Wisdom of Ben Sira 21

Chapter 21

Sin and Sinners[a]

1 My child, have you sinned? Do not sin anymore,
and ask forgiveness for your past sins.
2 Flee from sin as from a snake,
for it will bite you if you approach it.
Its teeth are like a lion’s teeth
and can take away human lives.
3 All law-breaking is like a two-edged sword;
the wound it inflicts cannot be healed.
4 Panic and violence will wipe out riches;
similarly the house of the proud man will be laid waste.[b]
5 The prayer of the poor man goes from his lips straight to the ear of God,
and justice is speedily granted him.
6 One who hates reproof walks in the sinner’s path,
but the man who fears the Lord repents in his heart.
7 A skillful speaker is widely known,
but the wise man is well aware of his own faults.
8 To build a house with other people’s money
is like gathering stones for one’s own tomb.
9 A band of the wicked is like a bundle of fibers;
it will end in a blazing fire.
10 The path of sinners is smoothly paved,
but it ends in the depths of the netherworld.[c]

Portraits of the Wise and the Foolish[d]

11 He who keeps the law controls his thoughts;
the fear of the Lord results in wisdom.
12 The one who is not clever cannot be taught,
but there is a cleverness that is a source of bitterness.
13 The knowledge of a wise man increases like a flood,
and his counsel is like a life-giving spring.
14 The mind of a fool is like a broken jar;
it cannot retain any knowledge.
15 When an intelligent man hears words of wisdom,
he praises them and adds to them.
When a fool hears them, he is scornful
and casts them aside behind his back.
16 The chatter of a fool is like traveling with a heavy load,
but delight is to be found upon the lips of a wise man.
17 The views of a wise man are sought in the assembly,
and his words are pondered carefully.
18 Like a house in ruins is wisdom to a fool;
the ignorant man regards knowledge only as incoherent talk.
19 Instruction is like fetters on the feet to the fool,
and like a manacle on his right hand.
20 A fool laughs at the top of his voice,
but a prudent man smiles quietly.
21 Like an ornament of gold is instruction to a sensible man,
like a bracelet on his right arm.
22 A fool steps boldly into a house,
whereas the well-bred person waits outside respectfully.
23 A boor peers into a house through the doorway,
but a cultured man remains outside.
24 It is bad manners for someone to listen at a door;
a cultured man would regard this as disgraceful, things that are not his business.
25 The lips of gossipers repeat the words of others,
but the prudent carefully weigh their words.
26 The heart of fools is in their mouth,
but the mouth of the wise is in their heart.
27 When a godless man curses an adversary,[e]
he is cursing himself.
28 A scandal-monger degrades himself
and earns the hatred of his neighbors.


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 21:1 The way of sinners leads to perdition (whose symbol is the netherworld), the place without hope (v. 10). But God takes into consideration the prayer and repentance of the poor, i.e., the lowly.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 21:4 Laid waste: some early MSS read: “uprooted.”
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 21:10 The path of sinners . . . the depths of the netherworld: the author urges people to repent, for in the netherworld, there is no loving contact with God (see Pss 6:6; 30:10; 88:5-11; 115:17-18; Isa 38:18-19; Bar 2:17). It remained for Christ to reveal an eternal retribution (see Mt 7:13f; 25:41-46; Lk 16:19-31).
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 21:11 Reverence toward the Lord, observance of the law, and mastery of one’s existence, thoughts, and words are the qualities that are lacking to the foolish and distinguish the wise.
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 21:27 Adversary: three senses have been attributed to this term: (1) when godless persons curse an adversary for leading them into sin, they are really cursing themselves for having succumbed; (2) the adversary they curse is the sinful nature of human beings; or (3) the adversary they curse is the devil, for the Hebrew word used is satan (see 1 Chr 21:1; Zec 3:2; 2 Pet 2:12f; Jude 9).

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