More paradoxes (Sir 34:28-34:31)

“When one builds,

Another tears down.

What do they gain

But hard work?

When one prays,

Another curses.

To whose voice

Will the Lord listen?

If one washes

After touching a corpse,

Then touches it again,

What has he gained

By his washing?

So if one fasts

For his sins,

Then goes again

And does the same things,

Who will listen

To his prayer?

What has he gained

By humbling himself?”

Sirach cites various paradoxes in life. One man builds and another tears it down. What is this except a waste of time and labor for both of them? Who does the Lord listen to, if one person prays and the other curses? If you wash after touching a dead body, then you go and touch it again, what was the point of washing in the first place? If you fast for your sins, and then go out again and sin, who would listen to your prayers? What did you gain by humbling yourself?

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Enjoy yourself (Eccl 8:15-8:15)

“So I commend enjoyment.

There is nothing better for people

Under the sun

Than to eat and drink.

Let them enjoy themselves.

This will go with them

In their toil

Through the days of life

That God gives him

Under the sun.”

Qoheleth has a response to all this ambiguity that was also found with Job. His recommendation is that they should enjoy yourselves. There is nothing better under the sun than to eat and drink. Enjoy your labor under the sun during all the days of your life that God has given you. Just relax and enjoy life.

Lost wealth (Eccl 5:13-5:17)

“There is a grievous evil ill

That I have seen under the sun.

Riches were kept

By their owners

To their hurt.

Those riches were lost

In a bad venture.

Even though they were parents of children,

They have nothing

In their hands.

As they came

From their mother’s womb,

They shall go again.

They are naked

As they came.

They shall take nothing

For their toil

That they may carry away

With their hands.

This also is a grievous ill.

Just as they came,

So shall they go!

What gain do they have

From toiling for the wind?

Besides,

All their days

They eat in darkness,

In much vexation,

In much sickness,

In much resentment?”

Now Qoheleth tells the story of evil and illness here on earth. Some rich owners got together in a bad venture. The result was that they had nothing left for their children. Thus, they would be, as they left their mother’s womb, naked. They had nothing that they could carry away for all their labor. In other words, just as they came into this world with nothing, they were going to leave it the same way, with nothing. What did they gain from all their hard work? They were chasing the wind to no avail. Thus all their days, they would eat in darkness, be troubled, sick, and resentful.

Clever ones (Prov 12:23-12:25)

“Whoever is clever

Conceals his knowledge.

But the mind of the fool

Broadcasts folly.

The hand of the diligent will rule.

The lazy will be put to forced labor.

Anxiety weighs down the human heart.

But a good word cheers it up.”

The clever person conceals their knowledge. They do not show off their wisdom. The fools, on the other hand, broadcast their folly. They speak and show how stupid they are. The diligent will rule, while the lazy ones will be forced into labor. Anxiety weights down people, but a good word can cheer people up.

Yahweh questions Job about wild oxen (Job 39:9-39:12)

“Is the wild ox willing to serve you?

Will he spend the night at your crib?

Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes?

Will it harrow the valleys after you?

Will you depend on it because its strength is great?

Will you hand over your labor to it?

Do you have faith in it that it will return?

Will it bring your grain to your threshing floor?”

Once again, Yahweh wheeled off a series of questions which imply an answer. Does the ox serve you? Does it stay with you? Does it help you with planting? Is it strong enough for you to hand over some of your labor to it? Do you have faith that the ox will stay with you and help you with your harvest? There seems to be a difference between the wild ox and the domesticated ox.

The food of Nehemiah (Neh 5:16-5:19)

“Indeed I devoted myself to the work on this wall. I acquired no land. All my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover there were at my table one hundred and fifty men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations around us. Now that which was prepared for one day was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowls were prepared for me. Skins of wine in abundance were also prepared every ten days. Yet with all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because of the heavy burden of labor on the people.

‘Remember for my good,

O my God,

All that I have done for this people.’”

Nehemiah further explained his 12 year service. He himself, “I,” worked on the wall and did not acquire any land. He even had his servants work on this wall. He had over 150 people eat at his table. He then explained what kind of meals he prepared. Normally, he had an ox and 6 sheep as well as fowls. He also had wine every 10 days. Nevertheless, he never imposed a burden on the people with the food for the governor. Finally he ended with a prayer to God to remember all the good he had done for his people.