I have grown to enjoy these posts a great deal. (Here, here, here, and here) It is my blog, after all, and it has allowed me to discover the style and manner of writing and investigation into scripture that I like, and this seems to be one of them. Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus to the Protestants out there, was written well before Christ and was wrestled over until after Christ by the Jews.
I endeavored to read this book one a while ago, but go no further than the 10th chapter when i realized that at that time it was futile to investigate this book if the results would do no one any good. Now, I focus on my own edification and hope that others will be built up as well. I don’t mean to be selfish here, but there are times that we have to strengthen ourselves (1st Samuel 30.6) in the LORD our Great God. I have found encouragement in the pages of Sirach and hope to continue to do so.
We can approach this passage from Sirach in one of two ways:
- First, we can see it in the socio-political light that most likely it was written in. Here in the States, we are embroiled in a political election for the President of these united States. It will get ugly and bitter and cause much strife even among those that call each other brother. If we should choose to do this, then we cause a division in the universal body of Christ, be it British or American, Chinese, or Indian. Further, we fail to show our separation from this world that is so well illustrated in Diognetus chapter 5.
- Second, we can understand that with Christ, rather since Christ, and His Church, those things that once applied nationally to Israel now apply to the Church. In doing this, we understand that the leaders and magistrates of Sirach are the pastors and ministers of the Body of Christ. If we take this second route in understanding, we pay heed to Christ’s command to render to Caesar and to the understanding that the Kingdom of God is not a physically attainable goal, but the Church which is both visible and invisible.
I will approach it primarily, if not in totality, from the second stance.
Sirach 10:1-25 from the Revised Standard Version-Modified
(1) A wise leader will educate his people, and the rule of an understanding man will be well ordered.
(2) As the leader of a people, so are his officials; and the inhabitants of the city will reflect the ruler.
(3) An undisciplined king will ruin his people, but a city will grow through the understanding of its rulers.
(4) The authority of the earth is in the hands of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right man for the appointed time.
(5) The success of a man is in the hand of the Lord, and he confers his honor upon the person of the scribe.
(6) Do not cherish anger with your neighbor for any injury, and do nothing by acts of insolence.
We are talking about these wise leaders, or magistrates as older translations have them (judge in the NETS) – who are prevalent among the people of God. In Sirach’s time, most likely these were perhaps the Hasmonean Kings, or even the generation earlier, both in which the temple priesthood was being used by those in power. We know from history that Judas Maccabeus saw the near complete degradation of the Jewish elite as they gave away to paganism and encourage the people to do so.
We have pastors and ministers, or those that say that they are such, that are neither wise nor well-ordered. I speak, of course, from experience. Now, I am not speaking about the wisdom of books or man’s words, but the beginning of all wisdom – the fear of the LORD (Psalms 111.10). They are filled with arrogance and this pride will cause not only them to fall, but the congregation as well. It by the leader that the city will either grow into glory or fall into perdition.
Have you every seen a congregation bitter and destroy by gossip or sin or by apathy for the things of God. I am not speaking about one or two, but the entire congregation. (There will always be those that choose not to live up to the examples set by the pastor or ministers and called for by the Scriptures). Look at the pastor of that congregation. What example is he setting? Does he gossip? What about his fear of God? The reverence paid to the things of the Lord? What of his love of the the Spirit? Are they themselves disciplined? Do they in a godly reverence watch over your souls so that when the accounting is called, they may give a good one?
Remember King Saul who, when had disobeyed God, had his kingdom taken from him. God alone is the giver of liberty and sovereignty. Too many people desire to be a pastor or a minister and for what? For what glory, rather, for whose glory? For God? More than likely it is for themselves. We see numerous pastors and so-called evangelists stand in the spot light but give no room for God. Even in the local congregations, how many desire the holy titles of Bishop, or Pastor, Elder, minister, deacon? Who many would choose them if they were all called servant and called no vestments of authority?
Verse 4 connects well to Wisdom 6.3
For power is given you of the Lord, and sovereignty from the Highest, who shall try your works, and search out your counsels.
Yes, there are times I believe that God will set us up to fail, so that we may be useful to Him when we remove ourselves.
Sirach, as you know, is a translation into Greek of the Hebrew original. In the Hebrew original, ‘scribe’ is ‘statute-maker’, or perhaps it is better to say ‘law-maker’. The authority that God gives His judges and leaders is an awesome power, and one which God will grant success if you abide in His fear.
(7) Arrogance is hateful before God and all of humanity, and injustice is outrageous to both.
(8) Sovereignty is transferred from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.
(9) How can he who is dust and ashes be proud? for even as he lives, he insides are decaying.
(10) The physician scoffs are a long illness, but the king of today will be dead tomorrow.
(11) For when a man is dead he will inherit reptiles, and wild animals, and worms.
(12) The beginning of man’s arrogance is to depart from the Lord, for his heart has forsaken his Maker.
(13) For the beginning of arrogance is sin, and the man who clings to it will pour out an abomination. Therefore the Lord will bring upon them extraordinary afflictions, and completely destroyed them.
(14) The Lord has pulls down the thrones of rulers, and seats the gentle in their place.
(15) The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place.
(16) The Lord overthrows the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
(17) He has removes some of them and destroys them, and puts an end to the memory of them on the earth.
(18) Arrogance was not created by humanity, nor fierce anger by the offspring of women.
The original Hebrew serves as an interesting backdrop to the Greek here. As this is not a pure commentary, I will not go into detail here, but only provide a few points.
In this section, we find the beginning of arrogance, or pride, and in some ways, the end result of pride. We find that pride is hateful before a holy God and even before all of humanity. Both must consider pride as an injustice.
In 8b the Hebrew reads (replace on account of…) ‘because of violence of pride). Because of the violence that pride causes, or perhaps pride itself is a violence before God and Man, the sovereignty of a nation (or the ministry of a man) is removed and bestowed upon another. We know of all manners of violence – abuse, rape, libel, slander, physical, emotional – but pride? Is pride really a type of violence? Think of it this way: Pride causes a sin; sin is a rebellion against God; rebellion is violence; thus pride is violence.
Verse 9 is made the more poignant in the Hebrew which reads, ‘Why should dust and ashes be proud when his entrails are decaying even as he lives?”
In verse 12 the Hebrew reads ‘The beginning of arrogance is when a man becomes shameless’. The Hebrew and the Greek both offer the truth. When a man forgets his Maker, Saviour, Redeemer, and becomes his own ruler, judge, god and lord, he is without shame and has departed from the Lord, the only God.
(19) What race is worthy of honor? The human race. What race is worthy of honor? Those who fear the Lord. What race is unworthy of honor? The human race. What race is unworthy of honor? Those who transgress the commandments.
(20) Among brothers their leader is worthy of honor, and those who fear the Lord are worthy of honor in his eyes.
(21) The fear of the Lord goes before the gain of authority: but in roughness and pride one will loose it.
(22) The rich, and the eminent, and the poor – they glory in the fear of the Lord.
(23) It is not right to despise an intelligent poor man, nor is it proper to honor a sinful man.
(24) The nobleman, and the judge, and the ruler will be honored, but none of them is greater than the man who fears the Lord.
(25) Free men will be at the service of a wise servant, and a man of understanding will not grumble.
Sirach closes this section with the passage that has stuck with me for the past 5 years, so I will start there. A bishop has a great job indeed, as does the pastor and the evangelist. The music director is talented. The youth leader is great with children. The grounds committee has the best looking campus in town. The bulletin and newsletters are done with professionalism. The well-off fund every project needed. The pastor has well-prepared sermons. The evangelists are leaders revivals all over the world. Yet, the man who fears God is greater than all of these.
What? Do I think that these wonderful things can be done with the fear of God? Yes. It is well written and documented that God is not always behind the scenes in the things that ‘give Him glory’. Yet the poor wise men and women who glory in the the fear of the Lord, in whose fear the authority is gained, and who is honoured among the brothers and sisters, in these men and women, often nameless, is the greatest work of the Lord.
Finally, let us say that in wisdom do we fear the Lord and it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. Let us support our clergy and pray that God strengthens them. Let us pray that we no more than the wise servant, no more than one who fears the Lord. Let us ora et labora that our city will not see ruin, but grow and prosper for the Kingdom of God