1) The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch
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
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.
For if to others, indeed, they
yet is their hope full of
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
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
7) In the time of their judgment* they
and dart about as sparks
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
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
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
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.
the wicked shall receive a punishment to match their thoughts,
since they neglected
righteousness and forsook the LORD.
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.
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
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
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
16) But the children of adulterers will remain without
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.
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;
for dire is the end of the wicked
COMMENTARY: If they die too soon to
repent, they won’t pass judgment.