Prayer of thanksgiving (Isa 38:16-38:20)

“O Lord!

By these things

People live.

In all these is

The life of my spirit.

Restore me to health!

Make me live!

Surely it was for my welfare

That I had great bitterness.

But you held back my life

From the pit of destruction.

You have cast all my sins

Behind your back.

Sheol cannot thank you.

Death cannot praise you.

Those who go down to the pit

Cannot hope for your faithfulness.

The living,

The living,

They thank you,

As I do this day.

The father makes known to the children

Your faithfulness.

Yahweh will save me.

We will sing to stringed instruments

All the days of our lives,

At the house of Yahweh.”

Second Isaiah has King Hezekiah happy that his ordeal is over. However, he recognized that these difficulties are part of life. Once restored to health and life, he realizes that these things happened for his own good, even if he was a little bitter. Yahweh had his back, so that he never met the pit of destruction. All his sins were forgotten. Sheol and death were not able to grab him because there he would not have been able to praise or give thanks to Yahweh. There they lose all hope and faithfulness. However, it is the living ones who give praise and thanksgiving to Yahweh, as he did this day. Children learn from their fathers about faithfulness, so too Yahweh has saved him. Thus he and his friends will sing with stringed instruments at the house of Yahweh all the days of their lives.

The wounded society (Isa 1:5-1:6)

“Why do you seek further beatings?

Why do you continue to rebel?

The whole head is sick.

The whole heart is faint.

From the sole of the foot

Even to the head,

There is no soundness in it.

There are only bruises.

There are only sores.

There are bleeding wounds.

These have not been drained.

These have not been bound up.

These have not been softened with oil.”

The oracle of Yahweh, via Isaiah, continued with a comparison of this society to a sick or injured rebel. Why would they want to receive more whippings? Why did they continue to rebel against Yahweh? Their heads are sick and their hearts are weak. There is no health in them, from the soles of their feet to the tip of their head. They are bruised, with sores and bleeding wounds that have not been drained, bounded up, or cared for with oil. They are just plain suffering from head to toe.

Physicians (Sir 38:1-38:8)

“Honor physicians

For their services!

The Lord created them.

Their gift of healing

Comes from the Most High.

They are rewarded by the king.

The skill of the physicians

Makes them distinguished.

In the presence of the great men,

They are admired.

The Lord created medicines

Out of the earth.

The sensible ones

Will not despise them.

Was not water made sweet

With a tree?

Thus its power might be known.

He gave skill to human beings.

Thus he might be glorified

In his marvelous works.

By them,

The physician heals.

He takes away pain.

The pharmacist makes a mixture

From them.

God’s works

Will never be finished.

From him,

Health spreads over all the earth.”

Were physicians thought of as witch doctors or a kind of false idol worship? Sirach has a strong defense of these physicians. They are actually continuing the creative work of the Most High God with his gift of healing to the people. These distinguished and admired medical doctors are honored by kings because of their skills. The Lord has created healing medicines from the earth. Do not despise their human skills that heal and take away pain. The pharmacists make these mixtures to help the work of God, whose work is never finished. Thus health will spread over all the earth. Sirach has a definite pro-physician and pro-pharmacist attitude, unlike some Christian Scientists who are against medical doctors.

Fear of the Lord (Sir 34:14-34:20)

“The spirit of those

Who fear the Lord

Will live.

Their hope is in him

Who saves them.

Those who fear the Lord

Will not be timid.

They will not play the coward.

He is their hope.

Happy is the soul

That fears the Lord!

To whom does he look?

Who is his support?

The eyes of the Lord

Are on those who love him.

The Lord is a mighty shield.

The Lord is a strong support.

The Lord is a shelter

From the scorching wind.

The Lord is a shade

From the noonday sun.

The Lord is a guard

Against stumbling.

The Lord is a help

Against falling.

He lifts up the soul.

He makes the eyes sparkle.

He gives health.

He gives life.

He gives blessings.”

Sirach emphasizes the importance of fearing God with its consequences. Those who fear the Lord will live. They have hope that the Lord will save them. They will not be cowards or timid. The reason for their hope is that the Lord supports them. He loves them since he is like a shield. He provides shelter for them against the hot winds and shade against the hot midday sun. The Lord keeps them from stumbling or falling. He lifts up their souls as he makes their eyes sparkle. He gives them health, life and blessings. A lot of good things happen when you fear the Lord.

Health (Sir 30:14-30:17)

“Better off is a poor person

Who is healthy and fit

Than a rich person

Who is afflicted in his body.

Health is better

Than any gold.

Fitness is better

Than any gold.

A robust body is better

Than countless riches.

There is no wealth better

Than the health of a body.

There is no gladness

Above joy of the heart.

Death is better

Than a miserable life.

Eternal sleep is better

Than chronic sickness.”

Sirah proclaims that a poor healthy fit person is better off than an afflicted sickly rich person. Good health and fitness are better than any gold. A robust healthy body is better than wealth. A joyful heart is full of gladness. Death is better than a miserable life. Eternal death is better than a chronic sickness. Sirach almost seems to imply that euthanasia would be better than life with a chronic illness.

The praying to false idols (Wis 13:17-13:19)

“When he prays

About possessions,

His marriage,

His children,

He is not ashamed

To address a lifeless thing.

For health,

He appeals to a thing that is weak.

For life

He prays to a thing that is dead.

For aid

He entreats a thing that is utterly inexperienced.

For a prosperous journey,

He asks a thing that cannot take a step.

For money-making,

For work,

For success with his hands,

He asks strength of a thing

Whose hands have no strength.”

Now what seems ridiculous happens. This carpenter now turns to worship the image that he just created. In fact, he prays (προσευχόμενος) to this image for protection of his possessions, his marriage, and his children. He is not ashamed to speak to this lifeless image that he himself created. The author then points out the incredulity of this picture. The woodcutter prays for health to a weak piece of wood. He prays for life and asks for aid from a dead (νεκρὸν) piece of wood. He asks for help on his journey from something that cannot even walk. He asks for money and success in his work from a weak piece of wood with no strength. The irony is evident.

The esteemed wisdom (Wis 7:7-7:14)

“Therefore I prayed.

Understanding was given to me.

I called on God.

The spirit of wisdom came to me.

I preferred her to scepters and thrones.

I accounted wealth as nothing

In comparison with her.

Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem.

Because all gold is

But a little sand in her sight.

Silver will be accounted

As clay before her.

I loved her more than health.

I loved her more than beauty.

I chose to have her rather than light.

Her radiance never ceases.

All good things came to me

Along with her.

In her hands

I had uncounted wealth.

I rejoiced in them all.

Because wisdom leads them.

But I did not know

That she was their mother.

I learned without guile.

I impart without grudging.

I do not hide her wealth.

It is an unfailing treasure for mortals.

Those who get it

Obtain friendship with God.

They are commended for the gifts

That come from instruction.”

One again, assuming the first person singular of King Solomon, this author says that he prayed to God for wisdom. Understanding was given to him. The spirit of wisdom came to him (μοι πνεῦμα σοφίας). Scepters, thrones, and wealth were nothing in comparison to wisdom. Priceless gems, gold (χρυσὸς), and silver were like sand and clay compared to wisdom. He loved wisdom more than health, beauty, or light (φωτὸς) because the radiance of wisdom never ceases. Not only did he get wisdom, he also got any number of other gifts. He had wealth because wisdom was the mother or fount of all his wealth. He did not hide this treasure of wisdom. He gave this to other mortals so that they might be friends of God (οἱ χρησάμενοι πρὸς Θεὸν) with further learning and instruction (παιδείας).