Wisdom of Ben Sira 17

Chapter 17

1 The Lord fashioned man from the earth
and causes him to return to it again.
2 He granted him a fixed span of days
and gave him dominion over everything on earth.
3 He endowed him with strength like his own
and made him in his own image.
4 He put the fear of him into all living things
and made him the master over beasts and birds.
[5 He received the use of the five faculties from the Lord;
as a sixth he gave him the gift of mind,
and as a seventh the gift of reason, the interpreter of one’s faculties.][a]
6 He fashioned men’s tongues, eyes, and ears
and gave them minds with which to think.
7 He filled them with wisdom and understanding
and a knowledge of good and evil.
8 He placed the fear of him into their hearts
to display to them the majesty of his works
[9 and to enable them to proclaim his marvelous deeds][b]
10 so that they may give praise to his holy name.
11 He granted knowledge to them,
endowing them with the law of life.
[Thus, they might know that those who are living are mortal.][c]
12 An everlasting covenant he established with them,
and his decrees[d] he revealed to them.
13 Their eyes beheld his glorious majesty,
and their ears heard the glory of his voice.[e]
14 He said to them, “Refrain from all wrongdoing,”
and he gave them a commandment concerning duties toward one’s neighbor.
15 Their ways are always known to him;
they cannot be hidden from his sight.
[16 Their ways from childhood tend toward evil,
and they cannot transform their stony hearts into hearts of flesh.][f]
17 He appointed a ruler[g] over every nation,
but Israel is the Lord’s own portion.
[18 Since Israel is his firstborn,
he rears him with discipline,
bestowing on him the light of his love
and not neglecting him.][h]
19 All their deeds are as clear as the sun to him,
and his eyes are ever upon their ways.
20 Their iniquities are not hidden from him;
all their sins are before the Lord.
[21 Yet the Lord, who is compassionate
and knows how they are formed,
has neither left nor abandoned them
but spared them.][i]
22 Almsgiving is like a signet ring to him,
and he cherishes kindness like the apple of his eye.
[He apportions repentance to his sons and daughters.][j]
23 In the end, he will rise up and repay the wicked,
bringing down retribution on their heads.
24 But to those who repent he allows a return,
and he encourages those who have lost hope.

Return to the Lord[k]

25 Therefore, return to the Lord and renounce your wicked ways;
pray in his presence and lessen your offense.
26 Return to the Most High, turn away from iniquity,
[for he will guide you out of darkness and into the light of health,][l]
and hate intensely what he abhors.
27 [m]Who will glorify the Most High in the netherworld
in place of the living who give praise?
28 The dead cannot offer praise anymore than those who have never lived;
only those who are alive and well sing the Lord’s praises.
29 How great is the mercy of the Lord
and the forgiveness he offers to those who return to him!
30 Many things are beyond the human capacity to achieve,
since the son of man is not immortal.
31 Is anything brighter than the sun? Yet it is subject to eclipse.
Thus, flesh and blood devise evil plans.[n]
32 God watches over the hosts of the highest heavens,
but all men are merely dust and ashes.


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:5 Added by some early MSS.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:9 Added by some early MSS.
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:11 Added by some early MSS.
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:12 An everlasting covenant . . . his decrees: a reference to the covenants that God made with human beings (e.g., Gen 2:15ff; 17:1-22, and especially the covenant of Mount Sinai when God gave the Mosaic Law, Ex 19:16ff).
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:13 The author evokes the Lord’s manifestation at Sinai (Ex 19:16-25).
  6. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:16 Added by some early MSS.
  7. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:17 Ruler: this term can be taken as referring to a civil ruler or to angels who are placed over nations as their guardians (see Deut 32:8). The Lord’s own portion: an allusion to Israel’s special position with God (see Deut 32:8f).
  8. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:18 Added by some early MSS.
  9. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:21 Added by some early MSS.
  10. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:22 Added by some early MSS.
  11. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:25 It is the Lord who gives life and allows people to live on earth. The author still regards the sojourn of the dead as a place in which there is no hope and from which there is no return. Other believers affirm that this life of humans cannot be definitively destroyed by death (Wis 3; 2 Mac 7; 12:44; Dan 12:2-3). Christ will say: “I have come / that they may have life, / and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10).
  12. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:26 Added by some early MSS.
  13. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:27 One reason for repentance is that in the netherworld there is no loving contact with God (see Pss 6:5; 30:9; 115:17f; Isa 38:18f; Bar 2:17). By repentance human beings come alive and sing the Lord’s praises.
  14. Wisdom of Ben Sira 17:31 The author seems to be saying that human beings are unable to understand God’s plans and are bent toward evil.

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