*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.