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Chapter 17

Creation of Human Beings

The Lord created human beings from the earth,
    and makes them return to earth again.(A)
A limited number of days he gave them,(B)
    but granted them authority over everything on earth.
He endowed them with strength like his own,
    and made them in his image.
He put fear of them in all flesh,
    and gave them dominion over beasts and birds.[a]
Discernment, tongues, and eyes,
    ears, and a mind for thinking he gave them.
With knowledge and understanding he filled them;
    good and evil he showed them.
He put fear of him into their hearts
    to show them the grandeur of his works,
That they might describe the wonders of his deeds
10     and praise his holy name.
11 He set before them knowledge,
    and allotted to them the law of life.
12 An everlasting covenant he made with them,
    and his commandments[b] he revealed to them.
13 His majestic glory their eyes beheld,
    his glorious voice their ears heard.
14 He said to them, “Avoid all evil”;
    to each of them he gave precepts about their neighbor.
15 Their ways are ever known to him,
    they cannot be hidden from his eyes.[c]
17 Over every nation he appointed a ruler,[d]
    but Israel is the Lord’s own portion.[e](C)
19 All their works are clear as the sun to him,
    and his eyes are ever upon their ways.
20 Their iniquities cannot be hidden from him;
    all their sins are before the Lord.[f]
22 Human goodness is like a signet ring with God,
    and virtue he keeps like the apple of his eye.
23 Later he will rise up and repay them,
    requiting each one as they deserve.(D)

Appeal for a Return to God[g]

24 But to the penitent he provides a way back
    and encourages those who are losing hope!
25 Turn back to the Lord and give up your sins,
    pray before him and make your offenses few.
26 Turn again to the Most High and away from iniquity,
    and hate intensely what he loathes.
27 [h]Who in Sheol can glorify the Most High(E)
    in place of the living who offer their praise?
28 The dead can no more give praise than those who have never lived;
    they who are alive and well glorify the Lord.
29 How great is the mercy of the Lord,
    and his forgiveness for those who return to him!
30 For not everything is within human reach,
    since human beings are not immortal.
31 Is anything brighter than the sun? Yet it can be eclipsed.
    How worthless[i] then the thoughts of flesh and blood!
32 God holds accountable the hosts of highest heaven,
    while all mortals are dust and ashes.


  1. 17:4

    Other ancient texts read as v. 5:

    They received the use of the Lord’s five faculties;

    of mind, the sixth, he granted them a share,

    as also of speech, the seventh, the interpreter of his actions.

  2. 17:12 An everlasting covenant…his commandments: God made several covenants, e.g., Gn 9:8–17; 15:17–21; 17:1–22, entered into with humankind, especially on Mount Sinai, where the people saw God’s glory and heard his voice (v. 13; cf. Ex 19:16–24:18).
  3. 17:15

    Other ancient texts read as v. 16:

    Their ways are directed toward evils from their youth,

    and they are unable to make their hearts flesh rather than stone.

  4. 17:17 Ruler: this may refer to civil officials or to heavenly beings placed over nations as guardians; see note on Dt 32:8, and the cross-references.
  5. 17:17

    Other ancient texts read as v. 18:

    Israel, as his firstborn, he cares for with chastisement;

    the light of his love he shares with him without neglect.

  6. 17:20

    Other ancient texts read as v. 21:

    But the Lord, being good and knowing how they are formed,

    neither neglected them nor ceased to spare them.

  7. 17:24–32 Ben Sira opens this poem with a prophetic summons to repent, urging sinners to give up their sins and to pray for forgiveness (vv. 24–26, 29). Ben Sira reflects the belief of his day that there was no life after death (vv. 27–28, 30; see note on 11:26–28). Cf. Ez 18:23, 30–32; 33:11–16. See note on Ps 6:6.
  8. 17:27–28 True life consists in praise of God; this is not possible in Sheol.
  9. 17:31 Worthless: cf. Gn 6:5. Though moral fault is not excluded, the thought here is the inability to understand the designs of God. Cf. Wis 9:14–18.