant man is not healed by his punishment, for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.
Contrast this with John’s statement in the Apocalypse that New Jerusalem would have ‘healing for the nations’ (Revelation 22.2). We may, however, go as far to point out that the ‘man’ in question is not he ignorant man – unlearned of God – but the man who knows of God and yet refuses to give heed unto Him. Here, Sirach tells us that a remedy for that man’s soul cannot be found.
(27) The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable, and an attentive ear is the wise man’s desire.
This brings to mind the discourse of Christ with the Apostles using parables. Many times in the Gospels, we find recorded parables, but only for those with ears to hear, and we can somewhat easily connect the Wise Man with Christ who is the Wisdom of God (1st Corinthians 1.24).
(28) Water extinguishes a blazing fire: and almsgiving atones for sin.
This verse inaugurates what many will assume to be the end of any talk of inspiration of Sirach; however, Jesus Himself considered almsgiving (charity) as method of righteousness (Luke 11.41). Briefly, we see Daniel counseling the King of Babylon (Dan. 4.27) to consider mercy to the poor as a means of cleansing iniquities. The Psalmist (Psalms 41.1-2) tells us that those that consider the poor will be delivered by God in their time of troubles while our Lord in several places speaks of the evils of not being charitable. The most prominent example is that of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) who if we will read we see not a condemnation based on religious reasons, or one of immorality, but one of passing the beggar by every day, giving the excess of the table to the dogs. The Rich Man was not sent to the grave in torments because of his wealth or his lack of religious righteousness, but because he failed to take care of the poor.
When Christ is speaking about the hypocrisies of the Pharisees, he says,
Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. (Luke 11:39-41 NKJV)
The French theologian Godet says,
Do you think it is enough to wash your hands before eating? There is a surer means. Let some poor man partake of your meats and wines.
And we hear from Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of the Apostle John:
From Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 10,
Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good , defer it not, because “alms delivers from death.” [Tobit 4:10, 12:9] Be all of you subject one to another, having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles, that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But owe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.
Polycarp quotes another often hidden book, Tobit, directly, but the idea is the same. Charity comes by and produces righteousness. By the waters of baptism is the fires of hell quenched, just as mercy to the poor will bring forgiveness for our trespasses.
(29) Whoever repays favors gives thought to the future; at the moment of his falling he will find support.
Finally, words from John Chrysostom
Let us then travel along all these ways; for if we give ourselves wholly to these employments, if on them we spend our time, not only shall we wash off our bygone transgressions, but shall gain very great profit for the future. For we shall not allow the devil to assault us with leisure either for slothful living, or for pernicious curiosity, since by these among other means, and in consequence of these, he leads us to foolish questions and hurtful disputations, from seeing us at leisure, and idle, and taking no forethought for excellency of living. But let us block up this approach against him, let us watch, let us be sober, that having in this short time toiled a little, we may obtain eternal goods in endless ages, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ; (Chrysostom on John 7)
Sirach – Ben Sira – is focused a great deal on the Law, and if we take this passage in light of this, we come to understand that Sirach sought students that would study the Law. We understand that he instructs his students to study the Law, and to learn every wit of it, but to refrain from going into the realms beyond the Law so that it is God that reveals His mysteries to us, and not we who reveals the mysteries to God.
It is possible that Sirach was part of the upper-class, which would have been expected given first his ability to write and teach. Further, he had students which he was instructing. In this portion, contrary to his position in life, Sirach is instructing humility, almost to the level of poverty.
(17) My child, conduct your affairs in gentleness and you will be loved by those whom the Lord accepts.
‘Lord’ is not in the original, which literally reads, ‘a giver of gifts’. One translation suggests,
Walk in your wealth humbly and you will be loved more than he who gives gifts
No matter the translation, the sense is still the same – real honor comes from real humility. This entire passage is devoted to giving a sense of humility to students, no doubt of the Law, before they can actually learn from God.
(18) The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find grace in the sight of the Lord.
In Philippians 2.3, the Apostle Paul admonishes that congregation to think more highly of others than they do ourselves. It is a common New Testament theme which was shared with other Jewish sects of the time. Perhaps this verse is a personal experience from Sirach, or a warning to the Sadducees in power. If this is a political verse – and it can be taken as such – the author could be warning those in power, perhaps even the Maccabeans, to not follow the same route that others in the past have.
(19a) Many are lofty and of repute, but to the meek he reveals his mysteries
This verse is wanting in the Greek and the Hebrew and most likely a variant of the following verse:
(19) For great is the might of the Lord; he is glorified by the humble.
The Hebrew reads:
For many are the mercies of God, and he reveals his secret to the humble.
(20) Seek not what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your strength.
I note Proverbs 25.2:
It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them. (Pro 25:2 NLT)
Can this be seen as a contradiction?
Paul calls this ‘the measure of faith’ (Romans 12.3) while others call it ‘knowing our place’. Sirach is counseling his students that they must not seek to be more than what God has ordained them to be – this is not to say that they cease from trying to grow in the Lord. Let the minister be a minister and the administrator the administrator.
I am drawn to the Pauline use of the word mystery when he is speaking to the New Testament church, and wondering if there is a connection between the thought here which is revealed to the humble, and the generally not well to do. Mystery for Paul would mean that those, such as the humble, know the answer, perhaps
(21) Reflect upon what has been commanded you, for you do not need what is hidden.
(22) Do not meddle in what is beyond your tasks, for matters too great for human understanding have been shown you.
The Hebrew here reads,
Meditate upon that which you are able to understand, and meddle not with that which is hid
(See Deut 29.29; Ps 131.1; Jer 45.5)
(23) For their speculations has led many astray, and evil suppositions have caused their minds to slip and fall.
This passage from Sirach seems to be a midrash on the fifth commandment,
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. Exodus 20:12 NASB
“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12 NLT
It provides us, no doubt, with an example of the Jewish family, and the view that a merited following of the Law brings salvation.
(1) Listen to me, O children, for I am your father; and act accordingly, that you may be safe.
The Greek σωθῆτε which is translated as ‘safe’ here is found twice in the New Testament (John 5.34, Acts 2.40), both times with the meaning of ‘saved’ as Christians have developed. Although it is a stretch to have Sirach use it the same direct (Christian) way, we do find a general idea of temporal salvation in act of honoring one’s father and mother. If we apply this passage in light of Cyprian’s (“No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother” (Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519) then it this passage becomes an instruction for the Christian.
We may first read it as Sirach’s words, referring to our natural parents, and then with the words of Paul who called God our Father and the Church our Mother.
For Sirach, the phrase ‘may be safe’ refers to the promise, that is if you would honor your father and mother, then your life would be long upon the earth.
We find much the same thought in the Apostle Paul,
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3 NLT)
The surviving Greek MSS has this verse as corrupt, however, the Syriac and the Latin preserve this verse.
(2) For the Lord honored the father above the children, and strengthened the judgment of the mother over her sons.
(3) Whoever honors his father atones for his sins,
The thought that deeds can ‘cancel’ sins is not foreign to Jewish thought:
By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil. Proverbs 16.6 NASB
Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the LORD, people avoid evil. Proverbs 16:6 NLT
See also Daniel 4.27.
The Gospel, however, teaches
“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Luke 17:10 NASB
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)
What must be remembered by later Christian thought the Law is seen as a temporary measure which removes nothing, but under Grace, all sins are removed. At any rate, Sirach stresses atonement by repentance later in the work. (5.5-6, 34.26, 35.3)
(4) and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure.
(5) Whoever honors his father will be gladdened by his own children, and when he prays he will be heard.
(6) Whoever glorifies his father will have long life, and whoever obeys the Lord will give rest to his mother;
(7) He who fears the Lord will honor his father; he will serve his parents as his masters.
The words in the italics appear in the Latin.
(8) Honor your parents by word and deed, that a blessing from him may come upon you.
Several translations have ‘father and mother’ while others simply have ‘father’. Following the Latin, parentes, I would choose parents. (Deligere parentes prima naturae lex. – Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 5.4.7)
(9) For a father’s blessing established the houses of the children, but a mother’s curse uproots their foundations.
(10) Do not glorify yourself by dishonoring your father, for your father’s dishonor is no glory to you.
(11) For a man’s glory comes from honoring his father, and it is a disgrace for children not to respect their mother.
(12) O son, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
(13) even if his understanding fails, be considerate and in your youth not despise him.
(14) For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your sins it will be credited to you;
(15) in the day of your affliction it will be remembered in your favor; as frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.
(16) Whoever forsakes his father is like a blasphemer, and whoever angers his mother is cursed by the Lord.
Sirach stresses not just the father, but the mother as well, asserting the importance of the mother to the child. We may, again, see this as an insight into the Jewish family of the 2nd century B.C., or as the proper family of any era; however, we may also see it as a key to understanding Paul’s vision of the Church (the New Jerusalem) as the mother of us all, and the importance placed by Paul upon the Church.
(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.
In this section, the writer gives us the virtues of a life of self-control.
(22) Unrighteous anger cannot be justified, for a man’s anger tips the scale to his ruin.
The Apostle Paul tells us,
BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, (Ephesians 4:26 NASB)
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, (Ephesians 4:26 NLT)
Anger is seen as something not to be a part of in the new community being organized in the Gospels. (See Matthew 5.22), however, as human as anger is, divinity requires anger to cease. Anger, for Sirach as is later said by Christ, places the person in an unwelcome position.
The other affections which are within us, are in some cases useful. For instance, Anger is often useful. For (saith he) “unjust wrath shall not be innocent”: wherefore it is possible for one to be justly in wrath. (Chrysostom – Homily on Hebrews)
We would be told by Paul that temperance was a fruit of the spirit.
(23) A patient man will endure until the right moment, and then joy will burst forth for him.
(24) He will hide his words until the right moment, and the lips of many will tell of his good sense.
(25) In the treasuries of wisdom are wise sayings, but godliness is an abomination to a sinner.
Sirach sees the man under control of himself with patience, joy, a good reputation, and wisdom. The Apostle Paul echoes this as well with his constant fight to bring his own body on control. It is a daily war, Paul laments, but it is made easier by the help of the Paraclete.
(26) If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord will supply it for you.
(27) For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction, and he delights in fidelity and meekness.
Sirach here mixes in such is the notions as we would describe as free will and grace. If we desire Wisdom – which the New Testament community would (con)fuse with Christ and later writers – then we must keep His commandments. Paul tell us in Colossians 3.16, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,’. John relates to us the words of Christ,
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10 NASB)
When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. (John 15:10 NLT)
The two authors share the same thought pattern, in that if a believer keeps the commandments of God, then it is God who will give Wisdom, on in John’s case, love, the Spirit, and the Son, which at various times each is (con)fused with Wisdom herself.
Returning to Sirach, we read,
(28) Do not disobey the fear of the Lord; do not approach him with a divided mind.
It seems the ‘fear’ here is personified as well, as Wisdom has been and Word will be. It was a come practice among 2nd Temple Judaism to personify certain attributes of God, such as Wisdom, His Word, and the Name of the Lord. Especially in John, we can see that Christ is the personified nature of the Father, Wisdom, Logos, and is fully invested with the Name of the Father.
(29) Be not a hypocrite in men’s sight, and keep watch over your lips.
(30) Do not exalt yourself lest you fall, and thus bring dishonor upon yourself. The Lord will reveal your secrets and cast you down in the midst of the Assembly, because you did not come in the fear of the Lord, and your heart was full of deceit.
Assembly is ἐκκλησίᾳ, with is often times translated as Church in the New Testament. In Stephen’s speech at his martyrdom, he easily calls Israel God’s Assembly (Church in the KJV), which was not the first time that this word was applied to Israel, although it later became singled out for the Christian community,
Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us. (Acts 7:38 NLT)
This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us. (Acts 7:38 RSV)
As the New Testament community developed past the synagogue, and the Greek Old Testament was used for the new Gentile converts, ἐκκλησίᾳ no doubt become a point of connection between the new community and the old.
Sirach is warning that those that are without self control will not be missed by God who will reveal the secrets where all of the people of God may see.
(1) My child, if you come to be a subject to the Lord, prepare yourself for testing.
The sense is seen, as opposed to predestination, that we might come to serve the Lord. This author moves from Wisdom attaching herself to the faithful in the womb to an individual choice. It is essentially up to the person to answer the call, to pay attention to the drawing of the Spirit of God. In doing this, in serving the Lord, they will face testing of their own will.
(2) Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be erratic in time of calamity.
Throughout the Gospels, the call to be patient (Luke 12.26-27) is made, as well as the call to set one’s sights higher (Matthew 6.33) is made with the promise that those who rest higher will not be moved.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)
There is little doubt now as to the kind of political and cultural climate in which the authors of Sirach and the New Testament lived, one which was turned upside down. Pagan Rome was powerful, Israel over run, and the Jews split into many different factions. There is little wonder why the need to look higher than one’s situation was mentioned and cajoled for disciples.
(3) Cleave to him and forsake him not, that you may be honored at the end of your life.
The author commands us to cling to the Lord, and to not stand alone, having forsaken Him. In conjunction with the previous verse, we read of a plea to fasten our hearts to God alone, and not to forsake Him in the calamity.
(4) Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.
(5) For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.
Job (23.10) is present in our minds here, but we find in the first epistle from Peter a loud echo of the words in the preceding verses.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold– though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT)
Peter is clearly echoing the sapential wisdom found in Sirach.
(5a) In sickness and in poverty, have trust in him
Although it is familiar because the same idea is found in many wedding vows, Sirach is relating this in the same way as the to the idea that what ever the situation of the student, only God matters. Perhaps the author sees sickness and poverty as being set against the trying of gold, or as the fire of the furnace of humiliation. While we do not so much encounter it here, in the Psalms of Solomon (perhaps also in Wisdom) we find a battle between the Pharisees and their disposers set into literature as the battle between the Righteous and the Sinners. Perhaps the author of Sirach foresaw the days which were coming, when the Pharisees would be cast out of power and loose the wealth of power.
(6) Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.
The author strikes a balance between grace and freewill – follow the Lord, and He will save you to the uttermost part.
I have written several posts on Sirach, sections that I have found useful, interesting, and intriguing, and in doing so, I have come to a greater appreciation for the Inspiration of this book. Inspiration – the thought that the author penned it, but it was the Divine Author that actually wrote it. Surely, I am not the only one that has seen a measure of inspiration in the words of Sirach, as we know that the ancient Rabbi’s used it as well as many of the Church Fathers. It heavily influenced the Gospel writers as well as the later Christological debates.
Beginning with this post, I am going to repost my Sirach works, revising them along the way, and hopefully, starting up again where I left off.
Below you will see the addition of several alternate verses which are found in a different Greek recension of Sirach which was used by the KJV and RSV, and noted by the New English Translation of the Septuagint. I include these because they are highly valuable, and unfortunately, the level of Textual Criticism that is often applied to the rest of the Bible has not yet reached a sound scientific basis for many of the books of the Deuterocanon. I will discuss the alternate verse as a stand-alone verse in the passage.
This is not designed as the final word on Sirach, but to open up doorways for thinking by Fundamentals on Sirach, keeping in mind that these ancient writings are generally of better quality than most of what can be found in today’s Christian book stores.
(1) All Wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever.
Ben Sira uses Wisdom not to encompass pure knowledge, but his view is clearly religious in nature, as would be natural for him. By itself, this verse is hardly impressive, however, by undertaking the rest of the passage first, we see that this Wisdom is an emanation from the Lord. (Wisdom 1.26, Hebrews 1.3).
(2) Who can count the sand of the sea, the drops of rain, and the days of eternity?
(3) Who can search them out the height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom?
(4) Wisdom was created before all things, and prudent understanding from eternity.
The verse is a prologue to John’s Logos passage, when in the beginning was the Word. It also looks back to Proverbs 8, the basis of understanding the Jewish view of Wisdom.
“I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, And find out knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength. By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, All the judges of the earth. I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me. Riches and honor are with me, Enduring riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, And my revenue than choice silver. I traverse the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice, That I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth, That I may fill their treasuries. “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. (Proverbs 8:12-22 NKJV)
Sirach connects to the Logos of John and the Wisdom of Proverbs as well as the Emanation of Wisdom 7.26. The Divine is not without His Wisdom or His Word, and thus not alone; however, the Wisdom and Word are not seen as divine substances, but attributes and emanations. Wisdom is God Thinking whereas the Word is God Active.
And alternate verse here, which is highly Christological, reads
(4a) Wisdom’s spring is God’s word in the highest, and her journeys are everlasting commandments.
This verse is attested to in the Syriac as well as the Latin,
Fons sapientiae verbum Dei in excelsis, et ingressus illius mandata aeterna. – Nova Vulgata
The Logos is seen here as the spring of Sophia, the source. In ancient times, Wisdom is associated with the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God is seen as emanating from the Son. In John 14 and 16, we read of the spirit of Truth that will come from the Father as well as coming from the Son. This is God speaking His wisdom to dwell among flesh as the gift of the holy Spirit.
These images were important to the early Christian writers, as we cannot fail to be reminded that Paul called Christ the Wisdom of God. (cf Luke 7.35 and 1st Corinthians 1.24), that John used Wisdom language in describing the Logos, and that we can find loud echoes of both Sirach and Wisdom throughout the New Testament and its thought world.
(5) To whom has the root of wisdom been revealed? Who knows her great deeds?
Sophia, Wisdom, is a feminine noun in both Greek and Hebrew, and is only given masculinity in the New Testament when referring to Christ. (See above.)
(6) There is One who is wise, greatly to be feared, sitting upon his throne.
This (6) verse is left out of some ancient MSS. Some speculate that it was removed by the Jews sometime after the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135. The Rabbi’s, seeking to save Judaism, began removing certain passages from the LXX (cf Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho) in hopes of reducing the Christology of the Old Testament.
(7) The Lord himself created wisdom; he saw her and numbered her, he poured her out upon all his works.
(8) She dwells in the midst of all flesh according to his gift, and he supplied her to those who love him.
Again, we hear the echoes of this passage in John’s Prologue in which the Logos is said to tabernacle in flesh (John 1.14 RSV).
And alternate verse here reads,
(8a) Loving the Lord is esteemed wisdom, but to whomever He appears, He apportions her as a vision of Himself.
Again we turn to Paul’s writing, when he calls Christ the Image of God.
NAU 2 Corinthians 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
NLT 2 Corinthians 4:4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
And to John,
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves. (John 14:7-11 RSV)
It is not difficult to see then why these books were used to supplement the Christ event in the early Church. While in the synoptic gospels, Jesus is the Wise Sage, Wisdom personified, in John, Jesus becomes Wisdom, albeit in the masculine, and philoite Logos.