THE BOOK OF WISDOM

The Book of Wisdom was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ. Its author, whose name is not known to us, was probably a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria, in Egypt. He wrote in Greek, in a style patterned on that of Hebrew verse. At times he speaks in the person of Solomon, placing his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition in order to emphasize their value. His profound knowledge of the earlier Old Testament writings is reflected in almost every line of the book, and marks him, like Ben Sira, as an outstanding representative of religious devotion and learning among the sages of postexilic Judaism.

The primary purpose of the author was the edification of his co-religionists in a time when they had experienced suffering and oppression, in part at least at the hands of apostate fellow Jews. To convey his message he made use of the most popular religious themes of his time, namely the splendor and worth of divine wisdom (6:2211:1), the glorious events of the exodus (11:216; 12:2327; 15:1819:22), God’s mercy (11:1712:22), the folly of idolatry (13:115:17), and the manner in which God’s justice operates in rewarding or punishing the individual (1:16:21). The first ten chapters in particular provide background for the teaching of Jesus and for some New Testament theology about Jesus. Many passages from this section of the book, notably 3:18, are used by the church in the liturgy.

The principal divisions of the Book of Wisdom are:

  1. The Reward of Righteousness (1:16:21).
  2. Praise of Wisdom by Solomon (6:2211:1).
  3. Special Providence of God During the Exodus (11:216; 12:2327; 15:1819:22) with digressions on God’s mercy (11:1712:22) and on the folly and shame of idolatry (13:115:17).

I. THE REWARD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS*

CHAPTER 1

Exhortation to Righteousness, the Key to Life

1Love righteousness,* you who judge the earth;a

think of the LORD in goodness,

and seek him in integrity of heart;b

2Because he is found by those who do not test him,

and manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.c

3For perverse counsels separate people from God,

and his power, put to the proof, rebukes the foolhardy;d

4* Because into a soul that plots evil wisdom does not enter,

nor does she dwell in a body under debt of sin.e

5For the holy spirit of discipline* flees deceit

and withdraws from senseless counsels

and is rebuked when unrighteousness occurs.f

6For wisdom is a kindly spirit,

yet she does not acquit blasphemous lips;

Because God is the witness of the inmost selfg

and the sure observer of the heart

and the listener to the tongue.h

7For the spirit of the LORD fills the world,i

is all-embracing, and knows whatever is said.

8Therefore those who utter wicked things will not go unnoticed,

nor will chastising condemnation pass them by.j

9For the devices of the wicked shall be scrutinized,

and the sound of their words shall reach the LORD,

for the chastisement of their transgressions;

10Because a jealous ear hearkens to everything,k

and discordant grumblings are not secret.

11Therefore guard against profitless grumbling,

and from calumny* withhold your tongues;

For a stealthy utterance will not go unpunished,

and a lying mouth destroys the soul.

12Do not court death* by your erring way of life,

nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands.

13Because God did not make death,l

nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.

14For he fashioned all things that they might have being,

and the creatures of the world are wholesome;

There is not a destructive drug among them

nor any domain of Hades* on earth,

15For righteousness is undying.* m

The Wicked Reject Immortality and Righteousness Alike

16It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death,

considered it a friend, and pined for it,

and made a covenant with it,

Because they deserve to be allied with it.n

* [1:16:21] The reward is the gift of immortality, to the righteous (1:15; 3:13), but not to the wicked (5:113). Contrasts between these two groups dominate chaps. 15. The philosophy of the wicked and their persecution of the righteous are dramatically presented in 1:162:24. New light is shed on the suffering of the righteous (3:19), childlessness (3:1315), and premature death (4:716)—in contrast to the fate of the wicked (3:1012, 1619; 4:36, 1720).

* [1:1] Righteousness: not merely the cardinal virtue of justice (cf. 8:7), but the universal moral quality which is the application of wisdom to moral conduct. You who judge: “judges” and “kings” (cf. 6:1) are addressed in accordance with the literary customs of the times and with the putative Solomonic authorship, but the real audience is the Jewish community.

* [1:4] In these verses personified Wisdom is identified with the spirit of the Lord; so also in 9:17.

* [1:5] Discipline: here and elsewhere, another name for Wisdom.

* [1:11] Calumny: speech against God and divine providence is meant.

* [1:12] Death: as will become clear, the author is not speaking of physical death but of spiritual death, the eternal separation from God.

* [1:14] Hades: the Greek term for the Hebrew Sheol, the dwelling place of the dead.

* [1:15] Undying: immortality is not seen as an innate quality of the soul but as a gift of God to the righteous.

a. [1:1] 1 Chr 29:17; Ps 2:10; Is 26:9.

b. [1:12] Sir 1:25.

c. [1:2] 1 Chr 28:9.

d. [1:3] Is 59:2.

e. [1:4] Sir 15:78; Rom 7:14.

f. [1:5] Is 63:10.

g. [1:6] Jer 17:10.

h. [1:67] Jer 23:2425.

i. [1:7] Wis 12:1.

j. [1:8] Prv 19:5.

k. [1:1011] Nm 14:2728.

l. [1:1314] Ez 18:32; 33:11; 2 Pt 3:9.

m. [1:15] Is 51:68.

n. [1:16] Is 28:15.

CHAPTER 2

1For, not thinking rightly, they said among themselves:*

“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;a

there is no remedy for our dying,

nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.

2For by mere chance were we born,

and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;

Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,

and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,

3And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes

and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.b

4Even our name will be forgotten in time,

and no one will recall our deeds.

So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,

and will be dispersed like a mist

Pursued by the sun’s rays

and overpowered by its heat.

5For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;

and our dying cannot be deferred

because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.c

6Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,

and make use of creation with youthful zest.d

7Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,

and let no springtime blossom pass us by;

8let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.

9Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;

everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,

for this is our portion, and this our lot.e

10Let us oppress the righteous poor;

let us neither spare the widow

nor revere the aged for hair grown white with time.f

11But let our strength be our norm of righteousness;

for weakness proves itself useless.

12* Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us;

he opposes our actions,

Reproaches us for transgressions of the law*

and charges us with violations of our training.g

13He professes to have knowledge of God

and styles himself a child of the LORD.h

14To us he is the censure of our thoughts;

merely to see him is a hardship for us,i

15Because his life is not like that of others,

and different are his ways.

16He judges us debased;

he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.

He calls blest the destiny of the righteous

and boasts that God is his Father.j

17Let us see whether his words be true;

let us find out what will happen to him in the end.k

18For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him

and deliver him from the hand of his foes.l

19With violence and torture let us put him to the test

that we may have proof of his gentleness

and try his patience.

20Let us condemn him to a shameful death;

for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”m

21These were their thoughts, but they erred;

for their wickedness blinded them,n

22* And they did not know the hidden counsels of God;

neither did they count on a recompense for holiness

nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.o

23For God formed us to be imperishable;

the image of his own nature he made us.p

24But by the envy* of the devil, death entered the world,

and they who are allied with him experience it.q

* [2:120] In this speech the wicked deny survival after death and indeed invite death by their evil deeds.

* [2:125:23] From 2:12 to 5:23 the author draws heavily on Is 5262, setting forth his teaching in a series of characters or types taken from Isaiah and embellished with additional details from other texts. The description of the “righteous one” in 2:1220 seems to undergird the New Testament passion narrative.

* [2:12] Law: the law of Moses; “training” has the same meaning.

* [2:22] This verse announces the subject of the next section.

* [2:24] Envy: perhaps because Adam was in the image of God or because Adam had control over all creation. Devil: the first biblical text to equate the serpent of Gn 3 with the devil.

a. [2:1] Jb 14:1; 7:9.

b. [2:3] Jb 7:9; Jas 4:14.

c. [2:5] Ps 144:4.

d. [2:6] Is 22:13; 1 Cor 15:32.

e. [2:9] Jer 13:25.

f. [2:10] Ex 22:2123; Lv 19:32.

g. [2:12] Hos 8:1.

h. [2:13] Mt 27:43; Jn 8:55; 10:3639.

i. [2:14] Mt 9:4.

j. [2:16] Jer 6:30.

k. [2:17] Gn 37:20.

l. [2:18] Ps 22:9; Is 42:1; Mt 27:43; Jn 5:18.

m. [2:20] Jas 5:6.

n. [2:21] Rom 1:21.

o. [2:22] Ps 18:2425; Prv 11:18; Mt 11:25.

p. [2:23] Gn 1:2627; Is 54:16 LXX.

q. [2:24] Gn 3:124; Rom 5:12.

CHAPTER 3

The Hidden Counsels of God*

A. ON SUFFERING*

1The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,a

and no torment shall touch them.

2They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;

and their passing away was thought an affliction

3and their going forth from us, utter destruction.

But they are in peace.b

4For if to others, indeed, they seem punished,

yet is their hope full of immortality;

5Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,

because God tried them

and found them worthy of himself.c

6As gold in the furnace, he proved them,

and as sacrificial offerings* he took them to himself.d

7In the time of their judgment* they shall shine

and dart about as sparks through stubble;e

8They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,

and the LORD shall be their King forever.f

9Those who trust in him shall understand truth,

and the faithful shall abide with him in love:

Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,g

and his care is with the elect.

10But the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,*

since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.

11For those who despise wisdom and instruction are doomed.h

Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,

and worthless their works.i

12Their wives are foolish and their children wicked,

accursed their brood.j

B. ON CHILDLESSNESS*

13Yes, blessed is she who, childless and undefiled,

never knew transgression of the marriage bed;

for she shall bear fruit at the judgment of souls.*

14So also the eunuch whose hand wrought no misdeed,

who held no wicked thoughts against the LORD

For he shall be given fidelity’s choice reward*

and a more gratifying heritage in the LORD’s temple.k

15For the fruit of noble struggles is a glorious one;

and unfailing is the root of understanding.* l

16But the children of adulterers* will remain without issue,

and the progeny of an unlawful bed will disappear.m

17For should they attain long life, they will be held in no esteem,

and dishonored will their old age be in the end;

18Should they die abruptly, they will have no hope

nor comfort in the day of scrutiny;

19for dire is the end of the wicked generation.n

* [3:14:19] The central section of chaps. 16. The author begins by stating that immortality is the reward of the righteous, and then in the light of that belief comments on three points of the traditional discussion of the problem of retribution (suffering, childlessness, early death) each of which was often seen as a divine punishment.

* [3:112] The author affirms that, for the righteous, sufferings are not punishments but purification and opportunities to show fidelity, whereas for the wicked suffering is truly a punishment.

* [3:6] Offerings: the image is that of the burnt offering, in which the victim is completely consumed by fire.

* [3:7] Judgment: the Greek episkopē is God’s loving judgment of those who have been faithful to him; the same word is used in 14:11 for the punishment of the wicked at God’s judgment. Cf. also v. 13.

* [3:10] To match their thoughts: a fate as empty as that which they describe in 2:15.

* [3:134:6] The true fruit of life is not children but virtue which leads to immortality. The many children of the wicked will be a disappointing fruit.

* [3:13] See vv. 79.

* [3:14] Fidelity’s choice reward: cf. Is 56:18. More gratifying: better than sons and daughters; cf. Is 56:5.

* [3:15] Root of understanding: the root that is understanding (wisdom).

* [3:16] Adulterers: understood here as a type of sinners in general; cf. Is 57:35.

a. [3:1] Jb 12:10.

b. [3:3] Is 57:2.

c. [3:5] Tb 12:13; 2 Cor 4:17; 1 Pt 1:67.

d. [3:6] Ps 51:19; Prv 17:3; Sir 2:5; Is 48:10.

e. [3:7] Dn 12:3; Ob 18; Mal 3:3; Mt 13:43.

f. [3:8] Wis 8:14; Prv 8:16; Dn 7:22; 1 Cor 6:2; Rev 20:4.

g. [3:9] Wis 4:15; Jb 10:12; Jn 15:10.

h. [3:11] Prv 1:7.

i. [3:1112] Sir 41:8.

j. [3:12] Dt 28:18.

k. [3:14] Is 56:25.

l. [3:15] Sir 1:18.

m. [3:16] 2 Sm 12:14.

n. [3:19] Ps 34:22.

CHAPTER 4

1Better is childlessness with virtue;

for immortal is the memory of virtue,

acknowledged both by God and human beings.a

2When it is present people imitate it,

and they long for it when it is gone;

Forever it marches crowned in triumph,

victorious in unsullied deeds of valor.

3But the numerous progeny of the wicked shall be of no avail;

their spurious offshoots shall not strike deep root

nor take firm hold.b

4For even though their branches flourish for a time,

they are unsteady and shall be rocked by the wind

and, by the violence of the winds, uprooted;c

5Their twigs shall be broken off untimely,

their fruit useless, unripe for eating,

fit for nothing.

6For children born of lawless unions

give evidence of the wickedness of their parents, when they are examined.

C. ON EARLY DEATH*

7But the righteous one, though he die early, shall be at rest.d

8For the age that is honorable comes not with the passing of time,e

nor can it be measured in terms of years.

9Rather, understanding passes for gray hair,

and an unsullied life is the attainment of old age.

10* The one who pleased God was loved,f

living among sinners, was transported—

11Snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind

or deceit beguile his soul;g

12For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right

and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind.h

13Having become perfect in a short while,

he reached the fullness of a long career;

14for his soul was pleasing to the LORD,

therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.i

But the people saw and did not understand,

nor did they take that consideration into account.*

16Yes, the righteous one who has died will condemn

the sinful who live;

And youth, swiftly completed, will condemn

the many years of the unrighteous who have grown old.j

17For they will see the death of the wise one

and will not understand what the LORD intended,

or why he kept him safe.

18They will see, and hold him in contempt;

but the LORD will laugh them to scorn.k

19And they shall afterward become dishonored corpsesl

and an unceasing mockery among the dead.

For he shall strike them down speechless and prostratem

and rock them to their foundations;

They shall be utterly laid waste

and shall be in grief

and their memory shall perish.

The Judgment of the Wicked

20Fearful shall they come, at the counting up of their sins,

and their lawless deeds shall convict them to their face.

* [4:719] Early death is not a punishment for the righteous because genuine old age is the attainment of perfection and early death is a preservation from corruption. The old age and death of the wicked, however, will not be honorable.

* [4:1011] There are allusions here to Enoch (Gn 5:2124), who was young by patriarchal standards, and to Lot (Gn 19:1011; 2 Pt 2:78). Cf. also Is 57:12.

* [4:14] Verse 15 is omitted because it repeats the last two lines of 3:9.

a. [4:1] Prv 3:34; Sir 16:13.

b. [4:3] Sir 23:25.

c. [4:4] Sir 40:15; Is 40:24.

d. [4:7] Wis 3:3.

e. [4:8] Jb 12:12; 32:9; Sir 25:46.

f. [4:10] Gn 5:24; Sir 44:16; Heb 11:5.

g. [4:11] Is 57:12.

h. [4:12] Wis 2:21; Dn 13:9.

i. [4:14] Gn 19:22, 29; 2 Pt 2:7.

j. [4:16] Mt 12:4142.

k. [4:18] Ps 37:13.

l. [4:19] Neh 1:10 LXX; Ps 18:8; Is 14:19; Jer 23:3940.

m. [4:19] 2 Mc 3:29.

CHAPTER 5

1* Then shall the righteous one with great assurance confronta

his oppressors who set at nought his labors.b

2Seeing this, the wicked shall be shaken with dreadful fear,

and be amazed at the unexpected salvation.

3They shall say among themselves, rueful

and groaning through anguish of spirit:

“This is the one whom once we held as a laughingstock

and as a type for mockery,

4fools that we were!

His life we accounted madness,

and death dishonored.

5See how he is accounted among the heavenly beings;*

how his lot is with the holy ones!c

6We, then, have strayed from the way of truth,d

and the light of righteousness did not shine for us,

and the sun did not rise for us.e

7We were entangled in the thorns of mischief and of ruin;

we journeyed through trackless deserts,

but the way of the LORD we never knew.

8What did our pride avail us?

What have wealth and its boastfulness afforded us?f

9All of them passed like a shadow

and like a fleeting rumor;g

10Like a ship traversing the heaving water:

when it has passed, no trace can be found,

no path of its keel in the waves.

11Or like a bird flying through the air;

no evidence of its course is to be found—

But the fluid air, lashed by the beating of pinions,

and cleft by the rushing force

Of speeding wings, is traversed;

and afterward no mark of passage can be found in it.

12Or as, when an arrow has been shot at a mark,

the parted air straightway flows together again

so that none discerns the way it went—

13Even so, once born, we abruptly came to nought

and held no sign of virtue to display,

but were consumed in our wickedness.”h

14* Yes, the hope of the wicked is like chaff borne by the wind,

and like fine, storm-driven snow;

Like smoke scattered by the wind,

and like the passing memory of the nomad camping for a single day.i

15But the righteous live forever,

and in the LORD is their recompense,

and the thought of them is with the Most High.j

16Therefore shall they receive the splendid crown,

the beautiful diadem, from the hand of the LORD,

For he will shelter them with his right hand,

and protect them with his arm.k

17He shall take his zeal for armorl

and arm creation to requite the enemy,

18Shall put on righteousness for a breastplate,

wear sure judgment for a helmet,

19Shall take invincible holiness for a shield,m

20and sharpen his sudden anger for a sword.

The universe will war with him against the foolhardy;

21Well-aimed bolts of lightning will go forth

and from the clouds will leap to the mark as from a well-drawn bow;n

22and as from a sling, wrathful hailstones shall be hurled.

The waters of the sea will be enraged

and flooding rivers will overwhelm them;o

23A mighty wind will confront them

and winnow them like a tempest;

Thus lawlessness will lay waste the whole earth

and evildoing overturn the thrones of the mighty.p

* [5:113] In contrast to their speech in chap. 2 the wicked now regret their assessment of life and righteousness.

* [5:5] Heavenly beings: lit., “sons of God.” These are the holy ones, members of the heavenly court, among whom the righteous are to be found. A bodily resurrection does not seem to be envisioned.

* [5:1423] A picture of the reward of the righteous which develops into an apocalyptic description of the divine warrior’s destruction of evil. The author utilizes Is 5962.

a. [5:12] 2 Thes 1:67.

b. [5:1] Col 2:15.

c. [5:5] Acts 26:18; Col 1:12.

d. [5:6] Prv 4:1819; Jn 12:35.

e. [5:67] Prv 22:5; Is 59:614.

f. [5:8] Ps 49:7; Prv 10:2.

g. [5:912] 1 Chr 20:15; Jb 9:2526 LXX; Ps 144:4.

h. [5:13] Ez 33:10.

i. [5:14] Jb 21:18; Ps 1:4; 37:20; Is 17:13.

j. [5:15] Is 62:11; Ez 18:9.

k. [5:16] Ex 33:22; Is 62:3; 2 Tm 4:8; 1 Pt 5:4.

l. [5:17] Is 59:17.

m. [5:1920] Dt 32:4043.

n. [5:21] Hb 3:911.

o. [5:22] Dt 11:4.

p. [5:23] Wis 11:20; Sir 10:1314.

CHAPTER 6

Exhortation to Seek Wisdom*

1Hear, therefore, kings, and understand;a

learn, you magistrates* of the earth’s expanse!

2Give ear, you who have power over multitudes

and lord it over throngs of peoples!

3Because authority was given you by the Lord

and sovereignty by the Most High,

who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels!b

4Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you did not judge rightly,

and did not keep the law,*

nor walk according to the will of God,

5Terribly and swiftly he shall come against you,

because severe judgment awaits the exalted—

6For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercyc

but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.

7For the Ruler of all shows no partiality,

nor does he fear greatness,d

Because he himself made the great as well as the small,

and provides for all alike;

8but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.

9To you, therefore, O princes, are my words addressede

that you may learn wisdom and that you may not fall away.

10For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed will be found holy,

and those learned in them will have ready a response.*

11Desire therefore my words;

long for them and you will be instructed.

12Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom,

and she is readily perceived by those who love her,

and found by those who seek her.f

13She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her;g

14one who watches for her at dawn will not be disappointed,

for she will be found sitting at the gate.

15For setting your heart on her is the perfection of prudence,

and whoever keeps vigil for her is quickly free from care;

16Because she makes her rounds, seeking those worthy of her,

and graciously appears to them on the way,

and goes to meet them with full attention.h

17* For the first step toward Wisdom is an earnest desire for discipline;i

18then, care for discipline is love of her;

love means the keeping of her laws;

To observe her laws is the basis for incorruptibility;

19and incorruptibility makes one close to God;

20thus the desire for Wisdom leads to a kingdom.

21If, then, you find pleasure in throne and scepter, you princes of peoples,

honor Wisdom, that you may reign as kings forever.

II. PRAISE OF WISDOM BY SOLOMON*

Introduction

22Now what wisdom is, and how she came to be I shall proclaim;

and I shall conceal no secrets from you,

But from the very beginning I shall search out

and bring to light knowledge of her;

I shall not diverge from the truth.j

23Neither shall I admit consuming jealousy to my company,

because that can have no fellowship with Wisdom.k

24A multitude of the wise is the safety of the world,

and a prudent king, the stability of the people;l

25so take instruction from my words, to your profit.

* [6:121] The first part of the book closes with an exhortation comparable to 1:115, and it leads into “Solomon’s” personal comments on wisdom in chaps. 79.

* [6:1] Kings…magistrates: note the inclusion with v. 21 (“kings”). The address to earthly powers is in accord with the opening (1:1), but the true audience remains the Jewish community.

* [6:4] Law: that of Moses; cf. 2:12; 6:10.

* [6:10] Response: a suitable plea before the great Judge. Cf. Prv 22:21; Jb 31:14; Hb 2:1; Sir 8:9.

* [6:1720] This type of reasoning approximates the rhetorical sorites, a series of statements in which the predicate of each becomes the subject of the next. Cf. Rom 5:35.

* [6:229:18] In these verses the author identifies with Solomon (without mentioning that name anywhere), and praises the beauty of Wisdom, describing how he sought her out. Thus the readers of the book can find a model in their search for Wisdom.

a. [6:12] Wis 1:1; Ps 2:10; Sir 33:19; Mi 3:1, 9.

b. [6:3] 2 Chr 36:23; Prv 8:1516; Jn 19:11; Rom 13:1.

c. [6:67] Lk 12:48.

d. [6:7] Dt 1:17; Prv 22:2.

e. [6:911] Dt 4:10; Ps 2:12; Sir 32:14; 1 Jn 3:7.

f. [6:12] Wis 7:10; Prv 8:17; Jer 29:13.

g. [6:1316] Prv 8:3, 17, 34.

h. [6:16] Prv 8:2021; Sir 15:15.

i. [6:1721] Ps 2:1012; Prv 4:49; 7:14; 8:1516; Dn 7:27; Jn 14:15, 21; 1 Jn 5:3.

j. [6:22] Tb 12:7, 11; Mt 13:11; Jn 15:15.

k. [6:23] Wis 7:13; Jas 3:1415.

l. [6:24] Prv 11:14; 24:6; 29:4; Sir 10:15.

CHAPTER 7

Solomon Is Like All Others

1I too am a mortal, the same as all the rest,a

and a descendant of the first one formed of earth.*

And in my mother’s womb I was molded into flesh

2in a ten-month period*—body and blood,

from the seed of a man, and the pleasure that accompanies marriage.

3And I too, when born, inhaled the common air,

and fell upon the kindred earth;

wailing, I uttered that first sound common to all.

4In swaddling clothes and with constant care I was nurtured.

5For no king has any different origin or birth;

6one is the entry into life for all,

and in one same way they leave it.b

Solomon Prayed and Wisdom and Riches Came to Him

7Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me;

I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.c

8I preferred her to scepter and throne,d

And deemed riches nothing in comparison with her,

9nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;

Because all gold, in view of her, is a bit of sand,

and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.

10Beyond health and beauty I loved her,

And I chose to have her rather than the light,

because her radiance never ceases.e

11Yet all good things together came to me with her,f

and countless riches at her hands;

12I rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader,

though I had not known that she is their mother.* g

Solomon Prays for Help to Speak Worthily of Wisdom

13Sincerely I learned about her, and ungrudgingly do I share—

her riches I do not hide away;h

14For she is an unfailing treasure;

those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God,

being commended by the gifts that come from her discipline.*

15Now God grant I speak suitably

and value these endowments at their worth:

For he is the guide of Wisdom

and the director of the wise.

16For both we and our words are in his hand,

as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.i

17* For he gave me sound knowledge of what exists,

that I might know the structure of the universe and the force of its elements,

18The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times,

the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons,

19Cycles of years, positions of stars,

20natures of living things, tempers of beasts,

Powers of the winds and thoughts of human beings,

uses of plants and virtues of roots—

21Whatever is hidden or plain I learned,

22for Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me.j

Nature and Incomparable Dignity of Wisdom

* For in her is a spirit

intelligent, holy, unique,

Manifold, subtle, agile,

clear, unstained, certain,

Never harmful, loving the good, keen,k

23unhampered, beneficent, kindly,

Firm, secure, tranquil,

all-powerful, all-seeing,

And pervading all spirits,

though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.

24For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,

and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.l

25* For she is a breath of the might of God

and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;

therefore nothing defiled can enter into her.

26For she is the reflection of eternal light,

the spotless mirror of the power of God,

the image of his goodness.m

27Although she is one, she can do all things,

and she renews everything while herself perduring;

Passing into holy souls from age to age,

she produces friends of God and prophets.n

28For God loves nothing so much as the one who dwells with Wisdom.

29For she is fairer than the suno

and surpasses every constellation of the stars.

Compared to light, she is found more radiant;

30though night supplants light,

wickedness does not prevail over Wisdom.

* [7:1] First one formed of earth: Adam. The author omits throughout the book the proper names of the characters in sacred history of whom he speaks; see especially chap. 10.

* [7:2] In a ten-month period: ten lunar months.

* [7:12] Mother: lit., “she who begets.” Although Wisdom herself is begotten of God (Prv 8:2224), she is here the one who brings into being.

* [7:14] Discipline: cf. note on 1:5.

* [7:1722a] Wisdom teaches not only righteousness and friendship with God but also sound knowledge of the world, the universe, plants, animals and human beings. See also 1 Kgs 5:914; these specialties reflect Hellenistic culture.

* [7:22b23] The twenty-one (7 × 3) attributes of the spirit in Wisdom reflect the influence of contemporary philosophy, especially the Stoa, but the personification rests also on Prv 8:2231 and Sir 24.

* [7:2526] Five strong metaphors underline the origins and closeness of Wisdom with God. See the use of this language in Heb 1:3; Col 1:15.

a. [7:12] Wis 10:1; Gn 2:7; Jb 10:912; 33:6; 1 Cor 15:4749.

b. [7:6] Jb 1:21; Lk 2:12; 1 Tm 6:78.

c. [7:7] 1 Kgs 3:515; Prv 2:311.

d. [7:89] Wis 8:5; 1 Kgs 10:21; Jb 28:1519; Prv 3:1416; 8:10, 1819.

e. [7:10] Prv 6:23.

f. [7:11] Prv 8:21.

g. [7:12] Prv 8:1415.

h. [7:13] Wis 6:23.

i. [7:16] Wis 3:1.

j. [7:22] Wis 14:2; Prv 8:30.

k. [7:2223] Heb 4:1213; Jas 3:17.

l. [7:24] Wis 8:1.

m. [7:26] 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; Heb 1:3.

n. [7:27] Ex 33:11; Jb 42:2; Ps 104:29; Jl 3:1.

o. [7:2930] Sg 6:3, 9.

CHAPTER 8

1Indeed, she spans the world from end to end mightily

and governs all things well.a

Wisdom, the Source of Blessings

2Her I loved and sought after from my youth;

I sought to take her for my bride*

and was enamored of her beauty.b

3She adds to nobility the splendor of companionship with God;

even the Ruler of all loved her.

4For she leads into the understanding of God,

and chooses his works.c

5If riches are desirable in life,

what is richer than Wisdom, who produces all things?d

6And if prudence is at work,e

who in the world is a better artisan than she?

7Or if one loves righteousness,

whose works are virtues,

She teaches moderation and prudence,

righteousness and fortitude,*

and nothing in life is more useful than these.

8Or again, if one yearns for wide experience,

she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come.

She understands the turns of phrases and the solutions of riddles;

signs and wonders she knows in advance

and the outcome of times and ages.f

Wisdom as Solomon’s Counselor and Comfort

9So I determined to take her to live with me,

knowing that she would be my counselor while all was well,

and my comfort in care and grief.

10Because of her I have glory among the multitudes,g

and esteem from the elders, though I am but a youth.

11I shall become keen in judgment,

and shall be a marvel before rulers.

12They will wait while I am silent and listen when I speak;

and when I shall speak the more,

they will put their hands upon their mouths.*

13Because of her I shall have immortality

and leave to those after me an everlasting memory.h

14I shall govern peoples, and nations will be my subjects—i

15tyrannical princes, hearing of me, will be afraid;

in the assembly I shall appear noble, and in war courageous.

16Entering my house, I shall take my repose beside her;

For association with her involves no bitterness

and living with her no grief,

but rather joy and gladness.j

Wisdom is a Gift of God

17Reflecting on these things,

and considering in my heart

That immortality lies in kinship with Wisdom,k

18great delight in love of her,

and unfailing riches in the works of her hands;

And that in associating with her there is prudence,

and fair renown in sharing her discourses,

I went about seeking to take her for my own.

19* Now, I was a well-favored child,

and I came by a noble nature;

20or rather, being noble, I attained an unblemished body.

21And knowing that I could not otherwise possess her unless God gave it—

and this, too, was prudence, to know whose gift she is—

I went to the LORD and besought him,l

and said with all my heart:

* [8:2] I loved…my bride: the erotic quality in the pursuit of and living with Woman Wisdom, who is the Lord’s consort (9:4) and loved by him, continues throughout this chapter (vv. 16, 18). It is reflected already in Prv 4:59; 7:45. See also Sir 15:25; 51:1321.

* [8:7] Moderation…fortitude: known also as the cardinal virtues, and recognized in Greek philosophy (Plato).

* [8:12] Hands upon their mouths: a sign of respect for unanswerable wisdom; cf. Jb 40:4.

* [8:1920] Here the author mentions first bodily, then spiritual, excellence. To make it plain that the latter is the governing factor in the harmonious development of the human person, he then reverses the order. The Platonic doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul is often read into these lines, but such an anthropology does not seem to be the intent of the author (cf. 7:16). Verse 20 appears to rule out any misunderstanding of v. 19. Verse 21 emphasizes that he did not bring talent to his “birth”; his wisdom is the gift of God.

a. [8:1] Wis 7:24; 15:1.

b. [8:2] Prv 5:1318; 8:17.

c. [8:4] Prv 8:2731.

d. [8:5] Prv 8:1819.

e. [8:67] Prv 8:1415.

f. [8:8] Prv 1:6; Sir 39:13; 42:1920; Dn 2:21.

g. [8:1012] 1 Kgs 3:28; Jb 29:810, 2122.

h. [8:13] Sir 15:6; 41:1213; Is 56:5.

i. [8:14] Wis 3:8; Ps 18:48; 47:4.

j. [8:16] Prv 29:6; Sir 15:6; Bar 3:38.

k. [8:17] Prv 3:18.

l. [8:21] 1 Kgs 3:9; 1 Kgs 5:9; Prv 2:6; Jas 1:5.

CHAPTER 9

Solomon’s Prayer*

1* God of my ancestors, Lord of mercy,a

you who have made all things by your wordb

2And in your wisdom have established humankind

to rule the creatures produced by you,c

3And to govern the world in holiness and righteousness,

and to render judgment in integrity of heart:d

4Give me Wisdom, the consort at your throne,

and do not reject me from among your children;e

5For I am your servant, the child of your maidservant,

a man weak and short-lived

and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws.f

6Indeed, though one be perfect among mortals,

if Wisdom, who comes from you, be lacking,

that one will count for nothing.g

7You have chosen me king over your people

and magistrate over your sons and daughters.h

8You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain

and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place,

a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old.i

9Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works

and was present when you made the world;

Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes

and what is conformable with your commands.j

10Send her forth from your holy heavens

and from your glorious throne dispatch her

That she may be with me and work with me,

that I may know what is pleasing to you.k

11For she knows and understands all things,

and will guide me prudently in my affairs

and safeguard me by her glory;l

12Thus my deeds will be acceptable,

and I will judge your people justly

and be worthy of my father’s throne.m

13For who knows God’s counsel,

or who can conceive what the Lord intends?n

14For the deliberations of mortals are timid,

and uncertain our plans.

15* For the corruptible body burdens the soul

and the earthly tent weighs down the mind with its many concerns.o

16Scarcely can we guess the things on earth,

and only with difficulty grasp what is at hand;

but things in heaven, who can search them out?p

17Or who can know your counsel, unless you give Wisdom

and send your holy spirit from on high?q

18* Thus were the paths of those on earth made straight,

and people learned what pleases you,

and were saved by Wisdom.r

* [9:118] The author presents his version of Solomon’s prayer (1 Kgs 3:69; 2 Chr 1:810).

* [9:12] The author identifies Wisdom with the word of God just as he again identifies Wisdom with the spirit of God in v. 17. All three are alternate ways of expressing God’s activity in relationship with the world and its inhabitants.

* [9:1517] Although the expressions in v. 15 draw on the language of Plato concerning the human condition, the conclusion is very biblical: God remains a mystery (Jb 3839; Eccl 8:17; Is 40:1214; Rom 11:3334). The plight of humankind is clearly one of ignorance, unless the “holy spirit” is sent from God.

* [9:18] An announcement of the next section.

a. [9:12] Ps 86:15.

b. [9:1] Gn 1; Ps 33:6; Prv 3:19; Jer 10:12; Jn 1:3, 10.

c. [9:2] Ps 8:79; Sir 17:34.

d. [9:3] 1 Kgs 3:6; 9:45; Ps 9:89.

e. [9:4] 2 Chr 1:10.

f. [9:5] 1 Kgs 3:7; Ps 116:16.

g. [9:6] Wis 3:17; 1 Kgs 11:4; 1 Cor 3:1821.

h. [9:7] 1 Chr 28:5.

i. [9:8] Ex 25:89; 2 Sm 7:13; 1 Chr 28:5; 2 Chr 6:12; 7:7; Tb 1:4; Ps 15:1; 48:23.

j. [9:9] Dt 6:1718; Prv 8:2231; Jn 1:13, 10.

k. [9:10] Wis 18:15; Mt 5:34; Jn 3:17; 20:21.

l. [9:11] Wis 8:8.

m. [9:12] 1 Kgs 3:69.

n. [9:13] Is 40:13; Bar 3:31.

o. [9:15] Jb 4:19.

p. [9:16] Sir 1:3; Jn 3:12.

q. [9:17] Jn 14:26.

r. [9:18] Wis 10:9; Prv 28:26.

CHAPTER 10*

Wisdom Preserves Her Followers

1She preserved the first-formed father* of the worlda

when he alone had been created;b

And she raised him up from his fall,

2and gave him power to rule all things.c

3But when an unrighteous man* withdrew from her in his anger,

he perished through his fratricidal wrath.d

4When on his account the earth was flooded, Wisdom again saved it,

piloting the righteous man* on frailest wood.e

5She, when the nations were sunk in universal wickedness,

knew the righteous man,* kept him blameless before God,

and preserved him resolute against pity for his child.f

6She rescued a righteous man* from among the wicked who were being destroyed,g

when he fled as fire descended upon the Pentapolis—

7Where as a testimony to its wickedness,

even yet there remain a smoking desert,

Plants bearing fruit that never ripens,

and the tomb of a disbelieving soul,* a standing pillar of salt.h

8For those who forsook Wisdom

not only were deprived of knowledge of the good,

But also left the world a memorial of their folly,

so that they could not even be hidden in their fall.

9But Wisdom rescued from tribulations those who served her.i

10She, when a righteous man* fled from his brother’s anger,j

guided him in right ways,

Showed him the kingdom of God

and gave him knowledge of holy things;

She prospered him in his labors

and made abundant the fruit of his works,

11Stood by him against the greed of his defrauders,

and enriched him;k

12She preserved him from foes,

and secured him against ambush,

And she gave him the prize for his hard struggle

that he might know that devotion to God* is mightier than all else.l

13She did not abandon a righteous man* when he was sold,m

but rescued him from sin.n

14She went down with him into the dungeon,

and did not desert him in his bonds,

Until she brought him the scepter of royalty

and authority over his oppressors,

Proved false those who had defamed him,

and gave him eternal glory.

15The holy people and their blameless descendants—it was she

who rescued them from the nation that oppressed them.o

16She entered the soul of the Lord’s servant,*

and withstood fearsome kings with signs and wonders;p

17she gave the holy ones the reward of their labors,q

Conducted them by a wondrous road,

became a shelter for them by day

a starry flame by night.

18She took them across the Red Sea

and brought them through the deep waters.

19Their enemies she overwhelmed,

and churned them up* from the bottom of the depths.

20Therefore the righteous despoiled the wicked;

and they sang of your holy name, Lord,

and praised in unison your conquering hand,r

21Because Wisdom opened the mouths of the mute,

and gave ready speech to infants.s

* [10:121] This chapter prepares for the following section (Wis 11:219:22) on the history of Israel in the exodus, by reviewing the dealings of Wisdom with the patriarchs. It has a parallel in Sir 4450; cf. also Wis 18:9.

* [10:12] Adam.

* [10:3] Cain.

* [10:4] Noah.

* [10:5] Abraham.

* [10:6] Lot. Pentapolis: the five cities, including Sodom; cf. Gn 14:2.

* [10:7] Disbelieving soul: Lot’s wife; cf. Gn 19:26.

* [10:1012] Jacob.

* [10:12] Devotion to God: in the Greek this signifies “piety” or “religion,” and is the equivalent of the Hebrew “fear of the Lord”; cf. Prv 1:7.

* [10:1314] Joseph.

* [10:16] Moses.

* [10:19] Churned them up: casting their bodies on the shore.

a. [10:116] Heb 11:1727.

b. [10:1] Wis 7:1.

c. [10:2] Gn 1:28.

d. [10:3] Gn 4:116.

e. [10:4] Wis 14:56; Gn 6:59.

f. [10:5] Gn 22:710.

g. [10:6] Gn 18:2233; 19:1525; 2 Pt 2:67.

h. [10:7] Gn 19:26; Lk 17:32.

i. [10:9] Wis 16:8.

j. [10:10] Gn 27:4345; 28:1215.

k. [10:11] Gn 30:2930; 31:512.

l. [10:12] Gn 32:2429; 1 Tm 4:8.

m. [10:1314] Gn 3745.

n. [10:13] Gn 39:710.

o. [10:15] Ex 3:9; 14:30; 19:6.

p. [10:16] Wis 1:4; 7:27; Ex 4:10; Ps 76:13.

q. [10:1719] Wis 14:3; 19:7; Ex 13:2122; Ex 1415; Ps 77:2021; 78:13, 53; Is 4:56.

r. [10:20] Ex 12:3536; 15:121.

s. [10:21] Ex 4:1015; Ps 8:3; Mt 11:25.

CHAPTER 11

1She prospered their affairs through the holy prophet.a

III: SPECIAL PROVIDENCE OF GOD DURING THE EXODUS*

Introduction

2They journeyed through the uninhabited desert,

and in lonely places they pitched their tents;b

3they withstood enemies and warded off their foes.c

4When they thirsted, they called upon you,

and water was given them from the sheer rock,

a quenching of their thirst from the hard stone.

5For by the things through which their foes were punished

they in their need were benefited.d

First Example: Water Punishes the Egyptians and Benefits the Israelites

6Instead of a river’s* perennial source,

troubled with impure bloode

7as a rebuke to the decree for the slaying of infants,

You gave them abundant water beyond their hope,

8after you had shown by the thirst they experienced

how you punished their adversaries.

9For when they had been tried, though only mildly chastised,f

they recognized how the wicked, condemned in anger, were being tormented.

10You tested your own people, admonishing them as a father;

but as a stern king you probed and condemned the wicked.

11Those near and far were equally afflicted:g

12for a twofold grief* took hold of themh

and a groaning at the remembrance of the ones who had departed.

13For when they heard that the cause of their own torments

was a benefit to these others, they recognized the Lord.

14For though they had mocked and rejected him who had been cast out and abandoned long ago,

in the final outcome, they marveled at him,

since their thirst proved unlike that of the righteous.i

Second Example: Animals Punish the Egyptians and Benefit the Israelites

15In return for their senseless, wicked thoughts,

which misled them into worshiping dumb* serpents and worthless insects,

You sent upon them swarms of dumb creatures for vengeance;j

16that they might recognize that one is punished by the very things through which one sins.k

Digression on God’s Mercy

17For not without means was your almighty hand,l

that had fashioned the universe from formless matter,*

to send upon them many bears or fierce lions,

18Or newly created, wrathful, unknown beasts

breathing forth fiery breath,

Or pouring out roaring smoke,

or flashing terrible sparks from their eyes.

19Not only could these attack and completely destroy them;

even their frightful appearance itself could slay.

20Even without these, they could have been killed at a single blast,

pursued by justice

and winnowed by your mighty spirit.

But you have disposed all things by measure and number and weight.m

21For great strength is always present with you;

who can resist the might of your arm?n

22Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance,*

or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.o

23* But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;

and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance.p

24For you love all things that are

and loathe nothing that you have made;

for you would not fashion what you hate.q

25How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;

or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?r

26But you spare all things, because they are yours,

O Ruler and Lover of souls,s

12:1for your imperishable spirit is in all things!a

* [11:219:22] Few verses in chaps. 1119 can be fully understood without consulting the passages in the Pentateuch which are indicated in the cross-references. The theme of this part of the book is expressed in v. 5 and is illustrated in the following chapters by five examples drawn from Exodus events.

* [11:68] River: the Nile; the contrast is between the first plague of Egypt (Ex 7:1724) and the water drawn from the rock in Horeb (Ex 17:57; Nm 20:811).

* [11:12] Twofold grief: the double distress described in vv. 1314.

* [11:15] Dumb: that is, irrational.

* [11:17] Formless matter: a Greek philosophical concept is used to interpret the chaos of Gn 1:2.

* [11:22] Grain from a balance: a tiny particle used for weighing on sensitive scales.

* [11:23] The combination of divine mercy and power is an unusual paradox, but cf. 12:1518; Ps 62:1213; Sir 2:18. The main emphasis is on a creating that is motivated by love; the divine “imperishable spirit” (either Wisdom as in 1:4, 7, or perhaps the breath of life as in Gn 2:7) is in everything (12:1).

a. [11:1] Dt 2:7; Hos 12:14.

b. [11:25] Ex 17:26; Nm 20:113; Ps 63:2; 107:47; Jer 2:6.

c. [11:3] Ex 17:816; Nm 21:13, 2135; 31:112; Ps 118:1012.

d. [11:5] Wis 16:12.

e. [11:68] Wis 18:5; Ex 1:22; 7:1724.

f. [11:911] Wis 3:5; 16:34; Dt 8:25; 2 Mc 6:1216; Ps 6:2; Prv 3:12.

g. [11:11] Ps 6:2.

h. [11:1213] Wis 16:8; Ex 14:4, 18.

i. [11:14] Ex 2:3.

j. [11:15] Wis 12:2324; 15:1816:1; Ex 7:268:11.

k. [11:16] Wis 12:23, 27; Ex 10:16; Prv 1:3132; 26:27.

l. [11:1719] Wis 12:89; 16:1, 5; Gn 1:12; Dt 32:24; 2 Kgs 17:2526; Hos 13:48.

m. [11:20] Jb 4:9.

n. [11:21] Wis 12:12; 2 Chr 20:6.

o. [11:22] Hos 13:3.

p. [11:23] Wis 12:10; Dt 9:27; Acts 17:30; Rom 2:4; 11:32; 2 Pt 3:9.

q. [11:24] Ps 145:9.

r. [11:25] Is 41:4.

s. [11:26] Wis 12:16; Is 63:9.

CHAPTER 12

2Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,

warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing,

that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, Lord!

3For truly, the ancient inhabitants of your holy land,b

4whom you hated for deeds most odious—

works of sorcery and impious sacrifices;

5These merciless murderers of children,

devourers of human flesh,*

and initiates engaged in a blood ritual,

6and parents who took with their own hands defenseless lives,c

You willed to destroy by the hands of our ancestors,

7that the land that is dearest of all to you

might receive a worthy colony of God’s servants.d

8But even these you spared, since they were but mortals

and sent wasps as forerunners of your army

that they might exterminate them by degrees.e

9Not that you were without power to have the wicked vanquished in battle by the righteous,

or wiped out at once by terrible beasts or by one decisive word;f

10But condemning them by degrees, you gave them space for repentance.

You were not unaware that their origins were wicked

and their malice ingrained,g

And that their dispositions would never change;

11for they were a people accursed from the beginning.

Neither out of fear for anyone

did you grant release from their sins.h

12For who can say to you, “What have you done?”

or who can oppose your decree?

Or when peoples perish, who can challenge you, their maker;

or who can come into your presence to vindicate the unrighteous?i

13For neither is there any god besides you who have the care of all,

that you need show you have not unjustly condemned;j

14Nor can any king or prince confront you on behalf of those you have punished.k

15But as you are righteous, you govern all things righteously;

you regard it as unworthy of your power

to punish one who has incurred no blame.l

16For your might is the source of righteousness;

your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.m

17For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;

and in those who know you, you rebuke insolence.* n

18But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,

and with much lenience you govern us;

for power, whenever you will, attends you.

19You taught your people, by these deeds,o

that those who are righteous must be kind;

And you gave your children reason to hope

that you would allow them to repent for their sins.

20For these were enemies of your servants, doomed to death;

yet, while you punished them with such solicitude and indulgence,

granting time and opportunity to abandon wickedness,

21With what exactitude you judged your children,

to whose ancestors you gave the sworn covenants of goodly promises!p

22Therefore to give us a lesson you punish our enemies with measured deliberation

so that we may think earnestly of your goodness when we judge,

and, when being judged, we may look for mercy.

Second Example Resumed

23Hence those unrighteous who lived a life of folly,

you tormented through their own abominations.q

24For they went far astray in the paths of error,

taking for gods the worthless and disgusting among beasts,

being deceived like senseless infants.r

25Therefore as though upon unreasoning children,

you sent your judgment on them as a mockery;s

26But they who took no heed of a punishment which was but child’s play

were to experience a condemnation worthy of God.

27For by the things through which they suffered distress,

being tortured by the very things they deemed gods,

They saw and recognized the true God whom formerly they had refused to know;

with this, their final condemnation* came upon them.t

* [12:5] The horrible crimes here attributed to the Canaanites (cf. also 14:23) were not unheard of in the ancient world.

* [12:17] The brunt of divine anger and justice is borne by those who know God but defy divine authority and might. Cf. 1:2; 15:2, but also 12:27; 18:13.

* [12:27] Condemnation: the death of Egyptian firstborn and the destruction of their army in the sea.

a. [12:1] Wis 1:7.

b. [12:36] Wis 14:23; Dt 18:912; Ps 5:6; 106:28, 3439; Jer 19:45; Ez 16:3, 2021, 36.

c. [12:6] Nm 33:52.

d. [12:7] Dt 11:12.

e. [12:8] Ex 23:2830; Dt 7:1724.

f. [12:9] Wis 11:18; 18:15; Nm 16:21.

g. [12:10] Wis 11:23; Ps 55:20; Sir 16:9.

h. [12:11] Gn 9:25.

i. [12:12] 2 Sm 16:10; Eccl 8:4; Sir 46:19; Is 45:9; Dn 4:32; Rom 9:1921.

j. [12:13] Wis 6:7; Dt 3:24; 32:39; Is 44:6, 8.

k. [12:14] Jer 49:19; 50:44.

l. [12:15] Gn 18:2332; Dt 32:4.

m. [12:16] Wis 2:11; 11:26; Ps 103:19.

n. [12:17] Wis 15:23; Ex 9:16.

o. [12:1920] Wis 11:23; Sir 17:24.

p. [12:21] Wis 18:22; Gn 50:24; Dt 7:614; Ps 105:811.

q. [12:23] Wis 11:16; 16:1.

r. [12:24] Dt 11:28; Jer 5:28; Rom 1:23.

s. [12:25] Jer 4:22.

t. [12:27] Wis 16:16; Ex 14:4, 28.

CHAPTER 13

Digression on False Worship

A. NATURE WORSHIP*

1Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God,

and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is,*

and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;a

2Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air,

or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,

or the luminaries of heaven, the governors* of the world, they considered gods.b

3Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,

let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;

for the original source of beauty fashioned them.c

4Or if they were struck by their might and energy,

let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them.d

5For from the greatness and the beauty of created things

their original author, by analogy, is seen.

6But yet, for these the blame is less;*

For they have gone astray perhaps,

though they seek God and wish to find him.

7For they search busily among his works,

but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.

8But again, not even these are pardonable.

9For if they so far succeeded in knowledge

that they could speculate about the world,

how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

B. IDOLATRY*

10But wretched are they, and in dead things are their hopes,

who termed gods things made by human hands:

Gold and silver, the product of art, and images of beasts,

or useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.e

The Carpenter and Wooden Idols

11A carpenter may cut down a suitable treef

and skillfully scrape off all its bark,

And deftly plying his art

produce something fit for daily use,g

12And use the scraps from his handiwork

in preparing his food, and have his fill;

13Then the good-for-nothing refuse from these remnants,

crooked wood grown full of knots,

he takes and carves to occupy his spare time.h

This wood he models with mindless skill,

and patterns it on the image of a human being

14or makes it resemble some worthless beast.

When he has daubed it with red and crimsoned its surface with red stain,

and daubed over every blemish in it,i

15He makes a fitting shrine for it

and puts it on the wall, fastening it with a nail.j

16Thus he provides for it lest it fall down,

knowing that it cannot help itself;

for, truly, it is an image and needs help.k

17But when he prays about his goods or marriage or children,l

he is not ashamed to address the thing without a soul.

For vigor he invokes the powerless;

18for life he entreats the dead;

For aid he beseeches the wholly incompetent;

for travel, something that cannot even walk;

19For profit in business and success with his hands

he asks power of a thing with hands utterly powerless.

* [13:19] The author holds a relatively benign view of the efforts of the philosophers to come to know God from various natural phenomena. This is not a question of proving the existence of God in scholastic style. The author thinks that the beauty and might of the world should have pointed by analogy (v. 5) to the Maker. Instead, those “in ignorance of God” remained fixed on the elements (v. 2, three named, along with the stars). His Greek counterparts are not totally blameless; they should have gone further and acknowledged the creator of nature’s wonders (vv. 45). Cf. Rom 1:1823; Acts 17:2728.

* [13:1] One who is: this follows the Greek translation of the sacred name for God in Hebrew; cf. Ex 3:14.

* [13:2] Governors: the sun and moon (cf. Gn 1:16).

* [13:6] The blame is less: the greater blame is incurred by those mentioned in v. 10; 15:1416.

* [13:1019] The second digression is an example of the polemic against idolatry (cf. Is 44:920; Jer 10:39; Ps 135:1518). Whether the idols be of wood or clay, they were made by human beings and have become the source of evil.

a. [13:1] Acts 14:17; Eph 4:1719.

b. [13:2] Gn 1:1419; Dt 4:19; Jb 31:2628.

c. [13:3] Ps 8:4.

d. [13:4] Jer 10:2; Bar 6:39.

e. [13:10] Wis 3:11; 15:5, 17; Dt 4:2528; 7:25; 27:15; Ps 115:4; Hos 14:4; Acts 17:29.

f. [13:1119] Is 44:920.

g. [13:11] Wis 15:7; Bar 6:58.

h. [13:13] Dt 4:16.

i. [13:14] Jer 10:9.

j. [13:15] Is 40:20; 41:7; 44:13.

k. [13:16] 1 Sm 5:35; Bar 6:57.

l. [13:1719] Wis 15:15.

CHAPTER 14

1Again, one preparing for a voyage and about to traverse the wild waves

cries out to wood more unsound than the boat that bears him.a

2For the urge for profits devised this latter,

and Wisdom the artisan produced it.

3* But your providence, O Father! guides it,

for you have furnished even in the sea a road,

and through the waves a steady path,b

4Showing that you can save from any danger,

so that even one without skill may embark.c

5But you will that the products of your Wisdom be not idle;

therefore people trust their lives even to most frail wood,

and were safe crossing the waves on a raft.d

6For of old, when the proud giants were being destroyed,

the hope of the universe, who took refuge on a raft,*

left to the world a future for the human family, under the guidance of your hand.

7For blest is the wood through which righteousness comes about;

8but the handmade idol is accursed, and its maker as well:

he for having produced it, and the corruptible thing, because it was termed a god.e

9Equally odious to God are the evildoer and the evil deed;

10and the thing made will be punished with its maker.

11Therefore upon even the idols of the nations shall a judgment come,

since they became abominable among God’s works,

Snares for human souls

and a trap for the feet of the senseless.f

The Origin and Evils of Idolatry

12For the source of wantonness is the devising of idols;

and their invention, a corruption of life.g

13For in the beginning they were not,

nor can they ever continue;h

14for from human emptiness they came into the world,

and therefore a sudden end is devised for them.

15* For a father, afflicted with untimely mourning,

made an image of the child so quickly taken from him,

And now honored as a god what once was dead

and handed down to his household mysteries and sacrifices.

16Then, in the course of time, the impious practice gained strength and was observed as law,

and graven things were worshiped by royal decrees.i

17People who lived so far away that they could not honor him in his presence

copied the appearance of the distant king

And made a public image of him they wished to honor,

out of zeal to flatter the absent one as though present.

18And to promote this observance among those to whom it was strange,

the artisan’s ambition provided a stimulus.

19For he, perhaps in his determination to please the ruler,

labored over the likeness* to the best of his skill;j

20And the masses, drawn by the charm of the workmanship,

soon took as an object of worship the one who shortly before was honored as a human being.k

21And this became a snare for the world,

that people enslaved to either grief or tyranny

conferred the incommunicable Name on stones and wood.

22Then it was not enough for them to err in their knowledge of God;l

but even though they live in a great war resulting from ignorance,

they call such evils peace.m

23For while they practice either child sacrifices or occult mysteries,

or frenzied carousing in exotic rites,n

24They no longer respect either lives or purity of marriage;

but they either waylay and kill each other, or aggrieve each other by adultery.

25And all is confusion—blood and murder, theft and guile,o

corruption, faithlessness, turmoil, perjury,

26Disturbance of good people, neglect of gratitude,

besmirching of souls, unnatural lust,

disorder in marriage, adultery and shamelessness.

27For the worship of infamous idols

is the reason and source and extreme of all evil.p

28For they either go mad with enjoyment, or prophesy lies,

or live lawlessly or lightly perjure themselves.q

29For as their trust is in lifeless idols,

they expect no harm when they have sworn falsely.

30But on both counts justice shall overtake them:

because they thought perversely of God by devoting themselves to idols,r

and because they deliberately swore false oaths, despising piety.*

31For it is not the might of those by whom they swear,

but the just retribution of sinners,

that ever follows upon the transgression of the wicked.*

* [14:36] The wooden ship mentioned in vv. 12 prompts a short meditation on the providence of God, who in fact has watched over boats in their dangerous courses. The wood as described in v. 7 became a favorite patristic type for the wood of the cross.

* [14:6] Noah.

* [14:1521] The author develops two examples of idolatry: cult of the dead, and cult of the king.

* [14:19] Likeness: he made this more flattering than the reality.

* [14:30] Piety: the sanctity of oaths.

* [14:31] Perjury is a form of deceit which calls for punishment even though it be practiced in the name of a lifeless idol.

a. [14:1] Is 46:7.

b. [14:3] Ps 107:2330; Is 43:16.

c. [14:4] Wis 16:8.

d. [14:5] Wis 10:4.

e. [14:8] Rom 1:23.

f. [14:11] Wis 3:7; Nm 33:4; Jos 23:13; Ps 115:4; Jer 6:15; 10:15; 46:25; Hos 9:15.

g. [14:12] Rom 1:2332.

h. [14:13] Is 2:18.

i. [14:16] 1 Mc 1:4750; Dn 3:47.

j. [14:19] Is 44:1213 LXX.

k. [14:20] Wis 15:4.

l. [14:2231] Jer 2:20; 3:125; Hos 4:12, 919; Rom 1:2631; Gal 5:1921; 1 Tm 1:910.

m. [14:22] Jer 6:14; Ez 13:10.

n. [14:23] Wis 12:45; 14:15; Is 57:5.

o. [14:2526] Jer 7:89; 22:17.

p. [14:27] Ex 23:13.

q. [14:28] Jer 5:31; 29:26.

r. [14:30] Wis 1:1, 8; 11:20; Jer 5:2, 7.

CHAPTER 15

1* But you, our God, are good and true,

slow to anger, and governing all with mercy.a

2For even if we sin, we are yours, and know your might;

but we will not sin, knowing that we belong to you.b

3For to know you well is complete righteousness,

and to know your might is the root of immortality.c

4For the evil creation of human fancy did not deceive us,

nor the fruitless labor of painters,d

A form smeared with varied colors,

5the sight of which arouses yearning in a fool,

till he longs for the inanimate form of a dead image.

6Lovers of evil things, and worthy of such hopes

are they who make them and long for them and worship them.e

The Potter’s Clay Idols

7For the potter, laboriously working the soft earth,

molds for our service each single article:

He fashions out of the same clay

both the vessels that serve for clean purposes

and their opposites, all alike;

As to what shall be the use of each vessel of either class

the worker in clay is the judge.f

8* With misspent toil he molds a meaningless god from the selfsame clay,

though he himself shortly before was made from the earth,

And is soon to go whence he was taken,

when the life that was lent him is demanded back.g

9But his concern is not that he is to die

nor that his span of life is brief;

Rather, he vies with goldsmiths and silversmiths

and emulates molders of bronze,

and takes pride in fashioning counterfeits.h

10Ashes his heart is!* more worthless than earth is his hope,i

more ignoble than clay his life;

11Because he knew not the one who fashioned him,

and breathed into him a quickening soul,

and infused a vital spirit.j

12Instead, he esteemed our life a mere game,

and our span of life a holiday for gain;

“For one must,” says he, “make a profit in every way, be it even from evil.”k

13For more than anyone else he knows that he is sinning,

when out of earthen stuff he creates fragile vessels and idols alike.

14But most stupid of all and worse than senseless in mind,

are the enemies of your people who enslaved them.l

15For they esteemed all the idols of the nations as gods,

which cannot use their eyes to see,

nor nostrils to breathe the air,

Nor ears to hear,

nor fingers on their hands for feeling;

even their feet are useless to walk with.m

16For it was a mere human being who made them;n

one living on borrowed breath who fashioned them.

For no one is able to fashion a god like himself;

17he is mortal, and what he makes with lawless hands is dead.

For he is better than the things he worships;

he at least lives, but never his idols.

Second Example Resumed

18* Besides, they worship the most loathsome beasts—o

as regards stupidity, these are worse than the rest,*

19For beasts are neither good-looking nor desirable;

they have escaped both the approval of God and his blessing.p

* [15:13] As often before (11:26; 12:2; 14:36), the author addresses God directly, so that chaps. 1119 can be conceived as a more or less continuous prayer (cf. 11:7 and 19:22). This is the living God who is in stark contrast to the deadness of the idols that have been discussed. The merciful God (cf. Ex 34:6) is the source of immortality (1:15) for the community.

* [15:89] The author matches the irony of his words about the carpenter in 13:1519 with this description of the potter’s vain work.

* [15:10] Ashes his heart is!: the words of this cry are taken from Is 44:20 (the Septuagint).

* [15:1819] The author here returns (11:15; 12:2327) to the main theme of chaps. 1119, which was interrupted by the digression of 13:115:17.

* [15:18] Worse than the rest: this may mean that the creatures worshiped by the Egyptians (e.g., crocodiles, serpents, scarabs, etc.) were less intelligent than the general run of beasts.

a. [15:1] Ex 34:67; Ps 86:5, 15; 145:8, 9, 14.

b. [15:2] Jb 10:1415 LXX.

c. [15:3] Wis 3:15; Jn 17:3.

d. [15:4] Wis 13:14.

e. [15:6] Ps 115:8.

f. [15:7] Wis 13:11; Jer 18:34; Rom 9:21; 2 Tm 2:2021.

g. [15:8] Gn 3:19; Eccl 12:7.

h. [15:9] Bar 6:46.

i. [15:10] Jb 13:12 LXX.

j. [15:11] Gn 2:7; Zec 12:1.

k. [15:12] Jas 4:1314.

l. [15:14] Ex 1:13.

m. [15:15] Wis 14:11; Dt 4:28; Ps 115:47; 135:1518.

n. [15:1617] Wis 13:10.

o. [15:18] Wis 11:15; 12:24.

p. [15:19] Gn 1:25; 3:14.

CHAPTER 16

1Therefore they* were fittingly punished by similar creatures,

and were tormented by a swarm of insects.a

2Instead of this punishment, you benefited your people

with a novel dish, the delight they craved,

by providing quail for their food,b

3So that those others, when they desired food,

should lose their appetite even for necessities,

since the creatures sent to plague them were so loathsome,

While these, after a brief period of privation,

partook of a novel dish.c

4For inexorable want had to come upon those oppressors;

but these needed only to be shown how their enemies were being tormented.d

5For when the dire venom of beasts came upon theme

and they were dying from the bite of crooked serpents,

your anger endured not to the end.

6But as a warning, for a short time they were terrorized,

though they had a sign* of salvation, to remind them of the precept of your law.

7For the one who turned toward it was saved,

not by what was seen,

but by you, the savior of all.

8By this also you convinced our foes

that you are the one who delivers from all evil.f

9For the bites of locusts and of flies slew them,

and no remedy was found to save their lives

because they deserved to be punished by such means;g

10But not even the fangs of poisonous reptiles overcame your children,

for your mercy came forth and healed them.h

11For as a reminder of your injunctions, they were stung,

and swiftly they were saved,

Lest they should fall into deep forgetfulness

and become unresponsive to your beneficence.i

12For indeed, neither herb nor application cured them,

but your all-healing word, O LORD!j

13* For you have dominion over life and death;k

you lead down to the gates of Hades and lead back.

14Human beings, however, may kill another with malice,

but they cannot bring back the departed spirit,

or release the soul that death has confined.

15Your hand no one can escape.

Third Example: A Rain of Manna for Israel Instead of the Plague of Storms

16For the wicked who refused to know you

were punished by the might of your arm,

Were pursued by unusual rains and hailstorms and unremitting downpours,

and were consumed by fire.l

17For against all expectation, in water which quenches everything,

the fire grew more active;

For the universe fights on behalf of the righteous.m

18Then the flame was temperedn

so that the beasts that were sent upon the wicked might not be burnt up,

but that these might see and know that they were struck by the judgment of God;

19And again, even in the water, fire blazed beyond its strength

so as to consume the produce of the wicked land.

20Instead of this, you nourished your people with food of angels*

and furnished them bread from heaven, ready to hand, untoiled-for,

endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste.o

21For this substance of yours revealed your sweetness toward your children,

and serving the desire of the one who received it,

was changed to whatever flavor each one wished.p

22Yet snow and ice* withstood fire and were not melted,

so that they might know that their enemies’ fruits

Were consumed by a fire that blazed in the hail

and flashed lightning in the rain.q

23But this fire, again, in order that the righteous might be nourished,

forgot even its proper strength;r

24For your creation, serving you, its maker,

grows tense for punishment against the wicked,

but is relaxed in benefit for those who trust in you.s

25Therefore at that very time, transformed in all sorts of ways,

it was serving your all-nourishing bounty

according to what they needed and desired;

26That your children whom you loved might learn, O LORD,

that it is not the various kinds of fruits that nourish,

but your word that preserves those who believe you!t

27For what was not destroyed by fire,

melted when merely warmed by a momentary sunbeam;u

28To make known that one must give you thanks before sunrise,

and turn to you at daybreak.v

29For the hope of the ungrateful melts like a wintry frost

and runs off like useless water.w

* [16:1] They: the Egyptian idolaters, who are punished according to the principle laid down in 11:5, 1516.

* [16:6] Sign: the brazen serpent, as related in Numbers 21, but the author deliberately avoids any misunderstanding by addressing the Lord as responsible for the healing, since he is “the savior of all” (v. 7; see also vv. 12 and 26 for the role of the “word” of God).

* [16:1314] The author recognizes the power of the Lord over life and death, as expressed in 1 Sm 2:6; Tb 13:2. The traditional imagery of Sheol (gates and confinement) colors the passage.

* [16:20] Food of angels: the famous phrase (cf. the hymn “Panis Angelicus”) is taken from Ps 78:24 as rendered by the Septuagint. The “bread from heaven” (cf. Ex 16:4; Ps 105:40) with its marvelous “sweetness” becomes a type of the “bread come down from heaven” in Jn 6:3251, and plays a large role in later Christian devotion.

* [16:22] Snow and ice: the manna; cf. v. 27; 19:21.

a. [16:1] Wis 11:1516; 12:23, 27; Ex 7:27; 8:12, 17.

b. [16:2] Wis 11:13; 19:1112; Ex 16:13; Nm 11:3132; Ps 105:40.

c. [16:3] Wis 11:15; Ex 8:10; 16:3.

d. [16:4] Wis 11:89.

e. [16:56] Nm 21:49; Dt 32:24; Jer 8:17 LXX.

f. [16:8] Gn 48:16; 2 Mc 1:2425.

g. [16:9] Ex 8:1628; 10:419; Ps 78:4546; 105:31, 34; Rev 9:111.

h. [16:10] Dt 32:33.

i. [16:11] Ps 78:11.

j. [16:12] Ex 15:26.

k. [16:1315] Dt 32:39; 1 Sm 2:6; Tb 13:2; 2 Mc 6:26; 7:23; Ps 78:34, 39; Eccl 8:8; Dn 5:19.

l. [16:16] Wis 11:21; 12:27; Ex 5:2; 9:2934.

m. [16:17] Wis 10:20; 19:20; Ex 9:2328; 2 Mc 8:36; 14:34.

n. [16:1819] Wis 19:2021.

o. [16:20] Ex 16:4; Nm 11:8; Ps 78:2425; Jn 6:31.

p. [16:21] Ps 34:9.

q. [16:22] Ex 9:2531; 10:12; Ps 148:8.

r. [16:23] Wis 19:21.

s. [16:24] Wis 5:17, 20; 19:6; Sir 39:2527.

t. [16:26] Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4.

u. [16:27] Ex 16:21.

v. [16:28] Ps 57:910; 92:3.

w. [16:29] Wis 5:14; 2 Sm 14:14.

CHAPTER 17

Fourth Example: Darkness Afflicts the Egyptians, While the Israelites Have Light*

1For great are your judgments, and hard to describe;

therefore the unruly souls went astray.a

2For when the lawless thought to enslave the holy nation,

they themselves lay shackled with darkness, fettered by the long night,

confined beneath their own roofs as exiles from the eternal providence.b

3For they, who supposed their secret sins were hidc

under the dark veil of oblivion,

Were scattered in fearful trembling,

terrified by apparitions.

4For not even their inner chambers kept them unafraid,

for crashing sounds on all sides terrified them,

and mute phantoms with somber looks appeared.

5No fire had force enough to give light,

nor did the flaming brilliance of the stars

succeed in lighting up that gloomy night.d

6But only intermittent, fearful fires

flashed through upon them;

And in their terror they thought beholding these was worse

than the times when that sight was no longer to be seen.e

7And mockeries of their magic art* failed,

and there was a humiliating refutation of their vaunted shrewdness.f

8For they who undertook to banish fears and terrors from the sick soul

themselves sickened with ridiculous fear.

9For even though no monstrous thing frightened them,

they shook at the passing of insects and the hissing of reptiles,g

10And perished trembling,

reluctant to face even the air that they could nowhere escape.

11For wickedness, of its nature cowardly, testifies in its own condemnation,

and because of a distressed conscience, always magnifies misfortunes.h

12For fear is nought but the surrender of the helps that come from reason;

13and the more one’s expectation is of itself uncertain,

the more one makes of not knowing the cause that brings on torment.

14So they, during that night, powerless though it was,

since it had come upon them from the recesses of a powerless* Hades,

while all sleeping the same sleep,

15Were partly smitten by fearsome apparitions

and partly stricken by their souls’ surrender;

for fear overwhelmed them, sudden and unexpected.i

16Thus, then, whoever was there fell

into that prison without bars and was kept confined.j

17For whether one was a farmer, or a shepherd,

or a worker at tasks in the wasteland,

Taken unawares, each served out the inescapable sentence;

18for all were bound by the one bond of darkness.k

And were it only the whistling wind,

or the melodious song of birds in the spreading branches,

Or the steady sound of rushing water,

19or the rude crash of overthrown rocks,

Or the unseen gallop of bounding animals,

or the roaring cry of the fiercest beasts,

Or an echo resounding from the hollow of the hills—

these sounds, inspiring terror, paralyzed them.

20For the whole world shone with brilliant lightl

and continued its works without interruption;

21But over them alone was spread oppressive night,

an image of the darkness* that was about to come upon them.

Yet they were more a burden to themselves than was the darkness.

* [17:118:4] The description of the darkness of the ninth plague is a very creative development of Ex 10:2129. It betrays a wide knowledge of contemporary thought. For the first and only time in the Septuagint the Greek word for “conscience” occurs, in 17:11. There is no Hebrew word that is equivalent; the idea is expressed indirectly. The horrendous darkness is illumined by “fires” (v. 6), i.e., lightnings that only contributed to the terror.

* [17:7] Magic art: the Egyptian magicians who were successful at first (Ex 7:11, 22) and then failed (Ex 8:14; 9:11) are now powerless against the darkness and the phantoms and are totally discredited.

* [17:14] Powerless: Hades (or Sheol), i.e., the nether world, is often portrayed in the Old Testament as a hostile power, since all must die (Ps 49:813), but it has no power against God.

* [17:21] Darkness: of Hades or Sheol; see note on 16:1314.

a. [17:1] Ex 6:6 LXX.

b. [17:2] Wis 18:4; Ex 1:1314; 9:6; 10:2123.

c. [17:34] Wis 1:78; 10:8; 18:17.

d. [17:5] Wis 10:17; Jer 23:24 LXX.

e. [17:6] Ex 9:2324.

f. [17:7] Wis 12:2526; Ex 7:1112, 22; 8:3; 9:11; 10:2.

g. [17:9] Wis 16:1; Jer 26:22 LXX.

h. [17:11] Wis 4:6; 10:7; Rom 2:15.

i. [17:15] Ex 11:910.

j. [17:16] Wis 18:4; Ex 10:23.

k. [17:1819] Lv 26:36.

l. [17:2021] Ex 10:23; Is 9:1; 60:13; 2 Pt 2:17.

CHAPTER 18

1But your holy ones had very great light;

And those others, who heard their voices but did not see their forms,

counted them blest for not having suffered;

2And because they who formerly had been wronged did not harm them, they thanked them,

and because of the difference between them,* pleaded with them.

3Instead of this, you furnished the flaming pillar,

a guide on the unknown way,

and the mild sun for an honorable migration.a

4* For they deserved to be deprived of light and imprisoned by darkness,

they had kept your children confined,

through whom the imperishable light of the law was to be given to the world.b

Fifth Example: Death of the Egyptian Firstborn; the Israelites Are Spared

5When they determined to put to death the infants of the holy ones,

and when a single boy* had been cast forth and then saved,

As a reproof you carried off a multitude of their children

and made them perish all at once in the mighty water.c

6That night was known beforehand to our ancestors,

so that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage.d

7The expectation of your people

was the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of their foes.e

8For by the same means with which you punished our adversaries,

you glorified us whom you had summoned.f

9For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice

and carried out with one mind the divine institution,*

So that your holy ones should share alike the same blessings and dangers,

once they had sung the ancestral hymns of praise.g

10But the discordant cry of their enemies echoed back,

and the piteous wail of mourning for children was borne to them.h

11And the slave was smitten with the same retribution as the master;

even the commoner suffered the same as the king.i

12And all alike by one common form of death

had countless dead;

For the living were not even sufficient for the burial,

since at a single instant their most valued offspring had been destroyed.j

13For though they disbelieved at every turn on account of sorceries,

at the destruction of the firstborn they acknowledged that this people* was God’s son.k

14* For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything

and the night in its swift course was half spent,

15Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne

leapt into the doomed land,l

16a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree,

And alighted, and filled every place with death,

and touched heaven, while standing upon the earth.m

17Then, at once, visions in horrible dreams perturbed themn

and unexpected fears assailed them;

18And cast half-dead, one here, another there,

they revealed why they were dying.

19For the dreams that disturbed them had proclaimed this beforehand,

lest they perish unaware of why they endured such evil.

20The trial of death touched even the righteous,

and in the desert a plague struck the multitude;

Yet not for long did the anger last.o

21For the blameless man* hastened to be their champion,

bearing the weapon of his special office,

prayer and the propitiation of incense;

He withstood the wrath and put a stop to the calamity,

showing that he was your servant.

22He overcame the bitterness

not by bodily strength, not by force of arms;

But by word he overcame the smiter,*

recalling the sworn covenants with their ancestors.p

23For when corpses had already fallen one on another in heaps,

he stood in the midst and checked the anger,

and cut off its way to the living.q

24For on his full-length robe was the whole world,

and ancestral glories were carved on the four rows of stones,

and your grandeur* was on the crown upon his head.r

25To these the destroyer yielded, these he feared;

for this sole trial of anger sufficed.s

* [18:2] The difference between them: God’s distinctive manner of treating the Israelites and the Egyptians according to their respective deeds. Pleaded: perhaps, for their departure.

* [18:4] The discussion of physical light climaxes with a reference to the “imperishable light” of the torah.

* [18:5] Single boy: Moses.

* [18:9] Divine institution: the Passover. Ancestral hymns of praise: possibly the Hallel psalms, the psalms sung at the end of the Passover meal; cf. Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26.

* [18:13] People: the Israelites (cf. Ex 4:22).

* [18:1416] These verses attribute to the personified “word” the actions of the Lord mentioned in Ex 12:1317 (note the role of the “destroyer” in Ex 12:23 and compare Wis 18:22, 25).

* [18:21] Blameless man: Aaron, acting according to his office of high priest and intercessor (cf. Nm 17:915; Ex 28:1521, 3138).

* [18:22] Smiter: the destroying angel; cf. v. 25.

* [18:24] Glories…grandeur: the name of God and the names of the tribes were inscribed on the high priest’s apparel.

a. [18:3] Ex 13:21.

b. [18:4] Wis 17:2; Ps 119:105; Is 2:3, 5.

c. [18:5] Wis 11:7, 14; Ex 1:16, 22; 2:3, 610; 15:10; Neh 9:11.

d. [18:6] Wis 12:21; Ex 6:8; 13:5.

e. [18:7] Ex 14:13.

f. [18:8] Wis 19:22; Ex 3:18; Is 43:34.

g. [18:9] Ex 12:2128; Sir 4450.

h. [18:10] Ex 12:30; Jer 9:17, 19.

i. [18:11] Ex 11:5; 12:29.

j. [18:12] Nm 33:4.

k. [18:13] Wis 17:7; Ex 4:2223; 12:12, 29; 13:2, 13, 15.

l. [18:15] Wis 9:10; Ex 15:3.

m. [18:16] 1 Chr 21:16; Heb 4:12; Rev 1:16.

n. [18:1719] Wis 17:34.

o. [18:20] Wis 16:5; Nm 17:915.

p. [18:22] Wis 12:21; Ex 32:1213; Ps 20:8.

q. [18:23] Nm 14:2930.

r. [18:24] Ex 28:1521, 3138; Sir 45:812; 50:11.

s. [18:25] 1 Chr 21:15.

CHAPTER 19

1But merciless wrath assailed the wicked until the end,

for God knew beforehand what they were yet to do:a

2That though they themselves had agreed to the departure

and had anxiously sent them on their way,

they would regret it and pursue them.b

3For while they were still engaged in funeral rites

and mourning at the burials of the dead,

They adopted another senseless plan:

those whom they had driven out with entreaties

they now pursued as fugitives.c

4For a compulsion appropriate to this ending drew them on,

and made them forget what had befallen them,

That they might complete the torments of their punishment,

5and your people might experience a glorious* journey

while those others met an extraordinary death.

6* For all creation, in its several kinds, was being made over anew,

serving your commands, that your children might be preserved unharmed.d

7The cloud overshadowed their camp;

and out of what had been water, dry land was seen emerging:

Out of the Red Sea an unimpeded road,

and a grassy plain out of the mighty flood.e

8Over this crossed the whole nation sheltered by your hand,

and they beheld stupendous wonders.

9For they ranged about like horses,

and leapt like lambs,

praising you, LORD, their deliverer.f

10For they were still mindful of what had happened in their sojourn:

how instead of the young of animals the land brought forth gnats,

and instead of fishes the river swarmed with countless frogs.g

11And later they saw also a new kind of birdh

when, prompted by desire, they asked for pleasant foods;

12For to appease them quail came to them from the sea.

13And the punishments came upon the sinners

not without forewarnings from the violence of the thunderbolts.

For they justly suffered for their own misdeeds,

since they treated their guests with the more grievous* hatred.i

14For those others* did not receive unfamiliar visitors,j

but these were enslaving beneficent guests.

15And not that only; but what punishment was to be theirs*

since they received strangers unwillingly!

16Yet these,* after welcoming them with festivities,

oppressed with awful toils

those who had shared with them the same rights.k

17And they were struck with blindness,*

as those others had been at the doors of the righteous man—

When, surrounded by yawning darkness,

each sought the entrance of his own door.l

18For the elements, in ever-changing harmony,

like strings of the harp, produce new melody,

while the flow of music steadily persists.

And this can be perceived exactly from a review of what took place.

19For land creatures were changed into water creatures,

and those that swam went over on land.

20Fire in water maintained its own strength,m

and water forgot its quenching nature;

21Flames, by contrast, neither consumed the flesh

of the perishable animals that went about in them,

nor melted the icelike, quick-melting kind of ambrosial food.

22For every way, LORD! you magnified and glorified your people;

unfailing, you stood by them in every time and circumstance.n

* [19:5] Glorious: more precisely, “wondrous,” but the word reflects “glorified” in 18:8 and 19:22.

* [19:6] The cooperation of creation in Israel’s deliverance (vv. 712) under the direction of the Lord is a favorite theme; cf. 16:2425.

* [19:13] More grievous: than that of the people of Sodom (Gn 19) with whom the Egyptians are compared.

* [19:14] Others: the people of Sodom refused to receive strangers. Beneficent: because of the services rendered by Joseph.

* [19:15] Theirs: the people of Sodom.

* [19:16] These: the Egyptians.

* [19:17] Blindness: the plague of darkness. Righteous man: Lot (Gn 19:11).

a. [19:1] Ex 14:4.

b. [19:2] Ex 12:33; 14:5, 8.

c. [19:3] Wis 18:10, 12; Ex 12:3036.

d. [19:6] Wis 5:17; 16:24.

e. [19:7] Ex 14:2129.

f. [19:9] Wis 10:20; 16:8; Ex 15:118; Ps 114:46.

g. [19:10] Ex 7:278:3; 8:1215; Ps 105:3031.

h. [19:1112] Wis 16:2; Ps 78:18.

i. [19:13] 2 Mc 7:18, 32.

j. [19:1415] Gn 15:13; Ex 2:22.

k. [19:16] Gn 45:1720; 47:46; Ex 1:11.

l. [19:17] Wis 17:2; Gn 19:11.

m. [19:2021] Wis 16:1719, 2223, 27.

n. [19:22] Wis 18:8; Lv 26:44; Ps 126:3.