Wisdom of Ben Sira 39

The Noble Vocation of the Sage[a]

How different a situation it is with the man who devotes himself to the fear of God
and to the study of the law of the Most High.

Chapter 39

1 He researches the wisdom of all the ancients
and occupies himself with the study of the prophecies.
2 He preserves the sayings of famous men
and penetrates the subtleties of parables.
3 He seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs
and ponders the obscure sense of parables.
4 He enters the service of the great
and appears in the presence of rulers.
He travels in foreign countries,
experiencing a wide spectrum of human good and evil.
5 He makes sure to rise early
to seek the Lord, his Maker;
he petitions the Most High
as he opens his mouth in prayer
and asks pardon for his sins.
6 If such is the will of the Lord Almighty,
he will be filled with the spirit of understanding.
He will pour forth words of wisdom of his own devising
and give thanks to the Lord in prayer.
7 The Lord will direct his counsel and his knowledge
as he meditates upon the mysteries of God.
8 He will show the wisdom of what he has learned
and will glory in the law of the Lord’s covenant.
9 Many will praise his intelligence,
and his fame will never be forgotten.
The memory of him will never die,
and his name will live through all generations.
10 Nations will speak of his wisdom,
and the assembly will proclaim his praise.
11 If his life span is great, his name will be more glorious
than those of a thousand other people;
and if he dies, that will be all right with him.

God’s Greatness and Human Weakness

Praise to the Creator[b]

12 I have still further thoughts on which I wish to expound;
I am as full as the moon at mid-month.
13 Listen to me, my faithful children, and blossom,
like a rose planted by a stream of water.
14 Send out your fragrance like incense,
and bring forth blossoms like a lily;
scatter your fragrance and sing a hymn of praise,
blessing the Lord for everything he has done.
15 Proclaim the greatness of his name,
and offer your praise and gratitude to him;
with songs accompanied by harps and stringed instruments,
this is what you must say in thanksgiving:
16 “All the works of God are marvelous,
and everything that he commands will occur at the designated time.
Let no one ask ‘What is this?’ or ‘Why is that?’
In due time all such questions will be answered.[c]
17 At his command the waters piled up,
and the word of his mouth created reservoirs to encompass them.[d]
18 When he commands, his will is done;
no one can thwart his saving power.
19 The deeds of all people are before him,
and nothing can be hidden from his eyes.
20 His gaze stretches from the beginning to the end of time,
and nothing is too marvelous for him.
21 Thus, let no one ask ‘What is this?’ or ‘Why is that?’
for all things have been created for a purpose.
22 “His blessing overflows like a river,
and like the flood it enriches the surface of the earth.
23 Thus, the nations experience his wrath,
just as he transformed the waters into a salt desert.
24 For the devout his paths are smooth,
but for the wicked they are full of obstacles.
25 From the beginning good things were created for the upright,
but also bad things for sinners.
26 The basic necessities of human life
are water, fire, iron, salt,
wheat flour, milk, and honey,
the juice of the grape, oil, and clothing.
27 All these are good for those who are good,
but for the wicked they turn out to be bad.
28 “Some winds have been created as means of punishment,
and in their fury they can scourge mightily.[e]
On the day of reckoning they will unleash their violence
and appease the anger of their Maker.
29 Fire and hail, famine and pestilence—
all these have been created for retribution.
30 Ravenous beasts, scorpions, and vipers,
and the avenging sword to destroy the ungodly—
31 all of them delight in his commandment,
always prepared for his service on the earth,
and when their time comes, they never disobey his commands.
32 I have been convinced of all this from the beginning;
that is why I have thought it all over and have written:
33 All the works of God are good,
and he supplies every need as it arises.
34 There is therefore no reason to say: “This is worse than that,”
for sooner or later everything will prove its worth.
35 So now, sing with all your heart and voice,
and bless the name of God.”


  1. Wisdom of Ben Sira 39:1 This text gives witness of a deep love of the task of teaching and animation amid the community and the synagogue. At this epoch, scribes take the lead in the intellectual and spiritual domain. The author may be forgiven for including a bit of vanity in his description. He is not simply presenting one craft among other human ones; he is expressing the sublime idea he has of a vocation.
  2. Wisdom of Ben Sira 39:12 Human beings cannot always understand what they see nor what happens to them. However, in everything the sage divines a plan of God, and the day will come, he firmly hopes, when the harmony of the world will be evident to the eyes of all. How many goods placed by God at the disposition of humans for their use; how many elements in this world that he utilizes to exercise his mercy and chastisement! And is it not the wicked use of these realities by humans that brings on the punishment that is theirs? Sooner or later everything will prove its worth (v. 34).
  3. Wisdom of Ben Sira 39:16 Let no one ask . . . will be answered: these two lines are found only in the Greek MSS, and they are in part a doublet of verse 21.
  4. Wisdom of Ben Sira 39:17 This verse recalls God’s mighty deeds connected with water: creation (Gen 1:9), the flood (Gen 7:11), the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14:21-22) and the Jordan River (Jos 3:16), and the mystery of the clouds as reservoirs of water (Ps 104:6-13).
  5. Wisdom of Ben Sira 39:28 Scourge mightily: Hebrew reads: “dislodge mountains.”

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