The folly of the Egyptian idols (Wis 15:14-15:17)

“But most foolish,

More miserable than an infant,

Are all the enemies

Who oppressed your people.

They thought

That all their heathen idols were gods.

These have

Neither the use of their eyes to see with,

Nor nostrils with which to draw breath,

Nor ears with which to hear,

Nor fingers to feel with.

Their feet are of no use for walking.

A human being made them.

One whose spirit is borrowed

Formed them.

None can form gods

That are like themselves.

People are mortal.

What they make with lawless hands is dead.

They are better than the objects they worship.

Since they have life,

But the idols never had.”

Next this author turns to the historic oppressors of the Israelites, the Egyptians, without naming them. He points out the ineptitude of their idol gods (θεούς). These idols could not see, breathe, hear, feel, or walk, as they lacked the five basic senses. Humans (ἄθρωπος) made them. Any spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα) they might have, was borrowed from humans. People do not make gods (Θεόν) of themselves because they are mortal. Thus they can only make dead images. In fact, these idol makers were better than the dead objects (νεκρὸν) that they made, since they had life, while their images did not.

The false worship of kings (Wis 14:17-14:21)

“When people could not honor monarchs

In their presence,

Since they lived at a distance,

They imagined their appearance from far away.

They made a visible image of the king,

Whom they honored.

Thus by their zeal

They might flatter the absent one as though present.

Then the ambition of the craftsman impelled

Even those who did not know the king

To intensify their worship.

Perhaps wishing to please his ruler,

They skillfully forced the likeness

To take a more beautiful form.

The multitude,

Attracted by the charm of their work,

Now regarded as an object of worship

The one whom shortly before

They had honored as a man.

This became a hidden trap for humankind.

Because men,

In bondage to misfortune

Or to royal authority,

Bestowed on objects of stone

Or wood

The name that ought not to be shared.”

How did kings and rulers become gods? Once again this author has an explanation of how this happened. First, some of the subjects never saw the king because they lived too far away. Since they wanted to know what he looked like, a visible image was created. With the passage of time, the artisans made the king look better than in real life. Thus the worship of the king’s image became a worship object to those who never met the ruler or king. Gradually these beautiful objects of stone became objects of worship because of royal authority. The similarity between the ruler and God was now complete. The ruler was a god so that his image should be worshipped. This was particularly true in the Hellenistic times.

Origin of the worship of idols (Wis 14:12-14:14)

“The idea of making idols

Was the beginning of fornication.

The invention of them

Was the corruption of life.

They did not exist from the beginning.

Nor will they last forever.

Through human vanity

They entered the world.

Therefore their speedy end

Has been planned.”

According to this author, fornication or prostitution (πορνείας) began when they started making idols (εἰδώλων). Their invention led to the corruption of life (ζωῆς) since they did not exist at the beginning (ἀρχῆς) of time. However, they will not last forever. They entered the world (εἰς κόσμον) through human vanity so that they will have a speedy end. Clearly sexual activity was tied to these idols, but they had an uncertain future.

Ship’s wooden idols and providence (Wis 14:1-14:5)

“Again,

One preparing to sail,

About to voyage over raging waves,

Calls upon a piece of wood

More fragile than the ship that carries him.

It was desire for gain

That planned that vessel.

Wisdom was the artisan who built it.

But it is your providence,

O Father!

That steers its course.

Because you have given it a path in the sea,

A safe way through the waves.

You show that you can save it from every danger.

Thus even a person who lacks skill

May put to sea.

It is your will

That works of your wisdom

Should not be without effect.

Therefore people trust their lives

Even to the smallest piece of wood.

They pass through the billows

On a raft

So that they come safely to land.”

Apparently there was a custom to put a wooden idol on the front or the prow of the ship to protect them. Even today we see some sort of decoration on the front of ships. Obviously, this decorative idol was less firm than the whole ship. However, this author points out that it was the wisdom (σοφίᾳ) of the carpenter and the desire for gain that built the ships. God was the providence (πρόνοια) and father (πάτερ) of all who steered their course through the waves of the sea. Once again, this is a Greek philosophical and biblical concept about providence guiding the world. Thus even those who lacked skill were still protected by divine wisdom (τῆς σοφίας). People put trust in the tiniest piece of wood to guide them through rough patches on the sea.

The worship of idols (Wis 13:10-13:10)

“But miserable,

With their hopes set on dead things,

Are those Who give the name ‘gods’

To the works of men’s hands.

That is gold fashioned with skill.

That is silver fashioned with skill,

In the likenesses of animals.

That is a useless stone,

The work of an ancient hand.”

Now this author is much more opposed to the works of human hands seen as gods (θεοὺς ἔργα χειρῶν ἀνθρώπων) rather than works of nature, which were not as bad. These idol worship people are miserable. They put their hopes in dead things and called them gods. These skillful art works of gold and silver were usually in the form of some kind of animal. These ancient man made stones that were considered useless.

God’s attitude towards Canaan (Wis 12:3-12:7)

“Those who lived long ago in your holy land,

You hated for their detestable practices.

They had their works of sorcery.

They had their unholy rites.

They had their merciless slaughter of children.

They had their sacrificial feasting of human flesh.

They had their sacrificial feasting of human blood.

These were initiates from the midst of a heathen cult.

These were parents who murdered helpless lives.

You willed to destroy them

By the hands of our ancestors.

Thus the land is the most precious of all to you.

Thus you might receive a worthy colony

Of the children of God.”

Now this author turns to God’s holy land (τῆς ἁγίας σου γῆς) of Canaan and its former inhabitants who lived there long ago. They had detestable practices of sorcery. They had rites of sacrificial children with feasting on human flesh and blood. These heathen cults had parents kill their helpless children. God wanted to destroy all of them because the land was so precious. Thus there he created a colony for the children of God (Θεοῦ παίδων).

Divine punishment towards Egypt (Wis 11:15-11:20)

“In return for their foolish thoughts,

In return for their wicked thoughts,

Which led them astray

To worship irrational serpents,

To worship worthless animals,

You sent upon them

A multitude of irrational creatures

To punish them.

Thus they might learn

That one is punished

By the very things

By which one sins.

Your all-powerful hand,

Which created the world out of formless matter,

Did not lack the means to send upon them

A multitude of bears,

Or bold lions,

Or newly created unknown beasts full of rage,

Or such as breathe out fiery breath,

Or belch forth a thick pall of smoke,

Or flash terrible sparks from their eyes.

Not only could the harm they did destroy people,

But the mere sight of them could kill by fright.

Even apart from these,

People could fall at a single breath

When pursued by justice.

They could be scattered by the breath of your power.

But you have arranged all things by measure.

You have arranged all things by number.

You have arranged all things by weight.”

The divine plague punishments could have been much worse for the Egyptians in Exodus, chapters 9-11. In fact, this author implies that God was mild with his punishments because the Egyptians had foolish and wicked thoughts that led them to worship serpents and animals. God very kindly sent them only irrational creatures like frogs, mosquitoes, flies, and gnats to punish them. He could have sent them a multitude of bears or bold lions. He might have sent them unknown beasts full of rage that would breathe out fire and belch out smoke, with flashing terrible sparks in their eyes that could have killed them with fright. God could have made them fall with a single breath or scattered them through the world, but he carefully arranged all this according to his measure, number, and weight.

The father of the world (Wis 10:1-10:2)

“Wisdom protected

The first-formed father of the world.

He alone had been created.

She delivered him

From his transgression.

She gave him strength

To rule all things.”

Now this author traces the role of God and wisdom in the history of mankind. Interesting enough, this section starts with wisdom, she and not God. She protected the one (μόνον) first father of the world (πρωτόπλαστον πατέρα κόσμου), who is not explicitly given a name. However, this is clearly based on the first chapter of Genesis. She delivered this first formed man from his transgression. It seems that he was already forgiven. In fact, wisdom gave him dominion over all things.

The presence of wisdom (Wis 9:9-9:12)

“With you is wisdom.

She knows your works.

She was present

When you made the world.

She understands

What is pleasing in your sight.

She understands

What is right

According to your commandments.

Send her forth

From the holy heavens.

From the throne of your glory

Send her!

Thus she may labor at my side.

Thus I may learn what is pleasing to you.

She knows all things.

She understands all things.

She will guide me wisely in my actions.

She will guard me with her glory.

Then my works will be acceptable.

I shall judge your people justly.

I shall be worthy

Of the throne of my father.”

Wisdom (ἡ σοφία) was present with God when he made the world (ἐποίεις τὸν κόσμον). She understands what is pleasing and what is right according to the commandments. She was sent from the holy heavens (ἐξ ἁγίων οὐρανῶν) and the throne of glory (θρόνου δόξης σου). Thus she labors on earth. She knows and understands all things. She guides and guards this author. Then the author as King Solomon declared that he would judge his people fairly so that he would be worthy of the throne of his father (θρόνων πατρός μου), presumably David.

The chosen king (Wis 9:5-9:7)

“I am your servant.

I am the son of your serving girl.

I am a man who is weak.

I am short-lived.

I have little understanding of judgment.

I have little understanding of laws.

Even one who is perfect among human beings

Will be regarded as nothing

Without the wisdom that comes from you.

You have chosen me

To be king of your people.

You have chosen me,

To be judge over your sons.

You have chosen me

To be judge over your daughters.”

This author seems to assume the role of Solomon, claiming that he was chosen king by God, with the so-called divine right of kings. In fact, from 1 Kings, chapters1-2, there were some machinations by King David and Bathsheba, his wife and Solomon’s mother, to make this happen. However, this author pleads humility since he was merely the son of a servant girl. Thus he says that he was weak and short-lived, with littler understanding of judgment and laws. Probably he should not have been made king based on this. However, it was God’s wisdom (σοῦ σοφίας) that made him capable of being king (βασιλέα).