Wisdom of Ben Sira 16

Chapter 16

God Judges an Individual According to His Deeds[a]

1 Do not desire a brood of unprofitable[b] children,
and take no joy in offspring who are godless.
2 No matter how many your children, do not rejoice in them
unless the fear of the Lord is in them.
3 Do not count on their growing old
or rely on their numbers.
[For you will grieve in untimely mourning
and know of their unexpected end.][c]
For one can be better than a thousand,
and to die childless is better than to have godless children.
4 Through one wise man an entire city can be populated,
but a tribe of lawless people can bring about its destruction.
5 Many such things my eyes have seen,
and my ears have heard things even more impressive.
6 Against an assembly of sinners a fire is kindled,
and retribution blazes upon a godless nation.
7 God did not forgive the leaders of old
who rebelled in their strength.
8 He did not spare the neighbors of Lot
whom he abhorred for their arrogance.[d]
9 He showed no pity toward the doomed people
who were dispossessed because of their sins.[e]
[He did all these things to the obstinate nations,
and he was not appeased by the multitude of his holy ones.][f]
10 Neither did he show pity toward those six hundred thousand foot soldiers[g]
who perished because of their stubborn defiance.
[h][Chastising and sparing, striking and healing,
the Lord persisted in showing mercy and dispensing discipline.][i]
11 Even if there had been only one stiff-necked man,
it would have been a miracle if he had escaped retribution.
For mercy and anger alike belong to the Lord;
he shows his might in his forgiveness and also as he pours out his wrath.
12 As great as his mercy is his chastisement;
he judges an individual according to his deeds.
13 The sinner will not escape with plunder,
nor will the patience of the godly be forgotten.
14 He does not forget any act of mercy;
everyone will be treated in accordance with his deeds.
[15 [j]The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he did not recognize him
whose works were manifest under the heavens;
16 his mercy was seen by all creation,
and he separated the light from the darkness among the sons of Adam.]

Foolish Are Those Who Think God Does Not See Them[k]

17 Do not say, “I am hidden from the Lord;
who above gives any thought to me?
Among so many people I will not be noticed;
for what am I in the immensity of creation?
18 Behold, heaven itself, the highest heaven,
the abyss, and the earth tremble at his visitation.
[The entire world, past and present, is in his will.][l]
19 The mountains and the foundations of the earth
quiver and quake when he looks upon them.
20 What human mind can grasp this
or comprehend his ways?
21 Like a storm wind that is invisible,
so his works for the most part are concealed.
22 Who will report about his acts of justice?
Or who can wait for them, since the covenant[m] is far in the future
[and a scrutiny for all comes at the end]?”[n]
23 Such are the thoughts of the one who lacks understanding,
senseless and misguided in his foolish reasoning.

God the Creator and Lawgiver[o]

24 Listen to me, my child, and acquire knowledge;
pay close attention to what I have to say.
25 I will impart discipline precisely
and proclaim knowledge accurately.
26 When God created his works in the beginning,
in doing so he determined their boundaries.
27 He defined their functions for all time
and their domains for all generations.
They never hunger or grow weary,
nor do they ever abandon their tasks.
28 Never do they crowd one another,
nor do they ever disobey his word.
29 Then the Lord looked upon the earth
and filled it with his good things.
30 With every kind of living creature he covered its surface,
and into it they must return.


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:1 The number of one’s children is no longer regarded as a sign of God’s blessing of a father. It is much better to be concerned with their faithfulness, for each lives under the eye of God. God treats all persons according to their merits (Gen 9:1-29; Num 14:20-35; Jos 6:21). Human beings are responsible for their actions.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:1 Unprofitable: Hebrew reads: “worthless.”
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:3 Added by some early MSS.
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:8 The people of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen 19:24-25; Ezek 16:49-50).
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:9 The people who lived in Canaan.
  6. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:9 Added by some early MSS.
  7. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:10 Six hundred thousand foot soldiers: See Ex 12:37; Num 11:21. These men perished in the wilderness and never reached Canaan, the Promised Land (see Num 14:20-33).
  8. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:10 Added by some early MSS.
  9. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:10 Added by some early MSS.
  10. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:15 Added by some early MSS. Among the sons of Adam: or “with a plumb line.”
  11. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:17 The author shows that God is concerned with each person. To stress this intervention of God in creation, he evokes natural phenomena with their unforeseeable and inexplicable aspects.
  12. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:18 Added by some early MSS.
  13. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:22 Covenant: Hebrew reads: “decree.”
  14. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:22 Added by some early MSS.
  15. Wisdom of Ben Sira 16:24 In his demonstration, the author introduces a hymn to God the Creator that is also a chant for human beings. Sacred history is linked with the work of creation: God has revealed his law to his chosen people and concluded a covenant with his own. The song of praise concludes with a moral lesson; the past shows that all human beings, especially those who belong to the chosen people, will answer to God for their actions. But the Lord is a judge who is ever ready to pardon those who implore him and to reward those who uphold their brothers and sisters (Sir 17:22).

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