Thursday, June 13, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Judges 9 and Origen's De Principiis: Book VIII (1)

Judge 9 – Abimelech goes to Shechem to get his mother’s clan’s support for going up against the 70 legitimate heirs of Gideon (Jerubbaal).  They give him money with which he hires “worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him” (9:4). Then he goes and kills all his brothers.  Only one survives the massacre—Jotham.   

When Jotham learns that the “lords of Shechem” are gathered “by the oak of the pillar at Shechem” (9:6) he goes up Mount Gerizim and cries out to them a kind of parable about trees that go out to anoint a king” over them—they ask an olive tree to be kind but he says, “Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?”  They ask a fig tree, but he says, “Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?” They ask the vine, but he says, “Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?”  So, finally, finding no one useful who will agree to reign, they go and ask the “bramble.” He says, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (9:8-15). Then he pours down sarcasm on them—if they have “acted in good faith and honor” (9:16) and treated Gideon’s house as it deserves (seeing the great service Gideon did for them in his life) in raising up Abimelech (son of the slave woman), then they should rejoice in Abimelech (embrace their bramble whole-heartedly).  But if not, then let them get fire and destruction from him to devour them.  Then he runs away.

Sure enough, in the three years Abimelech rules, an “evil spirit” comes between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem (9:23). The lords set up ambushes on the mountains and rob those who pass by. Then they gather together and plot a revolt against him under a man named Gaal.  They fight but Gaal is defeated and chased out of the land. Then in revenge on the men of Shechem who had provoked the rebellion, he “Fought against the city,” took it, “killed the people that were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt” (9:45). 

Then he and his followers set the Tower or stronghold of Shechem on fire—thus fulfilling the prophetic message of Jotham. He goes on to the city of Thebez, but here he meets his doom.  A woman in the tower of this city throws a millstone onto his head and crushes his skull.  He gets his armor bearer to kill him so he won’t have the shame of having been killed by a woman to bear.  So the curse of Jotham came to be realized.

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
Chapter VIII – On the Angels
1 – He turns to the question of “angels” – what they are, what kind of nature and purpose they have in the grand scheme of things. Angels were believed to have particular “gifts” or purposes [LIKE THE TREES IN JOTHAM'S PARABLE]– the angel Raphael, “the work of curing and healing”; Gabriel, “the conduct of wars”; Michael, “the duty of attending to the prayers and supplications of mortals.”

He does not think they came by these jobs “otherwise than by their own merits, ad by the zeal and excellent qualities which they severally displayed before this world was formed; so that afterwards in the order of archangels, this or that office was assigned to each one, while others deserved to be enrolled in the order of angels, and to act under this or that archangel, or that leader or head of an order.”

Origen believes that beings – corporeal and incorporeal” – are assigned works “according to deserts, in accordance with [God’s] own approval and judgment.” If this is true of us, it must also be true for the “incorporeal beings” that are so much a part of the religious tradition Christianity is built on. They are placed in the scheme of things “by God, the just and impartial Ruler of all things, agreeably to the merits and good qualities and mental vigor of each individual spirit.”

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