Saturday, June 15, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Judges 11 and Origen's De Principiis: Book VIII (3)

Judges 11 Jephthah (c. 1070), a Gileadite and son of a prostitute, is the one called to save them. He had been driven away from his home by two legitimate sons of his father and he had gone to the land of Tob, where outlaws gathered around him and went raiding with him (11:3). When the Ammonites threaten the land, the elders go and try to get Jephthah to help them but he spurns them at first.  He finally agrees to come back if they will make him head over them (11:9).

The fight between the Ammonites and the Israelites goes back to the exodus time and this story is retold briefly, and especially the part about how Israel came to occupy the lands belonging to King Sihon (Ammorite king).  Jephthah sees this conquest as a gift from Israel’s God, so he says to them, “Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess?  And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the Lord our God has conquered for our benefit?” (11:24)

Now 300 years have gone by.  The Israelites certainly are not going to return the lands now (11:26). They prepare for war, and in the process of preparing, Jephthah is overcome by “the spirit of the Lord.” He makes a vow and says, “If you [Lord] will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s to be offered up by me as a burnt offering” (11:30-31).

They fight, and Jephthah wins.  But when he returns it is his beloved daughter who is the first to meet him “with timbrels and dancing” (11:34).  He tears his clothes and rues his vow, but he must fulfill it. His daughter is pious enough to wish her father to keep his vow, but she asks to be given two months to go out and “wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity” with her companions.  She does and when she returns, she is sacrificed.  This story is the basis for an Israelite custom of girls going out for 4 days each year “to lament the daughter of Jephthah” (11:40).

What are we to make of this story?  It is full of contrariness of all kinds: apparently approbation of child sacrifice--or at least human sacrifice--by a judge called by God’s own spirit to serve his people and make such a vow. It rings also for me with the echoes of another familiar story, “Beauty and the Beast,” another story about a man who vows to offer up to the Beast whoever meets him on his return home. Eerdman’s point out that these “heroes” of Judges are praised in Hebrews 11:32 as men of faith in their day, so we must be thoughtful about consigning them to the spiritual waste-basket.

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
Chapter VIII – On the Angels
3 – Origen believes “there is no rational creature which is not capable both of good and evil.” But he is not saying that just because rational beings CAN commit evil, that “every nature has admitted evil, i.e., has become wicked.” Even the devil, according to Origen, cannot be assumed to be “incapable of good.” There was a time when the devil had a CHOICE and “fell away from a virtuous course, and turned to evil with all the powers of his mind.”

“There is no nature, then, which may not admit of good or evil, except the nature of God—the fountain of all good things—and of Christ; for it is wisdom, and wisdom assuredly cannot admit folly; and it is righteousness, and righteousness will never certainly admit of unrighteousness; and it is the Word, or Reason, which certainly cannot be made irrational; nay, it is also the light, and it is certain that the darkness does not receive the light.”

In like manner the Holy Spirit, “being holy, does not admit of pollution; for it is holy be nature, or essential being.”

4 – He concludes this section and the treatise itself with the conclusion that the order of all things emanates from the moral order and that the moral order is rooted in the free choices of rational beings.

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