RePost: Sirach’s ‘The Works of God in Nature’

I give my Protestant friends a hard time, sometimes, about excessively quoting the Bible and other similar behaviors, such as setting aside special Bible-study times and possessing favorite Bible verses. In truth, I am just as bad, though for a different set of books. 

My Protestant friends usually find their power-verses in the uniquely Christian theology of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. I, the dark, comparatively mystical Catholic, instead find solace in the wisdom books of the Old Testament, in particular Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach. The brutal and incessantly salient advice of these passages, combined with their extreme emphasis on a broad portrait of the structure of the Universe and nature of God, strike a thousand more chords in me than do the histories and law codes present in other portions of the Bible.

Now, these books are in the Old Testament, and in them there is indeed praise of the genocidal and misogynistic dictums of older books. I will comment on these in general later; for now it will suffice to say that I have chiefly interpreted such pieces of information as symbolic.

On, then, to the matter at hand- this passage nestled between Chapters 42 and 43 of the Book of Sirach. Jesus Ben Sirach was a Jewish scholar and sage who lived about a century before Christ, who composed much great literature on personal conduct and decency, as well as the nature of wisdom. I find that reading him is similar to reading Confucius. He has dozens of other passages equal to or better than this one, some of which I will probably lump together and post later- they are too juicy to keep to myself.

This particular passage is a harangue on how the greatness of God is hinted at through the works of nature, delivered in a semi-poetic method. John Muir comes to mind. Much of it is rather half-rate, and I cannot say that any particularly astounding conclusions or realizations burst out after reading it- a few delightful and profound aphorisms poke up here and there, but they are not unified- but it is nonetheless a pleasant passage which can inspire a few thoughts. It is certainly a good example of the notion that some things ought to be written in a confusing style and pondered by their readers for ages if they are to be truly understood. Moreover, it presents a charming little exercise for those obsessive enough to have a mind for it- I have many times found myself composing prose of similar style when surrounded by the grandeur of nature, unable to express the wonder bubbling in my breast by any other method.

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‘The Works of God in Nature’

‘Now I will recall God’s works;

What I have seen, I will describe.

At God’s word were his works brought into being;

They do his will as he has ordained for them.

As the rising sun is clear to all,

So the glory of the Lord fills all his works;

Yet even God’s holy ones must fail in recounting the wonders of the Lord,

Though God has given these, his hosts, the strength

To stand firm before his glory.

He plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart;

Their innermost being he understands.

The Most High possesses all knowledge,

And sees from of old the things that are to come:

He makes known the past and the future,

And reveals the deepest secrets.

No understanding does he lack;

No single thing escapes him.

Perennial is his almighty wisdom;

He is from all eternity one and the same,

With nothing added, nothing taken away;

No need of a counselor for him!

How beautiful are all his works! Even to the spark and the fleeting vision!

The Universe lives and abides forever;

To meet each need, each creature is preserved.

All of them differ, one from another,

Yet none of them has he made in vain,

For each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?

The clear vault of the sky shines forth

like heaven itself, a vision of glory.

The orb of the sun, resplendent at its rising;

what a wonderful work of the Most High!

At noon it seethes the surface of the Earth,

and who can bear its fiery heat?

Like a blazing furnace of solid metal,

it sets the mountains aflame with its rays;

By its fiery darts the land is consumed; 

the eyes are dazzled by its light.

Great indeed is the Lord who made it,

at whose orders it urges on its steeds.

The moon, too, that marks the changing times,

governing the seasons, their lasting sign,

By which we know the feast days and fixed dates, 

this light-giver which wanes in its course:

As its name says, each month it renews itself;

how wondrous in this change!

The beauty, the glory of the heavens are the stars

that adorn with their sparkling the heights of God,

at whose command they keep their place

and never relax in their vigils.

A weapon against the flood waters stored on high, 

lighting up the firmament by its brilliance,

Behold the Rainbow! Then bless its Maker,

for majestic indeed is its splendor;

It spans the heavens with its glory,

this bow bent by the mighty hand of God.

His rebuke marks out the path for the lightning,

and speeds the arrows of his judgment to their goal.

At it the storehouse is opened,

and like vultures the clouds hurry forth.

In his majesty he gives the storm its power

and breaks off the hailstones.

The thunder of his voice makes the Earth writhe;

before his might the mountains quake.

A word from him drives on the south wind,

the angry north wind, the hurricane and the storm.

He sprinkles the snow like fluttering birds;

it comes to settle like swarms of locusts.

Its shining whiteness blinds the eyes,

the mind is baffled by its steady fall.

He scatters frost like so much salt;

it shines like blossoms on the thorn brush.

Cold northern blasts he sends

that turn the ponds to lumps of ice.

He freezes over every body of water,

and clothes each pool with a coat of mail.

When the mountain growth is scorched with heat,

and the flowering plains as though by flames,

The dripping clouds restore them all,

and the scattered dew enriches the parched land.

His is the plan that calms the deep, and plants the islands in the sea.

Those who go down to the sea tell part of its story,

and when we hear them we are thunderstruck;

In it are his creatures, stupendous, amazing,

all kinds of life, and the monsters of the deep.

For him each messenger succeeds,

and at his bidding accomplishes his will.

More than this we need not add;

let the last word be, he is all in all!

Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,

for greater is he than all his works;

Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty, and wonderful is his power.

Lift up your voices to glorify the Lord,

though he is still beyond your power to praise;

Extol him with renewed strength,

and weary not, though you cannot reach the end;

For who can see him and describe him?

or who can praise him as he is?

Beyond these, many things lie hid;

only a few of his works have we seen.

It is the Lord who has made all things,

and those who fear him he gives wisdom.’

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