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Chapter 21

Dangers from Sin[a]

My child, if you have sinned, do so no more,
    and for your past sins pray to be forgiven.
Flee from sin as from a serpent
    that will bite you if you go near it;
Its teeth, lion’s teeth,
    destroying human lives.
All lawlessness is like a two-edged sword;
    when it cuts, there is no healing.(A)
Panic and pride wipe out wealth;
    so too the house of the proud is uprooted.
Prayer from the lips of the poor is heard at once,
    and justice is quickly granted them.
Whoever hates correction walks the sinner’s path,(B)
    but whoever fears the Lord repents in his heart.
Glib speakers are widely known,
    but when they slip the sensible perceive it.
Those who build their houses with someone else’s money
    are like those who collect stones for their funeral mounds.
A band of criminals is like a bundle of tow;
    they will end in a flaming fire.(C)
10 The path of sinners is smooth stones,
    but its end is the pit of Sheol.[b]

The Wise and Foolish: A Contrast[c]

11 Those who keep the Law control their thoughts;
    perfect fear of the Lord is wisdom.
12 One who is not clever can never be taught,
    but there is a cleverness filled with bitterness.

13 The knowledge of the wise wells up like a flood,
    and their counsel like a living spring.(D)
14 A fool’s mind is like a broken jar:
    it cannot hold any knowledge at all.

15 When the intelligent hear a wise saying,
    they praise it and add to it.
The wanton hear it with distaste
    and cast it behind their back.

16 A fool’s chatter is like a load on a journey,
    but delight is to be found on the lips of the intelligent.
17 The views of the prudent are sought in an assembly,
    and their words are taken to heart.

18 Like a house in ruins is wisdom to a fool;
    to the stupid, knowledge is incomprehensible chatter.
19 To the senseless, education is fetters on the feet,
    like manacles on the right hand.
20 Fools raise their voice in laughter,
    but the prudent at most smile quietly.(E)
21 Like a gold ornament is education to the wise,
    like a bracelet on the right arm.

22 A fool steps boldly into a house,
    while the well-bred are slow to make an entrance.(F)
23 A boor peeps through the doorway of a house,
    but the educated stay outside.
24 It is rude for one to listen at a door;
    the discreet person would be overwhelmed by the disgrace.

25 The lips of the arrogant talk of what is not their concern,
    but the discreet carefully weigh their words.
26 The mind of fools is in their mouths,
    but the mouth of the wise is in their mind.[d]
27 When the godless curse their adversary,[e]
    they really curse themselves.
28 Slanderers sully themselves,
    and are hated by their neighbors.


  1. 21:1–10 Under various figures, the consequences of sin are described as destructive of wealth, and even of life, deserving of death (vv. 2–4, 6a, 8–10). Fear of the Lord motivates repentance (vv. 5, 6b).
  2. 21:10 The path of sinners…Sheol: Ben Sira refers to the death that awaits unrepentant sinners; see notes on 11:26–28; 17:24–32.
  3. 21:11–28 The mind of the wise is a fountain of knowledge (vv. 13, 15); their will is trained to keep the Law (v. 11); their words are gracious, valued, carefully weighed, sincere (vv. 16–17, 25–26); their conduct is respectful, cultured and restrained (vv. 20, 22–24). The mind of the foolish is devoid of knowledge and impenetrable to it (vv. 12, 14, 18–19); their will rejects it (v. 15); their talk is burdensome (v. 16), their laughter unrestrained (v. 20), their conversation shallow and meddlesome (vv. 25–26); their conduct is bold and rude (vv. 22–24); their abuse of others redounds on themselves (vv. 27–28).
  4. 21:26 A clever play on words.
  5. 21:27 Curse their adversary: the curse of the godless often recoils on their own head; cf. Gn 27:29; Nm 24:9.