Tag Archives: Wisdom

Impressions of “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” by Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan Peterson is a professor and clinical psychologist in Canada. He’s best known for a series of Youtube videos, some of them punchy and designed to be snappy and useful:

and others ponderous and monumental:

This places him between two separate genres I have reviewed before. His new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is clearly a self-help book. It is also a biblical commentary especially the Genesis, the wisdom books, and the New Testament. The themes of grace and wisdom are central to understanding the book. Jordan Peterson belongs in the same class of thinkers as St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom.

The Old Testament

The Hebrew Bible comes from the cultural world of the old Canaanite religion — a world of sea monsters, stars joining in battles, gods building homes and old Judge River. That world seems not only improbable to a Western mind — it seems fundamentally antithetical to philosophy. Of all the western religions, only Mormonism approaches the focus on Organization and Order that pervades ancient Near Eastern thought.

Works such as The Lost World of Genesis One or The Unseen Realm are excellent Biblical commentaries because of their deep understanding of Canaanite cosmology. Yet, the price of these is accepting a non-western world view of Temples and Super-natural entities.

How to reconcile the western philosophical tradition with the near eastern Order tradition? Peterson’s solution is to read the Old Testament as a list of signs and symbols — which he calls archetypes and are related to Saint Paul’s theories of *types of Christ.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.
Romans 5:14-15

These signs, archetypes, and types refer to the use of a figure in a story to stand for a larger figure or a larger truth. Peterson’s own approach derives from Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology found archetypes in ancient stories throughout the world.

In The Weekly Standard, my friend Tanner Greer denies Peterson’s belief in “the living word of a Living God,” but also emphasizes the role of archetypes in understanding Peterson’s Christology. (I suspect he’s wrong on the one claim, and right on the second).

Thus Peterson’s lectures on Biblical stories and the large passages of Biblical exegesis in Twelve Rules for Life. Peterson does not read the Bible as the living word of a Living God, but as a series of archetypes that provide a pattern of order and structure for human life. The appeal this has to millennials who have lost faith in God but still yearn for order and belonging probably shouldn’t be surprising. Peterson’s aim is to take such myths and stories and reformat them as rituals that can be re-enacted in the modern day: the building blocks of a new moral order.
Tanner Greer, “Jordan Peterson Saves the World”

Greer, though, considers Peterson’s use of Jung’s archetypical system as “painfully limited”. Can this really be true, as the system is at least as rich as St. Paul’s?

Yes, it’s true that some elements of Peterson’s quest to totalitarian-proof the Western world are shallow. His analysis of world mythology and religious imagery is built almost entirely on the writings of Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade. This a painfully limited foundation for the task at hand. And yes, there are a hundred ways one might pick at Peterson’s civilization-revitalization project.
Tanner Greer, “Jordan Peterson Saves the World”

Peterson’s approach to the Bible is ultimately traditional, and follows other thinkers in trying to read the Hebrew Bible as revealing Truth and exhorting good works, not as a literal chronology of events. Like Peterson, the Church Father John Chrysostom read the Hebrew Bible psychologically. For instance, preaching on this passage of Cain’s murder of Abel:

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”

And Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”

And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.
Genesis 4:8-15

Chrystom emphasizes that:

God neither said nor did anything like that. Instead, God came again to him, corrected him, and said: ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ When Cain said he did not know, God still did not desert him but he brought him, in spite of himself, to admit what he had done

‘I have committed a sin too great for pardon, defense, or forgiveness; if it is your will to punish my crime, I shall lie exposed to every harm because your helping hand has abandoned me.’ And what did God do then? He said ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain shall be punished sevenfold!… For the number seven in the Scriptures means an indefinitely large number..
St. John Chrysostom, Against the Jews

Augustine, Chrysostom’s contemporary in the late Roman Empire, likewise used a symbolic reading of the Old Testament. To John Chrysostom’s psychological turn, Augustine added an explicitly allegorical layer. Taking this passage in Genesis:

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Genesis 2:15-17

Augustine read these gifts as symbolizing God’s works of mercy generally.

I would also say, O Lord my God, what the following Scripture minds me of; yea, I will say, and not fear. For I will say the truth, Thyself inspiring me with what Thou willedst me to deliver out of those words. But by no other inspiration than Thine, do I believe myself to speak truth, seeing Thou art the Truth, and every man a liar. He therefore that speaketh a lie, speaketh of his own; that therefore I may speak truth, I will speak of Thine. Behold, Thou hast given unto us for food every herb bearing seed which is upon all the earth; and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed. And not to us alone, but also to all the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the earth, and to all creeping things; but unto the fishes and to the great whales, hast Thou not given them. Now we said that by these fruits of the earth were signified, and figured in an allegory, the works of mercy which are provided for the necessities of this life out of the fruitful earth.
St. Augustine, Confessions

Both men surely miss something by not being aware of the Canaanite origins of the Hebrew Bible. But to accuse Peterson of failing to do still leaves him in rarefied company. Like Augustine, Peterson reads the Old Testament philosophically; and like Chrysostom, he reads it psychologically.

The New Testament

The bigger concern for many Christians is Peterson’s view of Christ.

Robert Barron, a Catholic Bishop enerally critical of anthropocentric Christology, worries of a “gnosticizing tendency” in Peterson’s work…

I have shared just a handful of wise insights from a book that is positively chockablock with them. So do I thoroughly support Jordan Peterson’s approach? Well, no, though a full explication of my objection would take us far beyond the confines of this brief article. In a word, I have the same concern about Peterson that I have about both Campbell and Jung, namely, the Gnosticizing tendency to read Biblical religion purely psychologically and philosophically and not at all historically. No Christian should be surprised that the Scriptures can be profitably read through psychological and philosophical lenses, but at the same time, every Christian has to accept the fact that the God of the Bible is not simply a principle or an abstraction, but rather a living God who acts in history. As I say, to lay this out thoroughly would require at least another article or two or twelve.
Bishop Robert Barron, “The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon

Yet it is not that simple, for Saint Augustine emphasizes the philosophical dimension of the New Testament — at the expense of its historical nature. For instance, given this account of The Transfiguration:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:1-8

Augustine writes:

But how didst Thou speak? In the way that the voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son? For that voice passed by and passed away, began and ended; the syllables sounded and passed away, the second after the first, the third after the second, and so forth in order, until the last after the rest, and silence after the last. Whence it is abundantly clear and plain that the motion of a creature expressed it, itself temporal, serving Thy eternal will. And these Thy words, created for a time, the outward ear reported to the intelligent soul, whose inward ear lay listening to Thy Eternal Word. But she compared these words sounding in time, with that Thy Eternal Word in silence, and said “It is different, far different. These words are far beneath me, nor are they, because they flee and pass away; but the Word of my Lord abideth above me for ever.” If then in sounding and passing words Thou saidst that heaven and earth should be made, and so madest heaven and earth, there was a corporeal creature before heaven and earth, by whose motions in time that voice might take his course in time. But there was nought corporeal before heaven and earth; or if there were, surely Thou hadst, without such a passing voice, created that, whereof to make this passing voice, by which to say, Let the heaven and the earth be made. For whatsoever that were, whereof such a voice were made, unless by Thee it were made, it could not be at all. By what Word then didst Thou speak, that a body might be made, whereby these words again might be made?
St. Augustine, Confessions

The Transfiguration is the central moment of the Hebrew experience of God, the central moment in God’s love affair with Israel. Maybe a philosophical reading strips it of wondering and meaning — frankly, I think so. But Augustine is a central figure in the Christian faith, and that is how he reads it. Even when wrong, there is worse company than Augustine.

Grace

In Christianity, “grace” can refer to either God temporarily helping man perform better works or supernaturally helping man achieve eternal salvation. Both are important, but any Christian discourse focused primarily on our old Earth, or the coming New Earth, is likely to focus on one at the expense of the other.

Even great writers, if they are not aware of the kinds of grace, can be led astray:

Peterson has critics from the Christian right, too, who seem to be disappointed that the answer to how to build a new moral order is “not them.” Charlie Clark’s [review for Mere Orthodoxy is the best of the genre. [sic] Peterson “is not the next C.S. Lewis” (which is true) and noting that, his book concludes that people can save themselves “without God’s grace.” (Also true.)
Tanner Greer, “Jordan Peterson Saves the World”

I think part of this attack is Peterson’s lack of explicit use of the word grace. But the word “grace” just signifies the meaning of God’s temporal assistance in the work of salvation. The presence of grace throughout Peterson’s works hits the reader over the head, given Peterson’s human-centered Christology:

Christ is He who

transcends death by voluntarily accepting death. Christ is He who

rejects the kingdoms of this world for the Kingdom of God. Christ is He who

speaks the truth that creates the habitable order that is good from the chaos of potential that exists prior to the materialization of reality. Christ is He who

wields potential as the sword that cleaves death. Christ is He whose

radical acceptance of the conditions of life defeats the hatred, bitterness and vengefulness that the tragedy and malevolence that taints Being otherwise produces.

Without the acceptance of death, bitterness rules, and Hell triumphs.
Jordan Peterson, “On the ark of the covenant, the cathedral, and the cross: Easter Message I

There is no denying this is the mediation of grace through human hands. Reformed theologians like Van’t Veer or William Dumbrell may deny the importance of good works, but few other Christians or Jews do. This is the meaning, of Peterson’s calls to charity, as well as the humility of accepting charity

What shall I do when I’m tired and impatient. Gratefully accept an outstretched helping hand…
What shall I do with my infant’s death? Hold my other loved ones and heal their pain.
Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

This total acknowledgement of human participation both in working Salvation and building Hell is entirely in accord with the Catholic tradition. Christians participate in the crucifixion of Christ and the construction of Hell through their sins, as they participate in the works of salvation by their co-working with Christ. As the Catholic theologian Thomas Merton writes:

For in my greatest misery He would shed, into my soul, enough light to see how miserable I was, and to admit that it was my own fault and my own work. And always I was to be punished for my sins by my sins themselves, and to realize, at least obscurely, that I was being so punished and burn in the flames of my own hell, and rot in the hell of my own corrupt will until I was forced at least, by my own intense misery, to give up my own will.
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

And immediately continues:

But now, at least, I realized where I was, and I was beginning to try to get out.

Some people may think that Providence was very funny and very cruel to allow me to choose the means I now chose to save my soul. But Providence, that is the love of God, is very wise in turning away from the self-will of men, and in having nothing to do with them, and leaving them to their own devices, as long as they are intent on governing themselves, to show them to what depths of futility and sorrow their own helplessness incapable of dragging them.
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Wisdom

Grace, the temporary assistance of God, is a gift to allow us to see the pattern ordering the Scriptures. But to see this requires wisdom.

Wisdom comes from God, it is the gift of understanding what to do and when. Wisdom when applied to salvation is actual grace. It’s temporary because we are not always wise, but by acting wisely — by performing wise works — we can fall into a habit of wisdom, and open ourselves to a habit of grace.

Peterson frames his advice as twelve morally neutral concrete steps. Tim Lott’s article in The Guardian lists them as:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Dave Ramsey’s “baby steps“, as superficially amoral as Peterson’s advice, are:

  1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
  2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
  3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
  4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
  5. College funding for children
  6. Pay off home early
  7. Build wealth and give!

And in the Scriptures, we read political advice. And for the same reason! Wisdom is the proper ordering of knowledge. It is the antidote to mental chaos. Peterson’s career and personal advice, Ramsey’s financial advice, and Ecclesiastes’ political advice are all a part of living a well-ordered life.

Because of laziness the building decays,
And through idleness of hands the house leaks.
A feast is made for laughter,
And wine makes merry;
But money answers everything.

Do not curse the king, even in your thought;
Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom;
For a bird of the air may carry your voice,
And a bird in flight may tell the matter.
Ecclesiastes 10:18-20

Those who ignore the Bible’s wisdom literature — not only Proverbs and Ecclesiasties, but also Wisdom, Sirach, and Job are doubtless confused by Peterson. But those who adore Holy Wisdom are refreshed. Order is morally virtuous. Order is from the Father. Order was with God from the beginning.

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
And find out knowledge and discretion…
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
Psalms 8:12,22-31

The Bible is the story of God ordering the universe out of chaos – from the waters in Genesis, to the land of Canaan, to the great purifying terrors of Ezekiel and Revelations. Part of having faith in God — that is imitating God through obedience — is doing the same in our own lives. Wisdom literature in the Bible provided an way for an individual to begin battling chaos. Jordan B. Peterson’s new book, subtitled An Antidote to Chaos, offers the same.

I read 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, written and narrated by Jordan Peterson, in the Audible edition.

The Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

Note: As with my take on the Book of Samuel and the Book of Job, this post was originally posted on Facebook. At the time I had just begun to read the Bible — I read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in Alter’s translation. I have edited the original piece slightly.

I finished the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiastes, which along with the Book of Job make up the “Wisdom Books” of the Old Testament. The books have very distinct narrative styles. For most of his book, Job is Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective” – downbeat, cosmic, anti-natalist. The Book of Proverbs reminds me of Dave Ramsey — upbeat, optimistic, and practical in a theological context.

Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,

Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,

Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
Proverbs 6:5-9

And Ecclesiastes… I hear Ecclesiastes the voice of John Derbyshire. The writer shares with Derbyshire a general pessimism and skepticism, a fear of chaos greater than a fear of arbitrary rule, and a rational take to maximizing enjoyment of life. “Eat, drink, and be merry” is one memorable line — “of making books there is no end” is another.

The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails,
given by one Shepherd.

And further, my son,
be admonished by these.

Of making many books there is no end,
and much study is wearisome to the flesh.
Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

You can see the difference in emphasis in how Proverbs and Ecclesiastes judge kings. They are the arbiters of justice:

The king’s favor is toward a wise servant,
But his wrath is against him who causes shame.
Proverbs 14:35

And the cause of censorship:

Do not curse the king, even in your thought;
Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom;
For a bird of the air may carry your voice,
And a bird in flight may tell the matter.
Ecclesiastes 10:20

Proverbs reminds me of the praise hymns and the sermons that we all kind of remember from childhood. Job is what happens when that world view encounters death. Ecclesiastes is after an even more challenging confrontation: the ups and down of a mostly successful life.

The Five Books of Moses (the lost world of Genesis, the Breaking Bad arc of Exodus-Numbers, the sacrifices of Leviticus, the true intentions of Deuteronomy) are more mysterious.

The Former Prophets (the war story of Joshua, the westerns of Judges, the Shakespeare + Game of Thrones * + House of Cards* intrigue of Samuel, the Battlestar Galactica destruction of Kings) are better stories.

But the Wisdom Books (the philosophical horror of Job, the cheery ministry of Proverbs, the skeptical and human theology of Ecclesiastes) are more thought provoking. They are the closest the Hebrews came to philosophy and, by emphasizing the human measure of all things, are in many ways superior.

The Book of Job

Note: As with my take on The Book of Samuel, this post was originally posted on Facebook. At the time I had just begun to read the Bible — I read Job in Alter’s translation. I have edited the original piece slightly.

The Book of Job is about a wealth, respected, non-Jewish man who worships God and cares for his family. Disaster after disaster falls on him. He blames God, but never doubts in God’s existence.

Because he is implied Job is a Canaanite he would have believed that God is like a bull. He knew the Bull was real. The only question was whether the Bull is good..

Job is the man who spoke up.

Most artistic images of Job are of a broken man, a victim and a whiner, moaning the cruelty of the world. Job is more of a man than that. A better image is Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective,” clinically explaining why consciousness is a mistake and life the worst fate that could befall us.

Job, the Horror Writer

The horror writer Thomas Ligotti has condemned giving birth as a violent and evil act. He is ripping off Job

Annul the day that I was born,
and the night that said, “A man is conceived…”
Why did I not die from the womb
from the belly come out, breathe my last?
Why did knees welcome me,
and why breasts, that I should suck?
For now I would lie and be still,
would sleep and know response
with kings and the councilors of earth,
who build ruins for themselves
Job 3:3, 3:11-14

In Ligotti’s fiction, he proposes a sort of pan-demonoism, a belief that the core of reality is an oozing malevolence against which man may — meaninglessly – rebel. Job would agree

For SHADDAI’s arrows are in me —
their venom my spirit drinks
the terrors of God beset me…

I would speak, and I will not fear Him
for that is not the way I am
Job 9:4, 35

Faced with the churchy bullshit his friends “console” him with, Job does them one better, referencing a Psalm

What is man that You should remember him
and the son of man that You pay him heed.
And you make him little less than the gods
with glory and grandeur You cloak him
Psalms 8:5-6

to make a dimmer point:

What is man that You make him great
and that You pay him to geed
You single him out every morning
every moment examine him.
How long till You turn away from me?
You don’t let me go while I swallow my spit
Job 7:17-19

An Aside: The LORD in the Flesh

In Job’s speeches, there are two breaks that grab a reader’s attention. The first is quick, and is jarring because Job appears to be a contemporary of Abraham. While both the Book of Genesis and the Book of Job occasionally refer to God as “SHADDAI” and feature men who wrestle with God’s messages, in Genesis the LORD is flesh and blood, and even joins Abraham and Sarah for a meal (Genesis 18), but Job seems unaware of this:

Do you have the eyes of mortal flesh
do You see as a man would see?
Are Your days like a mortal’s days
Your years like the years of a man
Job 10:4-5

Of course, the LORD had dinner with other men and women: Peter, Mary, Martha, and others.

What, then, did Job know of that?

Would then, that my words were written
that they were inscribed in a book,
with an iron pen and lead
to be hewed in rock forever.
But I know my redeemer lives,
and in the end he will stand up on earth
and after they flay my skin,
from my flesh I shall behold God
For I myself shall behond
my eyes will see– no stranger’s
my heart is harried within me.
Should you say, “How more can we hound him?
The root of the thing rests in him”
Fear the sword, for wrath is a sword-worthy crime,
so you may know there is judgement.”
Job 19:23-29

The Man That Feeds the Mouths That Tear the Flesh

In The Gospel According to Matthew, the Lord asks us to consider birds

“Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store aware in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Matthew 6:26

Job considers birds very well indeed

“Yet asks of the beasts, they will teach you,
the fowl of heavens will tell you,
or speak to the earth, it will teach you,
the fish of the sea will inform you.
Who has not known in all these
that the LORD’s hands has done this
In Whose hand is the breath of each living thing,
and the spirit of all human flesh.
Does not the ear make out the words,
the palate taste food:
Job 12:7-11

Eventually God puts an end to the back-and-forths between Job and his friends (and even more thankfully, the rambling punk kid of one of Job’s friends), states that his friends’ churchy bullshit makes Him look bad and them look stupid, and even picks up the bird metaphor

“Does the hawk soar by your wisdom,
spread his wings to fly away South?
By your word does the eagle mount
and set his nest on high?
On the crag he dwells and beds down
on the crest of the crag his stronghold.
From there he seeks out food,
from afar his eyes look down.
His chicks lap up blood,
where the slain are, there he is.”
Job 39:27-30

Conclusions

Throughout the book, Job remembers his suffering and injustice, and returns again and again to the random brutality of the world.

Job’s churchy friends try to tell him that justice always wins out in our lives.

God tells those friends to stfu, tells Job that he’s at least half right (unlike his friends, who are simply wrong), but that there’s awe-inspiring and exciting parts of the universe too.

The heart of the Book of Job is in these dialogues, and there’s a fairy-tale-like story surrounding it. That story is wrapped up too. Job gets really rich, and Job’s wife (who was acting bitchy during the disasters) presumably becomes jealous of their has three hot daughters, named (in Hebrew) Dove, Cinnamon, and Eyeshadow.

But like in Ezekiel something is wrong with the narrative. Job doesn’t end where it begins, there’s no follow-up to the bet between God and Satan. What was the point of it all? Who won? Why did any of this happen?

Why did any of this happen?

The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach

There are two two “wisdom” books of the Deuterocanon, The Wisdom of Solomon (commonly called Wisdom) and the Wisdom of Sirach (common called Sirach). Throughout both, Wisdom is repeatedly described as the first female creature. Sirach makes clear that if you have Wisdom, you will never thirst again.

Well, maybe unless you’re the lowest of the low.

If you have Wisdom, you will never be thirsty again if you are part of her “people.”

Wisdom will praise herself,
and will glory in the midst of her people.

In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth,
and in the presence of his host she will glory…

“Those who eat me will hunger for more,
and those who drink me will thirst for more.”
Sirach 24:1-2,21

The worst people in the world are the non-people of the Samaritans, with their petty capital in Shechem, the site of Jacob’s well

With two nations my soul is vexed,
and the third is no nation:
Those who live on Mount Se’ir, and the Philistines,
and the foolish people that dwell in Shechem.
Sirach 50:25-26

Of types of people, women are worse than men. A shameful man is better than a virtuous woman for company, a shameful woman is the worst of all

Do not look upon any one for beauty,
and do not sit in the midst of women;
for from garments comes the moth,
and from a woman comes woman’s wickedness.
Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good;
and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace.
Sirach 42:12-14

It’s obvious the last person in the world who have this drink would be a shameful Samaritan woman.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”

Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
John 4:7-16

I suspect Luther and Calvin’s rejection of Sirach had more than a little to do with this: it appears to be directly rejected by the Gospel According to John. But I think that is a mistake, and ignores the importance of Jesus meeting that woman. Point by point, John uses the next verses to respond and expand on Sirach.

For the woman identifies Jesus as a prophet

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
John 4:17

Christ is a Prophet. Even greater than Moses, the greatest of the Prophets

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
Deuteronomy 34:10-12

More comforting than the Twelve Minor Prophets‘ role in providing comfort

May the bones of the twelve prophets
revive from where they lie,
for they comforted the people of Jacob
and delivered them with confident hope.
Sirach 49:10

To Samuel, who worked in the spirit after death

Before the time of his eternal sleep,
Samuel called men to witness before the Lord and his anointed:
“I have not taken any one’s property,
not so much as a pair of shoes.”
And no man accused him.

Even after he had fallen asleep he prophesied
and revealed to the king his death,
and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy,
to blot out the wickedness of the people.
Sirach 46:19-20

To Elisha, who worked in the body after death

Nothing was too hard for him,
and when he was dead his body prophesied.
As in his life he did wonders,
so in death his deeds were marvelous
Sirach 48:13-14

And in between the hitherto greatest of the prophets, Elijah, who could raise the dead

How glorious you were, O Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
And who has the right to boast which you have?
You who raised a corpse from death
and from Hades, by the word of the Most High;
Sirach 48:4-5

And intercede between the Father and the Son

you who are ready at the appointed time, it is written,
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the heart of the father to the son,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
Sirach 48:10

The Transfiguration is the central element of the Gospel According to Matthew, and to Jews may be the most shocking event of the Gospel.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Matthew 17:1-5

Western readers assume that Jesus is chatting with Moses and Elijah, but that not the only way to read this. Moses already saved Israel once, by convincing God not to destroy his people. Elijah, even after being taken up, would do the same thing. The visible intercession of the two greatest saviors, speaking (preparing?) another, cannot be understated its importance.

It is this what the woman references, when she calls Jesus a “Prophet.” It is the Gospel emphasizes, when this annunciation of the Savior of the Saviors is given to the lowest of the low, a shamed Samaritan woman.

But that is not all

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father
John 4:20-21

Wisdom is not just for Jerusalem. Indeed, Sirach points out the famous gentile prophets, those who were not circumcised, or were circumcised late in life

Peoples will declare their wisdom,
and the congregation proclaims their praise.

Enoch pleased the Lord, and was taken up;
he was an example of repentance to all generations.

Noah was found perfect and righteous;
in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange;
therefore a remnant was left to the earth
when the flood came.

Everlasting covenants were made with him
that all flesh should not be blotted out by a flood.
Abraham

Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations,
and no one has been found like him in glory;
Sirach 44:15-19

The future of worship is international, for all nations will be called to Him

Many will praise his understanding,
and it will never be blotted out;
his memory will not disappear,
and his name will live through all generations.
Nations will declare his wisdom,
and the congregation will proclaim his praise;
if he lives long, he will leave a name greater than a thousand,
and if he goes to rest, it is enough for him.

I have yet more to say, which I have thought upon,
and I am filled, like the moon at the full.
Sirach 39:9-12

It’s worth thinking about that last sentence, the one immediately following the nations, and the greatness of going to rest in the LORD. It is echoed elsewhere

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:12-14

Jesus of Nazareth may have been more patient with the lowly Samaritan woman than the author of Sirach had expected, but certainly he agreed that the Jews were a chosen people, and chosen to bring forth salvation

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
John 4:22

Year before Christ would teach his students the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:10-13

Sirach taught a similar prayer to his own readers

O Lord, Father and Ruler of my life,
do not abandon me to their counsel,
and let me not fall because of them!
O that whips were set over my thoughts,
and the discipline of wisdom over my mind!
That they may not spare me in my errors,
and that it may not pass by my sins;
in order that my mistakes may not be multiplied,
and my sins may not abound;
then I will not fall before my adversaries,
and my enemy will not rejoice over me.

O Lord, Father and God of my life,
do not give me haughty eyes,
and remove from me evil desire.
Let neither gluttony nor lust overcome me,
and do not surrender me to a shameless soul.
Sirach 23:1-6

From the Father, salvation comes

For he who turned toward it was saved, not by what he saw,
but by thee, the Savior of all.
And by this also thou didst convince our enemies
that it is thou who deliverest from every evil.
Wisdom 16:7-8

In the future, be better.

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23-24

It is to another woman, another prostitute, that Jesus says go, and sin no more

Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

This echoes Sirach, both who urged the renunciation of sins

Have you sinned, my son? Do so no more,
but pray about your former sins.

Flee from sin as from a snake;
for if you approach sin, it will bite you.
Its teeth are lion’s teeth,
and destroy the souls of men.
Sirach 21:1-2

And urged us not to condemn those who were trying to turn from sin

Do not reproach a man who is turning away from sin;
remember that we all deserve punishment.
Sirach 8:5

It is of course not the weakest and the lowliest who are at the most risk

For the lowliest man may be pardoned in mercy,
but mighty men will be mightily tested.
Wisdom 6:6

But the mighty

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:15

It is at the end of their dialogue with the woman (who had identified him as a prophet before), that Jesus reveals he is the Messiah. She had seen part of the truth, He told her another part.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.”

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
John 4:25

I couldn’t help but think of this when reading Sirach‘s poem to the High Priest, which felt like a poem of the Crucifixion

When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself with superb perfection
and went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.

And when he received the portions from the hands of the priests,
as he stood by the hearth of the altar
with a garland of brethren around him,
he was like a young cedar on Lebanon;
and they surrounded him like the trunks of palm trees,

all the sons of Aaron in their splendor
with the Lord’s offering in their hands,
before the whole congregation of Israel.

Finishing the service at the altars,
and arranging the offering to the Most High, the Almighty,

He reached out his hand to the cup
and poured a libation of the blood of the grape;
he poured it out at the foot of the altar,
a pleasing odor to the Most High, the King of all.

Then the sons of Aaron shouted,
they sounded the trumpets of hammered work,
they made a great noise to be heard
for remembrance before the Most High.

Then all the people together made haste
and fell to the ground upon their faces
to worship their Lord,
the Almighty, God Most High.

And the singers praised him with their voices
in sweet and full-toned melody.[f]

And the people besought the Lord Most High
in prayer before him who is merciful,
till the order of worship of the Lord was ended;
so they completed his service.
Sirach 50:11-19

A blessed altar, indeed

For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes.
Wisdom 14:7


Sirach identifies wisdom as the drink that will forever satisfy, and identifies a Samaritan whore as the lowliest creature on the earth. It is to such a woman, such a personification of Jewish distaste, that the salvation from the Jews was provided. From the greatest to the meekest, the last became first.

Christ was the first born of all Creation, begotten not made

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:15

But it is Wisdom, made not begotten, which was the First Creature that was not the creator

Wisdom was created before all things,
and prudent understanding from eternity.[c]
Sirach 1:4

And at the end of time, it is the First Born which shares this First Creature, so even the lowly woman at the well will never thirst again

These opposites, these extremes, are ordained by God

All things are twofold, one opposite the other,
and he has made nothing incomplete.
Sirach 42:24

So in that spirit, two-fold advice, a proverb from this blog

Have a drink
But not too much
(But if your friend has too much… let it slide)

Wine is like life to men,
if you drink it in moderation.
What is life to a man who is without wine?
It has been created to make men glad.

Wine drunk in season and temperately
is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.

Wine drunk to excess is bitterness of soul,
with provocation and stumbling.

Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his injury,
reducing his strength and adding wounds.

Do not reprove your neighbor at a banquet of wine,
and do not despise him in his merrymaking;
speak no word of reproach to him,
and do not afflict him by making demands of him.
Sirach 31:27-31