Monday, August 19, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 28-29, Proverbs 31 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 1

1 Samuel 28 – When the Philistines muster to fight Israel, Achish makes it clear that David will have to join them in battle against his own people; he makes David his bodyguard. 

Samuel has died and all Israel mourns for him. “And Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead (28:3).

Saul and his army are encamped at Gilboa; the Philistines are at Shumen.  Saul seeks guidance from the Lord, but the Lord is totally silent—in every form of seeking, “but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets” (28:6). So while Saul had done a good thing and ridded the land of mediums and wizards, now in his desperation, he listens to the advice of his servants and goes to consult the medium at Endor. 

He disguises himself and goes with two other men at night.  He asks her to consult the spirit of a man who has died – Samuel (28:8).  She thinks Saul is laying a trap for her since he has previously set himself against witchcraft, but Saul reassures her.  She asks whom he wants to consult and Saul asks for Samuel.
“’An old man. . .wrapped in a robe’” is conjured out of the ground and Saul says, “’God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do’” (28:15). Samuel reminds Saul that the Lord is simply doing what he said he would do: “ The Lord has done this to you today because you refused to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites. What’s more, the Lord will hand you and the army of Israel over to the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me” (28:18-19). No wonder Saul suffers from paranoia.
Saul is full of fear.  The woman, seeing he is hungry, offers him some bread, but he refuses at first.  He is finally convinced to eat, and she slaughters a calf and feeds him and his servants.

1 Samuel 29 – The Philistines muster at Aphek, the Israelites at Jezreel. Some of the Philistine commanders challenge David’s presence among them, albeit in their rear; but the king stands by David.  At the insistence of his commanders, Achish tells David to go back, and he does.

This story really has abandoned all humanly based rationality. The Philistines are Israel’s greatest enemy at this time. The king named by Samuel is trying hard to be faithful – abandoning wizards, mobilizing to defeat an enemy that is attacking his people – the chosen people. David is fighting on the side of the enemy, or has indicated his willingness to do this. Sometimes the Lord’s path is complicated and not easy to make compatible with human understanding.

Proverbs 31 – The Sayings of King Lemuel (Ishmael’s tribe of Northern Arabia): They focus on the harm women and wine can do to kings but the comfort they can give to the distressed.

This is followed by a poem on the perfect wife. Some of the attributes celebrated are the following:

“Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life” (31:11).

She works with eager hands and prepares the food of the house.

“She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night” (31:16-18). Sounds like real work to me.

“Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber” (31:19).

She “holds out her hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy” (31:20).

“She is clothed in strength and dignity” (31:25).

“When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household” (31:26-27).

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (31:30).

Augustine (354-439)
On the Profit or Benefit of Believing
Augustine probably wrote this treatise around 390 AD. He is writing it for a man Honoratus, a dear friend, who was at this time still loyal to the Manichaeans and had probably been recruited to them by Augustine himself. He is now trying to convince him that he should abandon their dualistic “take” on Christianity.

Manichaeism was a “gnostic” religion founded by Mani, a man of Persian ancestry who came from the area of what is now Iraq. The religion was rigidly dualistic, seeing life as being a dire struggle between spirituality and materiality. Between the 3rd to the 7th centuries, it spread throughout the Roman world and as far East as China. It was the main rival of “Catholic Christianity” during this time. Mani apparently declared himself to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, but had a different understanding of Jesus – but the material aspects of Jesus’ life were thought to be illusions: his suffering and death especially.

Augustine, though raised by a Christian mother, was drawn to Manichaeism, but converted back to his orthodox roots in 387, five years after Emperor Theodosius I declared that proponents of the religion should suffer death and four years before Catholic Christianity was declared the formal religion of the Roman Empire (391 AD).

Manichaeism would be an undercurrent and influential throughout the broad area from Europe to China for nearly a thousand years.

I confess that I am reading through this treatise for the first time. It attracted my attention by the spirit in which it seemed to be written. I will be reading it through for the first time day to day, so that is a little hair-raising sometimes. Augustine was a master of rhetoric. He learned it as a child and became a teacher of rhetoric before his years as a Christian leader. So his sentences can be very complex, his reasoning very analytical and sometimes difficult to follow. Still, I like the tone and demeanor he adopts here – he loves the person he is trying to convince. He once embraced the ideas he is now criticizing. I like that.

1 - If, Honoratus, a heretic, and a man trusting heretics seemed to me one and the same, I should judge it my duty to remain silent both in tongue and pen in this matter. But now, whereas there is a very great difference between these two: forasmuch as he, in my opinion, is an heretic, who, for the sake of some temporal advantage, and chiefly for the sake of his own glory and pre-eminence, either gives birth to, or follows, false and new opinions; but he, who trusts men of this kind, is a man deceived by a certain imagination of truth and piety.

This being the case, I have not thought it my duty to be silent towards you, as to my opinions on the finding and retaining of truth: with great love of which, as you know, we have burned from our very earliest youth: but it is a thing far removed from the minds of vain men, who, having too far advanced and fallen into these corporeal things, think that there is nothing else than what they perceive by those five well-known reporters of the body; and what impressions and images they have received from these, they carry over with themselves, even when they essay to withdraw from the senses; and by the deadly and most deceitful rule of these think that they measure most rightly the unspeakable recesses of truth. Nothing is more easy, my dearest friend, than for one not only to say, but also to think, that he has found out the truth; but how difficult it is in reality, you will perceive, I trust, from this letter of mine. And that this may profit you, or at any rate may in no way harm you, and also all, into whose hands it shall chance to come, I have both prayed, and do pray, unto God; and I hope that it will be so, forasmuch as I am fully conscious that I have undertaken to write it, in a pious and friendly spirit, not as aiming at vain reputation, or trifling display.

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