The Father William Most Collection
Commentary on Sirach/Ecclesiasticus
Author and Date: The work was originally written by Jeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira (cf. 50. 27;51. 30). From internal evidence it seems he completed his work in Hebrew after 190 BC. but before 175. BC. For he praises the high priest Simon II (220-195BC). He prays to the Lord to deliver Jerusalem - which fits the situation after 190BC. In 189 BC At Magnesia (north of Ephesus) the Roman army defeated Antiochus III (223-187). Yet there is no sign of the reign of terror under Antiochus IV (175-164 BC).
His grandson translated the work into Greek in Egypt in 132 BC, the 38th year of Ptolemy Euergetes. About three quarters of the original Hebrew have been recovered from manuscripts in Cairo, Masada and Qumran.
By about 200 B.C. there were more Jews living outside Palestine than in there. Although Antiochus III was tolerant of Jewish customs, yet Hellenistic influence continued to come into Jewish society. Especially in Jerusalem, the upper classes were tempted to look on their own literature as lower than Greek drama, poetry, and philosophy. So Sirach aimed at the best young Jews of his day to try to keep them from falling under the spell of Hellenism.
The author was a well-traveled man, and seems familiar with Greek and Egyptian literature. He reflects Homer in 14. 18 and seems to reflect also the sayings of an Egyptian sage Phibis, who probably lived in the third century B.C.
Unfortunately the numbering system in many versions, including the RSV, which we are following, does not match that of either the Hebrew of the Greek (same is true of the NAB and NEB, but not of the NRSV).
Most of the Hebrew text was discovered in a Genizah (a storehouse for worn out copies of sacred books in Cairo in 1896. Other fragments came from Qumran and Masada. The Cairo copy dates from probably 9-12 century AD. (For most of the known Hebrew text cf. - The Hebrew Text of the Book of Ecclesiasticus-in Semitic Studies III (Leiden, 1951. A translation based on the Hebrew, with notes comparing Greek and Hebrew texts, is found in La Sagrada Escritura, Antiguo Testamento V, Biblioteca de Autores Christianos, Madrid, 1970).
Canonicity and inspiration: We distinguish canonicity from inspired character. This book went through the usual vicissitudes of the deuterocanonical books.
The Rabbis meeting at Jamnia in 90 AD, . after the ruin of Jerusalem and trying to decide how to go on, did not accept Sirach as canonical, even though it was originally written in Hebrew.
It is not in the canonical list of Melito of Sardes (c. 280AD) or Origen (321. AD) of the Council of Laodicea ( 360AD). But it is in the list of the Apostolic Constitution (middle of 3rd century) of Gelasius (382AD) and the African Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397AD). But doubts about its canonicity lasted into the Middle Ages, especially under the influence of St. Jerome, who preferred the Palestinian Canon. Such doubts lasted even after the Council of Florence (1441) which included it in the list of sacred books without defining its canonicity. Its canonicity was finally defined at the Council of Trent.
Yet is was used for devout reading, and was considered as inspired not only by those Fathers who adopted the longer Alexandrian Canon, but also by those who held only the shorter Palestinian. They include even St. Jerome (In Epist. ad Jul. PL 22. 961 and On Is 3. 13:PL 24. 67, and against Pelagians 2. 5, PL 23. 541. It was also accepted as inspired by Clement of Alexandria, in Paidagogos 1. 1 and Stromata 10. 3; by Origen Peri archon 2. 8; Against Celsus 6. 7. 12; On John 32. 14; by St. Athanasius Paschal Letter 39, and Against Arians 2. 79; by St. Cyril of Jerusalem 6. 3; by St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies 3. 1. 76;and by St. Cyprian, Epistle 5. 45. 60; by Tertullian, Against Marcion 1. 16, and by St. Augustine, Speculum de Scriptura sacra, PL 34. 948ss.
Outline: Unlike Proverbs, which is so very miscellaneous, some think that Sirach does have some organization:
I. Nature, precepts and benefits of Wisdom: 1. 1 - 23. 37.
II. Excellence and social characteristics of wisdom: 24. 1 - 42. 14.
III. Wisdom and the nature of Israel: 42. 15 - 50. 28.
Epilogue: 50. 29-31.
Yet the organization is rather loose if there at all. And the book is long, having 51 chapters. We could not take the space to comment on each chapter. But we can pick out certain specially important and helpful things.
Chapter 1 - Praise of Wisdom: The Lord is the source of all wisdom. It is with Him forever. Sirach then admires the countless grains of sand, the drops of rain, the days of eternity, the height of the sky, the breadth of the earth, the abyss. No man can measure these. So he is led to be amazed at the wisdom of God who made and arranged all these things. (more of this in chapter 43). Similarly St. Paul, in Romans 1, 20-21, said that whoever does not come to know God through the marvels of creation is inexcusable. That was true in the days of St. Paul, . as in the days of Sirach. It is even more true today, when, thanks to wondrous advances in the natural sciences we see the marvels of God's work far more than these ancient sages could possibly dream.
We know something of the expanse of the heavens. There are literally billions of stars up there. Objects that seem tiny, like Antares in Scorpio, are actually huge - if the present distance from the earth to the sun, which is around 93 million miles, were tripled, Antares still could not find room to pass between the earth and the sun. And the Quasars-- we do not know how distant they are. Many astronomers think the most remote of them may lie at 14 million light years distant, though a light year is the distance light travels in a year, racing day and night at something over 186, 000 miles per second.
Turning our gaze within instead to the giants of the skies, we know that ever speck of matter is teeming with atoms. Even the simplest, hydrogen, has one electron and a nucleus. If the power within it were unleashed, it would blast a city into oblivion. Many atoms are so complex that they used to be compared to a tiny solar system, with a core and several orbits for electrons. That idea now has been revised in the direction of vagueness, for we cannot know for certain. Therefore we speak of energy levels.
And the human brain has about 100 billion neurons - no two entirely alike - making a total of something of the order of 100 trillion synapses, connections, between them .
All this, which our best scientists can understand only imperfectly - could it have just put itself together out of matter it created for itself, by its own power, without any aid from God? It would be like lifting oneself off the floor by pulling on shoelaces - which does not work, since no one can give himself what he doesn't have - altitude in this case. Many think they have proved an atheistic evolution, in which all these marvels put themselves together. From reason alone, without the help of faith or theology, we know that, as we said, a lower form could not give itself higher being as it would advance up through each scale of complexity. God would be needed to supply the higher component at each step.
Yet God gives a share in this wisdom to those who love Him- which means, those who obey Him. For to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. Bu we cannot will good to God, infinite goodness, all we can do it make ourselves open to His benefactions, which Her is please to be able to give to those who are open. His commands, which are wisdom, tell us how to be open to receive. To in 1. 26: "If you want wisdom, keep the commandments."
"At the day of his death he will be blessed, he who fears the Lord," says 1. 13. Sirach still has not been privileged to see what we see, that although God does often reward in this life, the immeasurably best and greatest is yet to come, in the next life.
Especially contrary to wisdom is an outburst of unrighteous anger. The patient man will wait and endure, and then at last, joy will burst forth for him.
Chapter 2: Even though reward is promised for living by wisdom yet if one comes to serve the Lord for and in wisdom, he should be ready for trial or temptation. It will come. Sirach did not know about the great future vision, but what he did know was true enough.
St. Paul told the Thessalonians (1. 3. 3) that trouble (= thlipsis) was their lot. For, if one gathers up things from all over Paul's Epistles we find that the whole Christian regime can be summed up in this: We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and also like Him. For (Rom 8. 17) "we are fellow heirs [of God] together with Christ, provided we suffer with Him so we may also be glorified with Him." Sirach saw this only partly. Yet he could write (2. 5): "Gold is tested in the fire, and men who are acceptable in the furnace of humiliation."
Chapter 3: Sirach returns to a great theme of Proverbs: honor to Father and Mother. and He advances by saying: "He who honors Father, atones for sins." The concept that sin is a debt, which the Holiness of God wants paid, is found all over Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, in the Intertestamental Literature, in the Fathers of the Church, in the Rabbis: cf. Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul, appendix. Sirach adds that one should not scorn or neglect a father whose mind has decayed from old age. Kindness to a Father God will not forget - The fourth Commandment promised long life for it -and it will be credited against the man's sins - that is, will rebalance the scales of the objective order. In 3. 30, almsgiving also atones for sin: it is a rebalance of the scales again.
In all these things, humility is essential: (3. 18) The greater one is, the more humble he should be. St. Paul will add that every bit of good we are and have and do is simply God's gift to us:(1 Cor 4. 7). So what have we, of ourselves that we can boast of? Nothing at all.
Chapter 4: v. 1-10 Stresses goodness to the poor. If in bitterness the poor man you reject curses you, God will hear him. But if a man is generous, he will be like a son of God.
vv. 17-19 Have an unusual thought: Wisdom at first will bring fear and cowardice on a man and will torment him with her discipline until she finds she can trust him. Then she will reveal her secrets to him. This fits with the general theme that God disciplines us like a father does to a son he loves.
A remarkable thought in v. 30: Do not be a lion in your home, or hard on your servants. This seems to imply a man might have two patterns of conduct, one at home, another elsewhere. We are able to live in as it were compartments, such that we are not aware that our ways in one are quite different from our ways n another area. Only if one comes to see this can he correct the inconsistency.
Chapter 5: Warns against setting one's heart on wealth. This really mean: practice detachment, the sort of thing St. Paul calls for in 1 Cor 7. 29-32: Use things as though not having them. That is, do not let them get such a hold on you that they could draw you to sin, or even imperfection. The more free one is from such pulls, the better will be his spiritual eyesight, for then the promptings of grace toward God's will will be picked up by the mind.
It is a mistake (vv. 4-7) to say that since God is slow to anger we can sin more freely. God has both mercy and wrath, and presumption is dangerous.
Chapter 6: Several verses speak of good friends. It urges, let those whose advice you listen to be few, but when you get a real friend, test him, do not trust him at once. However a real friend who will stay with you in times of trouble is a real treasure.
Chapter 7: v. 17 urges great humility, for "the punishment of the wicked is fire and worms." So reads the Septuagint. The Hebrew, which is a bit older than the LXX, says: The expectation of man is worms." So the LXX seems to know of hell, while the Hebrew could mean merely decay of the body.
v. 19 urges the reader to have a good and wise wife: she is worth more than gold (cf. 7. 26). We need to keep this in mind when we read some of the strongly opposite texts about wives later on in chapter 25. 13-24.
In 7. 28 we have the divine social security system, as in the fourth commandment: when we were little, they did everything for us, made great sacrifices, even gave us life. If they break down in old age, it is our turn.
Chapter 8: At the start one is advised not to quarrel with a rich or powerful man: his money may weight more than yours. And God has ruined many, even kings.
v. 17 advises against giving a secret to a fool - he will not keep it. And not only fools, but many ordinary people are poor at keeping secrets.
Chapter 9: At the start Sirach returns to advice on women, a topic he speaks more on than do the other wisdom books. He urges one not to let a woman, whether a wife or a prostitute, to get a hold on a man - she can dominate him if he lets her get the upper hand by giving in without restrain to his passions. If she can keep her cool while he is almost out of his head with emotion, she can control him. Men can easily be blinded with emotion. In v. 5 he echoes Job 31. 1 , who made a policy not even to look at a virgin. So Sirach advises against even dining with another man's wife.
Some today say the words of Sirach on women are unfortunate. But they are inspired, so we must not say that. Really, we must notice two kinds of statements: one kind which warns against illicit sex and also warns against an evil wife; another kind that praises a good wife lavishly.
Both kinds of statements are true. We saw one kind above. (We can add also 25. 13-26). In the other kind (such as 7. 19; and 26. 1-4, Sirach praises a good wise, says her charm is worth more than gold. We might recall also the ideal praise of the fine wife in Proverbs 31. 10-31.
Actually, Pope Paul VI said well when he wrote to the National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center; The Pope Speaks 1, 1966, p. 10): "Christian marriage and the Christian family demand a moral commitment. They are not an easy way of Christian life... Rather it is a long path toward sanctification." The reason is that male and female psychology are so greatly different that once the initial, ardor of feeling cools, so that they partners discover the truth, each one can honestly say: I need to give in most of the time to make this work. But that it the opposite of selfishness, sit is selflessness, a wonderful part of spiritual growth. If they work as our Father designed marriage, each will be deeply concerned with the happiness and well-being of the other, and also of the children. There are many mothers and fathers who are splendidly selfless and generous to each other and to the children. That really is the fruit of a long path towards sanctification (cf. fill-in in Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, pp. 145-50). Even though he did not express this clearly, yet Sirach must have seen examples of it.
Chapter 10: In v. 1, a nation can rise or fall by insolence brought on my wealth. Then another nation may conquer it. The beginning of pride is sin. Really there are two kinds of pride: brand name, and generic we might call them. Generic pride is implied in every sin: the sinner in effect says: God may know what is good in some things, but in this thing, I know better. He says it is bad; I know it is good. Brand name pride, that which is explicit, is what Sirach speaks specially about.
He even advises (v. 26) against making a display of one's wisdom - it can bring pride, which brings a fall.
Chapter 11: v. 2 advises not to praise a man for physical good looks- they are not really worth anything, and can lead to bad judgment. So (v. 4) even when one is honored, he should be humble inwardly; acting humble outwardly could even be seeking for praise for humility.
vv. 18-19 remind us of the rich man in the Gospel who built larger barns and thought he was all set for years to come. Jesus warned him he could not count on one more day. The weakness is in presumption.
vv. 21-28 say God can reward a man before his death. Very true. It seems Sirach did not know of future retribution.
Chapter 12: In v . 2 one should do good to one who fears the Lord. He will be repaid, if not by men, surely by God.
vv. 8-18 give sage advice: value a real friend, but be careful of an enemy. Even if the enemy acts in a humble way, he may be laying a trap. If a snake charmer is bitten by the snake, people will see: he took too many chances.
Chapter 13: In v. 1: just as one who touches pitch will get dirty, so one who associates with a proud man may become like him. A rich man who does not fear God will exploit someone as long as the other can be useful. But in need the false friend will forsake the other.
vv. 8-12 give advice on dining with the powerful: one should be reserved, and so may be invited again. But beware: the powerful man though smiling may really be examining you.
Chapter 14: Raises questions about the future life. In 11-12: Treat yourself well, death is coming. Similarly in 16-17: There is no luxury in Hades, so take it now.
The charge against Sirach says that he denies an afterlife or retribution in the afterlife. The chief line is 14:16-17: "Give and take and enjoy yourself, for it is not possible in Sheol to seek luxury. All flesh grows old as a garment. For the decree of ages is: You must surely die."
Some commentators have thought this is a denial of the future life. Not at all. They assert the Hebrews had a unitary concept of man: a body with breath. Then there could be no survival. Even though we do not see in Sirach any positive indication of retribution in Sheol, that does not mean they thought that the dead were non-existent (these are two separate questions: survival, and retribution in the future life). Jesus Himself answered the Sadducees on this point (Mt. 22:29-33) by citing from the Pentateuch - perhaps the only part of the OT they accepted - from Ex 3:6, the words of God to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob" and Jesus added: "He is not the God of the dead but of the living." The Sadducees were silenced, they could not answer His reasoning. Further, it was necessary to give repeated commands in the OT against necromancy, consulting the dead, which indicates it was being done, and done persistently: e.g., Lv 19:31; 20:6, 27; Dt. 18:11 and many more texts. Saul himself had a medium bring up the spirit of Samuel in 1 Sam 28:8-19. Even if we say the mediums were fakes, it remains true that there was persistent belief that the dead did exist. (We will consider some added problem texts in Qoheleth in treating that book).
Really, it would seem strange after some centuries in Egypt, where the concept of an afterlife was so strong and clear, if the Hebrews had no concept of survival at all.
Some confusion comes from the Hebrew word nefesh, which has many meanings including soul, but those who hold for the unitary concept refuse to accept that. meaning of soul. Really, we think the Hebrews were acting according to proper theological method, without realizing that technically of course. In divine matters we may meet with two truths, which seem to clash. Even after rechecking our study they are still there. Then we must hold both, hoping sometime to find how to reconcile them. They saw two things: 1)Man seems to be a unit; 2) They knew, as we saw, that there was some survival after death (with or without retribution there). How to fit these together they did not know, but they held both.
A major key to understanding many texts is the fact that before the death of Christ, heaven was closed (cf. DS 780, 1000) even to those who were just and fully prepared. So what was existence like in Sheol? There was no praise of God. Psalm 6:6 asks: "Who in Sheol can give you praise?" Sirach 17:27-28 has the same thought. Again, Isaiah 38:18-19 says: "Death cannot praise you. Those who go down into the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness." M. Dahood (Anchor Bible, Psalms 16, p. 38) comments that the writer of Psalm 6 does not suffer from an inability to remember God in Sheol, but from not being able to share in the grand liturgical praise of God as in the public worship, which the people of Israel sincerely loved. (They loved the externals so much that God complained in Is 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me"). We could add that the very Hebrew words used in Isaiah 38:18-19 for praise or thanks of God also appear in 1 Chron 16:4 and 2 Chron 5:13 and 31:2 for the liturgical praise of God.
Is 38. 18-20 says they cannot hope for God's faithfulness: it is because the covenant does not extend to Sheol - the word used is regular for God's faithfulness to the covenant. But this does not mean that God does not watch over Sheol: Job 26:6 says: "Sheol is naked before God." Cf. Prov. 15:11.
Qoheleth 9:10 says: "There is no work or reason, or knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol." Of course the dead in Sheol do not work. Nor have they any natural means of knowing what goes on on earth - they get this only if God chooses to reveal something to them. Cf. Job 14:21. (More on Qoheleth in our comments on that book).
But the second question is when did they come to know of future retribution? We reply that in the second century B.C. when they reached the concept of man as made of body and soul (under stimulus of Greek thought and the horrible deaths of the martyrs under Antiochus IV), they finally knew how to do it. Not all Jews accepted that, but many did, especially the Pharisees. And St. Paul was a Pharisee.
Chapter 15: vv. 11-20 here are a strong statement of free will and individual responsibility. Some object that there is a contradiction in Exodus 20. 5-6 in which God told Moses that He would punish the sins of Fathers in their children for four generations. But in Ezekiel 18. 2-4 He also said: The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father. How can this be?
Both texts are true. Children born to evil parents have two effects:1) they grow up with evil person, and naturally, children tend to imitate the patterns they see at home in their parents. 2) there is such a thing as somatic resonance, that is, the bodily condition that runs parallel to spiritual conditions. Studies have shown special patterns in trace elements - part of somatic resonance - in violent criminals, compared to normal persons. These things to do force them to do wrong, but they leave them more prone to do so. And so often people follow the grooves. (Cf. Science News, Aug 20, 1983, pp. 122-25 and Oct 14, 1989, -P. 250).
So, the children of evil parents are still free, but yet have the two influences we described, in a bad direction, without violating their freedom.
Chapter 16: Here v. 21 returns to the theme of the majesty of God and His works, which we saw in chapter 1: Most of the works of God are concealed, like the power of a tempest which no man can see. So v. 22 says the foolish man will not understand the ways of God's justice.
Chapter 17: There is much discussion of what it means to say that God created man in His own image and likeness. Commentators are divided. The words of vv. 3-4, might be taken to favor the view that God gave man dominion over all creation, a share in His own dominion.
vv. 27-28 says that no one praises God in Sheol. We already explained this thought in commenting above on Chapter 14.
Chapter 18: v. 2 says the Lord alone will be declared righteous. That refers to His Holiness, the quality in which He loves all that is good, and considers sin a debt which His Holiness wants paid. Cf. comments above on chapter 3.
vv. 9-14 says that God considers even a long life of man as nothing in comparison to eternity. So He has compassion on all. We add what Sirach say only dimly if at all: He tries mightily to bring all to salvation. He has myriad means of working towards this end.
Chapter 19: v. 12 says that a word inside a fool is like an arrow stuck in the flesh - the man wants to pull it out. So the fool will not keep a secret. We could add: So many people, not just fools, are very poor at keeping secrets. Yet there is a moral obligation. And if a promise of secrecy was given after learning, there is a greater obligation; if the promise was given before being told the secret, then the obligation is really grave.
Chapter 20: More on talking. Some (v. 5) keep silent, and are so considered wise - not entirely without reason. But one who is too talkative is detested. The wise man will be silent until the right moment comes for speaking. A fool or a braggart goes beyond that moment.
v. 25 adds that a thief is better than a habitual liar--but both are headed for ruin.
Chapter 21: In v. 5:Those who hate to accept correction are likely to sin, while one that fears the Lord will repent in his heart. -- Most people tend to bridle at even deserved corrections. so in giving them, great wisdom is needed.
v. 20 warns that a fool laughs loudly; instead, the prudent man smiles quietly.
Chapter 22: To try to teach a fool (v. 7) is like trying to glue together potsherd pieces. If one tells a story to a fool, the fool is drowsy. At the end he may show he did not understand it at all. -- Very often people who are not so far down the scale as fools seem to be listening, but in reality are not interested. They are actually just thinking ahead to what they want to say next.
Chapter 23: v. 7 continues on the theme of sins of speech. Sinners and revilers and arrogant men are tripped by their own words.
In vv. 16-27: Sirach speaks of three kinds of sexual sins: he begins by speaking of the man who indulges himself sexually alone, in masturbation. The fire will not go out, it will consume him. The sense is that this vice is like an addiction, indulging it makes it grow stronger. Secondly, the one who sins with just any woman, even close relatives (v. 17: "to the fornicator all food tastes sweet"), will not stop until the fire burns him up. Thirdly the man who commits adultery thinks no one will see him. but he maybe caught, and punished in the streets of the city when he least suspects it. The woman, his partner, sins against God, against her husband, and against the children of such a sin. She lost all property rights she would have had from her marriage (cf. M. Sota 6. 1. And the children cannot belong to the community (B. Qidd 78b).
Chapter 24: Most of the chapter is a beautiful poem on Wisdom. Wisdom can praise herself-- dangerous for an ordinary person - but wisdom always keeps within the bounds of God's law. St. Paul several times told his people to imitate him, since he imitated Christ. He knew what he said in Phil 2. 13 and assimilated it at every depth of his being.
Like Proverbs 8. 22-31, this section is part of the optional readings -- formerly used more often - of the Common for Masses of the Blessed Virgin. It is quite suitable, for even though the text did not refer to her directly yet inasmuch as her Son Jesus IS the wisdom of the Father (cf. 1 Cor 1. 24) and she, as Pius XII said (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950) is "always sharing His lot," in a way it does apply to her. Vatican II in Lumen gentium chapter 8 worked out fully all the implications of those words of Pius XII, showing her constant union with Him, beginning with the eternal decree for the Incarnation, continuing through the OT prophecies, then going on through every one of the mysteries of His life and death, while showing her cooperation in each, and continuing even past the end of time, when for all eternity she is Queen of the Universe besides Her Son, the eternal King.
Chapter 25: In 13-26 we have a long warning against evil women. Better to try to live with a lion or dragon than with an evil wife. It is especially bad if she supports her husband. Hence he may have a gloomy face, drooping hands, and weak knees.
We met such thoughts before in 7. 19, and more in chapter 9. Please recall our comments there. Wives, like men, can be either very good or very bad - and all points in between. In the next chapter, Sirach will speak much of the other part of the picture: the good wife.
Verse 24 here is of special interest: From a woman came the beginning of sin, because of her we all die. There is at last some thought of original sin here. Definitely he thinks of the fact that Eve fell first, and induced her husband to fall likewise. "Because of her we all die" seems to mean that death came from such a beginning. Does it mean physical or spiritual death or both? The Jews seem to have had little to say of original sin in general. Job 14. 1 "Who can make clean from the unclean? Not one" Could refer to it, but not entirely clear, could refer to the evil yetzer, the inclination to sin of which the Rabbis spoke. Psalm 51. 7: "In iniquity was I brought forth, and in sin did my mother conceive me." But this may refer to ritual impurity. Wisdom 2. 23-24:"God crated man in incorruptibility and made him the image of his own eternity. [variant: nature]. By the envy of the devil death entered into the world."
Genesis 3 however if one meditates on it, does contain original sin, even if the Jews do not seem to have noticed it much. For God clearly gave to Adam and Eve three kinds of gifts:1) The life of the body; 2) a coordinating gift to make it easy to keep all drives in their proper place--Gen 3. 10, 'I hid myself because I was naked" implies that whereas before sin, nudity didn't bother Adam, afterwards it did disturb him: that rebellious sex drive began its revolt. Before sin, he must have had something to make it easy to keep it in its proper place; 3) the life of grace. It is obvious God intended they should pass on all these gifts to their descendants. But they could not, since by sin they lost all but the first level, basic humanity. For a child, then to come into the world without the life of grace, means it come s with the lack of what should have been there- for original sin is a privation of grace.
In the Intertestamental Literature, things written after the end of the Old Testament, we find a few texts that might refer to original sin: IV Ezra 3. 20 and 7. 46-49 (prob. late 1st cent. ad); II Baruch 18. 2; 23. 4;48. 42-43; 54. 15-16; 56. 5-6 (early 2nd century AD); Testament of Adam (3. 3 (2nd -5th century AD); Pseudo Philo 62. 5 (prob. 1st century AD).
Chapter 26: Here (vv. 1-4) is the counterpart to the unpleasant picture of chapter 25: If a husband has a good wife, the number of days of his life will be doubled. His face is always cheerful. Also (vv. 13-18) says a good wife puts fat on his bones, she adds charm to charm, her beauty is like that of the rising sun, her face like a stately pillar.
But there is danger from others (6-12): If there are several wives, they may quarrel and make him miserable. Her harlotry may show in her eyes. She may sit at every post, opening her quiver to arrows (euphemism for intercourse). She may have a wayward daughter.
The last verse says that a merchant can hardly keep to honesty. Of course a good merchant can and will. But the temptations are great.
Chapter 27: Here we find extended warnings against those who violate secrets. But one who does that will be shunned: a wound could be bandaged, but one who betrays secrets is without hope. To your face such a man may be all pleasantness, but later he will twist your words. However, he who digs a pit will fall into it.
Chapter 28: v. 1 says he who takes vengeance will receive vengeance form the Lord. But the Hebrew concept is that of naqam: action by the supreme authority to right things when they are out of line. God does this - it means He will rebalance the objective order of morality. Vengeance, in the normal English sense of the word, means willing evil to another so it may be evil to him. God does not do that, it is the opposite of love, nor should we (cf. the vision of the martyrs under the altar in Apoc/Rev. 6. 9-11).
vv. 13-19 warn of slander. In the strict sense that means charging another with a fault of which we know he is not guilty.
This has destroyed strong cities, overturned the houses of great men. More have fallen by it than by the edge of the sword.
Chapter 29: Even though there are some who consider loan as a windfall and make trouble, and stall when it is time to repay--Sirach urges making loans. Money then was hardly productive. So Deuteronomy 23. 21, while wanting no interest on loans to other Jews, did allow interest taking on loans to outsiders. For interest is not necessarily wrong. How much interest is justified depends on the productivity of money, and on the matter of risk. Taking a risk does justify some reward. The Fifth Lateran Council (a General Council) in 1515 AD (DS 1442) taught "This is the proper interpretation of [excessive] interest [usura]: when gain and increase is sought from the use of a thing that is nonproductive and with no labor, no expense, and no risk."
Almsgiving can be stored up as in a treasury say vv. 12-13. More than a shield and a heavy spear it will protect in a fight against an enemy. In other words, good works can bring an eternal credit.
Chapter 30: Has long and strong advice on raising a son: chastise him often. Then when the father dies he will have one like himself. But if the father pampers a child, the child will come to frighten him, cause grief. v. 10: Urges do not laugh with him, for that might lead to sorrow over him later. Give the son no authority while he is still young.
v. 17 asserts that death is better than a miserable life. Of course it does not warrant suicide or killing. And the fact that suffering can be of eternal worth was not yet known then. Please recall comments on chapter 2, and comments in the introduction to our commentary on Job.
Chapter 31: vv. 8-11 say that a rich man who has been blameless has done something wonderful. For wealth brings so many temptations.
In v. 12 we see the beginning of what is largely worldly advice, reminding us of the spirit of Egyptian wisdom literature, on how to act at a dinner given by a great man. The advice is not required by religious principle, though principle is not opposed to it. So one should not be greedy at the meal or reach for everything you see. Moderate eating makes for better sleep, while an overload makes sleep difficult.
Chapter 32: v. 1 says if you are made the master of a feast, do not exalt yourself. Here there is reference to the Greek custom of choosing an architriclinos who seated the guests, selecting the wines, preparing the menu: cf. John 2. 8-10.
An older man may speak, but even he should not "pour out talk". A young man should speak only if necessary, but no more than twice, and then only if asked. Interestingly, Clement of Alexandria in his book The Educator (In Greek: Paidagogos) has lengthy advice on banquets, starting at the beginning of Book II. He seems to think it a matter of religious rule, but it is really largely worldly wisdom. In 2. 7 he cites our present passage, seeming to think it is a religious principle - quite entertaining to read, cf. the Fathers of the Church series translation, pp. 141-44.
Chapter 33: First verse says that no evil will happen to a man who fears the lord. We see again that Sirach did not know the spiritual value of suffering- though what he says comes true in many cases.
v. 13 is easily misunderstood: Just as clay in the hand of the potter, so are all the ways of man in God's hand. St. Paul uses this comparison in Romans 9. 19-22, to say that God can grant or not grant the special, added favor of full membership in the people of God, as He wills. It most emphatically has nothing to do with predestination to heaven or hell, as so many have thought in the past--they could think that only by ignoring the context: all of chapters 8, 9, 10, 11 deal with full membership in the Church (we speak of full membership to indicate there could be a lesser degree also: cf. Wm. Most, Our Father's Plan, appendix). -- Here the reference is to God's ways in the external economy, of which we spoke in our comments on chapter 21 of Proverbs.
In vv. 16-18 Sirach says he was the last on the watch- he means all the prophets came before him, and he did well by the blessing of the Lord.
It is imprudent to distribute all your property before the time of your death -- those who get it may make you beg for what you need later on. Gratitude is one of the least strong instincts of man.
Slavery presents problems in vv. 24-31. First he speaks of the bad slave - afterwards of the good slave, in 30-31. It as not entirely forbidden in the OT. Most slaves would be captives in war. The thought seems to have been: we could have killed you for your offense against our nation. But we will let you live if you just work for us. There were regulations to call for humane treatment, for the Jews were reminded they had been slaves in Egypt: Dt 15. 15. The Sabbath was a day off for slaves as well as free men: Ex 20. 10; If a master assaulted his slave, the slave went free: Ex 21. 26. Israelites who became slaves because of poverty (Lev 25. 39-40) - viewed probably as working of a debt that could not be paid otherwise - were distinguished from foreign slaves who were bought or captured in battle: 1 Kgs. 9. 20-21. Israelite slaves were to get their freedom in six years: Ex 21. 2. All Israelite slaves were to be freed in the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25. 40-41.
As for a good slave, vv. 30-31 say: "Let him be as yourselves, treat him as a brother, you will need him as much as your own life.
Even as to the verses speaking of treating bad slaves like asses - the ass in those days was better treated and more esteemed than now.
Chapter 34: The first 8 verses speak of dreams, and war on heeding them, unless of course, in the unusual and special case in which God may use a dream to give instructions as He did with Joseph the Foster-Father of Jesus.
vv. 18-26 speak of sacrifices. The major prophets had spoken harshly of sacrifices that were mere externalism, without the needed disposition of obedience in the heart of the one who offered. Therefore a sacrifice in which the victim is wrongfully obtained or even taken from the property of the poor - such an offering is worse than worthless.
Chapter 35: vv. 1. 1-7 continue thoughts on sacrifice. One who obeys gives a good sacrifice. Returning a kindness or giving alms show the right disposition. For the material things given are of no use to God - He does not accept bribes. He values the thing only as the expression of the righteous heart. But the prayer of the righteous pierces the clouds and reaches even to the Lord.
In v. 13 in spite of an "option for the poor" - meaning an inclination to help them -- we must not be dishonest, or really violate the law for the sake of the poor.
Chapter 36: Sirach calls for God strike foreign nations, for they commonly oppressed Israel and went out for conquest for the sake of conquest. Yet the attitude was not one of vengeance, it was that of naqam which we explained in comments on chapter 28.
Verses 21-24 praise a good wife. Let us recall comments above on chapters 7 and 25.
Chapter 37: Returns to the theme of the good and the treacherous friend: chapter 6.
Similarly one should not trust just anyone who offers advice- first learn what the counselor is seeking for himself. So do not ask a woman about her rival, or a coward about war, or a merchant about barter or a merciless man about kindness. Rather go to the man who fears the Lord.
v. 28 observes that not all things are good for everyone. Even in spirituality, there is a diversity of spiritual attractions. There are two tiers of rules in spirituality. On the basic level are those which no one can violate without a loss. But there is a secondary level in which there are many approaches valid in themselves, not all equally suited to everyone. Compare for example St. Francis de Sales, a refined gentlemen, to St. Benedict Joseph Labré, who lived like a tramp. Or St. Francis of Assisi, who was loath to allow books, with St. Thomas Aquinas.
Chapter 39: Urges us to honor the physician. Not very much was known about medicine in those days, but those who knew even that little were honored and prized. Some things they did depended on the placebo effect, which is very powerful even today. But there are also natural medicines in some plants, which the Lord has put there.
So one should pray when sick, but also make uses of what natural means are at hand, the help of the physician.
Whatever healing he brings about however, is really God's gift, for, in v. 2 "healing comes from the most High." Even today, physicians, with so much more knowledge and skill, really in many things chiefly arrange things so that the power of nature, given by God, may heal. For example, no physician can make a wound heal: he just makes conditions favorable for the power God has put in our flesh to rectify itself.
38. 5 speaks of a wood that made the water sweet - the allusion is to the event in Exodus 15. 23.
As for the dead: we should mourn them for the set time- but not prolong mourning unduly. That does the dead no good, and the mourner no good. Yet we are not seeking the attitude of Stoicism. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, who was not even a relative, just a good friend.
Chapter 39: At the end chapter 38 had spoken of the various kinds of skill of various craftsmen. Yet, it said, they are not called to the council. So chapter 39 continues and praises the spirit of understanding the Lord gives to him who studies His law. For that law is wisdom, as we saw early in Sirach. Everything the Lord has created is good, and nothing is marvelous to Him. For He made each things for its proper use. To the holy, the path is straight; to the wicked, it is an obstacle.
God made even the winds, and the teeth of wild beasts and scorpions and vipers for a good purpose. They rejoice in doing His will.
Chapter 40: Much labor was created for man- for labor saving devices were hardly known at that time. But even today, with so m any such things, life is not always easy.
The thought of death was difficult for Sirach and for the men of his time, since they did not know clearly the retribution God gives in the next life, though they did know of living after death. Please recall our comments on chapter 14 above.
Verses 18-27 have a series of "better than" statements. A blameless wife is better than children and a good name. Wine and music make the heart glad-- but love of wisdom is better. A friend is a great help, but a good wife is still better. Brothers are great in time of need, but almsgiving rescues better than they. And the fear of the Lord is better than riches and strength.
Chapter 41: thoughts on death continue. Whether one lives ten or a thousand years, he must go to Sheol. The days of a good life are numbered, but a good name lasts forever.
So, one should be ashamed of all that is wrong: then he will find favor.
Chapter 42: The chapter opens with many things of which one should NOT be ashamed: the Law of God, rendering judgment to acquit those who fear God, accuracy with scales and weights etc.
In v. 9 we read that a daughter may cause worry to her father: that she may not find a husband, that she may commit fornication, that she be unfaithful to her husband, that she be childless. So Sirach advises watching carefully to avoid these evils.
Next in v 12 Sirach advises against letting the beauty of a woman influence one - it can entice into sin.
In that context comes verse 14. Translations here vary much. The LXX reads: Better is the wickedness of a man, than a woman doing good. In the Greek "doing good" is agathopoios. The translation of the RSV, following LXX, is superficial. To say that the wickedness of a man is better than a woman who does good - that is sheer nonsense. No wickedness is better than real goodness. So it is evident that a qualification is needed here, one in view of the context of vv. 12-13, which warn of the dangers of looking on a woman's beauty. So the sense of "doing good" must mean: doing things that look good to a man, that is enticing him into illicit sex by being very nice to him, by wiles.
So the translation proposed by Rodriguez of Salamanca, in Biblia Comentada is good, for it speaks of a mujer zalamera, one who flatters. The comment in NJBC, p. 507 is tragic: "The meanest and grossest statement of all" against women. The writer did not note that since the book is inspired, to say such a thing is to attribute the distortion to the Holy Spirit, for whatever is asserted by the inspired writer, is asserted by the Holy Spirit, as Vatican II wrote, in Dei verbum §11.
Next, then: Better is a frightened woman than disgrace.
Finally, in vv. 15-25 Sirach marvels at the works of the Lord. No one can recount them. No thought escapes Him.
Chapter 43: Here Sirach continues with the last thought of chapter 42: He praises the splendor of the firmament, of the sun with heat greater than that of a furnace. He admires the moon and the glory of the stars, and the rainbow, and the driving snow and the clouds, and hailstones and other natural wonders. We think against of the remarks on chapter 1 above.
So: Praise the Lord as much as you can, and He will surpass even that praise.
Chapter 44: Chapters 44-50 are praise of the ancient good and great men. Some were men who rules with wisdom in their kingdoms. Some composed music and wrote verses. Rich men furnished resources. There were men who have perished as though they never lived. But the men of whom we speak were men of mercy, their righteous deeds are not forgotten, and their posterity continues forever.
Enoch pleased the Lord, and so was taken. Genesis does not say he did not die, though that could easily be supposed. Hebrews 11. 5 says he was translated, "so as not to see death." Wisdom 4. 10-14 probably refers to Enoch. It speaks of the just man who did not live long, but does not name Enoch. The He brew here says he was an example of knowledge or wisdom. The Greek calls him an example of repentance. The Hebrew tradition is reflected in Apocalyptic intertestamental literature. In it Enoch is to reveal divine secrets to men. The Greek may be a Rabbinic reaction to the Hebrew tradition, supposing Enoch was not even firm in faith and so needed to repent.
There is a mysterious passage in Apoc/Rev. 11. 3-13 which speaks of two witnesses. Some think they are Peter and Paul, standing for all martyrs. Many Fathers think they are Enoch and Elijah, and so Enoch is to return before the end.
Noah was found perfect in the time of God's wrath with the whole race. Because of him a remnant s left after the flood. An everlasting covenant was made with him, that God would never again destroy the world by a deluge: Genesis 9. 12-17.
Abraham was the father of many nations, as God had promised Him in Genesis 15. 5-6.
Sirach in 44. 21 says that the Lord assured Abraham that the nations, gentiles, would be blessed through his posterity. Very true in the sense that Christ descended from Abraham. Further, the allusion here is probably to Genesis 12. 3 (cf. 18. 18). In Gen 12. 3 (repeated in 18. 18) we find a text of ambiguous meaning. We could render either: "All families of the earth will invoke blessings on one another through you, i. e, will want to be blessed by God as you are (May you be blessed like Abraham!)". Or as passive: "All nations will be blessed in you." LXX and Paul follow this second. The Hebrew could be either reflexive or passive. St. Paul explains how this was to be done: People are to get blessing by imitating the faith of Abraham, not by mediation of the Jews as a whole. Gal 3:7-9 says those who imitate the faith of Abraham will be blessed.
Does the text mean that the Jews are to be a blessings to all the world? As we have seen, St. Paul does not take it that way. Rather those who imitate the faith of Abraham will inherit the blessing.
Some tend to misunderstand God's election or choice of Israel. In the original context it meant they were to receive the land and other material blessings. There is a difference between God's providentially destining someone to be part of His chosen people, and His destining someone for heaven. The election meant, and means, only the former, that is a destining of people to be part of His chosen people. It does not imply a predestination to heaven. In regard to membership in the chosen people, St. Paul in Ephesians 3. 5 reveals a mystery not known to previous generations: the gentiles too are to be part of the People of God, along with those Jews who accept their Messiah, Christ.
As to heaven, final salvation, St. Paul, in chapter 4 of Romans, made clear that it is not enough to be racially descended from Abraham: one must also imitate the faith of Abraham.
Isaac got only a brief mention in Sirach: God gave the same assurance to Isaac for the sake of Abraham.
Jacob received God's blessing and the twelve tribes came from him. The mention is brief: Sirach may have had in mind Jacob's behavior to his brother Esau, and the way he stole the blessing of Isaac.
Moses was descended from Jacob, and found favor in the sight of all flesh. Go, d made Moses equal in glory to the holy ones-- Hebrew elohim which could mean God, often meant angels or even human judges. Here probably stands for angels. By the word of Moses God causes signs, miracles, to happen, and to cease. God glorified Moses before kings-- Pharaoh, Agag, Og, and Sihon come to mind. God gave Moses commands for his people-- the Law. God showed Moses part of His glory:" Moses had asked to see God. God said He would put Moses in the cleft of the rock and hold His hand in the way as He passed, so Moses might not see Him completely: Exodus 33. 18-23.
God led Moses into the thick darkness, which hung over Sinai when God gave Moses the commandments. V. 5 says God gave him commands "face to face". This does not mean Moses actually saw God, as we just explained. But that expression means God would speak to Moses and let Moses speak as clearly as two humans might converse together: Exodus 33. 11.
Aaron brother of Moses and holy like him, was of the tribe of Levi. God gave to the Levites an everlasting priesthood. After Moses came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf, he ordered many killed. The Levites did so, and as a result the tribe as dedicated to the Lord: Exodus 32. 25-29. God gave Aaron splendid vestments to be the High Priest: Exodus chapter 28. The Ephod (Exodus 28. 5ff) seems to have been a sleeveless garment of fine twined linen decorated with gold and blue, purple and scarlet cloth. There were two shoulder pieces and a belt. In the shoulder pieces were two onyx stones engraved with the names of the 12 tribes. It seems to have had a pocket to contain the Urim and Thummim, which were used for divination of God's replies to questions. They were probably two small stones, one to indicate an affirmative reply, the other a negative one.
Moses ordained Aaron and his sons (44. 15)The word used is to fill the hands, probably with offerings. The ritual is in Leviticus 8.
The high priest was to have authority to give decisions: v. 17. Cf. Dt. 17. 8-9 and 21. 5. In parallel, Jesus gave to Peter and the Apostles the authority to bind and loose.
Dathan, Abiram, and Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron, in Numbers chapter 26. they said not only Moses is holy -the whole community is holy. (Reminds one of today's demands for the Church to be a democracy). God dramatically destroyed them for their arrogance: the earth opened up and swallowed them alive, and a fire broke out and killed 250 of their followers.
The Levites were to have no cities of their own, but were to live by the offerings given by the people: 45. 20-22.
Phinehas son of Eleazar. Eleazar carried out the census of the people and distributed the land to them: Numbers 26. 1-4. But Sirach does not even mention this event, preferring to speak of the great deed of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, in the Numbers 25. When Israel was at Shittim, on the eve of their entrance into the promised land, many gave into women of Moab who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. One man of Israel was so bold as to bring into the camp a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses. When Phinehas saw this, he took a spear and pierced both the man of Israel and the woman. Then the plague was stayed. It had killed about 24, 000 Israelites. So the Lord told Moses that Phinehas and his descendants were to have a perpetual priesthood.
St. Paul in 1 Cor 10 tells of this event to warn the Corinthians that the mere fact they belonged to the people of God would not make their salvation safe: they did not have the foolish "infallible salvation," such that they could sin a thousand times a day and not be "separated from the Lamb" as Luther later said people could sin with impunity.
David the great hero of Israel, gets only a short notice at this point--more to come later-- which says that the dignity of king was to descend from him, as was the dignity of the priesthood from Aaron and his descendants.
Joshua as the assistant and success of Moses. He became a "savior" of the people. There is a play on the meaning of the name Joshua, which means: God saves. A later form of the same name was Jesus. Sirach says Joshua "took vengeance" on the enemies of Israel. The RSV and NRSV word vengeance is unfortunate. NAB is better: to punish. The Greek here has ekdikesai which reflects the sense of Hebrew naqam, which means righting the objective moral order, and not vengeance . 46. 2 says Joshua lifted up his hands against the cities (cf. Dt. 7-1-5. )There is an archeological difficulty in finding the site of Ai today. However, the exact location is under dispute.
The people of Gibeon under pretense made a covenant with Joshua, which he however honored, so that when a coalition of kings attacked Gibeon, Joshua went to defend it. In he course of the battle, the Lord threw great hailstones from the sky against the invaders. Joshua then, according to Numbers 10. 12-14 prayed that God might make the sun stop still so he would not lose them in the darkness. God did it, there was day of double length. Does the OT guarantee the reality of this incident? In 10. 13 we read "Is not this written in the Book of Jashar", seemingly an extrascriptural source. Therefore it is hard to be certain that Scripture means to assert, or guarantee that the sun really did stand still: it may only guarantee that the Book of Jashar contains such an account, and at least that part of the book seems to have been poetic (On the matter of "asserting" cf. Vatican II On Divine Revelation §11).
Also, when Moses had send spies to look at the land of Canaan, and the spies had given a false report, that the inhabitants were giants, only Joshua and Caleb told the truth -which the people did not believe. Therefore God ordered them to return to the wilderness for forty years, until all those who refused to believe would hav died off. Only Joshua and Caleb God kept alive to enter the promised land (Numbers chapters 13 -14.
The Judges were charismatic leaders, some of whom became unfaithful to God: Gedeon (Judges 9/27) did turn to idolatry. His son Ahimelek in chapter 9, became very wicked. Samson became unfaithful to God: Judges chapters 13-16. Sirach prays that their bones may revive. Is he thinking of a resurrection? This is debated. Yet is the dating of Sirach we gave in the introduction was correct, then many did know of a resurrection by the time of composition.
Samuel anointed the first king of Israel, Saul. He also anointed David as the next ruler. In 1 Sam 7. 7 when the Philistines gathered against Israel and the people were fearful, he offered up an unweaned lamb and brought victory Before his death he challenged the people to say if he had taken anyone's property:1 Sam 12. 1-5. After his death the medium of Endor, at request of Saul, called up the spirit of Samuel, who then told Saul he would be with him, dead, the next day:1 Sam 28. 8-24.
David: In 1 Sam. 17. 32-37, before going out against Goliath, David told Saul he had killed a lion and a bear. He slew the giant Goliath with a stone from a sling. In chapter 18 the women after this victory sang: Saul slew his thousands, David his ten thousands. Saul became insanely jealous -perhaps really insane, and tried much to kill David. David had more than one opportunity to kill Saul when Saul was pursuing him, but did not do so. After Saul's death David became king of part of Israel at Hebron, but soon king of all: 2 Sam chapters 2 - 5.
God ordered David to wage many wars, and he subdued the Philistines. He also arranged to make the worship in the temple glorious with great rituals and singers: 1 Chron Chapters 23-25.
In 47. 11 we read that God took away his sins--for he committed adultery with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. Then to try to cover up, had Uriah put in the front lines and deserted, so that he was killed. Nathan the prophet reproached David. He promptly acknowledged his sin and repented.
At one time he thought of building a great temple: 2 Samuel chapter 7. Nathan told him God did not want David to build it, but his son Solomon. But God promised an eternal dynasty to David - which was fulfilled in Christ. For after the great exile, there were no more Davidic kings. But as Isaiah 11. 1 foretold, a sprout came from the stump of Jesse (David's father), which was the Messiah-- as even the Targum understood.
In 1 Chron. 22. 8 God tells David he must not build the temple: he has so much blood on his hands - even though God had commanded his wars. Yet in 1 Kings 14. 8 God says David was a perfect man. The answer is that although David had not sinned in these wars, yet it was a matter of fittingness that the temple should be built by one with hands free of blood. Similarly later an earl Christian writer, Origen, said that Christians should pray for victory in war, but not fight themselves.
Solomon was at first a wise son to David. He built a house for God, the first great temple. At the start of his reign God offered Solomon any gift he might wish. Solomon wished for wisdom to rule the people. God was very pleased, gave it to him richly: 1 Kings 3. 5-14. Solomon also built the temple using materials and skilled craftsmen David had provided. After the dedication of the temple, "The Lord appeared to him a second time" 1 Kings 9. 1-14. He said if Solomon was faithful his throne would last forever. But if he and the people were unfaithful, then God would destroy the temple, and scatter them over the face of the earth. And those who would se the ruins would whisper: Why And the reply :Because they deserted the Lord. Sadly that came true: the same threat was repeated in Jeremiah 22. 1-9.
His name reached distant lands, so that the Queen of Sheba came to visit and admire him: 1 Kings 10. But Solomon married many foreign wives, and they wanted shrines to their gods, which Solomon gave: 1 Kings 11. Therefore God told him he would punish this sin, but not until after Solomon's death- for the sake of David. The punishment cam when God took away wisdom and even common sense from his son Rehoboam. When the people asked him to let up on the forced labor and heavy taxes, Rehoboam said: My father beat you with whips; I will beat you with scorpions: 1 Kings 12. As a result the northern tribes left, and made Jeroboam their king, thus starting the division into two kingdoms. To keep people from coming to Jerusalem, Jerobom established shrines in the north for them.
Elijah the prophet arose like a fire. He brought a famine on them and brought down fire from the sky. He even raised a corpse from the dead: 1 Kings chapters 17-19.
At the end, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot. Sirach 48.19 tells us that Elijah is to return before the end to calm the wrath of God. Cf. Malachi 3. 23-24. Since St. Paul predicts the conversion of the Jews to Christ before the end: Romans 11. 125-26, we may perhaps suppose that Elijah is to be the agent of their conversion.
Elisha was chosen by Elijah as his assistant and successor: 1 Kings 19. 16-21. He was fearless before kings. Even after his death, contact with his dead body brought a man back to life: 2 Kings 13. 20-21.
Yet the people did not repent even after seeing the wonders he wrought. So they were taken into exile: 2 Kings chapter 17.
Hezekiah (about 715-687) was one of the few good kings- as Sirach tells us in 49. 4 only David, Hezekiah and Josiah were good. All the other kings were wicked.
He fortified Jerusalem and dug a great tunnel- still to be seen- to bring water in in case of a siege: 2 Kings 20. 20 and 2 Chron 32. 30. When Sennacherib King of Assyria came against the city, Hezekiah prayed and called Isaiah: cf 2 Kings chapter 19 and Isaiah chapters 36-37. God slew 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians.
When Hezekiah became very ill, and Isaiah told him he must die, he prayed to the Lord. Isaiah returned and promised him 15 years more of life, and to confirm it he caused the shadow on the steps (like a sundial it seems) go back ten steps: Isaiah 38. An embassy (Isaiah chapter 39) came to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery. We wonder: was the sun miracle visible even in Babylon? We do not know. After that embassy Isaiah came and foretold the Babylonian captivity: chapter 39, to happen after the death of Hezekiah.
Josiah ruled about 640-609 BC. In the 12th year of his reign he purged Judah of the pagan high poles, the Asherim and the idols: 2 Chr 34. 3. He even tried to extend his reform into the northern kingdom: 2 Kings 23. 1-25; 2 Chr 34. 1-7. Second Kings 22. 8-20 tells us that in the 28th year of his reign the high priest Hilkiah found a book of the law in the temple, which may have been hidden in the period of Assyrian oppression. Some think it was the whole Pentateuch; most think it was only Deuteronomy or a part of it, esp. chapter 12-26. He pledged to follow the covenant: 2 Kings 23. 1-3. But it seems the pople did not join wholeheartedly in his reforms: cf. Jer 1-20 He fell in battle against Pharaoh Neco at Megiddo.
But he was the last of the good kinds- there were only 3 in all as we noted above. God was much offended by the others, and so Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Jerusalem in 596, and came again in 586. He destroyed the city and temple and took most of the people into captivity. They had not heeded the warnings of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Ezekiel saw the vision of the glory of God leaving Jerusalem: Ezek chapter 6.
Sirach prays that the bones of the twelve prophets may revive. Very interestingly , Matthew 27. 53 says that at the death of Jesus, many bodies of holy persons came back to life. Further St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to Magnesia 9. 2 wrote: "the prophets being disciples of His in the spirit were expecting Him as their teacher. And for this reason, when he came who they rightly awaited, He raised them from the dead."
Postexilic great men:
Zerubbabel deemed to have been the leader of a second wave of Jews returning from Babylon. Clearly in 520 when work resumed in rebuilding the temple, he was governor. He was the Lord's servant: Zech 3. 8 and 6.12-13. Working with him in restoring the temple was Jeshua the high priest, son of Jozadak: cf. Haggagi 2. 2.
The memory of Nehemiah is also everlasting for his raising of the walls of Jerusalem again: Neh. 2. 1-8;2, 17018l7. 1-3.
Simon II brother of Jonathan of the Maccabees, was famed for his work in restoring the temple, and for carrying out elaborate worship there. But before that, he had been a leader of the Maccabean army against the forces of Trypho: 1 Macc. chapter 13-16. He even made an alliance with Rome. Finally he was murdered by treachery by Ptolemy governor of the plains of Jericho.
Conclusion: From 50. 22 we have largely a praise of God and of wisdom. He does however interject mention of those nations who vex him: the Edomites, traditional enemy of the Jews, especially after the exile. The Philistines were conquered by David, but a real enmity remained. In their coastal region Greek culture triumphed and with it paganism. The most odious were the Samaritans. who lived on the mountains of Ephrem. They were a mixture of a few Israelites left by the Assyrians, with pagans whom the Assyrians sent in. They did, it seems, worship the true God, but with various mixtures with pagan practices. After the exile the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the temple - the Jews refused to accept the help, and the enmity solidified.
Finally Sirach tells how he had always sought wisdom even from his youth and in his travels. To get it is worth any price.