Friday, August 2, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 7-8, Proverbs 2-3 and Augustine's Confessions 15

1 Samuel 7 – The people take the ark to Kiriath-jearim [thought by many to be today’s Abu Ghosh, 10 miles west of Jerusalem], to the house of Abinadab on the hill. His son Eleazar was given charge of it.  It remains there for 20 years. 

There is a period of revival during this time.  “Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only” (7:4). Samuel called the people together at Mizpah to do penance and fast.  When the Philistines hear of this, they come against them there.  Samuel makes a sacrifice to the Lord and the Philistines are routed (7:10-11).

The “hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel” (7:13). And there was peace with the Amorites as well.  Samuel was judge all his life.  He went on circuit—from Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah and then home to Ramah.

1 Samuel 8 – When Samuel gets old, his sons rule—Joel and Abijah—but they “turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice”(8:3). 

The elders come to him and beg him for a king “to govern us, like other nations” (8:5). Gideon refused a request to make himself king in Judges 8:22 on the grounds that it would be unfaithful to YHWH, but the Jerusalem Bible points out that the offer pertained only to his clan and not to the whole of Israel.

When Samuel asks the Lord what he should do, the Lord replies sadly: “’Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are going to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them’” (8:7-9). So Samuel does—he tells them it is the way of kings to take away peoples’ sons and make them military troops and servants; to take away their daughters and make them cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of their lands and tax their harvests.  He shall, in effect, return them to a condition of slavery.

But the people “refuse to listen to the voice of Samuel” (8:19).  They want to be like other nations.  And the Lord acquiesces to their wishes (8:22).

Proverbs 2 – “My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. . . . Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord and you will gain knowledge of God” (2:1-5)

The Lord “is a shield to those who walk with integrity” (2:7).

Evil people “take pleasure in doing wrong, and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil” (2:14). God will plant the people who are good in His land, but the wicked will be uprooted.

Proverbs 3 – Beautiful words: “My son, do not forget my teaching, Let your heart keep my principles, For these will give you lengthier days,longer years of life, and greater happiness. Let kindliness and loyalty never leave you: tie them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart (3:1-3).

He tells his son to trust in God, not in his own view of things. And do not “scorn correction” from God (3:11). He corrects those he loves.

“Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly. By wisdom the Lord founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens” (3:18-19).

“Do not refuse a kindness to anyone who begs it, if it is in your power to perform it (3:27). Do not pick “groundless quarrel[s]”. God blesses the home of the virtuous.

Augustine (354-439)
15 - Is there any one, Lord, with so high a spirit, cleaving to You with so strong an affection— for even a kind of obtuseness may do that much— but is there, I say, any one who, by cleaving devoutly to You, is endowed with so great a courage that he can esteem lightly those racks and hooks, and varied tortures of the same sort, against which, throughout the whole world, men supplicate You with great fear, deriding those who most bitterly fear them, just as our parents derided the torments with which our masters punished us when we were boys? For we were no less afraid of our pains, nor did we pray less to You to avoid them; and yet we sinned, in writing, or reading, or reflecting upon our lessons less than was required of us. For we wanted not, O Lord, memory or capacity, of which, by Your will, we possessed enough for our age—but we delighted only in play; and we were punished for this by those who were doing the same things themselves. But the idleness of our elders they call business, while boys who do the like are punished by those same elders, and yet neither boys nor men find any pity. For will any one of good sense approve of my being whipped because, as a boy, I played ball, and so was hindered from learning quickly those lessons by means of which, as a man, I should play more unbecomingly? And did he by whom I was beaten do other than this, who, when he was overcome in any little controversy with a co-tutor, was more tormented by anger and envy than I when beaten by a playfellow in a match at ball?

It is hard for me to relate to Augustine’s thoughts here, for as a child I was never beaten, never abused or neglected and the learning I was asked to do was my great pleasure and joy. Were all of the adults given authority over me loving and good? No, but by seeing their faults and experiencing their imperfections, I learned that there were choices to be made out there, models to follow and examples to avoid.

What I think he is saying is that it is not only the boys fixed on playing ball who are not tending to vital matters, the men who punish them for not attending to things they deem important – learning the arts and skills that will make them successful adults – are also obsessed with things that are ultimately unimportant: worldly success, money, power and influence. I don’t think teachers today are motivated by the same worldly values, but call me naïve. Many have. I spent most of my working life as a teacher, and the teachers I worked with were not “worldly” in their focus. I think that is what made it such a wonderful vocation. This is not to say that they always were absent a desire for “success” and “status” as teachers; I guess that was and remains a temptation for anyone.

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