Saturday, August 10, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 16, Proverbs 17-18 and Augustine's Confessions 23

1 Samuel 16 – Samuel is then told to go out and go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king.  Samuel worries that Saul will be a danger to him, but he goes.  He offers sacrifice there and has Jesse’s sons brought before him one at a time—Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah and four others.  They are all fine men, but “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7).

The youngest son is David; he is out “keeping the sheep” (16:11). He is sent for.  He is “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.  The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ . . .and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (16:12-13).

Apparently David appeals to both the standard of the people AND the standard of the Lord, for he is both handsome, talented and filled with the spirit.  The passages here are filled with a certain inner contradiction.  We hear God saying here that he does not go back on what he decides embedded in a story about how he does change his mind about the anointing of Saul for the kingship. And this is embedded in an even deeper contradiction about whether or not the mere having of a king is or is not something offensive to God.  How to resolve these tensions? They really are only resolved over time as the redemptive work of God goes forward.  Then the ideal of obedience rather than sacrifice finds its proper referent.  The ideal of kingship finds its worthy subject—in Christ.  And the real qualities God favors emerge in David and in the people he unites.
As for Saul, the spirit of the Lord abandons him and an evil spirit comes in its place to torment him.  Because he is tormented, his people send for someone who can calm him by playing the lyre.  David is the one who is called for.  He comes “loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid . . . Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer” (16:20-21).

Proverbs 17 – The proverbs I liked:
“Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict” (17:1).

“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (17:3)

“Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” (17:6).

“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends” (17:9)

“A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise than they deep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent” (17:27-28).

Proverbs 18 – Today’s best:
“Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” (18:2)

“Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook” (18:4).

“The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit?” (18:14).

“Giving a gift can open doors; it gives access to important people” (18:16). I don’t include this because I like it. I include it here because there was a similar saying in the preceding chapter – it doesn’t seem like something you’d want to promote though it undoubtedly has ALWAYS been true. Seems like you’d want to focus on the distortion of judgment such gifts brings to the system of governance or the civil order of things.

“An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars” (18:19).

Augustine (354-439)
23 - But why, then, did I dislike Greek learning which was full of like tales? For Homer also was skilled in inventing similar stories, and is most sweetly vain, yet was he disagreeable to me as a boy. I believe Virgil, indeed, would be the same to Grecian children, if compelled to learn him, as I was Homer. The difficulty, in truth, the difficulty of learning a foreign language mingled as it were with gall all the sweetness of those fabulous Grecian stories. For not a single word of it did I understand, and to make me do so, they vehemently urged me with cruel threatenings and punishments. There was a time also when (as an infant) I knew no Latin; but this I acquired without any fear or tormenting, by merely taking notice, amid the blandishments of my nurses, the jests of those who smiled on me, and the sportiveness of those who toyed with me. I learned all this, indeed, without being urged by any pressure of punishment, for my own heart urged me to bring forth its own conceptions, which I could not do unless by learning words, not of those who taught me, but of those who talked to me; into whose ears, also, I brought forth whatever I discerned. From this it is sufficiently clear that a free curiosity has more influence in our learning these things than a necessity full of fear. But this last restrains the overflowings of that freedom, through your laws, O God—your laws, from the ferule of the schoolmaster to the trials of the martyr, being effective to mingle for us a salutary bitter, calling us back to yourself from the pernicious delights which allure us from you.

Again it is sometimes difficult to make out what is being said exactly, for the complexity of Augustine’s thinking is mixed with the difficulty of the translator’s choice of words – words I am not familiar with like “ferule” and “salutary.” It seems like he is reflecting on the way fear distorts the free curiosity that is good in the learning process, but then he seems to say too that the “delights” we have in certain things we’re asked to learn pull us AWAY from God.

I see the process as complex but then the “order of God” in the universe is complex. We find our way through the fears, false joys, and true leadings to a place where we can discern what has been helpful and what has not in the search for a connection with our creator and the good “He” wants us to find in His truth, His love and His presence.

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