Friday, June 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 2 and Augustine's Confessions 12

1 Samuel 2 - She prays a kind of canticle. It is thought by some to be the model of Mary’s Magnificat but is less personal, expressing the hopes of the lowly and poor more generally:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; . . . There is no Rock like our God. For the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings love, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world (2:1-8).

The sons of Eli are “scoundrels” and have no regard for the duties they have as priests or for the proper share of the sacrifices that were offered: “[T]he sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt” (2:17). Samuel’s mother, meanwhile, comes to see him every year and brings him little robes to wear.  She has other children too as a reward for her piety.

Now, the behavior of his sons disturbs Eli, but he cannot change them, nor intercede for them: “If one person sins against another, someone can intercede for the sinner with the Lord; but if someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession?” (2:25)

It is all part of God’s plan. He intends to raise Samuel up to take their place. A mysterious man comes to visit (an angel perhaps).  He says to Eli, “I revealed myself to the family of your ancestor in Egypt when they were slaves to the house of Pharaoh.  I chose him [Levi] out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to offer incense, to wear an ephod before me . . . I promised that your family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me forever’; but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me; for those who honor me, I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt” (2:30).

The retraction here is part of the retraction of favor from the whole shrine at Shiloh—really the only example I know of in the scripture story where the favor of the Lord is withdrawn forever and transferred to another locus. Ezekiel uses the behavior of these two priests as exemplary of the kind of bad leadership that the Lord will punish—chapter 34.

The fate of the two sons is foretold -- they shall die on the same day, and the Lord then promises to “raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind.  I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed one [the king in this context] forever“ (2:35).

Augustine (354-430 AD)
12 - You, therefore, O Lord my God, who gavest life to the infant, and a frame which, as we see, You have endowed with senses, compacted with limbs, beautified with form, and, for its general good and safety, hast introduced all vital energies— You command me to praise You for these things, "to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praise unto Your name, O Most High;" for You are a God omnipotent and good, though You had done nought but these things, which none other can do but You, who alone made all things, O Thou most fair, who made all things fair, and orders all according to Your law. This period, then, of my life, O Lord, of which I have no remembrance, which I believe in the word of others, and which I guess from other infants, it chagrins me— true though the guess be— to reckon in this life of mine which I lead in this world; inasmuch as, in the darkness of my forgetfulness, it is like to that which I passed in my mother's womb. But if "I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me," where, I pray you, O my God, where, Lord, or when was I, Your servant, innocent? But behold, I pass by that time, for what have I to do with that, the memories of which I cannot recall?

I pass by it too inasmuch as it is a dark to me as the time I spent in the womb. But I see that time in others, and it hard for me to reckon it as a time of “iniquity” from birth. We are more animal-like at birth, but also budding into that creation of reason and groping toward God. And while we don’t seem to do much in these earliest times, we are groping for ALL that is outside us – groping with our eyes, with our cries that drawn people to us, with our bodily needs, which call out the caring nature of all those around us.

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