Friday, August 16, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 23-24, Proverbs 26-27 and Augustine's Confessions 29

1 Samuel 23 – David is instructed by the Lord to go help the people of Keilah against the Philistines. He does and is successful. Saul learns of it and thinks the gates of Keilah could be a useful trap for catching David. David uses the ephod Abiathar managed to bring out of Nob to find out from the Lord that Saul is indeed coming to Keilah after him, and that the men of the town will surrender him if he stays.  So David and his (now) 600 men leave and wander here and there, in the wilderness of Ziph.  Saul learns that David has left and gives up the expedition.
Jonathan comes out to meet David at Horesh.  They renew their covenant and Jonathan predicts David’s ultimate victory.  People of the region go to Saul and tell him of David’s presence.  They offer to surrender him into Saul’s custody and he blesses them.  He sends them back to find out exactly where David is. David is in the Arabah, south of Jeshimon when he learns Saul is after him again.  He goes into the wilderness of Maon where Saul pursues until a messenger comes and tells Saul that the Philistines have raided the land.  He returns to deal with them.  David goes to the strongholds of En-gedi.

1 Samuel 24 – After dealing with the Philistines, Saul returns to the pursuit of David.  He goes with 3,000 men to the wilderness of En-gedi, in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats it says. 

Saul comes to a cave near the road and goes in “to relieve himself” (24:3). Now David and his men are in the cave when Saul came in, and his men think the Lord has given him into their hands. David cuts a corner of Saul’s cloak off as if to demonstrate how into his hands the Lord has put him, but then becomes conscience stricken: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for his is the Lord’s anointed” (24:6). He scolds his men and Saul is permitted to leave the cave unharmed.

After he leaves, David follows him and calls out to him, bowing to do obeisance before Saul.  He tries to prove to Saul that he has nothing to fear from him.  He shows him the piece he cut from his cloak: “I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life.  May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (24:12).
Saul responds to David’s voice with such pitiful affection: “’Is this your voice, my son David?’ Saul lifted up his voice and wept.  He said to David, ‘You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil . . .For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.  Now I know that you shall surely be king, and the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand’” (24:16-19). He gets David to swear that he will not cut off his (Saul’s) descendants. Here, I think, we see the roots of Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies, be good to those who despitefully use us. David leaves the judgment of Saul up to God and God alone.

Proverbs 26 – Here are some more:
“Honor is no more associated with fools than snow with summer or rain with harvest” (26:1).

“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation” (26:4-5). Hmm!

“As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool reverts to his folly” (26:11).

“There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise” (26:12).

 “No wood, and the fire goes out; no talebearer, and quarrelling dies down” (26:20).

“If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. IF you roll a boulder down on others, it will crush you instead” (26:27).

Proverbs 27 – Selections:
“Do not boast about tomorrow, since you do not know what today will bring forth” (27:1).

“Better open reproof than voiceless love” (27:5).

“As no two faces are ever alike, unlike, too, are the hearts of men.” (27:19)

Augustine (354-439)
29 - Behold, O Lord God, and behold patiently, as You are wont to do, how diligently the sons of men observe the conventional rules of letters and syllables, received from those who spoke prior to them, and yet neglect the eternal rules of everlasting salvation received from you, insomuch that he who practices or teaches the hereditary rules of pronunciation, if, contrary to grammatical usage, he should say, without aspirating the first letter, a “uman” being, will offend men more than if, in opposition to your commandments, he, a human being, were to hate a human being. As if, indeed, any man should feel that an enemy could be more destructive to him than that hatred with which he is excited against him, or that he could destroy more utterly him whom he persecutes than he destroys his own soul by his enmity. And of a truth, there is no science of letters more innate than the writing of conscience— that he is doing unto another what he himself would not suffer. How mysterious are you, who in silence "dwellest on high," [Isaiah 33:5] Thou God, the only great, who by an unwearied law dealest out the punishment of blindness to illicit desires! When a man seeking for the reputation of eloquence stands before a human judge while a thronging multitude surrounds him, inveighs against his enemy with the most fierce hatred, he takes most vigilant heed that his tongue slips not into grammatical error, but takes no heed lest through the fury of his spirit he cut off a man from his fellow-men.

The precise “art” that Augustine continues to lambaste in this treatise is “rhetoric,” the art or skill praised and taught by the sophists from the 5th century BC on in Athens, Greece general and then later throughout the Roman Empire. Sophists believed that it was the most important thing a person could learn, and it isn’t really very surprising that it should have originated in the first “democratic” society. While it wasn’t democratic in the way we are today; there were many slaves. But if you were a grown man and a citizen in Athens, you basically passed all the laws and ran the city, decided if you went to war, etc. The number of people entitled to vote probably surpassed 30,000 to 40,000. Of course not all of them cared about voting, but it isn’t surprising that this was the city where Sophistry originated and thrived. If you wanted to have your voice count in the huge debates that went on in the outdoor amphitheater where they met, you basically HAD to have rhetorical skills. Sophists came under fire from philosophers for caring more HOW they spoke and HOW PERSUASIVE they were with language than with the “TRUTHS” they articulated, but democracy needs skillful rhetoricians who care about the truth. Augustine apparently had rhetorical skills “beaten into him” literally, and he is terribly critical of the void in value-content (real truth) that he saw in the school.

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