Wisdom of Ben Sira 33

Chapter 33

1 No evil will befall the one who fears the Lord;
during times of trial such a one will always be rescued.
2 The man who is wise does not hate the law,
but the one who is a hypocrite about it ends up being tossed around like a boat in a storm.
3 A sensible man will trust in the law,
regarding it as dependable as an oracle.
4 Carefully prepare what you have to say, and you will be listened to;
draw upon your learning, and then give your answer.
5 The mind of a fool is like the wheel of a cart,
and his thoughts spin like an axle.
6 A sarcastic friend is like a stallion
that neighs no matter who is on its back.

Concerning Inequalities in Conditions[a]

7 Why is one day more important than another,
although every day in the year receives its light from the sun?
8 It is because of the knowledge of the Lord that they differ;
he was the one who designated the various seasons and feasts.
9 Some days he exalted and sanctified,
and others he made ordinary days.
10 All men originate from the ground,
for humankind itself[b] was created out of the earth.
11 Yet in the fullness of his knowledge the Lord has distinguished men
and caused them to walk along different ways.
12 Some he has blessed and exalted,
sanctifying them and drawing them near to himself;
others he has cursed and humbled,
and removed from their position.
13 Like clay in the hands of a potter,
to be molded just as he pleases,
so are men in the hands of their Maker,
to be dealt with according to his justice.
14 Just as good is the opposite of evil, and life is the opposite of death,
so the sinner is the opposite of the godly.
15 Contemplate all the works of the Most High—
they come in pairs, one the opposite of the other.
16 Now I was the last to keep vigil;
I was like a gleaner following the grape pickers,
17 and by the blessing of the Lord I arrived early enough
to fill my winepress as completely as any of them.
18 And please note that I have not labored for myself alone
but for all who seek instruction.

The Testament of a Teacher of Wisdom[c]

The Heritage of the Teacher

Remain Master in All Things[d]

19 Listen to me, you who hold high positions among the people!
You leaders of the assembly, pay heed to what I have to say!
20 Neither to son or wife, nor to brother or friend,
give power over yourself as long as you live.
And do not give your property to another,
in case you change your mind and want it back.
21 As long as you are alive and have breath within you,
do not yield authority over yourself to anyone.
22 It is far better for your children to beg for your help
than for you to have recourse to their handouts.
23 Be in control in everything that you do,
and allow no stain to tarnish your reputation.
24 Only on the day that your life draws to a close,
at the hour of death, should you distribute your inheritance.

How To Treat Slaves[e]

25 To a donkey belong fodder, the stick, and burdens;
to slaves belong bread, discipline, and work.
26 If you work your slave hard, you will have rest for yourself;
if you allow his hands to be idle, he will seek his freedom.
27 Yoke and harness will bow the neck of an ox;
for a wicked slave, apply the rack and torture.
28 Put him to work so that he will not be idle,
29 for idleness is a superb teacher of mischief.
30 Put him to work, for that is his purpose in life;
and if he does not obey, burden him with fetters.
However, do not be overbearing toward anyone,
and do nothing contrary to justice.
31 If you have only one slave, treat him like yourself,
for you have acquired him with blood.
If you have only one slave, treat him as a brother,
since you will need him as much as you need yourself.
32 If you ill-treat him and he runs away,
33 where will you go to look for him?


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 33:7 Why are there holy days and secular days? Why also is the condition of humans so diverse and the world full of contrasts? There is no response at the reach of human beings except to entrust themselves to God; the wise maintain a sentiment of modesty in fulfilling their vocation. The conclusion of verses 16-18 is like a signature of the author.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 33:10 Humankind itself: Hebrew; Greek reads: “Adam himself.”
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 33:19 More than simply dispensing instruction, the sage is concerned with teaching his disciples to live by wisdom. Thus, he will present, at the end of his work, the great personages of Israel: they are models of fidelity to the covenant, the great figures of the tradition of the People of God.
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 33:19 These recommendations flow from simple common sense. However, to erect them into a final and absolute rule of human conduct would be to do harm to other pages of the Bible that go further.
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 33:25 This text reflects the situation of one epoch and the harsh ideas that ruled all education in antiquity. In this environment, the author tempers the harshness of the customs, for he recognizes a justice toward slaves to save them from the arbitrariness of the master (Ex 21:1-6, 26-27; Lev 25:46), and the last verse expresses a discreet note of humanity.
    For the attitude toward slavery in the New Testament, see Eph 6:9; Col 4:1; Philem 16.

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