“All the works of the Lord
Are very good.
Whatever he commands
Will be done
At the appointed time.
No one can say.
‘What is this?’
‘Why is that?’
At the appointed time,
All such questions
Will be answered.
At his word,
The waters stood in a heap.
The reservoirs of water
Stop in a heap
At the word of his mouth.
At his commands,
His every purpose is fulfilled.
None can limit his saving power.
The works of all
Are before him.
Nothing can be hidden
From his eyes.
From the beginning
To the end of time,
He can see everything.
Nothing is too marvelous for him.
No one can say.
‘What is this?’
‘Why is that?’
Everything has been created
For its own purpose.”
Sirach begins this hymn of praise to the Lord by saying that all his works are very good. The Lord commands everything in his own time. No one should question him with what is this or why is it that way. All the questions will be answered at the appropriate time. He made the waters and the reservoirs of water stand in a heap. No one can limit his saving power since all his commands get followed. He sees everything, since nothing can be hidden from him, since the beginning of time to the end of time. Nothing is too marvelous for him. Therefore no one should question the Lord because everything has a purpose.
“A good name is better
Than precious ointment.
The day of death is better
Than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting.
This is the end of everyone.
The living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better
By sadness of countenance,
The heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise
Is in the house of mourning.
But the heart of fools is
In the house of mirth.
It is better for a man
To hear the rebuke of the wise
Than to hear the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under a pot
So is the laughter of fools.
This also is vanity.
Surely oppression makes the wise foolish.
A bribe corrupts the heart.”
Qoheleth presents a reflection on life and death, like the modern philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). With his phrase Sein zum Tode, from his book Being and Time, Heidegger meant that all human beings were destined to die. It is our purpose in life to die. Therefore we must live our life now in authenticity. Qoheleth starts off by saying how important a good name is, more prized than precious ointment. Also the day of death is more important than the day of your birth. It is better to mourn than to feast. As usual, he points out that everyone will die, so that the living must be aware of that. Sorrow was better than laughter, rather than the other way around. The heart was made glad through a sad face. The truly wise mourn, while the fools live a life of mirth. Listen to the criticisms of the wise rather than the songs of fools. Foolish laughter is like burning thorns crackling on a fire since it is pure vanity and useless. Oppression makes us wiser, but bribes corrupt the heart.
“The plans of the mind belong to mortals.
But the answer of the tongue is from Yahweh.
All one’s ways may be pure
In one’s own eyes.
But Yahweh weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to Yahweh.
Then your plans will be established.
Yahweh has made everything for its purpose,
Even the wicked for the day of trouble.”
Does God control everything? Humans have plans, but sometimes the answer of Yahweh is different. You may plan pure things in your own eyes, but Yahweh looks at the spirit. You have to commit your work to Yahweh so that he will then establish your plans. Yahweh has a purpose for everything, even the wicked are part of Yahweh’s plans.
“You have made the moon to mark the seasons.
The sun knows it’s time for setting.
You make darkness.
It is night.
Then all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey.
They seek their food from God.
When the sun rises,
They lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work.
They labor until the evening.”
Everything has a purpose. God made the moon to mark the seasons and the sun to mark the days. Thus there is night and darkness. The sun rises and sets which is perfectly correct with a flat earth concept of the world. The earth does not move around the sun. God makes the darkness. During this darkness, the animals of the forest can creep around, while the young lions can seek their prey that is food that comes from God. It almost sounds like the lions recognize God. When the sun rises on the next day, the lions return to their dens. Then the people go out to work until the evening time.
“A certain Alcimus, who had formerly been high priest but had willfully defiled himself in the times of separation, realized that there was no way for him to be safe or to have access again to the holy altar. He then went to King Demetrius in about the one hundred and fifty-first year, presenting to him a crown of gold and a palm. Besides these things he presented some of the customary olive branches from the temple. During that day he kept quiet. However, he found an opportunity that furthered his mad purpose when he was invited by Demetrius to a meeting of the council. He was asked about the attitude and intentions of the Jews.”
Once again, this is similar to 1 Maccabees, chapter 7. There it was King Demetrius I who made Alcimus the high priest from 162-159 BCE. This Alcimus was also the leader of the renegades in 1 Maccabees. Here he already is the high priest since Menelaus had preceded him as the high priest in Jerusalem before his death in 162 BCE. He had presented the new king with gold and palm branches as well as olive branches from the Temple. He had been quiet during the day, but then he was invited to a meeting with King Demetrius I and his council who wanted to know about the attitude and intentions of the Jews.
We are about to celebrate the purification,
We write to you.
Will you therefore please keep the days?
It is God who has saved all his people.
He has returned the inheritance to all,
And the consecration.
He had promised this through the law.
For we have hope in God
That he will soon have mercy on us.
He will gather us from everywhere
Under heaven into his holy place.
He has rescued us from great evils.
He has purified the place.”
Finally, this long letter ends with its purpose, an invitation to the Egyptian Jews at Alexandria to keep the 8 days of worship celebrating the renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem under Judas Maccabeus. God has saved his people. He has returned that inheritance which is kingship, priesthood, and consecration through the law. They hoped that God would have mercy on them, so that they all could gather everyone together in this holy place. God had already rescued them from many great evils and purified this place. The ideal would be to have all Jews returning to Jerusalem.