Thursday, June 20, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Judges 17 and Augustine's Confessions 5

Judges 17 – A man in the hill country of Ephraim, who has taken 1100 pieces of silver from his own mother, returns it to her; and in gratitude (?) she gives him 200 to make an “idol” for him.  His name is Micah.  He sets up a shrine, makes an ephod and teraphim and installs one of his sons as a priest.  It’s as if he is starting his own cult from his own house.  The writer simply says “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6).

Now, I cannot be sure I am reading this right, but it seems to me that we are getting pretty low here.  The law and cultic observances the people were given in the Torah are nowhere in evidence here.  The “good” people have taken up stealing from their mothers and setting up idols and private shrines in their own houses. Doing what is right in one’s own eyes is bringing the people farther and farther away from the standards established by Moses and the first leaders.  And the trend is blamed on the lack of a king.  This is certainly a different tradition from the one that steadfastly sees in the idea of kingship a failure of obedience to the Lord, such as we see reflected in Gideon’s speech (Judges 8:23) and later in Samuel’s response to the request for a king.

A Levite from Bethlehem, searching for a place to settle, happens upon Micah and is invited by him to “be to [him] a father and a priest” (17:10).  He will pay him an annual salary and living expenses.  Micah is pleased because he knows “that the Lord will prosper him” because he has made the Levite his priest.

Again, this little story is so interesting.  Micah seems to know nothing about what he supposed to do to live according to the law as it was given by Moses.  But he knows a few things: he knows his faith is supposed to be central to his life.  He sets up his worship at the center of his home.  He knows that the Levitical priests are blessed by God and that to have one attached to one’s worship as father and priest is something pleasing to God.  He does what he knows; he can do no more.  There is a failure though in the larger community to nurture the people in the Law, to teach them what they should do and be.  That is why the writer says, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  Whether the institution of monarchy will make things better still remains to be determined.  But this writer thinks having a king will help.

Augustine (354-430 AD)
5 - Oh! How shall I find rest in you? Who will send you into my heart to inebriate it, so that I may forget my woes, and embrace you my only good? What are you to me? Have compassion on me that I may speak. What am I to you that you demand my love, and unless I give it you art angry, and threatenest me with great sorrows? Is it, then, a light sorrow not to love you? Alas! Alas! Tell me of your compassion, O Lord my God, what you are to me. "Say unto my soul, I am your salvation." So speak that I may hear. Behold, Lord, the ears of my heart are before you; open them, and "say unto my soul, I am your salvation." When I hear, may I run and lay hold on you. Hide not your face from me. Let me die, lest I die, if only I may see your face.

Forget my woes? Here seems to be the first mention of these great burdens, which we carry in this life. It is not all seeing the beauty and presence of God in nature and in our ability to SEE and meditate on the order of the cosmos. These are great things, but then there are the sorrows and miseries of life too – everyone goes through them. How do they fit into the order? Augustine seems to see them rooted in God’s anger for our not giving Him the love and obedience He demands. But I don’t think that is where our sorrows come from. And for me it is the hardest thing to contend with because there is so much Scripture that points to God’s wrath as the origin of our woes. A testing of our faith – that I am willing to accept – but not wrath, especially not when the woes we suffer are related to the suffering of those we love, not ourselves.

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