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Chapter 13

Caution Regarding Associates[a]

Touch pitch and you blacken your hand;
    associate with scoundrels and you learn their ways.
Do not lift a weight too heavy for you,
    or associate with anyone wealthier than you.
How can the clay pot go with the metal cauldron?
    When they knock together, the pot will be smashed:
The rich do wrong and boast of it,
    while the poor are wronged and beg forgiveness.
As long as the rich can use you they will enslave you,
    but when you are down and out they will abandon you.
As long as you have anything they will live with you,
    but they will drain you dry without remorse.
When they need you they will deceive you
    and smile at you and raise your hopes;
    they will speak kindly to you and say, “What do you need?”
They will embarrass you at their dinner parties,
    and finally laugh at you.
Afterwards, when they see you, they will pass you by,
    and shake their heads at you.
Be on guard: do not act too boldly;
    do not be like those who lack sense.

When the influential draw near, keep your distance;
    then they will urge you all the more.
10 Do not draw too close, lest you be rebuffed,
    but do not keep too far away lest you be regarded as an enemy.
11 Do not venture to be free with them,
    do not trust their many words;
For by prolonged talk they will test you,
    and though smiling they will probe you.
12 Mercilessly they will make you a laughingstock,
    and will not refrain from injury or chains.
13 Be on your guard and take care
    never to accompany lawless people.[b]

15 Every living thing loves its own kind,
    and we all love someone like ourselves.
16 Every living being keeps close to its own kind;
    and people associate with their own kind.
17 Is a wolf ever allied with a lamb?
    So the sinner with the righteous.(A)
18 Can there be peace between the hyena and the dog?
    Or peace between the rich and the poor?[c]
19 Wild donkeys of the desert are lion’s prey;
    likewise the poor are feeding grounds for the rich.
20 Humility is an abomination to the proud;
    and the poor are an abomination to the rich.
21 When the rich stumble they are supported by friends;
    when the poor trip they are pushed down by friends.
22 When the rich speak they have many supporters;
    though what they say is repugnant, it wins approval.
When the poor speak people say, “Come, come, speak up!”
    though they are talking sense, they get no hearing.
23 When the rich speak all are silent,
    their wisdom people extol to the clouds.
When the poor speak people say: “Who is that?”
    If they stumble, people knock them down.(B)

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  1. 13:1–14:2 By means of various images, most of them unfavorable to the rich, Ben Sira indicates the practical impossibility of genuine and sincere companionship between the poor and the rich. He lays down a principle of associating with equals (13:6–19).
  2. 13:13

    Other ancient texts read as v. 14:

    If you hear these things in your sleep, wake up!

    With your whole life, love the Lord

    and call on him for your salvation.

  3. 13:18 The hostility between the dogs which guard the flocks (Jb 30:1) and the rapacious hyenas (Jer 12:9) is proverbial in Palestine.