Wisdom 13

The Folly of Idolatry[a]

Chapter 13

Dazzled by the World’s Beauty[b]

1 For all men were inherently foolish[c] who remained in ignorance of God,
and did not come to know him who is, even while observing the good things around them,
nor recognize the artisan while studying his works.
2 To their way of thinking, either fire or wind or the swift air,
or the periphery of the stars, or tempestuous water,
or the luminaries of heaven[d] were the gods that govern the world.
3 If they have been deluded by the beauty of these things into believing that these were gods,
let them come to understand how far superior to these is their Lord,
since he was the source of beauty that fashioned them.
4 And if they were astonished at their power and energy,
let them realize from observing these things how much more powerful is he who made them.
5 For from the grandeur and the beauty of created things
is derived a corresponding perception of the Creator.
6 Yet these people incur minimal blame,[e]
for they may have gone astray
while seeking God and eagerly desiring to find him.
7 For while diligently searching among his works,
they are distracted by the beauty of these things.
8 But even so, they cannot be completely absolved of guilt.
9 For if they achieved a sufficient degree of knowledge to investigate the world,
how did they fail to find its Lord more quickly?

Dead Gods

10 But the truly wretched ones are those who place their hopes in dead things,[f]
and give the title of gods to the work of human hands:
gold and silver skillfully fashioned,
likenesses of animals,
or useless stone sculpted by some ancient artisan.
11 [g]Consider, for example, a skilled woodworker who cuts down a suitable tree,
carefully strips it of all its bark,
and then, with admirable artistry,
produces some article suitable for daily use.
12 The small pieces of wood left over from his work
he burns so that he may cook his food and eat his fill.
13 However, left over among these remnants is a useless piece of wood,
crooked and full of knots,
which he puts aside to whittle at his leisure.
He carves it skillfully during his spare time,
forming it into the likeness of a man,
or makes it resemble some worthless animal,
14 giving it a coat of vermilion and covering its surface with red paint
while smearing over every blemish in it.
15 Then he provides for it a suitable shrine
and places it on the wall, fastening it there with nails.
16 In this way, he takes precautions so that it will not fall,
since he realizes that it cannot help itself,
for, being merely an image, it requires help.
17 But when he prays regarding his possessions or his marriage or his children,
he feels no shame in addressing this lifeless object.
18 In asking for health he petitions something that is weak,
and for life he entreats the dead;
for aid he prays to something totally inept,
and for a prosperous journey he beseeches something that is unable to walk.
19 And for profits, work, and success in affairs,
he asks the assistance of something whose hands are completely immobile.

Footnotes

  1. Wisdom 13:1 For Jews in the first century B.C., the collision between faith in God and the paganism of Egypt was verified in their own conscience. The author sets before them a systematic criticism of the pagan cults, a criticism that is at times simplistic and takes no account of the religious sentiment that animated those who practiced them (see Ps 115; Isa 44:9-20). He does not act as an historian but as a defender of the faith.
  2. Wisdom 13:1 This path that leads to the discovery of God through the beauty of nature, reprised by Paul the Apostle (Rom 1:19-23) and so many contemplatives, remains one of the human and Christian ways to reflect on the existence of God. However, to stop at the creature in the search for God is inexcusable (Wis 13:8), although understandable (v. 6).
  3. Wisdom 13:1 Inherently foolish: literally, “vain.” The same word is often applied to false gods. Those who ignore God and follow idols are as “vain” as such gods (see Jer 2:5; Rom 1:21). Him who is: the sacred Name of God (see Ex 3:14).
  4. Wisdom 13:2 Luminaries of heaven: the Vulgate makes this phrase more specific by replacing it with “sun and moon” (see Gen 1:16). Gods that govern: see Deut 4:19.
  5. Wisdom 13:6 Minimal blame: the blame assigned to those mentioned here is much less than the blame of the wicked dealt with in verses 10; 15:14ff.
  6. Wisdom 13:10 Dead things: the author finds it hard to see why idols are worshiped, for they are without life or power. The forces of nature are at least active and fruitful and so might more readily be mistaken for gods. Above all, however, is the fact that only God is to be worshiped, for he is the “living God” (Jos 3:10; Pss 42:3, 9; 84:3; Mt 16:16).
  7. Wisdom 13:11 In the manner of the Psalmists and the Prophets, the author adopts a tone of irony that heaps scorn on idols (see Ps 135:15-18; Isa 40:19-20; Jer 10:3-5; Bar 6).

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