King Jeroboam (Sir 47:23-44:25)

“Then Jeroboam son of Nebat

Led Israel into sin.

He started Ephraim

On its sinful ways.

Their sins increased

More and more,

Until they were exiled

From their land.

They sought out

Every kind of wickedness,

Until vengeance came upon them.”

Interesting enough, Sirach talked about the king who led the Israelite northern kingdom, who was not in the Davidic line of kings. Sirach was very harsh in his judgment about the northern rebels. Their kingdom was in fact called Israel, while the southern kingdom was called Judah. Jeroboam the son of Nebat was from Ephraim, just north of Judah and Benjamin. He actually had worked for Solomon in his administration, as indicated in 1 Kings, chapters 11-14. A prophet told Jeroboam that he would be king. After a meeting with Rehoboam, Jeroboam set up a new kingdom at Shechem. His great sin was that he did not want the people to go to Jerusalem to worship. Thus he setup his own worship places. This false worship led to the downfall of the northern Kingdom of Israel (721 BCE) before that of the Kingdom of Judah (587 BCE).  The wickedness of this kingdom deserved the vengeance that came to it.

The righteous Jacob (Wis 10:9-10:12)

“Wisdom rescued from troubles

Those who served her.

When a righteous man fled

From his brother’s wrath,

She guided him on straight paths.

She showed him the kingdom of God.

She gave him knowledge of holy things.

She prospered him in his labors.

She increased the fruit of his toil.

When his oppressors were covetous,

She stood by him.

She made him rich.

She protected him from his enemies.

She kept him safe

From those who lay in wait for him.

In his arduous contest

She gave him the victory.

Thus he might learn

That godliness is more powerful

Than anything else.”

Wisdom also helped the righteous Jacob as we have a condensed version of the story of Jacob in Genesis, chapters 25-32. Of course, the unnamed Jacob is called a just man (δίκαιον) who served wisdom (σοφία). He fled from his brother’s anger after he had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Jacob had dreams that told him about the kingdom of God (βασιλείαν Θεοῦ) and the heavenly angels. Jacob went to live with Laban, the brother of his mother, or his uncle. He then married his 2 first cousins, Rachel and Leah, while he worked for his uncle. He then became rich before he got into a fight with his uncle Laban. For some reason, Jacob was considered righteous as opposed to Esau and Laban in their various disputes.

The futility of work (Eccl 4:4-4:6)

“Then I saw that all toil

 Comes from one person’s envy of another.

All skill in work

Comes from one person’s envy of another.

This also is vanity.

This is chasing after wind.

‘Fools fold their hands.

Fools consume their own flesh.

Better is a handful with quiet

Than two handfuls with toil

Chasing after wind.’”

Qoheleth saw that everyone worked with skill because of the envy that they had for others. This was useless, like chasing after the wind, never able to catch it. Fools fold their hands and devour themselves. It is much better to be quiet with a little bit of wealth than to toil with two handfuls. All work seems to be futile, like chasing after the unattainable wind.

Please God (Eccl 2:24-2:26)

“There is nothing better for mortals

Than to eat and drink.

They should find enjoyment in their toil.

This also,

I saw,

Is from the hand of God.

Apart from him,

Who can eat?

Who can have enjoyment?

To the one who pleases him,

God gives wisdom.

God gives knowledge.

God gives joy.

However to the sinner,

He gives the work of gathering.

He gives the work of heaping.

He only gives to one who pleases God.

This also is vanity.

This is a chasing after wind.”

Qoheleth continues his comments with the philosophical argument of Epicurus (341-270 BCE). You should enjoy your life in eating, drinking, and working. Qoheleth claims that this is from the hand of God. How can anything happen without God? God is the one who gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy. This was the typical idea that the sinner worked and gathered but was not pleasing to God. Therefore the poor sinner did not get rich. The poor person gave his harvest over to those who pleased God. Once again, this is vanity and like chasing the wind for the poor person.

The adventurers cannot find wisdom (Job 28:9-28:11)

“They put their hand to the flinty rock.

They overturn mountains by the roots.

They cut out channels in the rocks.

Their eyes see every precious thing.

They probe the sources of the rivers.

Hidden things they bring to light.”

Even the great adventurers and the various inventions of those days do not find wisdom. The invention of fire with flint was a big deal. Overturning mountains was a massive task. Cutting channels in rocks was not easy. They used their eyesight to find precious metals. They even tried to figure out the sources of the rivers. They were looking for hidden items by bringing light to them. These were the adventurers and discoverers of 2,500 years ago. They wanted to know about things and how they worked. Yet they never found wisdom.

Job describes his difficult human life (Job 7:1-7:6)

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth?

Are not their days like the days of a laborer?

Are not their days like a slave who longs for the shadow?

Are not their days like laborers who look for their wages?

So I am allotted months of emptiness.

Nights of misery are apportioned to me.

When I lie down I say.

‘When shall I arise?’

But the night is long.

I am full of tossing until dawn.

My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt.

My skin hardens.

Then my skin breaks out again.

My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.

They come to their end without hope.”

This was a man in despair. He had a hard mortal life. He was like a day laborer who got paid by the day, assuming that he worked. He was like a paid mercenary. He was a like a slave who only looked for shade. All that he could hope for was his paid wages. His months were empty. His nights were miserable.   When he lay down, all he could think of was when he would get up. He tossed and turned all night long with little sleep. His flesh was full of worms and dirt. His skin hardened and then broke out again. His days went by like a weaver’s spinning wheel. In the end, there was no hope in his hopeless hard human life.