“If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness. He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death; and whether him liketh shall be given him. For the wisdom of the Lord is great, and he is mighty in power, and beholdeth all things: And his eyes are upon them that fear him, and he knoweth every work of man. He hath commanded no man to do wickedly, neither hath he given any man licence to sin.” (Sirach 15:15-20 )
As I am thinking about this passage, I am aware of the slipperiness of the metaphors. Water is essential to life, and is the symbol of rebirth. But fire as heat and cooking is also essential to life, and is the symbol of the refinery’s fire that is to burn away sin. So which should one chose? Obviously the distinction is between life and death. But just as is often the case in real life, it is hard to discern which choice, fire or water, is the best one.
So I looked closely at the entire passage of Sirach chapter 15, and in the previous chapter. I discovered the focus of the passage is not so much choosing well, but having wisdom to make good choices. So the choice is not between one or the other, but having the wisdom to chose wisely. And the way to gain wisdom is through keeping the commandments of God and being faithful to the message of God. So the wise person will chose the water of new life or the fire that purifies and refines. And both will be good choices.
May you, gentle reader, chose well. Selah!