Chapter 2

Wisdom 2:

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

“Brief and troubled is our lifetime;

there is no remedy for our dying,

nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.

COMMENTARY:  “They” means the unjust people mentioned in the previous chapter.  Thus begins the arguments of despair that lead to sin: they have no proof of an afterlife.  Thus they see death as a universal ill without cure and life as short and unhappy.


The Christian believes this problem answered first by the testimony of Lazarus, and then ultimately by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But before then people had nothing but faith and speculation. 

The devout Jew believed that it didn’t matter, that God deserves our love and devotion with or without reward.  But the sort of person who always asks, “What’s in it for me?” would see no reason to serve God without a guarantee of some consequence for either doing so or not.



2) For 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,

COMMENTARY:  So here comes the next step in the sinners’ reasoning:  life is meaningless, a mere coincidence.  They see no proof that anybody decided that they, specifically should exist; they believe that it makes no difference what they do. 

Regarding “breath”, Hebrew used the same word for “breath”, “wind” and “spirit”.  So these people deny the existence of the spirit, that the breath is nothing except material, soon dissipated as if it had never been. 


Similarly they dismiss reason as a chance byproduct of being alive, as opposed to a guiding principle.  Unlike too many Christians today (I have met them even in my own church) the ancient Jews saw no competition between reason and spirit.  They believed that the God who created their minds wanted them to exercise their intelligence as fully as possible, and saw study as a kind of devotion to the One who gave us reason.  So here the devaluation of reason also counts as a rejection of God.


The people described aren’t necessarily atheists.  Rather, they doubt if their Creator cares, or has any particular plans for them, in this life or hereafter.



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

and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.

COMMENTARY:  The Old Testament describes precisely this fate for evildoers.  But these poor souls jump the gun and assume that this will befall them no matter what happens, so why not sin?


We can tip people over into assuming that they’re damned from an early age, inducing despair of salvation, when we exaggerate their faults to them.  I remember, for instance, a coworker leading a self-destructive life, who told me that it didn’t matter what she did because her mother assured her that she was going to Hell for smoking.  Once you resign yourself to hopelessness, you have nothing to lose; you don’t even have enough sense of self to believe you could lose that.



4) Even 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.

COMMENTARY:  If one believes that no one will remember what one has done, why not do whatever one pleases?  It’s all going to vanish anyway.


As mentioned before, many Jews believe that, after death, regrets burn away any part of the soul given over to sins, and if anything remained that core person moves on to join their ancestors.  Here the sinner compares himself to an evaporated cloud overpowered by the heat of the sun; he has no faith that anything of himself could remain.


The Christian believes that Jesus guarantees that there will always be a remnant left of each of His followers, and they will enter Heaven.  The very act of loving Him is indestructible.



5) For 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.

COMMENTARY:  The sinner sums up the existential crisis that motivates him:  Life is short and meaningless, and death is permanent and absolute.



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

and make use of creation with youthful zest.

COMMENTARY:  At first this sounds sensible, even positive.  Enjoy what is, rather than what might or might not be.  But “youthful zest” hints at rebelliousness, living so much in the moment that one pays no heed to the voices of experience.  (We will shortly see that these sybarites aren’t even thinking of reaching maturity, let alone an afterlife.)  And “make use of creation” reminds the reader that there is indeed a God after all, who created everything, for generosity but not for exploitation.



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

and let no springtime blossom pass us by;

COMMENTARY:  This would have been harmless had it stopped with the springtime blossoms—the perfume freely given by God.  But no, these folks are going to go all-out to indulge themselves, sparing no expense.  To give you some idea of how labor-intensive perfume was in those days, it takes 250 pounds of roses to distil a single ounce of its oil.  Obviously not everyone can share in the wealth, here!


And the writer specifies “costly” wine.  Not the everyday wine pressed by a farmer’s own vineyard (remember, the ideal of prosperity in those days was “Every man under his own grapevine and fig tree”) but imported wine from the very best vineyards in the known world—wine that somebody else labored to produce, and then others to import.

Which still wouldn’t be too bad, if he had intended to earn these unusual pleasures with unusually great contributions to society.  But see the next verse.



8) let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.

COMMENTARY:  This implies imprudent impatience.  He’s not going to wait for the rosebuds to unfold into their full flowering, because his fear of death has hastened his perception of time; he sees the buds as about to wither already.  And by worrying about that eventuality, he in fact brings about their withering prematurely.  Cut rosebuds woven into a wreath never get the chance to fully develop.


In the same vein, he’s not going to wait around to obtain the money for his expensive tastes slowly, steadily, and honestly through hard work.  He has become obsessed with squeezing the most out of life right now, in his youth, and feels that anything unpleasant wastes his time.  Yet his prodigal lifestyle cannot help but age him prematurely and most likely bring his death early.


Crowning themselves also implies putting on airs.  They’re starting to convince themselves that they’re entitled to more than other people.  Just because.  And indeed, this is how narcissism starts: first worthiness seems unattainable, then one salves the wound by convincing oneself that one has already attained it.  To maintain this fantasy, one must presume oneself entitled to the best of everything.



9) Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;

everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,

for this is our portion, and this our lot.

COMMENTARY:  They won’t even take the time to clean up after themselves, let alone time for courtship and long-term commitment.



10) Let us oppress the righteous poor;

let us neither spare the widow

nor revere the aged for hair grown white with time.

COMMENTARY:  And now it comes down to the real rub.  The money for all of this self-indulgence has to come from somewhere.  So they target the most vulnerable in their community to finance their hedonism.



11) But let our strength be our norm of righteousness;

for weakness proves itself useless.

COMMENTARY:  They convince themselves that might makes right.  They see no value in the righteousness of a poor man if it brings them no money, nor the years of devotion that a widow once gave, nor the wisdom won with age.  For them everything boils down to the bottom line.  They idolize the one advantage that they have in their youth: their brute physical strength.  They will wield this without mercy, living too much in the moment to foresee that it won’t last forever (especially considering the physical toll of the self-indulgent lifestyle!)



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.

COMMENTARY:  Now they don’t just prey on those they can profit from, but now, hardened to hurting others anyway, they also attack anyone who criticizes them.  Deep down their consciences torment them, but they keep burying remorse in self-indulgence—only to have the righteous one expose it again, by reminding them that they weren’t raised with these values.



13) He professes to have knowledge of God

and styles himself a child of the LORD.

COMMENTARY:  I see several layers to why the hedonists would have a problem with this.  First is simple envy that someone else can experience a mystical encounter with God.  Plus it refutes everything that they have based their lifestyle upon; what they had done to evade pointlessness becomes itself pointless.  Worse than that, they have by now grown accustomed to self-indulgence and now this threatens to make them think about some of the things they did to get there and realize just how wrong it is.  That threatens their defensive sense of entitlement.



14) To us he is the censure of our thoughts;

merely to see him is a hardship for us,

COMMENTARY:  The righteous man’s very existence refutes all of their choices.  He has a sense of meaning in his life and thus can be easily happy without their desperate grasping.



15) Because his life is not like that of others,

and different are his ways.

COMMENTARY:  People often convince themselves that something they do is at least “normal”, if they fail to convince themselves that it is good.  To meet someone who doesn’t find it necessary to do as they did rebukes them by his existence.



16) He 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

COMMENTARY:  When people feel guilty, you don’t even need to criticize them out loud for them to accuse you of judging them, just because you’re not doing what they’re doing.  Even if they’re not on your radar, they will see your choices as a refutation of theirs.  I know this firsthand.



17) Let us see whether his words be true;

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

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

and deliver him from the hand of his foes.

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

that we may have proof of his gentleness

and try his patience.

20) Let us condemn him to a shameful death;

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

COMMENTARY:  Catholics see this passage as prophetic of Jesus Christ.  But it also illustrates the needs of those who have based their lives on hopelessness to disprove the hope of others.  Verse 19 stands out for me, because it makes clear that however they might rationalize their anger, they’re not attacking someone who actually abused them with his disapproval, but who offered them gentle correction and showed them patience.



21) These were their thoughts, but they erred;

for their wickedness blinded them,

COMMENTARY:  Wickedness blinds because it requires layers of lying to oneself.  The more you immerse yourself in evil, the less you can afford to look at squarely.



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.

COMMENTARY:  A reward fulfilled after death.



23) For God formed us to be imperishable;

the image of his own nature he made us.

COMMENTARY:  One could see this as meaning having an imperishable soul, rather than body.  Although we Christians believe that Jesus brought back His body as well.



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

and they who are allied with him experience it.


COMMENTARY:    This is the first scripture to equate Satan with the serpent of Genesis.

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