Monday, June 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Judges 21 and Augustine's Confessions 9

Judges 21 – The Israelites had also agreed at Mizpah that none of them present would give a daughter in marriage to the tribe of Benjamin. After the battle, they go to Bethel and bewail the loss of the tribe. They also swore at Mizpah to cut off any clan that did not come to the assembly at Mizpah—they carry out this threat now. 

They realize that not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead had come, so they are put to the sword (everyone, that is, except virgin girls).  These virgins (of a clan who had not sworn to not intermarry with Benjamin) are then given to the men remaining to the tribe of Benjamin (the 600 who had escaped to the rock of Rimmon in the wilderness—20:47), so that the tribe will not be lost forever. As for the remaining 200, they are told they may go up and carry off women who “dance in the dances” at the sanctuary at Shiloh.  These women may marry the Benjaminite men remaining. 

After these sad chapters the author repeats the obvious: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Amen--as we do now, sometimes with as much wisdom as these people showed.

It is clear that the book of Judges brings together stories and perhaps writings from a host of different sources, times and points of view.  The variety is simply part of the reality they must deal with in their sad state, but it is also the chaos man just naturally sinks into when there is no centralized ethos or law. That it is incorporated into the “story” again speaks volumes for the people of Israel, who more than any other people I know, have looked at the darkness in man with a clearer and more uncompromising eye than anyone else I know of.  The “fall” pursues us even on the road to redemption.

Augustine (354-430 AD)
9 - And, behold, my infancy died long ago, and I live. But You, O Lord, who ever livest, and in whom nothing dies (since before the world was, and indeed before all that can be called "before," you exist, and are the God and Lord of all Your creatures; and with you fixedly abide the causes of all unstable things, the unchanging sources of all things changeable, and the eternal reasons of all things unreasoning and temporal), tell me, Your suppliant, O God; tell, O merciful One, Your miserable servant — tell me whether my infancy succeeded another age of mine which had at that time perished. Was it that which I passed in my mother's womb? For of that something has been made known to me, and I have myself seen women with child. And what, O God, my joy, preceded that life? Was I, indeed, anywhere, or anybody? For no one can tell me these things, neither father nor mother, nor the experience of others, nor my own memory. Do you laugh at me for asking such things, and command me to praise and confess you for what I know?

Let us praise and confess the Lord for what we experience of Him, not speculate about a million things our minds are capable of conceiving because we are rooted in Him more than any other living creature. It is hard to avoid the ideas that people have made into simplistic creeds. It isn’t necessarily the words of the creeds that I dispute. It is how simply the words are interpreted. This poem, the last of Kenneth Boulding’s, Naylor Sonnets captures what I am getting at.

We Christians do believe that life in God, in Christ, is “eternal.” And Augustine wonders if that means he has existed in time before this present life and will be forever since nothing “in [God] dies”. Boulding sees the words as too narrow. We cannot KNOW a lot about spiritual truth:

While yet we see with eyes, must we be blind?
Is lonely mortal death the only gate
To holy life eternal—must we wait
Until the dark portcullis clangs behind
Our hesitating steps, before we find
Abiding good? Ah, no, not that our fate;
Our time-bound cry “too early” or “too late”
Can have no meaning in the Eternal Mind.
The door is open, and the Kingdom here—
Yet Death indeed upon the threshold stands
To bar our way—unless into his hands
We give our self, our will, our heart, our fear.
And then—strange resurrection!—from above
Is poured upon us life, will, heart, and love.

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