Wisdom of Ben Sira 13

Chapter 13

How Can the Clay Pot Be Used with the Iron Cauldron?[a]

1 Whoever touches pitch will have blackened hands,
and anyone who associates with a proud man will become like him.
2 Do not bear a burden too heavy for you,
or associate with someone who is greater or wealthier than you.
How can the clay pot be used with the iron cauldron?
When they collide, the pot will be smashed.
3 The rich man does wrong and boasts about it;
the poor man is wronged and has to beg for forgiveness.
4 The rich man will exploit you if you can be useful to him,
but if you are in need, he will abandon you.
5 As long as you are well-off, he will be constantly at your side;
he will drain your resources without a qualm.
6 When he needs you he will deceive you
and will smile at you and raise your hopes.
He will speak kindly to you
and ask, “Is there anything you need?”
7 He will embarrass you with his hospitality,
but after he has drained your resources two or three times
he will end up by laughing at you.
Afterward, when he sees you, he will pass you by
and shake his head about you.
8 Take care not to be led astray
and humiliated as a result of your own stupidity.
9 When an influential man issues you an invitation, be slow to accept,
and he will be all the more insistent in his request.
10 Do not be too forward or you may be rebuffed,
but neither should you keep aloof lest you be forgotten.
11 Do not try to converse with him as an equal,
or trust his effusive words.
The more he speaks, the more he is testing you,
and while he smiles he is evaluating you.
12 Those who do not keep your secrets are cruel,
and they will not spare you injury or imprisonment.
13 Confide in no one and be on your guard,
for you are walking to your own downfall.
[14 When you hear these things, awake from your sleep;
as long as you live, love the Lord and pray to him for your salvation.][b]
15 Every living thing loves its own kind,
and every man loves someone like himself.
16 All creatures associate with their own kind,
and every man sticks close to those like himself.
17 What does a wolf have in common with a lamb?
The same applies to a sinner with a devout man.
18 What peaceful state can exist between a hyena and a dog?
What peaceful condition can there be between the rich and the poor?[c]
19 Just as the wild asses of the wilderness are the prey of lions,
so are the poor the pasture of the rich.
20 Humility is abhorrent to the proud,
and so also is the poor man abhorrent to the rich.
21 When the rich man stumbles, he is supported by friends;
when the poor man trips, even his friends ignore his plight.
22 When the rich man slips, many rush to his rescue;
even if he says something nonsensical, people justify him.
When the poor man slips, he is criticized,
and no attention is paid when his words are filled with wisdom.
23 When the rich man speaks, all listen in silence
and praise his wisdom to the skies.
When the poor man speaks, others say “Who is that?”
and even push him to the ground if he stumbles.
24 Wealth is good when it has been acquired honestly,
but poverty is regarded as evil by the mouth of the godless.[d]
25 The heart changes one’s countenance
either for good or for evil.
[And a glad heart effects a cheerful countenance.]
26 The proof of a happy heart is a cheerful expression,
but to devise wise maxims involves wearisome work.


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 13:1 Those who frequent the circles of the rich and powerful only risk being hurt. This chapter should be read as a satire about the “sharks” of society, as a bloody critique of the disproportionate condition between the rich and the poor, between the “wolf” and the “lamb” (v. 17).
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 13:14 Added by some early MSS.
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 13:18 In Palestine, the hostility between the dogs that guarded the flocks by night and the hyenas was taken for granted.
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 13:24 The author is indicating that poverty that does not stem from a person’s sin or laziness is not evil even though the arrogant regard it as such.

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