Wisdom from the Ancients: Ben Sira

I’ve been curious about wisdom lately–what it is, how we acquire it, and from where we draw it.

I have some initial ideas about wisdom, but after thinking about it, I decided to explore further. I came across a pretty cool guy, as a matter of fact, one whom I had never heard of until adulthood.

This guy was an ancient Hebrew sage, who lived before Jesus was ever born. He wrote an entire book about wisdom, and his son found it to be so valuable and true that he translated it from Hebrew into Greek–which would have been the equivalent of taking Latin church prayers and translating them into English. The result would be wider accessibility to the knowledge, something I am always in favor of.

The name of this man (shortened, since it’s long) is Ben Sira.

Ben Sira had some great ideas about wisdom which I thought were fascinating. His book challenges me often, and ignites my imagination. Not to mention, there are also several rules for good living, which Ben Sira calls wise.

Interesting Points About This Book

  • This book is technically Pre-Christian, since it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.
  • Ben Sira was a Hebrew sage who valued wisdom, the law, tradition, priesthood, Temple, and saw science and creation as a way of worshipping a Creator. Neat, right? This guy was the academe of academes.
  • He refers to wisdom as feminine. How’s that for forward-thinking?
  • He would have been part of a tradition that worshipped God and awaited a coming Messiah. This is an interesting perspective to think about!

Diving Right In

Now that you know a little about Ben Sira, here are two of the things he says that I found interesting.

  1. Wisdom is a gift of God.

The root of wisdom–to whom has it been revealed?
Her subleties–who knows them?
There is but one, wise and truly awesome,
seated upon his throne–the Lord.
It is he who created her,
saw her, and measured her,
Poured her forth upon all his works,
upon every living thing according to his bounty,
lavished her upon those who love him.

Ben Sira 1:1-10, NAB, revised edition

So, who knows wisdom? Only the Lord. And the Lord gives her (“her!” I love it) to those who love the Lord, upon every living thing according to its divine placement.
Doesn’t that make you feel protected and thought about? Doesn’t it make you feel loved to think that a Creator lovingly “lavishes” you with wisdom–a gift understood and preserved only for the divine–on you? What a bountiful, abundant existence it is to be full of love, then!

2. Wisdom brings rewards

Those who love her love life;
those who seek her out win the Lord’s favor.
Those who hold her fast will attain glory,
and they shall abide in the blessing of the Lord.
Those who serve her serve the Holy One;
those who love her the Lord loves.”

Ben Sira 4: 12-14

I love this, because you know, not everyone is Catholic. To me, this is an argument in favor of God loving everyone. If you’re not Catholic, you won’t find any condemnation here. Rather, I would invite you to think about what Ben Sira is saying. Don’t worry right now about “signing up” for the right group to visit on Sundays. Go where wisdom is. Go where truth is. Ben Sira is saying there is no such thing as finding real wisdom without also finding God–anyone who serves wisdom is serving God, because they are loving what God loves.

I’m just saying, next time some Anti-Christian tells you they’re “atheist” because of some cockamamie somethingorother about a vengeful Old Testament God, you go ahead and think about Ben Sira–whom even the “Old Testament Hebrews” thought of as a wisest-of-the-wise-guys–saying God loves you, and that you’ll find God as you seek the things that are true, good, and holy in your life. Why? Because God–even the one in the Old Testament–loves you and wants to lavish you with a love of life.

This is also super progressive of Ben Sira, since the traditional understanding was for a Messiah to come and deliver God’s chosen people, which the Hebrews thought referred to just them. But by these descriptions, God loves and waits to lavish that love on everyone–Jews and Gentiles alike. Go figure, that’s exactly what Jesus fulfilled a couple centuries later.

Neat? You bet it’s neat.

So, on goes my exploration into wisdom. Would I ever really be done? No, of course not. But I invite you to start your own quest.
I invite you to take up your own journey into understanding what wisdom is. Maybe you could teach me a thing or two.!

Resources

Here are some affiliate links to books that could help you explore more about the wisdom of Ben Sira.

Here’s a book I’d actually like to buy myself. I’m currently working through another Bible study about mercy–my first Bible study, in fact. I am hooked on studying Scripture, and if you are Catholic, you’ll know how novel this is 😉

Thomas Aquinas was another wise man who was devoted to the intellectual study of all the theology surrounding the life of Christ. Fun fact: he was also such a fan of culinary pursuits, he had a special table with a moon shape cut out so he could write letters and still have room for his tummy. Smart guy, loves good food and brew, reads lots of books….sounds like the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with, if you ask me.

Finally, it’s hard to go wrong with anything by Bishop Robert Barron. He has been seeking holy wisdom for years, and I would argue it is the main drive behind his entire vocation as a priest. He shares his insights from all his studies with us. This is another book on my wish list.

Closing

If you want to read Ben Sira in its entirety, you can find it in the Old Testament of the New American Bible, or any bible within your local Catholic church.

Really, you have every right in the world to read this yourself, and I hope you do. Remember: wisdom is thinking your own thoughts, finding things out for yourself as best as you can. So you don’t have to take my word for it!

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March: At a Glance

When I got back from Argentina at the beginning of the month, I knew I’d be hitting the ground running, what with getting ready for the last leg of my graduate program, planning a wedding, and finding time to actually figure out what it is I want to do with my education.

You know me; I’ve always got several dozen kooky ideas cookin’.

Here are my big blocks of life goodies this month:

Lent

This Easter will mark two years since my Confirmation in the Catholic Church. I have been trying to have a deeper experience, and a closer encounter with Christ. I really believe this is such an important season–one that helps me remember the things that are truly important in life.

In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be Catholic. Why? Because there is some serious, SERIOUS work to do. There has never been a greater opportunity to rid the church of corruption than there is now, much thanks to social media. There has never been an easier time to access tons of information about living liturgically. There has never been a more mind-blowing time to consider life in a day and age when technology is infused into so much of our experience, and yet we physically encounter our God, who comes to us in the form of bread so that we can look at our God and not die.

Transubstantiation, counter-cultural lifestyles with focuses on mysteries, the environment, contemplating/tracing/participating in life force all the way back to its source, AND sweeping out some long-standing villainy in an all-out battle of good versus evil–one in which WOMEN are keepers of mysteries that prove time and again how they become better leaders of warriors the more womanly they are? Catholicism is so metal.

If you’ve ever wondered what Catholics actually believe, I think these are available on Amazon for about $8.

Long-Distance

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder…well, since Eugene and I are currently almost 7,000 miles apart, you can imagine that I am feeling pretty darn fond of him at the moment. Long-Distance anything is terribly difficult. I’m hoping to write more posts about it, with the prayer that they might help other people who are going through the same thing.

Yes, it’s a blessing. We have learned so many things from being long-distance, and I have to believe we will use these lessons for the rest of our lives. It’s not for the faint of heart, you guys! But when it’s with the right person, there’s no amount of miles that can separate or jeopardize your relationship. True Love is always easy…no matter how hard it is :P.

Buenos Aires, Image (C) 2017, Margaret Nelson. Do not use without permission.

Finances

You know. It’s tax season. Crippling student loan debt. Visas are expensive. After visa, we’re gonna be newlyweds, which traditionally means utilizing lots of financial strategies for setting up a new life and a new home. For me, it’s really a race against time–can I complete my degree and get going on a passionate and meaningful career before the car wears out? Can I find somewhere to do digital job-interviews so I don’t have to go buy new dress pants? How many dollar store Pop Tarts is too many dollar store Pop Tarts? How often do people actually need dental work, anyway?

Image from Pexels.

Wedding Bells

Speaking of finances, wanna know what every immigrant wants to do immediately upon entering the United States? Why, pay for a customary, over-the-top, North-American wedding, of course! Let’s just say that Eugene and I have been having several strategy meetings lately about how to keep The Big Day focused accepting God’s will for our vocations, on our love, with warmth and welcome for all our family, and without breaking the bank. Stay tuned for the things I discover in my foray through the Pinteresting charybdis that is THE DIY WEDDING!

Image from Pexels.

Oh Yeah,

And I’m in grad school. Pray for me, guys.

Image from Pexels.

Margaret Nelson is the founder and contributor to Maggie O’the Valley, and author of THE TEN MINUTE QUIT, available on Amazon.

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