Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Joshua 22-24 and Origen's De Principiis: Books IV and V-1

Joshua 22 – Joshua releases the Gadites, Reubenites and half-tribe of Manasseh to go to their lands east of the Jordan, instructing them “to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (22:5).

When they get there, though, there is a serious misunderstanding.  They construct an altar by the Jordan, “an altar of great size” (22:10). When the other Israelite tribes learn of it, they “gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them” (22:12).

The Ephraimites were in possession of the ark and the sanctuary and opposed proliferation of altars, but each tribe had a sanctuary according to The Jerusalem Bible. They send out Phineas, Eleazar’s son, to talk to them along with ten chiefs.  When they get there they confront them by saying, “What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away today from following the Lord, by building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the Lord” (22:16). They compare the offense with the trouble they had at Peor [see Numbers 25] when a plague was attributed to Israelites having sexual relations with the women of Moab.  They tell them rather to come across the Jordan and take lands there if they are tempted to apostasy. 

But the eastern tribes had no intention of rebelling. They do not intend to “offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or offerings of well-being on it” (22:23). What they want is a physical reminder that will establish their connection to the tribes west of the Jordan. “We did it from fear that in time to come our children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord,’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.  Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, no for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, ‘You have no portion in the Lord”’  (22:24-28.) This is satisfactory to Phineas and the Israelites.

Joshua 23 – A long time later, when Joshua is old, he summons everyone to him and admonishes them to be steadfast as Moses did before his death.  He tells them to love the Lord and avoid intermarriage with the women of the region lest they “be a snare and a trap for you,” (23:13).  The blessing has been experienced, but the curse is always there for them to consider.  If they transgress the covenant “then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land that he has given to you” (23:16).

Joshua 24 – Joshua gathers the tribes at Shechem and goes over with them the whole narrative from Terah and his sons, Abraham (who built an altar at Shechem) and Nahor to the present.  And again he asks them to renew the covenant by choosing “this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).  The people choose likewise, not once but three times (24:16-18; 24:21 and 24:24). 

Joshua wrote their promise “in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. [And he said] ‘See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God’” (24:27). 

Joshua was 110 when he died and he was buried in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mt Gaash. Joseph’s bones were buried at Shechem in the plot Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor [see Genesis 33:18].  And Eleazar dies too and is buried at Gibeah (his son Phineas’ town).

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
Chapter IV – On Defection or Falling Away
1 – Origen compares how some “fall away” from the faith with people like doctors or mathematicians who spend so much of their lives learning their crafts, their “art.” A person like this is not going to lose everything all at once. He still may “repair the losses” his negligence will bring and recover the knowledge.

2 – If we wish to examine the “divine benefits bestowed upon us by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” we must start with considering three different natures we are dealing with.

Chapter V – On Rational Natures
1 – There are in Origen’s intellectual landscape different “species and orders” of “rational natures.” We find, he says, in the Holy Scriptures different “orders and offices, not only of holy beings, but also of those of an opposite description” and he intends to examine references to such “beings” in this section as best he can.

“There are certain holy angels of God whom Paul terms ‘ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.’ In the writings also of St. Paul himself we find him designating them, from some unknown source, as thrones, and dominions, and principalities, and powers; and after this enumeration, as if knowing that there were still other rational offices and orders besides those which he had named, he says of the Savior: ‘Who is above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.’

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