on behalf of the poor.167 A primary duty of the monarchy
had been to administer justice on behalf of the poor.168 And, of course, the sages responsible for Proverbs had counseled compassion and aid for the poor.169 Sirach's
counsel to help the poor, therefore, is classical Israelite ethics. Even the motive in the passage above is reminiscent of Exodus 22:22-23:
If you do afflict them (i.e., widows and orphans), and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and
your children fatherless.170
With Sirach, however, almsgiving becomes more than simply a way of avoiding God's "affirmative action" on behalf of the poor. It becomes a life-securing action in its own right. True, discretion must be exercised in regard to whom one helps (Sir. 12:1-7). Lending, in particular, is a hazardous way of helping a poor neighbor (29:1-7). In spite of these cautions, these hedges, as it were, about charity, Sirach finally argues for the wisdom of giving alms.
167 Cf. Am. 2:6-8; 4:1; 8:4-6; Isa. 3:13-15; 10:1-2; Jar. 5:28; 22:13-17; Zech. 7:8-1C.
168 169 Psalm 72:2, 4, 12-14. Prov. 3:28; 11:24; 14:21, 31; 17:5; 19:17; 21:13; 22:2, 9, 16; 29:13, 14; 31:26.
Cf. Exod. 22:26b.