Wisdom of Ben Sira 1

Prologue[a]

1 Many important teachings 2 have come down to us through the Law and the Prophets and the other writers who succeeded them, 3 and, as a result, praise is due to Israel for its traditions of learning and wisdom.

4 It devolves upon those who read the Scriptures not only to understand them thoroughly 5 but as lovers of learning to use their skill 6 in writing and speaking to increase the knowledge of others. 7 My grandfather Jesus, having devoted himself to the intensive reading 8 of the Law 9 and the Prophets 10 and the other Writings of our ancestors, 11 and having gained considerable proficiency in them, 12 was inspired himself to compose some writings on the subject of learning and wisdom, 13 in order that, by becoming familiar with what he had written, those who love learning 14 might achieve even greater progress in living in conformity with the Law.

15 Therefore, you are 16 invited to read this 17 attentively and with an open mind 18 and to exhibit a spirit of understanding forgiveness 19 when, despite the most diligent efforts in translation, 20 I may seem to have rendered some passages inadequately. 21 For words originally expressed in Hebrew 22 do not have the same sense when translated into another language. 23 Not only this present Book 24 but even the Law itself, the Prophets, 25 and the rest of the Books 26 differ quite a bit when they are read in the original.

27 When in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of King Euergetes 28 I arrived in Egypt and set up my residence there, 29 I discovered that the Book has great educational value,[b] 30 and I considered it essential to devote some energy and labor to its translation. 31 During this period of time I have applied my skill day and night 32 in working toward the completion of this Book 33 and supervising its publication 34 for the benefit of those living abroad who wish to acquire learning 35 and are disposed to live their lives according to the Law.

Counsels of a Teacher of Wisdom[c]

The Roots of Wisdom

Chapter 1

All Wisdom Derives from the Lord[d]

1 All wisdom[e] derives from the Lord
and remains with him forever.
2 The sands of the sea, the drops of rain,
and the days of eternity—who can count them?
3 The height of the sky, the breadth of the earth,
the depth of the abyss[f]—who can explore them?
4 Wisdom was created before all other things;
and prudent understanding has existed from eternity.
[5 The fount of wisdom is God’s word in the highest heaven,
and her ways are the eternal laws.][g]
6 To whom has the root of wisdom been revealed?
Who understands her subtleties?
[7 To whom has an understanding of wisdom been disclosed?
And who has known her resourcefulness?][h]
8 Only one is wise and greatly to be feared,
seated upon his throne—the Lord.
9 He is the one who created her,[i]
observed her, and recognized her value,
and so poured her forth upon all his works,
10 upon all flesh as he chose,
lavishing her upon those who love him.
[j][The love of the Lord is glorious wisdom;
he apportions her to those to whom he appears, that they may see him.]

The Beginning of Wisdom Is Fear of the Lord[k]

11 The fear of the Lord is glory and exultation,
happiness and a crown of joy.
12 The fear of the Lord gladdens the heart,
bestowing happiness and joy and a long life.
[l][The fear of the Lord is a gift from the Lord;
also for love he makes firm paths.]
13 The one who fears the Lord will experience a happy end;
he will be blessed on the day of his death.
14 The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord;
she is created with the faithful in their mothers’ wombs.
15 She has made her home among men an age-old foundation,
and among their descendants she will show her beneficence.
16 The fear of the Lord is the full measure of wisdom;
she intoxicates people with her fruits.
17 She fills their homes with desirable goods
and their storehouses with her fruits.
18 The crown of wisdom is the fear of the Lord
as she bestows peace and perfect health.
[m][Both are gifts of the Lord for peace;
glory opens out for those who love him.
He saw her and recognized her value.]
19 The Lord has seen and appraised her,
showering down knowledge and discerning understanding
and heightening the glory of those who possess her.
20 The root of wisdom is fear of the Lord,
and her branches bring forth long life.
[21 The fear of the Lord takes away sin,
and he who perseveres turns away all anger.][n]

Wisdom Teaches Patience[o]

22 Unjustified anger can never be excused;
anger will be the cause of a man’s downfall.
23 A patient man endures difficulties for a time,
and then he regains his sense of contentment.
24 Until the appropriate moment he keeps his thoughts to himself,
and then the lips of many affirm his wisdom.

If You Desire Wisdom, Keep the Commandments[p]

25 The treasuries of wisdom contain wise maxims,
but the fear of God is an abomination to the sinner.
26 If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments,
and the Lord will lavish her upon you.[q]
27 For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline,
fidelity and humility are his delight.
28 Do not disregard the fear of the Lord,
or approach him with a divided heart.
29 Do not act out a role before others;
keep careful watch over your lips.
30 Do not exalt yourself, lest you fall
and bring dishonor upon yourself.
For then the Lord will reveal your secrets
and overthrow you before the whole community,
since you did not practice the fear of the Lord
and your heart was full of deceit.

Footnotes

  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:1 After completing his work, the translator adds a prologue that provides interesting information. First of all the Book was written in Hebrew by his grandfather. And at that era, the sacred books were already grouped into three titles that have become traditional: the Law (or Torah), the Prophets, and the Writings (among which were the Psalms, Job, and the Sapiential texts). It was the author’s purpose to give a commentary or a meditation on these sacred texts. This prologue is generally regarded as noncanonical.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:1 I discovered . . . great educational value: some early MSS; Greek reads: “I found opportunity for no little instruction.”
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:1 There follow, in no precise plan, thoughts about disparate topics, interspersed from time to time with poetic pieces in praise of Wisdom or the Creator.
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:1 The mystery of creation seems inaccessible, and still more sublime, is the wisdom that it manifests. Thus, in the Book of Proverbs (Prov 8:22f), she is presented to us as the thought and the plan of God, his coworker in all that he has made. She is given to human beings as a grace, as the most profound treasure of their life. Every Christian is marked by the Holy Spirit with the seal of wisdom (Acts 2:17-33).
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:1 Wisdom: the author uses this word in various senses. Sometimes he speaks of wisdom as divine, at other times as human, and at still others as a synonym for God’s law. All three types derive from God. In this and the following seven verses, he is alluding to true wisdom, God’s external revelation of himself. Lord: used by the translator of Sirach for “Yahweh” and even for other divine names.
  6. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:3 Depth of the abyss: some early MSS read simply: “the abyss.”
  7. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:5 Added by some early MSS.
  8. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:7 Added by some early MSS.
  9. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:9 Created her: the Vulgate adds “in the Holy Spirit.”
  10. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:10 Added by some early MSS.
  11. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:11 The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord. But this fear is no longer the terror in the face of Yahweh’s terrifying power that appears in the Historical Books. It is close to love, reverence, admiration, and the freedom of children who entrust themselves to their father and are showered with wondrous gifts. In short, it is the true religious sense, the happiness of believing. Indeed, fear of the Lord is an important ingredient of faith (see Deut 4:9f; 8:5f; 10:12; 2 Chr 19:7; 26:5; Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; 9:10). And the expression, or its equivalent, occurs twelve times in this Book, since twelve was a sacred number for the ancients (e.g., twelve tribes of Israel, twelve months of the year).
  12. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:12 Added by some early MSS.
  13. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:18 Added by some early MSS.
  14. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:21 Added by some early MSS.
  15. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:22 Here is the first of many good recommendations that the author will make throughout his Book: he is dispensing a practical wisdom, i.e., a mastery of life.
  16. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:25 The conduct that pleases God is to keep the law that he has given. It initiates us into a life marked by truth and justice. Keeping the law will be the first thing Jesus asks of the rich young man who comes to him seeking to gain eternal life (Mt 19:17).
  17. Wisdom of Ben Sira 1:26 Wisdom and keeping the law go hand in hand (see Sir 19:20). Indeed, wisdom is the reward for keeping the law (see Eccl 12:13).

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