Chapter 3

Wisdom 3:

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

and no torment shall touch them.

COMMENTARY:  Notice that this says “souls”.  Our bodies and our minds don’t automatically receive protection in this world.  Martyrdom happens, and serves a greater good that often only God can see.



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

and their passing away was thought an affliction

COMMENTARY:  This addresses the popular misconception of the time that early death is necessarily always a punishment for sin and survival a sign of virtue.



3) and their going forth from us, utter destruction.

But they are in peace.

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

yet is their hope full of immortality;

COMMENTARY:  Growing belief in an afterlife reassured people that death was not the end of a person’s story and that rewards could still happen.  The Book of Wisdom, predating Christ by a mere century, came about within living memory of the Maccabean Revolt and the loss of quite a few young lives, and its author lived under the thumb of foreign oppressors.



5) Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,

because God tried them

and found them worthy of himself.

COMMENTARY:  This could reference Purgatory.  Or it could address the travails of dying for a worthy cause.



6) As gold in the furnace, he proved them,

and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.

COMMENTARY:  Since the Jews burnt sacrificial offerings on the altar, this ties in to the purgatorial fires of common Jewish belief in the developing concept of an afterlife.  St. Paul repeats this idea in his own writings, that the Christian who leads a virtuous life will pass through the fires of death as unscathed as gold, while sinful Christians will barely escape.



7) In the time of their judgment* they shall shine

and dart about as sparks through stubble;

8) They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,

and the LORD shall be their King forever.

COMMENTARY:  The writer uses the same word for judgment for the worthy as he does for the wicked, being itself an impartial evaluation. 

Biblical writers often used “stubble” as a symbol for sins, human frailty, or sinful people, all consumed by the fires of purgation and made as naught.  To describe the virtuous souls sparks, therefore, symbolizes their role as judges under the Kingship of God in the afterlife. 



9) Those 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,

and his care is with the elect.

COMMENTARY:  As the Book of Judges demonstrates, the Israelites originally had no kings; small communities followed whichever local elders seemed wisest, those presumed to be most in tune with God’s will over them, and called them Judges, since they passed judgment on whatever cases their people brought before them.  The system had problems, however.  For instance, a man saved himself from a predatory mob by surrendering his concubine to be gang-raped to death: the Book of Judges precedes this by saying, “In those days Israel had no king” to explain the horrible decision as coming from a barbaric time when “every man did as he saw fit.”

But judges in Heaven would not have the same problem.  Being face to face with God, and directly in tune with Him, they would have no reason to make bad decisions.  They would tap in directly to both the truth-based justice of God and the love-based mercy of God.  This bears some relation to the Catholic belief in the power of the prayers of saints—being face to face with God means that their faith cannot waver and so their prayers become pure and powerful.



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

since they neglected righteousness and forsook the LORD.

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

Vain is their hope, fruitless their labors,

and worthless their works.i

COMMENTARY:  Their punishment is ceasing to exist, to match the emptiness of their purposeless lives.  Hoping only in this world, laboring only for finite purposes, they achieve nothing that lasts beyond the grave.



12)  Their wives are foolish and their children wicked,

accursed their brood.

COMMENTARY:  Those who despise wisdom aren’t going to support wisdom in a wife, and may actually suppress it, consciously or unconsciously.  Such parents won’t have a clue on how to raise children better than themselves.  The point is to illustrate how one person’s bad choices not only hurt him but everyone he loves.



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

never knew transgression of the marriage bed;

for she shall bear fruit at the judgment of souls

COMMENTARY:  The culture at the time believed that barrenness was a punishment from God—so much so that childless women would, in desperation, sometimes take on an adulterous lover in the hopes that the fertility problem came from the husband.  She would then claim that any subsequent child was her husband’s, and would cease to suffer the condemnation of the public.


This book sets out to debunk such cultural ideas mistaken for God’s will.  The fruit of the faithful barren woman is her virtue, which shall ripen after her death in ways unimaginable to us.



14) So 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.

COMMENTARY:  Laws barring the admission of eunuchs into the temple dated back to a time when men sometimes chose to be eunuchs in order to serve certain Pagan deities.  The chief idea of the ban was to forbid the Jews from incorporating such barbaric worship into their own rituals, because God did not want ‘honored” in this way.


However, since the conquest of the Jewish kingdoms, foreign rulers routinely castrated men by force if desired for service at court, and Jews were highly prized as courtiers due to their scholarship.  The writer reassures these innocents that God will not cast out those who have done no harm, and that good deeds can create a heritage in Heaven even more gratifying than having children.



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

and unfailing is the root of understanding.

COMMENTARY:  Even if one dies childless for a good cause, one still deserves glory.  God Himself is the root of understanding.  Those who understand that there is an afterlife will strive to serve God even if the results seem to penalize them in this life.



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

and the progeny of an unlawful bed will disappear.

COMMENTARY:  This plays on two ideas: the children of the women who cheated on their husbands for progeny,  prizing  the appearance of virtue over the fact, and the common use, in those times, of adultery as a metaphor for cheating on God in any number of ways.  The woman who prizes appearances will raise children unable to value the substance behind appearances and therefore ill-equipped to navigate a complex world morally, and the man without fidelity to God won’t be able to give his children any kind of moral foundation, either.



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

and dishonored will their old age be in the end;

COMMENTARY:  Long life is not, by itself, automatically a divine reward.  Virtuous people tend to attain it simply because their virtue leads to prudent choices, but those who claw after long life by evil means won’t be able to keep up appearances indefinitely; sooner or later people will see them for the self-serving jerks that they are and they will die friendless.



18) Should they die abruptly, they will have no hope

nor comfort in the day of scrutiny;

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

COMMENTARY:  If they die too soon to repent, they won’t pass judgment.

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