If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.
20 March. Ecclesiasticus chapters 42-43
Most of chapter 42 and all of 43 are devoted to praising God for his creation, including specific references to the sun, moon, stars, rainbows, the wide variety of weather patterns, and the sea with its tides and monsters. These are all aspects of nature praised in the Psalms and other parts of the Jewish scriptures. Perhaps they are picked out from the other aspects of creation because they are least easily understood – before modern astronomy, physics and submarines, who could explain how they work?
It is important to note that there is no hint here of worshipping these phenomena themselves. Jewish and Christian thought is absolutely clear that there is only one god, the creator, and all these things are from him, having no spiritual life of their own. The praise is directed to God in thanks for the wonder of the creation. “To put it concisely, ‘he is all’” (43:27). We are in fact encouraged to praise God as much as possible, for it can never be enough – “exert all your strength when you exalt him, do not grow tired – you will never come to the end” (43:30).
Such praise of God for the beauty of nature would have come more easily to people in former times than it does to us nowadays. Shielded by artificial lights from seeing the night sky in its glory, having the mysteries of the climate explained by science, having “no time to stand and stare … beneath the boughs” as William Davies put it, we lose our childlike capacity for wonder. Perhaps the rainbow is the one exception. No matter that scientists can explain them in terms of refraction and diffraction, rainbows lighting up with their glorious colours can still make a dull day fascinating and cheer the soul. “See the rainbow and praise its maker, so superbly beautiful is its splendour. Across the sky it forms a glorious arc, drawn by the hand of the Most High” (43:11-12).