Chapter 5

Wisdom 5:

1) Then shall the righteous one with great assurance confront

his oppressors who set at naught his labors.

COMMENTARY:  We have such a powerful need to not just escape our oppressors, not just thrive in spite of them, but to confront them.  We don’t even necessarily want revenge, although that’s a common emotion.  We want to communicate with the very people that logically one would think would be the last ones that the sufferer would want any relationship with at all.  We want them to know, once and for all, that they have wronged us and we want them to regret it.  We desire this even though it makes no material change in our circumstances, such as the saved confronting the damned.  I’m still trying to puzzle out why.

Yet in the prevalent Jewish concept of an afterlife at that time, such a confrontation could have the effect of bringing about, in the damned the self-recrimination necessary to trigger the fires of destruction.  In effect, it would invite the damned to erase themselves, so that Heaven would not be troubled by their selfishness and cruelty.

Even without this, though, we want to see the faces of those who hurt us when they realize what a terrible mistake they made.  We want that vindication.  It’s stronger than logic.



2) Seeing this, the wicked shall be shaken with dreadful fear,

and be amazed at the unexpected salvation.

COMMENTARY:  Unexpected salvation of their victims, that is.  That there is an afterlife, and that they, for their deeds, are not invited to it, but the one they despised is.



3) They shall say among themselves, rueful

and groaning through anguish of spirit:

“This is the one whom once we held as a laughingstock

and as a type for mockery,

4) fools that we were!

His life we accounted madness,

and death dishonored.

COMMENTARY:  In the upside-down logic of the wicked, honor belongs to those who claw their way to a peak of selfish attainment by any means necessary, while those who let ethics stand in their way are “losers”.  Here in the afterlife the writer depicts an altogether different scale of worth that the evildoers hadn’t reckoned on.



5) See how he is accounted among the heavenly beings;

how his lot is with the holy ones!

COMMENTARY:  Literally, “heavenly beings” translates as “sons of God.”  Considering all of the possible controversial interpretations that this could have among Christians, Jews, Pagans, and various groups considered Christian by themselves but called Heretics by others, it’s understandable why the translators decided to dodge a literal translation!



6) We, then, have strayed from the way of truth,

and the light of righteousness did not shine for us,

and the sun did not rise for us.

COMMENTARY:  A very poetic description of the realization that all that they thought illuminating has turned out to be an illusion.



7) We were entangled in the thorns of mischief and of ruin;

we journeyed through trackless deserts,

but the way of the LORD we never knew.

COMMENTARY:  When one cares only about oneself, pleasures become addictions and traps, and seeking one’s own way leaves one feeling hopelessly lost and empty, which then entraps one in still more unsatisfying compulsions.



8) What did our pride avail us?

What have wealth and its boastfulness afforded us?

COMMENTARY:  What seemed like achievements now turned out to be anything but.  We were born to love; nothing attained without love gives any lasting satisfaction.



9) All of them passed like a shadow

and like a fleeting rumor;

10) Like a ship traversing the heaving water:

when it has passed, no trace can be found,

no path of its keel in the waves.

11) Or like a bird flying through the air;

no evidence of its course is to be found—

But the fluid air, lashed by the beating of pinions,

and cleft by the rushing force

Of speeding wings, is traversed;

and afterward no mark of passage can be found in it.

12) Or as, when an arrow has been shot at a mark,

the parted air straightway flows together again

so that none discerns the way it went—

13) Even so, once born, we abruptly came to naught

and held no sign of virtue to display,

but were consumed in our wickedness.”

14) Yes, the hope of the wicked is like chaff borne by the wind,

and like fine, storm-driven snow;

Like smoke scattered by the wind,

and like the passing memory of the nomad camping for a single day.

COMMENTARY:  What a lyrical way of describing nothingness and meaninglessness!  What especially stings is that the wicked believe that their deeds cause them to stand out as better than others.



15) But the righteous live forever,

and in the LORD is their recompense,

and the thought of them is with the Most High.

COMMENTARY:  This period saw considerable development of and attention to thoughts of an afterlife, previously somewhat taboo.  But then Egyptian Jews would give more thought to an afterlife, being surrounded by a culture that had paid such extravagant attention to it in their history.



16) Therefore shall they receive the splendid crown,

the beautiful diadem, from the hand of the LORD,

For he will shelter them with his right hand,

and protect them with his arm.

COMMENTARY:  The diadem at this time denoted power and dignity, awarded to leaders, royalty, and winning athletes.  It could be a band of cloth or metal, ornate in either case.  If cloth, it would be tied at the back of the head, leaving two long, fringed strips to drape over the shoulders; kings wore this before they wore crowns.



17) He shall take his zeal for armor

and arm creation to requite the enemy,

18) Shall put on righteousness for a breastplate,

wear sure judgment for a helmet,

19) Shall take invincible holiness for a shield,

20) and sharpen his sudden anger for a sword.

The universe will war with him against the foolhardy;

COMMENTARY:  At first glance the text seemed ambiguous as to who was doing this.  Turns out it’s God, even though people have quoted this as applying to believers.  It’s God’s place, not ours, to wage war.



21) Well-aimed bolts of lightning will go forth

and from the clouds will leap to the mark as from a well-drawn bow;

COMMENTARY:  It’s interesting how thunderbolts seem to be the weapon of choice for deities among peoples in every inhabited continent, perhaps because they are sudden, unpredictable, unearthly, and instantly devastating.



22) and as from a sling, wrathful hailstones shall be hurled.

The waters of the sea will be enraged

and flooding rivers will overwhelm them;o

COMMENTARY:  Not to be confused with sleet, hail forms within thunderclouds, and is much bigger, nastier, and more destructive.  I had to look this up because I grew up where hail is rare.



23) A mighty wind will confront them

and winnow them like a tempest;

Thus lawlessness will lay waste the whole earth

and evildoing overturn the thrones of the mighty.


COMMENTARY:  Interesting, in that in the New Testament, a “mighty wind” also heralds the coming of the Holy Spirit.  To winnow is to toss harvested grain in the air with the intention of separating the heavier edible parts from the inedible chaff, which blows away.  It’s a sort of physical judgment process.

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