Chapter 4

Wisdom 4:

1) Better is childlessness with virtue;

for immortal is the memory of virtue,

acknowledged both by God and human beings.

COMMENTARY:  I’m beginning to wonder if a woman wrote this.  This is pure speculation; we know nothing about the author except for a general timeline and probable location.  But to go on for a second chapter defending the childless doesn’t seem like something that would be on the male radar in that era. 

My imagination makes her a childless widow, tired of people adding insult to her injuries.  Or maybe, more commendably, someone defending a woman in this predicament, which could still indicate a female writer, because Jewish men in those days avoided speaking to women they weren’t related to by blood or marriage.  Thus they had very few relationships with women close enough to stir their empathy; still less did they understand anything at all of female social dynamics and who would be in or out of favor. 


But I could be wrong.  A man could possibly have found himself in unusual circumstances enough to sympathize with someone else’s widow, perhaps a sister.  Even so, it seems to me that the odds favor a female author.  In fact, the overall writing of the Book of Wisdom seems to focus on psychology, relationships and interactions in what strikes me as a feminine style.


In any case, the verse nevertheless has important words for people of any gender:  Wisdom is immortal.  People remember and repeat it long after the person who first uttered it has died.  Even the person’s name could die, yet their words would live on, as one of those old sayings that people keep repeating without any sense of authorship, because they keep on being true.


The Bible says that the line of the wicked will die out.  But (as this writer asks) does that necessarily mean a genetic line?  Virtuous and wholesome thoughts take on a life of their own, and beget their own kind of children.



2)When 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.

COMMENTARY:  Who do we miss the most when they die?  The people who have scored the most. be it in wealth or in babies?  No, the people who moved us the most, who helped us the most with their insights.  Think of the people who have passed on, of which you’ve said, “I wish X was here to ask about that!”  We remember all good deeds gladly, but the gifts of patient listening, good advice, and effective teaching particularly stick in our minds and our hearts.



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

their spurious offshoots shall not strike deep root

nor take firm hold.

4) For 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

5) Their twigs shall be broken off untimely,

their fruit useless, unripe for eating,

fit for nothing.

6) For children born of lawless unions

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

COMMENTARY:  Notice that the writer doesn’t describe such children as wicked themselves, but as disadvantaged.  They are unsteady, unprotected, without good mothering in which to sink their roots.  For those who abuse the rights of others aren’t likely to spare their own families; their children grow up with crippling traumas, low self-esteem, and ignorance of good role models.  This applies not only to human children, but to the thoughts and deeds left behind.

Does this mean that there’s no hope for flesh and blood children of bad parents?  It is my belief that Jesus brought hope with Him.   The value of being born again is to shed the inevitably flawed upbringing of universally sinful parents raised by sinful parents raised by sinful parents, going all the way back to the Fall, and to find new parentage in God, with new guidance from His Holy Spirit.



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

COMMENTARY:  Bible scholars speculate that the subsequent passages might well have been in defense of Enoch, allegedly young when he prophesied and dying soon after.  (Other legends make him out to be immortal, snatched up alive to Heaven in a flying chariot, with his writings supposedly predating Genesis, which the science fiction series, “Agents of Shield” has had fun playing with.  But this could have been a folkloric misinterpretation of the immortality of wisdom itself.)  Sadly, the books of Enoch are neither in the Protestant nor the Roman Catholic Bibles, though some of the Orthodox churches preserve his writings.  One day I will read him, for Jesus quotes him.


Anyway, the message is that one’s life impacts what sort of afterlife one could have.  The Jewish community had begun increasingly to explore this topic, starting with the books of Maccabees.



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

nor can it be measured in terms of years.

9) Rather, understanding passes for gray hair,

and an unsullied life is the attainment of old age.

COMMENTARY:  Respect for the elderly presupposes them having spent the years acquiring wisdom, but if one has squandered those years in solidifying folly instead, one won’t automatically become a revered elder.  Like all good things, it takes work.  Some people pack much work towards wisdom into very few years.



10)  The one who pleased God was loved,

living among sinners, was transported—

11) Snatched away, lest wickedness pervert his mind

or deceit beguile his soul;

COMMENTARY:  In other words, far from being a punishment for sin, an early death could preserve one from temptation.



12) For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right

and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind.

COMMENTARY:  Nothing changes much.  We are much the same now as we were thousands of years ago.



13) Having become perfect in a short while,

he reached the fullness of a long career;

COMMENTARY:  I can’t help but wonder if this was mistranslated from Greek into the Latin Vulgate, where “perfect” and “complete” use the same word.  Nobody’s perfect, of course, as other parts of the Bible make clear, but becoming complete makes more sense, in the context of reaching “the fullness of a long career.”



14) for his soul was pleasing to the LORD,

therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.

But the people saw and did not understand,

nor did they take that consideration into account.

COMMENTARY:  Catholics apply verse 14 to Jesus Christ.  This goes right to the very beginning of Christianity, when Christians were mocked for worshiping someone executed.


 This translation omits verse 15, because it repeats verse 3:9—


“ 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.”


Evidently the translators don’t understand the use of poetic repetition.



16) Yes, 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.

COMMENTARY:  Condemn in the sense of make them look bad by comparison, if one considers the facts of their life instead of leaping to conclusions.



17) For they will see the death of the wise one

and will not understand what the LORD intended,

or why he kept him safe.

COMMENTARY:  People who don’t grow any wiser with age have no mind for subtleties, but see everything in black and white—and yet they presume to know the will of the Lord!



18)  They will see, and hold him in contempt;

but the LORD will laugh them to scorn.

COMMENTARY:  Because there’s nothing quite so hilarious as people priding themselves on knowing more than they actually do.



19) And they shall afterward become dishonored corpses

and an unceasing mockery among the dead.

For he shall strike them down speechless and prostrate

and rock them to their foundations;

They shall be utterly laid waste

and shall be in grief

and their memory shall perish.

COMMENTARY:  This presupposes an afterlife where the dead can mock.  This also strikes me as so angry as to wonder if a personal insult has stirred up such a rebuttal.



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

and their lawless deeds shall convict them to their face.

COMMENTARY:  Never mind what people say about you in this life—worry about how God will judge you after life.

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