The test of human speech (Sir 27:4-27:7)

“When a sieve is shaken,

The refuse remains.

Thus a person’s faults appear

When he speaks.

The kiln tests

The potter’s vessels.

Thus the test of a person

Is in his conversation.

The fruit discloses

The cultivation of a tree.

Thus a person’s speech

Discloses the cultivation of his mind.

Do not praise anyone

Before he speaks.

This is the way people are tested.”

When cooking, people often use a sieve to only let the good grains go through. So when a sieve is shaken, the refuse remains. In the same way, when a person speaks, their faults appear. Just as a potter’s work is finished or tested in the furnace kiln, so too human conversation is a test. Just as the fruit of a tree reveals how well the tree was cultivated, so too a person’s speech reveals how his or her mind has been cultivated. Thus you should not praise anyone until they have spoken. Human conversation is how we test each other.

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How a carpenter makes false idols (Wis 13:11-13:16)

“A skilled woodcutter

May saw down a tree

That is easy to handle.

He skillfully strips off all its bark.

Then with pleasing workmanship

He makes a useful vessel

That serves life’s needs.

He burns the castoff pieces of his work.

Thus he prepares his food.

He eats his fill.

But he takes a castoff piece

From among them,

That is useful for nothing,

A crooked stick,

Full of knots.

He carves with care in his leisure.

He shapes it with skill gained in idleness.

He forms it in the likeness of a human being.

He makes it like some worthless animal.

He gives it a coat of red paint.

He colors its surface red.

He covers every blemish in it with paint.

Then he makes a suitable niche for it.

He sets it in the wall.

He fastens it there with iron.

He takes thought for it.

Thus it may not fall.

Because he knows

That it cannot help itself.

It is only an image.

It has need of help.”

This is a satirical description of how these false images were made by a skilled woodcutter or carpenter. Obviously this carpenter makes some useful vessels for eating and other purposes. He takes a tree and strips the bark. He then burns the left over wood for cooking. However, he may take some of this useless crooked knotted wood and carve some images in his spare time. He will probably make an image of a human (εἰκόνι ἀνθρώπου) or an animal. Then he will paint it red to cover all the blemishes. After that, he will fasten it with iron on a wall niche in an area so that it will not fall off. He knows that his carved image needs help to sit on a wall. Clearly there is nothing divine about this process or the resulting useless image (εἰκὼν).

Esau gives up his birthright (Gen 25:29-25:34)

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished.  Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’  Therefore he was called Edom.  Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’  Esau said, ‘I am about to die.  What use is a birthright to me?’  Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew.  He ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

One day when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field hungry.  He wanted to eat the red stew because he was famished.  Somehow his name is connected with Edom that seemed to have red clay.  Jacob, the wise one, asked for Esau’s birthright in exchange for the stew.  Esau thought that the birthright was worth nothing since he was dying of hunger.  Jacob made him swear to give his birthright to him in order to eat the stew.  Esau swore, ate the red lentil stew, and gave away his inheritance.  The motto of this story is to never negotiate on an empty stomach.