The Qumran prayer of thanksgiving (Sir 51:13-51:20)

“Give thanks to the good Lord!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of praises!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the guardian of Israel!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to him who formed all things!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the redeemer of Israel!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to him who gathers the dispersed of Israel!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to him who rebuilt his city and sanctuary!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to him who makes a horn to sprout

For the house of David!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to him who had chosen the sons of Zadok

To be priests!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the shield of Abraham!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the rock of Isaac!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the mighty one of Jacob!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to him who has chosen Zion!

His mercy endures forever.

Give thanks to the King of the kings of kings!

His mercy endures forever.

He has raised up a horn for his people.

Praise for all his loyal ones.

The children of Israel praise the Lord!

The people close to him praise the Lord!”

This is called the Qumran hymn of thanksgiving because this Hebrew hymn was found in a Qumran cave there, but not in the Greek text. It is very reminiscent of Psalm 136, with the repeated chant of “his mercy endures forever.” However, they are thankful for other things than in Psalm 136. Obviously the Lord is good and merciful. The Lord is the guardian and redeemer of Israel who formed all things. However, he now has gathered the dispersed Israelites. He has rebuilt the Temple and the sanctuary. He has protected the royal sprout of David, but also the priestly sons of Zadok. The Lord also gave the shield of Abraham, the rock of Isaac, and the mighty Jacob. He chose Zion for the king of kings. He raised up a horn of plenty for his people and those loyal to him. Thus the children of Israel and those close to him should praise the Lord.

The stranger (Sir 29:25-29:28)

“You will play the host.

You will provide drink

Without being thanked. Besides this

You will hear rude words. ‘Come here!

Stranger!

Prepare the table! Let me eat

What you have there!

Be off!

Stranger!

An honored guest is here!

My brother has come

For a visit!

I need the guest–room!’ It is hard

For a sensible person

To bear.

There is the scolding

About lodging.

There is the reproach

Of the moneylender.”

If you are a stranger in someone else’s house, you will have to play the part of a host and bartender without being thanked. People will speak rude words about you, since you are the stranger. This is somewhat reminiscent of Albert Camus and his 1942 work about the “Stranger.” You will be accepted for what you do, but at the same time you will not be really truly accepted for who you are.  You will not fully fit in.  You, the stranger, will be asked to be a waiter, almost like a servant. You will be moved around, depending on who is coming to the house. You many actually lose your room because a relative might come for a visit. These are some of the difficulties for the lodger staying in a strange house. You will be scolded about your renting as well as receive the criticism of the moneylenders.

Be careful (Sir 13:1-13:2)

“Whoever touches pitch

Gets dirty.

Whoever associates

With a proud person

Becomes like him.

Do not lift a weight

Too heavy for you.

Do not associate

With one mightier than you.

Do not associate

With one richer than you.

How can the clay pot associate

With the iron kettle?

The pot will strike against it.

The clay pot will be smashed.”

Be careful in your life. Do not touch the black pitch or you will get dirty. If you associate with proud people, you will become proud like them. Do not lift things that are too heavy for you. Do not associate with someone richer than you are. Otherwise you will be like the poor clay pot that gets smashed by the rich iron kettle, which is reminiscent of one of Aesop’s fables.

Prayer to obtain wisdom (Wis 9:1-9:4)

“O God of my ancestors!

Lord of mercy!

You have made all things by your word.

By your wisdom

You have formed humankind.

They have dominion

Over the creatures you have made.

You rule the world in holiness.

You rule the world in righteousness.

You pronounce judgment

In uprightness of soul.

Give me the wisdom

That sits by your throne.

Do not reject me

From among your servants.”

This prayer is reminiscent of the prayer of Solomon in 1Kings, chapter 8, and his request for wisdom (σοφίαν) in chapter 3. This author, like Solomon, recognized the creative work (ποιήσας τὰ πάντα) of the merciful Lord (Κύριε τοῦ ἐλέους) and God of his ancestors (θεος πατέρων). Very wisely (τῇ σοφίᾳ), with his words (ἐν λόγῳ σου) God created humans (ἄνθρωπον) to have dominion over all the creatures since he ruled the world with holiness and righteousness (δικαιοσύνῃ).

The demand for wisdom (Wis 8:17-8:21)

“When I considered these things inwardly,

I pondered in my heart.

In kinship with wisdom

There is immortality.

In friendship with her,

There is pure delight.

In the labors of her hands,

There is unfailing wealth.

In the experience of her company,

There is understanding.

There is renown in sharing her words.

I went about seeking

How to get her for myself.

As a child

I was naturally gifted.

A good soul fell to my lot.

Rather being good,

I entered an undefiled body.

But I perceived

That I would not possess wisdom

Unless God gave her to me.

It was a mark of insight

To know whose gift she was.

So I appealed to the Lord.

I implored him.

With my whole heart,

I said.”

This author considered these things in his heart. When you are related to wisdom you have immortality (ἀθανασία ἐν συγγενείᾳ σοφίας). There is delight in her friendship and her laboring hands. There is wealth and understanding in her company. You will become famous by sharing her words. He wanted wisdom for himself. He had been a gifted child. Interesting enough there is the Platonic thought of the pre-existent soul (ψυχῆς) that was united to a wonderful body (εἰς σῶμα ἀμίαντον). He realized that he could not possess wisdom unless God gave (ὁ Θεὸς δῷ) him this gift (χάρις) to him. Thus he appealed and implored the Lord (τῷ Κυρίῳ) with his whole heart (ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας μου). This is reminiscent of the story in 1 Kings, chapter 3, when King Solomon asked Yahweh for the gift of wisdom.

Vanity of vanities (Eccl 1:2-1:3)

“‘Vanity of vanities!’

Says Qoheleth.

‘Vanity of vanities!

All is vanity!

What do people gain

From all the toil

At which they toil

Under the sun?’”

This book starts with a poem to vanity. This is the superlative Hebrew usage of hebel. What is the worst vanity? This hebel is vapor or something unsubstantial, futile or vain. This term “vanity” occurs over 38 times here in this biblical book that shows the futility of humans. Is everything vain and futile? What is the reward for hard work? If all you do is work hard under the sun, what is your reward. This is somewhat reminiscent of Job and his laments.

The wise one speaks (Prov 22:17-22:19)

“The words of the wise

Incline your ear!

Hear my words!

Apply your mind to my teaching.

It will be pleasant,

If you keep them within you.

It will be pleasant,

If all of them are ready on your lips.

Your trust may be in Yahweh.

I have made them known to you today,

Yes,

To you.”

Now we suddenly switch backs to the words of the wise, rather than the Proverbs of Solomon. Who then is this wise one or wise ones? Some have speculated that these were the wise friends of Solomon. However, the style is reminiscent of the first few chapters in the prologue. The request is that you incline your ears and hear his words. The use of the singular might mean one individual. Quite frankly, we have to say that we do not know who this wise man is. However, you are asked to apply your mind to his teaching. This will go well, that is pleasant, if you keep his words within you, ready on your lips. Basically you must trust Yahweh. The wise man has made it known to you, explicitly you, today. So listen up!

Getting old (Ps 37:25-37:26)

Nun    

“I have been young.

Now I am old.

Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.

I have not seen their children begging bread.

They are ever giving liberally and lending.

Their children become a blessing.”

This is the prayer of the old man. This is somewhat reminiscent of Job. All his life he had not seen the righteous deserted. Their children were not begging for bread. They were generous in giving and lending. Their children became a blessing to them.