Thursday, August 15, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 21-22, Proverbs 25 and Augustine's Confessions 28

1 Samuel 21 – David goes to Nob, to the high priest Ahimelech.  He pretends the king has sent him on a secret mission, that no one must know where he is or what he is doing.  He asks Ahimelech for bread, but the priest says he has none—only “holy bread.”  He can give it to David and the men who are with him if they “have kept themselves from women” (21:4). David assures him that they have, so the priest gives them the holy bread—“Bread of the Presence”—which is removed each evening. Fresh bread is placed there in its place.
It happens that one Doeg, chief of Saul’s shepherds, is there when David comes. He will later play a role in uncovering David’s whereabouts to Saul, so he is mentioned here in passing.
David tells Ahimelech he left so quickly on the king’s errand that he brought no sword; he asks Ahimelech if he has one. The only one there is Goliath’s sword, which has been kept there, wrapped in a cloth.  So David takes it and leaves—to go to King Achish of Gath [a Philistine city-state], where he pretends to be mad. “He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard” (21:13). King Achish is the Philistine king – or one of two Philistine kings that ruled at this time – and remember that David killed the Philistine warrior Goliath and is carrying his sword when he goes to the king, fleeing from Saul. He plays insane so he won’t be recognized and killed.

1 Samuel 22 – David escapes to a cave in Adullam [lying half-way between Gath and Bethlehem] , where his family comes down to him along with others who are debtors or discontented in some way.  He becomes “captain” of a rogue band of 400 men.  He asks the king of Moab [East of the Dead Sea] to let his parents stay with him for a while to keep them safe.  After a while, a prophet (Gad) tells David he should leave this safe place, this “stronghold” and go to Judah, into the forest of Hereth.
Meanwhile Saul, very paranoid—maybe not unreasonably so—about the collusion between David and his own son, berates his servants for not warning him about Jonathan’s closeness to David, for not feeling sorry for him.  Doeg, then, the one who had been in Nob with the priest Ahimelech, reveals to Saul that he saw David there, saw Ahimelech give him Goliath’s sword, etc. Saul then sends for the priest and all his “father’s house” to inquire why he helped David.  Ahimelech thinks David is the most faithful of all to Saul.  He does not know he is Saul’s enemy.  Saul tells his servants to kill Ahimelech and all his family, but they “[will] not raise their hand to attack the priests of the Lord” (22:17). But Doeg, the Edomite, does.  He kills 85 of the priestly household that day, and then puts the whole city of Nob to the sword—men, women and children as well as animals. 

Only one son of the priestly family escapes—Abiathar.  He goes to David and tells him what has happened. David responds that he knew that Doeg would tell Saul and that he feels himself responsible for the deaths of all of them (22:22). David invites Abiathar to stay with him.

Proverbs 25 – A second collection attributed to Solomon but transcribed by King Hezekiah – they focus on those seeds of wisdom that help a king to rule well:

“No one can comprehend the height of heaven, the depth of the earth, or all that goes on in the king’s mind. Remove the impurities from silver, and the sterling will be ready for the silversmith. Remove the wicked from the king’s court, and his reign will be made secure by justice” (25:3-5).

“Don’t demand an audience with the king or push for a place among the great. It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table than to be sent away in public disgrace” (25:6-7). These verses are used by Christ in his parable in Luke 14:7 – claim no honors – better to be asked to come closer to the king.

“When arguing with your neighbor, don’t betray another person’s secret. Others may accuse you of gossip, and you will never regain your good reputation” (25:9-10).

“Clouds and gusts and yet no rain, such is the man whose promises are princely but never kept” (25:14).

“With patience a judge may be cajoled: a soft tongue breaks bones” (25:15).

“Telling lies about other is as harmful as hitting them with an ex, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (25:18).

“If your enemies are hungry, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you” (25:21-22).

“A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls” (25:28).

Augustine (354-439)
28 - But what matter of surprise is it that I was thus carried towards vanity, and went forth from you, O my God, when men were proposed to me to imitate, who, should they in relating any acts of theirs— not in themselves evil— be guilty of a barbarism or solecism, when censured for it became confounded; but when they made a full and ornate oration, in well-chosen words, concerning their own licentiousness, and were applauded for it, they boasted? You see this, O Lord, and keepest silence, "long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth," as you are. Will you keep silence forever? And even now you draw out of this vast deep the soul that seeks you and thirsts after your delights, whose "heart said unto you," I have sought your face, "Your face, Lord, will I seek." For I was far from your face, through my darkened [Romans 1:21] affections. For it is not by our feet, nor by change of place, that we either turn from you or return to you. Or, indeed, did that younger son look out for horses, or chariots, or ships, or fly away with visible wings, or journey by the motion of his limbs, that he might, in a far country, prodigally waste all that you gave him when he set out? A kind Father when you gave, and kinder still when he returned destitute! [Luke 15:11-32] So, then, in wanton, that is to say, in darkened affections, lies distance from your face.

We are all of us able to identify with that “prodigal son” Augustine makes reference to in this paragraph. We all to some extent take the blessed inheritance we are meant to have and waste it on silly and self-serving trinkets: worldly goals, vanities, shallow ideas, ambitions and human rewards. And it is when we honestly measure the emptiness of these things against the profound purposefulness we want our lives to have in the end that we find ourselves on the road home, fretting about how our Father will receive us.

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