The profit motive (Sir 27:1-27:3)

“Many have committed sin

For a trifle gain.

Whoever seeks to get rich

Will avert their eyes.

As a stake is driven firmly

Into a fissure between stones,

So sin is wedged

In between

Selling and buying.

If a person is not steadfast

In the fear of the Lord,

His house

Will be quickly overthrown.”

Sirach reminds us that many sins have been committed over the attempt to make a small profit. Those who seek to get rich turn their eyes away from morality. Just as a stake is usually placed between 2 stones, so too you will find some sin between the buying and selling of a product. If you are not steadfast in your fear of the Lord, your house will be quickly overthrown. Sirach was no friend of capitalism.

Mourning for the foolish (Sir 22:11-22:12)

“Weep for the dead!

They have left the light behind.

Weep for the foolish!

They have left intelligence behind.

Weep less bitterly for the dead!

They are at rest.

The life of the fool is

Worse than death.

Mourning for the dead

Lasts seven days.

But for the foolish ungodly,

It lasts all their lives.”

Sirach makes an interesting comparison between the foolish living persons and the dead people. You should weep for the dead because they no longer see the light of day. However, you should also weep for the foolish ones because they have left intelligence behind. At least the dead have rest, but the fools live a life worse than death. Mourning for the dead should last 7 days, but you should mourn a lifetime for the foolish and ungodly people because they have no intelligence.

True and false wisdom (Sir 19:20-19:22)

“The whole of wisdom

Is fear of the Lord.

In all wisdom,

There is the fulfillment

Of the law.

There is knowledge

Of his omnipresence.

When a slave cries

To his master.

‘I will not act

As you wish’

Even if later he does it,

He angers the one

Who supports him.

The knowledge of wickedness

Is not wisdom.

There is not prudence

In the counsel of sinners.”

Sirach reminds us of the difference between true and false wisdom. True and all wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord. True wisdom follows the law, knowing that God is everywhere. Sirach uses a comparison between a slave and us. We should never say to the Lord that we are not going to do something, even if we do it later. We will anger God, the one who supports us. On the other hand, the knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom. There is no prudence among the counsel of sinners.

Stay with your own kind (Sir 13:15-13:20)

“Every creature loves its like.

Every person loves his neighbor.

All living beings associate

With their own kind.

People stick close to those

Like themselves.

What does a wolf have in common

With a lamb?

No more has a sinner anything in common

With the devout.

What peace is there

Between a hyena and a dog?

What peace is there

Between the rich and the poor?

Wild asses in the wilderness

Are the prey of lions.

Likewise the poor

Are feeding grounds for the rich.

Humility is an abomination

To the proud.

Likewise the poor are an abomination

To the rich.”

Sirach tells us that people and creatures like to stick with their own kind. There is a natural born prejudice to stay with your own kind of people. Everybody usually loves their neighbors. Why else would they live there? A wolf and a lamb have nothing in common, just like the sinner and the devout do not have anything in common. There can never be peace between hyenas and dogs, so too the animosity between rich and poor cannot be bridged. Wild donkeys are the prey of lions, so too are the poor the feeding grounds of the rich. The rich take advantage of the poor. The proud hate the humble, just like the rich hate the poor.

The fate of the children of the ungodly (Wis 4:3-4:6)

“But the prolific brood of the ungodly

Will be of no use.

None of their illegitimate seedlings

Will strike a deep root.

They will not take a firm hold.

Even if they put forth boughs for a while,

Standing insecurely,

They will be shaken

By the wind.

They will be uprooted

By the violence of the winds.

Their branches will be broken off

Before they come to maturity.

Their fruit will be useless.

It will not be ripe enough to eat.

It is good for nothing.

Children born of unlawful unions

Are witnesses of evil

Against their parents,

When God examines them.”

This author makes a comparison between the children of the ungodly (ἀσεβῶν) from unlawful unions and a tree. Even if they have a lot of children, they will be of no use. These children will not have deep roots so that they will not last. The strong winds will uproot them. The branches of these trees, if they survive, will break off before they reach maturity. They will have useless fruit that will not be ripe enough to eat. The children of these unlawful unions (ἀνόμων ὕπνων τέκνα) are witnesses to the evil (μάρτυρές εἰσι πονηρίας) of their parents. God will examine them. Just as in the preceding chapter, this is a very strong rebuke of the so-called bastard children of these ungodly unlawful unions.

Good conduct at the Temple (Eccl 5:1-5:3)

“Guard your steps

When you go

To the house of God.

To draw near

To listen is better

Than to offer the sacrifice of fools.

They do not know

How to keep from doing evil.

‘Never be rash with your mouth!

Do not let your heart be quick

To utter a word before God.

God is in heaven.

You are on earth.

Therefore let your words be few!

Dreams come with many cares.

A fool’s voice comes with many words.’”

Be careful when you go up to the house of God, the Temple. It is better to listen than to offer the sacrifice of fools. These sacrificing fools do not know how to keep from doing evil. This appears to be a little bit against the sacrifices at the Temple. Then there is the stern warning of Qoheleth. Don’t be rash with your mouth. Don’t be quick to utter words before God. He reminded everyone that there was a difference between heaven and earth. God is in heaven and you are not. Therefore, you do not need to use a lot of words in your prayer. Dreams make us worry. A fool uses many words, so do not be like a fool. There is a discrepancy of one verse between the Bible of Jerusalem and the Oxford Bible for the next few verses. The phrasing is the same but verse 1 of chapter 5 is verse 17 of the Bible of Jerusalem.

The wise Qoheleth (Eccl 1:15-1:18)

“‘What is crooked cannot be made straight.

What is lacking cannot be counted.’

I said to myself.

‘I have acquired great wisdom.            

My wisdom surpasses all

Who were over Jerusalem before me.

My mind has had great experience of wisdom.

My mind has had great experience of knowledge.

I applied my mind to know wisdom.

I applied my mind to know madness.

I applied my mind to know folly.

I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

In much wisdom

Is much vexation.

Those who increases knowledge

Increase sorrow.’”

This book once again has the first person singular of Qoheleth speaking. He points out, quite correctly, that the crooked cannot be made straight. However, you can come close. On the other hand, there is no doubt that you cannot count something that is not there. Then Qoheleth gets quite personal. He explains that he has great wisdom and knowledge, greater than anyone whoever was in Jerusalem before him. He knows the difference between wisdom, madness, and folly. In a kind of reversal of the Proverbs, he seems to imply that that with all this wisdom, he is still like chasing after the wind. More problems and vexation come with wisdom. There is an increase in sorrow that comes with more knowledge. Wisdom is not the be all and end all like in Proverbs.

Yahweh is present everywhere (Ps 139:7-139:12)

“Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven,

You are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol,

You are there!

If I take the wings of the morning,

If I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

Even there your hand shall lead me.

Your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say.

‘Surely the darkness shall cover me.

The light around becomes night.’

Even the darkness is not dark to you.

The night is as bright as the day.

The darkness is as light to you.”

David wanted to know where he could go to avoid the presence of Yahweh. He wanted to know where he could go without Yahweh’s spirit not being there. If he went to heaven, obviously Yahweh would be there. However, he also said that if he went down to Sheol, the underworld of eternal darkness, Yahweh would be there also. If he flew to the farthest place in the sky or the sea, Yahweh would still be there. His hand held him tightly. Even in darkness he could not escape. For Yahweh, there was no difference between day and night, he had infra-red vision to see him whether it was dark or not. Thus the presence of Yahweh was everywhere. He was omnipresent.

Elihu explained the advantage of being a sinner (Job 35:1-35:4)

“Elihu continued and said.

‘Do you think this to be just?

You say.

‘I am in the right before God.’

If you ask?

‘What advantage do I have?

How am I better off than if I had sinned?’

I will answer you

And your friends with you.”

Elihu was going to explain why it was better for Job to admit that he was a sinner. He wanted to show the difference between proclaiming that he was just and that of admitting that he had sinned. He was going to explain it to Job and his 3 friends that it was better to admit to sinning rather than proclaiming his righteous.

The marriage contract (Tob 7:11-7:13)

“However, Tobias said.

‘I will neither eat nor drink anything

Until you settle the things that pertain to me.’

Raguel said.

‘I will do so.

She is given to you

In accordance with the decree in the Book of Moses.

It has been decreed from heaven that she be given to you.

Take your kinswoman.

From now on you are her brother.

She is your sister.

She is given to you from today and forever.

May the Lord of heaven, my child,

Guide and prosper you both this night.

May he grant you mercy and peace.’

Then Raguel summoned his daughter Sarah. When she came to him he took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias, saying.

‘Take her to be your wife in accordance with the law

And the decree written in the Book of Moses.

Take her!

Bring her safely to your father!

May the God of heaven make your journey

Prosperous with his peace.’

Then he called her mother. He told her to bring writing material. He wrote out a copy of the marriage contract. This said that he gave her to him as wife according to the decree of the Law of Moses.”

Tobias said that he was not going to eat or drink anything until this matter was settled. The marriage contract is between Tobias and Raguel, and not between Sarah and Tobias. Raguel makes all the arrangements. Raguel agreed to give his daughter to Tobias according to the Book of Moses. It is unclear what Book of Moses this is referring to. The only possible reference might be the marriage of Isaac in Genesis, chapter 24. After all the arrangements were made, finally the daughter Sarah appeared. Then there was the famous giving of the hand of the daughter from the father to the groom, the man. In this case, Sarah had no consent. She simply did what her father wanted her to do. In fact, the mother was not even present. She was called in to get some writing materials. Then Raguel wrote out the marriage contract according to the Law of Moses. This clearly was a legal written contract with nothing to do with romantic love. Tobias was to bring his new bride home to his father.