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21 March. Ecclesiasticus chapters 44-49
I have grouped this long passage of six chapters together because they form a continuous narrative, recounting the heroes of Israel’s history. In chapters 38-39 we read of the contrast between the majority of people who work hard but are quickly forgotten when they die, and the small number of those whose fame is remembered well after their time. It is those few who are celebrated here. Starting with Enoch and Noah, legendary figures from prehistoric times, moving through the Patriarchs, Moses, the ties of the Judges, Kings, and Prophets, right through to Nehemiah who rebuilt the temple, this is over a thousand years of history summarised in a few pages.
Mostly these men (and yes, it is all men – even the Judges are described thus, though they included some women) are remembered for their virtue, wisdom, prophesy or strength. But there are surprises. David’s sins are referred to (but without detail). Solomon is praised for his wealth and for a time of peace, but then criticised for “abandoning his body to women” (47:19) and letting the nation be split in two by civil war. King Rehoboam is given short shrift and branded “the stupidest member of the nation” and “brainless”. Jeroboam too, is blamed for his sins leading to the ultimate exile of the Jews from their homeland. So why include them at all?
Such lists of illustrious names, of which there are many in the Bible, serve to remind the reader that God calls people to particular tasks in each generation. The occasional reference to sins and weaknesses is a reminder that none of them was perfect. The point is that God has an overall plan for the world, and many people have had to play their part to bring it to fruition.