Saturday, June 22, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Judges 19 and Augustine's Confessions 7

Judges 19 – Again we start with a reminder that there was no king.  A Levite man living in the remote hill country of Ephraim takes a concubine from Bethlehem. She gets mad at him for some reason and returns to her father’s house, but he comes after her, pleading with her to return.  The girl’s father likes him and entertains him with food and drink.  Repeatedly when he gets ready to go, the father urges him to stay longer and he does.

Finally they do leave—the Levite and the woman.  They get as far as Jebus (Jerusalem).  The man’s servant urges him to stay the night at Jebus, but he doesn’t like the idea that the city does not belong to Israel, so he wants to go on to Gibeah or Ramah.  But when they get to Gibeah (belonging to the Benjaminites), no one takes them in.  That evening an old man working in the field comes into the town of Gibeah and sees the wayfarers.  He asks them where they’re from and where they’re going.  The Levite tells him and says they need no food for either their animals or themselves, only shelter. 

The man takes them in, but while they are with him, the men of the town (like the men of Sodom in the story about Lot) arrive and demand to have sex with the man.  The old man offers them his own virgin daughter and the concubine belonging to the Levite, but they don’t want them. The Levite turns over the concubine to them anyway, and they “wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning” (19:25).

At dawn they let her go and she goes to the house where her master and collapses at the door. When he finds her there, he tells her to get up, but he sees she can’t move, he puts her on his donkey and goes “home” A Jerusalem Bible note suggests this ambiguous referent means the writer had something abstract in mind here like going back to the house of Yahweh. He cuts her up into twelve pieces and sends the pieces “throughout all the territory of Israel” (19:29) with this message: “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day?  Consider it, take counsel, and speak out’” (19:30).

Can things get much lower than this—all the Levite knows is that things cannot get worse. But something must change here.  God’s “bride” here (Israel) has been deflowered, dishonored, raped, reduced to mangled parts. The object of God’s steadfast love is near death.

Augustine (354-430 AD)
7 - Still suffer me to speak before your mercy— me, "dust and ashes" [Genesis 18:27]. Allow me to speak, for, behold, it is your mercy I address, and not derisive man. Yet perhaps even you deride me; but when you are turned to me you will have compassion on me [Jeremiah 12:15]. For what do I wish to say, O Lord my God, but that I know not whence I came hither into this— shall I call it dying life or living death? Yet, as I have heard from my parents, from whose substance you formed me—for I myself cannot remember it—your merciful comforts sustained me. Thus it was that the comforts of a woman's milk entertained me; for neither my mother nor my nurses filled their own breasts, but you by them gave me the nourishment of infancy according to your ordinance and that bounty of yours which underlies all things. For you caused me not to want more than you gave, and those who nourished me willingly to give me what you gave them. For they, by an instinctive affection, were anxious to give me what you had abundantly supplied. It was, in truth, good for them that my good should come from them, though, indeed, it was not from them, but by them; for from you, O God, are all good things, and from my God is all my safety [Proverbs 21:31]. This is what I have since discovered, as you have declared yourself to me by the blessings both within me and without me, which you have bestowed upon me. For at that time I knew how to suck, to be satisfied when comfortable, and to cry when in pain— nothing beyond.

Augustine is not old when he writes this memoir of his life, but he starts here on the retelling of his journey to God. When he starts, even though he’s not as old as I am, he has a sense of life’s brevity. He begs God to let him speak about his time on earth even though he is merely “dust and ashes.” He knows the details of his “dying life” are ultimately not very important; but through the details he learned that all good things come from God.

I personally also am constantly drawn to the details of my biography as the grounds through which I came to God. I was not nursed; in 1945, bottles were thought better. But I know nothing of how my mother received me. All I know was that by the time I was two, I was in the care of my grandparents. My parents split up shortly after my birth. My father went on to another wife and other children. In those days, broken families did not mix as they do today. I never met my step-mother until I was eight or nine. My mother had serious psychological problems but went to work in NYC and had an apartment there. I had a nine-year older sister and she shuttled between them. I was placed in the care of my maternal grandparents. And it is in their love and willingness to sacrifice their time later in life to my care that the great “good” God blessed me with came through. Around age 60 at the time, they had raised five children, and lost everything he owned in the Great Depression. They had nothing when they took me in. They went to live with their second oldest son, and that’s where I grew up.

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