Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Judges 12-13 and Augustine's Confessions 1

Judges 12 – The Ephraimites are offended that Jephthah did not call on them for help in the fight against the Ammonites.  This brings the two clans into deadly conflict, a conflict which results in the defeat of the Ephraimites.  Jephthah ruled for six years.

Ibzan, of Bethlehem, comes next.  He too had 30 sons and 30 daughters (this must be some kind of magic number at this time). He judged for seven years.

Elon, the Zebulunite, comes next—nothing is told of him except he ruled for 10 years.  Then Abdon, son of Hillel the Pirathonite (Ephraim) was judge.  He had 40 sons and 30 grandsons who rode on 70 donkeys. (This kind of detail is intriguing.  Note it repeats for Jair in chapter 10, for Ibzan and for Abdon) He judged for eight years.

Judges 13 – Again the Israelites backslide and again they are made subject to the Philistines, this time for 40 years.  Manoah, a Danite, had a barren wife.  An angel of the Lord appears to her and tells her she will conceive: “No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirete to God from birth.  It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). This son will be Samson. 

Manoah too is given an opportunity to talk with the angel, though he doesn’t realize it is God’s angel.  He wants to know what rule of life the child should have, but the angel simply repeats what he said to the woman (that she should not drink wine or eat anything unclean, etc).  Then Manoah asks the angel his name, but the angel says, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful” (13:18).

So Manoah offers a kid and a grain offering to “him who works wonders. When the flame went up toward heaven from the alter, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground” (13:19-20). Manoah thinks they will die because they have seen God, but the wife thinks this is silly since it would negate the things the angel told them to prepare for.

Augustine (354-430 AD)
Introduction: Augustine was born 100 years after Origen’s death in Thagaste (Roman Africa), what is now Algeria. His mother Monica was a Christian, and he grew up in the church until he was a teenager, when he left to become a Manichean. Manicheanism was a gnostic religion of what Wikipedia calls “Sassanid-era Babylonia” and taught that there was an existential struggle going on between the forces of good and evil, and evil was embedded in the material world. You would think such a belief would not lead one into a care-free sexual life, but it was around this time that Augustine had an affair with a woman in Carthage. The affair resulted in the birth of a son – Adeodatus – and a thirteen year relationship with the woman. She apparently was not considered a suitable “match” for marriage by his family, but he had a relationship with her until she died.

He became a teacher in Thagaste, a position he kept for about 9 years, and then he moved to Rome to teach. He won appointment in 384 at age thirty to teach rhetoric in the city of Milan. He was moving away from Manichean religion at this time and growing in reputation as a teacher.

In 387, moved by a passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans (13:13-14), he felt moved to convert and in the Easter Vigil in 387, he and his son were baptized. In 388, they both returned to North Africa. Adeodatus and his mother both died around this time and Augustine sold all he had in the way of possessions and property and gave the money to the poor. He kept the family house and converted it into a monastic establishment.

He was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius in what is now Algeria, and became a famous preacher. In 395, he was appointed bishop of Hippo. Augustine’s writings were seminal in the development of western Christianity and western thought/culture generally. He blended traditional Christianity and Neoplatonic philosophical notions. He is admired by Christians in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communities.

My Plan: I have never read all of Augustine’s Confessions. He wrote it around 397-398. It is a reasonably short work and notable because it is the first autobiographical work of early Christianity. There is no copyright involved so I plan to have a short and complete part of the work on the blog each day along with reflections on my own experiences along the path to Christ and to His Ecclesia – the gathered body of believers that has taken Him as their Light and their Salvation.

1 - Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is your power, and of your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of your creation, desires to praise you, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that you "resist the proud," — yet man, this part of your creation, desires to praise you. You move us to delight in praising you; for you have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in you.

Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first, to call on you, or to praise you; and likewise to know you, or to call upon you. But who is there that calls upon you without knowing you? For he that knows you not may call upon you as other than you are. Or perhaps we call on you that we may know you. "But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?" [Romans 10:14]

And those who seek the Lord shall praise Him. For those who seek shall find Him [Matthew 7:7] and those who find Him shall praise Him. Let me seek you, Lord, in calling on you, and call on you in believing in you; for you have been preached unto us. O Lord, my faith calls on you—that faith which you have imparted to me, which you have breathed into me through the incarnation of your Son, through the ministry of your preacher.

How do we come to God and what can we ever “know” about “Him”? Like Augustine and like most people, I grew up in a society where talk of God, talk of Jesus, talk of heaven and hell were ALWAYS in the environment – my family environment, my neighbors’ environment, my country’s environment – yet it meant little to me as a child. And when I say it was in my environment, don’t think I was part of any close-knit Christian community. I wasn’t. My parents were atheists; I saw them and was influenced by them, but did not grow up with them. I grew up with grandparents who went sporadically to church. But I did learn to pray at night, to thank God for the good things I had and ask him for things I wanted or needed.

My first real impulse the “call on God” came when I was eight years old and my grandmother died. I was in the care of my grandmother and grandfather at the time and without her had only my grandfather to rely on. I looked up into the night sky over McIntyre Street in Bronxville, NY and prayed that my grandfather not be taken from me until he was 94.

Who was “the preacher” who brought God to mind as the one to turn to in moments of darkness and need? I am continually drawn to the comparison of Annie Sullivan in the famous American movie of 1962. The letters of our spiritual language are not from one person only, however; they are placed in our hands and hearts by the prevailing culture, the things we learn and hear all around us. But they are only games until we connect them to what is going on within us. And that is what I began to do that night.

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