Wisdom of Ben Sira 38

Chapter 38

A Physician and Health Are Gifts of God[a]

1 Honor the physician, for he is essential to you;
for that profession was established by the Lord.
2 The gift of healing comes from the Most High,
and the king provides for the physician’s sustenance.
3 His knowledge gives the physician high standing
and earns him the admiration of those who are great.
4 The Lord has created medicines from the earth,
and no one who is sensible will despise them.
5 Was not water once sweetened by a tree[b]
so that his power might be revealed?
6 He has endowed human beings with skill
so that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.
7 Through them the physician heals and relieves pain,
8 and the pharmacist prepares suitable medicines.
Thus, there is no end to the works of God,
from whom well-being continues to spread throughout the entire world.
9 My child, when you are ill, do not delay,
but pray to God and he will heal you.
10 Purify yourself, keep your hands unsoiled,
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
11 Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and a memorial sacrifice of flour,
and a rich sacrifice according to your means.
12 Then summon the physician—the Lord created him too—
and do not let him leave you, for you need him at your side.
13 There are times when your recovery will be in the hands of a physician,
14 for he too prays to the Lord
to grant him success in relieving the sickness
and in finding a cure to preserve a patient’s life.
15 One who sins against his Maker
will fall into the hands of the physician.[c]

Prolonging One’s Mourning Serves No Purpose[d]

16 My child, shed tears for one who has died,
and as one in great sorrow, begin the lament.
Bury the body with proper ceremony,
and do not neglect to honor the grave.
17 Let your weeping be bitter and your wailing passionate;
make your mourning worthy of the departed.
Mourn for a day or two to avoid criticism;
then be comforted in your sorrow.
18 For grief can lead to death,
and a grieving heart can sap one’s strength.
19 After the burial, grief should cease,
for a life of misery weighs down the heart.
20 Do not abandon yourself to grief;
banish it, and think rather of your own end.
21 Do not forget: there is no coming back;
you cannot help the dead person, and you will only harm yourself.
22 Remember that his fate will also be yours;
for him it was yesterday; for you it will be today.
23 When the dead have been laid to rest, let their memory cease;
be comforted for them once their spirits have departed.

The Splendid Vocation of the Scribe[e]

No Craft Is Useless[f]

24 Leisure affords the scribe the opportunity to increase in wisdom;
only the one who is burdened by few tasks can become wise.
25 How can anyone become wise who handles a plow
and who takes great pride in wielding the goad,
who drives oxen, engrossed in that task,
and whose main topic of conversation centers around cattle?
26 His major concern is for plowing furrows,
and he loses sleep in order to give the heifers their fodder.
27 The same is true for every artisan and craftsman
who labors both night and day,
intent on engraving seals
and diligently fashioning a variety of designs;
he concentrates on producing an exact likeness
and stays up late to finish the task.
28 So too with the smith who sits by his anvil,
intent on forging iron.
The intensity of the fire scorches his flesh
as he toils amid the searing heat of the furnace.
The noise of the hammer deafens his ears,
and his eyes are focused on the model of the object.
He concentrates on completing his task
and stays up late to finish it perfectly.
29 So too with the potter sitting at his work
and turning the wheel with his feet.
He is always concerned about his products,
and he turns them out in quantity.
30 He molds the clay with his hands
and softens it with his feet.
He concentrates on doing the glazing correctly
and stays up late to clean the furnace.
31 All of these workers rely on their hands,
and all are experts in their craft.
32 Without them no city would be constructed,
neither could people live or walk in one.[g]
33 Yet they are not sought out for public discussions,
nor do they attain prominent positions in the assembly.
They do not sit on the judge’s bench,
nor do they comprehend the decisions of the courts.
They do not expound on culture or law,
nor are they counted among the authors of proverbs.
34 However, they maintain the fabric of this world,
and their concern is for the experience of their craft.


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:1 Since, according to the mentality of the time, sickness was regarded primarily as punishment for sin, one had to have recourse to God before all else; yet the service of the physician should not be disdained. His science and his art also come from the Creator. This may be a first step in the recognition of a scientific competence for medicine without opposing it to the faith.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:5 This verse gives a natural explanation of the miracle of Moses at Marah described in Ex 15:23-25.
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:15 Will fall into the hands of the physician: some early MSS read: “will be defiant toward the physician.”
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:16 Not knowing the lot reserved for the dead, the author finds comfort in arguments from common sense. Likewise in the matter of affliction, he has no use for excesses and submits himself to the reality of life that God has made. In the first Christian writing, Paul the Apostle will proclaim another hope: we will rise again with Christ (1 Thes 4:13-14).
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:24 With a notable artistic talent and acute observations the author describes the crafts commonly practiced in Palestine. All activities are depicted in a negative fashion so as to highlight the most sublime profession of the scribe. He alone, master of Scripture and wisdom, finds the freedom to understand life and the law and teach others.
  6. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:24 Very artfully, the author evokes the skillful actions and the concerns of peasants and artisans. He acknowledges the need of their work for the life of human beings. But, in his opinion, work completely occupies those who give themselves to it and takes away the leisure to reflect and study.
  7. Wisdom of Ben Sira 38:32 Neither . . . one: some early MSS read: “and wherever they stay, they will not go hungry.”

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