Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 1 and Augustine's Confessions 11

1 Samuel 1 – Elkanah of Ramathaim (or simply Ramah), an Ephraimite, had two wives—Peninnah and Hannah.  Peninnah had children but Hannah, whom he loved more, did not. 

When Israel still worshiped and sacrificed at Shiloh, Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas were priests there.  Hannah wept and prayed there to have a son, promising to make him a nazirite for his entire life if God would only grant her this.  God is addressed here as YHWH Sabbaoth Jerusalem Bible note says this meant ‘YHWH of Armies’ and was associated with the ark, which was in Seilun at this time, 12 miles south of Nablus; it was a title used often in the major prophets—except for Ezekiel and in the psalms.

Eli observes her one time. At first he thinks she is acting drunk—not unusual apparently during feasts such as Tabernacles, but she explains her grief to him and he asks God to grant her prayer. In due time, Hannah does have a son and names him Samuel.  When she is ready to wean him, she brings him to Shiloh along with a bull, flour and wine.  These she sacrifices and then offers Samuel to Eli: “I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord” (1:28).

Augustine (354-430 AD)
11 - Hearken, O God! Alas for the sins of men! Man says this, and You have compassion on him; for You created him, but did not create the sin that is in him. Who brings to my remembrance the sin of my infancy? For before You, none is free from sin, not even the infant, which has lived but a day upon the earth. Who brings this to my remembrance? Does not each little one, in whom I behold that which I do not remember of myself? In what, then, did I sin? Is it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry—not indeed for the breast, but for the food suitable to my years—I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I then did deserved rebuke; but as I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor reason suffered me to be rebuked. For as we grow we root out and cast from us such habits. I have not seen any one who is wise, when "purging" John 15:2 anything cast away the good. Or was it good, even for a time, to strive to get by crying that which, if given, would be hurtful— to be bitterly indignant that those who were free and its elders, and those to whom it owed its being, besides many others wiser than it, who would not give way to the nod of its good pleasure, were not subject unto it— to endeavor to harm, by struggling as much as it could, because those commands were not obeyed which only could have been obeyed to its hurt? Then, in the weakness of the infant's limbs, and not in its will, lies its innocency. I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak. It became pale, and cast bitter looks on its foster-brother. Who is ignorant of this? Mothers and nurses tell us that they appease these things by I know not what remedies; and may this be taken for innocence, that when the fountain of milk is flowing fresh and abundant, one who has need should not be allowed to share it, though needing that nourishment to sustain life? Yet we look leniently on these things, not because they are not faults, nor because the faults are small, but because they will vanish as age increases. For although you may allow these things now, you could not bear them with equanimity if found in an older person.

The origin of sin in us. An interesting book I am reading notes that language itself is “metaphor” – finding concrete things to represent the thought one is trying to convey. The word sin comes from the Old English word “synn.” It means "to miss the mark" or "to miss the target" which was also used in Old English archery. We embody a capacity to reason, and when we don’t act rationally, it seems and is “off the mark” and is judged so by others. When we are children, we have the capacity in us to grow in reason but it takes time, and one of the ways we learn that is by missing the mark.

I don’t think you really get a sense of what sin is until you “see it” on your own for the first time. I remember being censured or told things I was doing that were “wrong” or “selfish” or “not allowed.” But my first recognition of “sinfulness” in myself came when I was about eight, and I started to tell my friends – those who visited with me in the apartment where I was living with my grandfather. My grandmother had just passed away and I was dealing with the reality of death and aging. I also had a strange situation in having both parents alive and living in NYC but only seeing them monthly on brief outings. So I started to use a painting that was up in my bedroom to explain to friends that my parents lived on the farm pictured in the painting – up in Vermont. But my parents thought the schools were better in Westchester and had me staying with my grandfather to go to the schools. It was a romantic falsehood; there were horses and other animals I love on the farm. I went there in the summers. We did usually go away in the summers to vacation with aunts or uncles.

The lie became something I had to carefully hide. It became impossible to have friends over because they might say something about the farm to my grandfather. It was bad and the weight of it did not leave me until we moved; and that move was the beginning of my real sense of God’s presence. Enough for now.

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