Thursday, August 1, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 5-6, Proverbs 1 and Augustine's Confessions 14

So, I will resume where I took off last June, with 1 Samuel and Augustine. I will also be adding in another Old Testament reading, so that I am keeping up with the annual schedule. We'll be caught up in a month and then I'll go back to just one OT reading each day.

1 Samuel 5 – The ark is brought to Ashdod (south of Aphek, near the coast) and placed in a shrine to the god Dagon. The presence of the ark causes problems for the idol - it keeps falling on its face and finally comes apart - and the people suffer tumors.  The people demand removal of the ark; it is moved to Gath, but there too “the hand of the Lord was against the city” (5:9). It is moved again, this time to Ekron with the same result. The people want it returned to “its own place, that it may not kill us and our people” (5:11).

1 Samuel 6 – The Philistines confer and decide to return it accompanied with a “guilt offering” of “five gold tumors and five gold mice” (both things that had plagued the five towns and were believed to have come upon them because they had the ark—the towns were Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, Gaza and Ekron). They will place these things in a cart, harness two milch cows to it and let them go.  If it goes to Beth-shemesh, they will take that as a sign that the harm they suffered was due to the ark; if not then to chance.  Needless to say, the cows go “straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh.” [this despite the fact that were separated from their calves] (6:12).

When the people see it coming, they rejoiced. “A large stone was there [in a field near the town]; so they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord” (6:14).

For some reason, the descendants of Jeconiah do not rejoice with the people in greeting the ark, so seventy of them are killed (6:19). A voice of complaint is heard about the harshness of this God. “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? To whom shall he go so that we may be rid of him?” (20) They are referring to the ark, but the ark and God represent the same presence, a presence that at times can be a great burden—a cross even-- as the people of Beth-shemesh can attest.

Introduction: Called by Jerusalem Bible editors the “most representative work of Israelite wisdom literature,” Proverbs is made up of two collections: 10-22:16 (the Proverbs of Solomon) and 25-29 (Proverbs of Solomon transcribed by the men of Hezekiah). Chapters 1-9 is a long introduction.

According to 1 Kings 5:12, Solomon wrote about 3000 proverbs. The second collection was already ancient when the “men of Hezekiah” collected them around 700 BC. There are a few smaller sections too – saying of Agur and Lemuel (two Arabian sages – possibly fictitious but included as a demonstration of the universality of “wisdom”). The nucleus of the book (10-29) is dated to the pre-exilic period. The prologue is later – when the whole book was put together.

Proverbs 1 – The purpose of these proverbs of Solomon are “for learning what wisdom and discipline are, for understanding words of deep meaning, for acquiring an enlightened attitude of mind – virtue, justice and fair-dealing” (1:2-3).

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (1:7).

When your father and mother correct you, do not ignore them. If “sinners entice you, turn your back on them” (1:10). They are just trying to get all that you have. “If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away” (1:17).

“Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square” (1:20). Listen to her counsel. She will share her heart with you and make you wise. If you ignore the advice of Wisdom and reject her correction, she “will laugh when you are in trouble, [she] will mock you when disaster overtakes you” (1:26).

If you will not be instructed by Wisdom, you “must eat the bitter fruit of living [your] own way” (1:31).

Augustine (354-439)
14 - O my God! What miseries and mockeries did I then experience, when obedience to my teachers was set before me as proper to my boyhood, that I might flourish in this world, and distinguish myself in the science of speech, which should get me honor among men, and deceitful riches! After that I was put to school to get learning, of which I (worthless as I was) knew not what use there was; and yet, if slow to learn, I was flogged! For this was deemed praiseworthy by our forefathers; and many before us, passing the same course, had appointed beforehand for us these troublesome ways by which we were compelled to pass, multiplying labor and sorrow upon the sons of Adam. But we found, O Lord, men praying to You, and we learned from them to conceive of You, according to our ability, to be some Great One, who was able (though not visible to our senses) to hear and help us. For as a boy I began to pray to You, my "help" and my "refuge," and in invoking You broke the bands of my tongue, and entreated You though little, with no little earnestness, that I might not be beaten at school. And when You hearded me not, giving me not over to folly thereby, my elders, yea, and my own parents too, who wished me no ill, laughed at my stripes, my then great and grievous ill.

The highlighted words of Augustine are the words that speak to me from this section. We sometimes forget that the people of the past we learn about in history classes and in pursing any path of learning were just like us. They learned as we learned; they saw that their knowledge of or inquiry into religious ideas was inspired by the practices of others, passing down the faith from ages past. And our desire to learn about and relate to this “Great One, who was able (though not visible to our senses) to hear and help us” is something that starts very early. The help we can receive from our elders, teachers and friends is not sufficient. We reach out into the abyss for that support and miraculously it is from that invisible presence that we do receive the love and support we need to thrive.

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