Joys and Miseries of Life
1A great anxiety has God allotted,*
and a heavy yoke, to the children of Adam,a
From the day they leave their mother’s womb
until the day they return to the mother of all the living.*
2Troubled thoughts and fear of heart are theirs
and anxious foreboding until death.
3Whether one sits on a lofty throne
or grovels in dust and ashes,
4Whether one wears a splendid crown
or is clothed in the coarsest of garments—
5There is wrath and envy, trouble and dread,
terror of death, fury and strife.
Even when one lies on his bed to rest,
his cares disturb his sleep at night.
6So short is his rest it seems like none,
till in his dreams he struggles as he did by day,
Troubled by the visions of his mind,
like a fugitive fleeing from the pursuer.
7As he reaches safety, he wakes up,
astonished that there was nothing to fear.
8To all flesh, human being and beast,
but for sinners seven times more,
9Come plague and bloodshed, fiery heat and drought,
plunder and ruin, famine and death.b
10For the wicked evil was created,
and because of them destruction hastens.
11All that is of earth returns to earth,
and what is from above returns above.*
12All that comes from bribes or injustice will be wiped out,
but loyalty remains forever.
13Wealth from injustice is like a flooding wadi,
like a mighty stream with lightning and thunder,
14Which, in its rising, rolls along the stones,
but suddenly, once and for all, comes to an end.c
15The offshoot of violence will not flourish,
for the root of the godless is on sheer rock.
16They are like reeds on riverbanks,
withered before all other plants;
17But goodness, like eternity, will never be cut off,
and righteousness endures forever.
18Wealth or wages can make life sweet,*
but better than either, finding a treasure.
19A child or a city will preserve one’s name,
but better than either, finding wisdom.
Cattle and orchards make a person flourish;
but better than either, a devoted wife.d
20Wine and strong drink delight the soul,
but better than either, love of friends.e
21Flute and harp offer sweet melody,
but better than either, a pure tongue.
22Grace and beauty delight the eye,
but better than either, the produce of the field.
23A friend and a neighbor are timely guides,
but better than either, a sensible wife.
24Relatives and helpers for times of stress;
but better than either, charity that rescues.
25Gold and silver make one’s way secure,
but better than either, sound judgment.
26Wealth and vigor make the heart exult,
but better than either, fear of God.
In the fear of the Lord there is no want;
whoever has it need seek no other support.
27The fear of God is a paradise of blessings;
its canopy is over all that is glorious.f
28My son, do not live the life of a beggar;*
better to die than to beg.
29When one has to look to a stranger’s table,
life is not worth living.
The delicacies offered bring revulsion of spirit,
and to the intelligent, inward torture.g
30In the mouth of the shameless begging is sweet,
but within him it burns like fire.
* [40:1–17] The former idyllic description of the universe is contrasted with the picture of the evils afflicting humanity. Every person, high or low, is burdened from birth to death with fears, anxieties, and troubles, by day and often by night, the time appointed for rest (vv. 1–7). For sinners, the suffering is much greater (vv. 8–10). What they gained by violence and injustice is quickly destroyed; but righteousness will prevail (vv. 14–17).
* [40:1] Mother of all the living: the earth from which human beings were taken. Cf. Gn 2:7; 3:19–20; Jb 1:21; Ps 139:15.
* [40:11] All that is of earth…returns above: a reference to bodily mortality and to the divine origin of life. Cf. 41:10; Gn 2:7; 3:19; Jb 34:14–15; Ps 104:29–30; 146:4; Eccl 12:7. The Greek and the Latin render the second half of the verse: “all waters shall return to the sea.”
* [40:18–27] Of the many treasures making life sweet, such as children, friends, music, vigor, the best are called true married love, wisdom, and above all, fear of God; cf. 25:6–11.
* [40:28–30] Among the Jews, begging was considered degrading to human dignity; it was agreeable only to the shameless, who had lost their sense of honor. Cf. 29:22–23.
a. [40:1] Gn 3:17–19; Jb 7:1; 14:1–2; Eccl 2:23.
c. [40:14] Sir 23:25–26; Wis 4:3–6.