Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 30-31, Song of Songs 1-3 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 2

1 Samuel 30 – Upon returning to the town given to him by the Philistines, Ziglag, David learns that the Amalekites have attacked and burned it, taking the people off as captives.  David and his men weep—he has also had his own wives taken—but the people are also angry with David for having left the town without proper defense. “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (30:6).

David has Abiathar bring him the ephod and he seeks the advice of the Lord. He is told to pursue the Amalekites, and he does with some of his men.  Some stay behind; they are exhausted. They come across an Egyptian, a servant of one of the Amalekites, and David inquires of him and he agrees to show David where the raiding party is encamped. When they arrive, the Amalekites are celebrating their raid. David attacks and kills all but 400.  He recovers everything they took and also captures their flocks and herds.
They return and when they get to the men who stayed behind out of exhaustion, some in David’s party, “the corrupt and worthless” one, think they should not share in the spoil. But David dissents: “. . .the share of the one who goes down into the battle shall be the same as the share of the one who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike” (30:24). This is the rule Israel adopts from this time on.  David even sends some of the spoil to the elders of Judah—to patch things up there.

1 Samuel 31 – The Philistines and Israelites fight near Mt. Gilboa. The Philistines overtake Saul and his sons.  They kill Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua.  Saul is wounded.  He asks his armor bearer to kill him, but he won’t do it.  So Saul falls on his own sword.  The Israelites in the region leave and towns and flee the Philistines.
The next day when the Philistines find Saul and his sons, they cut off Saul’s head and strip off his armor. They place the armor in the temple of Astarte and fasten his body to the wall of Beth-shan.  The inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead hear of it, they go and retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons; they burn them at Jabesh, bury their bones there and fast for seven days.

Song of Songs - Introduction: Jewish tradition holds these books to be an allegorical song of God’s love for the children of Israel. Wikipedia says it is “perhaps the most important Biblical text for the Kabbalah,” a Jewish mystical group. Christians viewed it as a way of representing the relationship of Christ with his church or as an allegory of the soul’s relationship with God and Christ.
Authorship of the book was attributed to Solomon. The Jerusalem Bible introduction says the vocabulary and style indicate a post-exilic origin.

Song of Songs 1 – It opens with songs of both “Bride” and “Bridegroom.” The Bride says, “Your love is more delightful than wine: delicate is the fragrance of your perfume. . .We shall praise your love above wine; how right it is to love you (1:1-4).

She says she is “black but lovely” . . . “it is the sun that has burnt me” (1:5-6).  Her “mother’s sons” – the Chaldaeans – have turned their anger on her and made her [the people of Israel] do “forced labor” in their vineyard. She wishes she had only looked to her own. “Tell me then, you whom my heart loves: Where will you lead your flock to graze. . .” (1:7) so that she will no longer wander like a vagabond.

Then a “Chorus” chimes in and tells her to follow the tracks of the flock and stay close to the “shepherds’ tents” (1:8).

The Bridegroom [I wonder who He is?] says he compares Israel – the Bride – to the mare harnessed to Pharaoh’s chariot. He says he shall make her “golden earrings and beads of silver” (1:11).

The dialogue between them is beautiful: “How beautiful you are, my love, how beautiful you are! Your eyes are doves” (1:15).

Song of Songs 2 – “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys. As a lily among the thistles, so is my love among the maidens. As an apple tree among the trees of the orchard, so is my Beloved among the young men. In his longed-for shade I am seated and his fruit is sweet to my taste” (2:1-4).

This is a time of restoration and reunion with the greatest love there is – the love of God for his people. “My Beloved lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land” (2:10-12).

“My Beloved is mine and I am his” (2:16).

Song of Songs 3 – The feeling of loss and uncertainty – “On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and . . . I will seek him whom my heart loves” (3:1-2).

For the Israelites, this means, when he is found, he is brought into the Holy of Holies – in the old Temple.

The Third Poem is about the Exiles returning home, the “litter of Solomon” (3:7).

Augustine (354-439)
On the Profit or Benefit of Believing
2 - It is then my purpose to prove to you, if I can, that the Manichees profanely and rashly inveigh against those, who, following the authority of the Catholic Faith, before that they are able to gaze upon that Truth, which the pure mind beholds, are by believing forearmed, and prepared for God Who is about to give them light. For you know, Honoratus, that for no other reason we fell in with such men, than because they used to say, that, apart from all terror of authority, by pure and simple reason, they would lead within to God, and set free from all error those who were willing to be their hearers. For what else constrained me, during nearly nine years, spurning the religion which had been set in me from a child by my parents, to be a follower and diligent hearer of those men, save that they said that we are alarmed by superstition, and are commanded to have faith before reason, but that they urge no one to have faith, without having first discussed and made clear the truth?

Wish there was a modern translation of this work. The length of the sentence makes it difficult to understand the basic subject and verb. They are so interspersed with background ideas. What I think he is saying here is that the Manichees claim that they approach religion without the authority-driven, superstitious and anti-rational approach that the “Catholic” (universal) Church had. They claimed to start by appealing to reason. This was the thing about them that drew Augustine to them.

Who would not be enticed by such promises, especially the mind of a young man desirous of the truth, and further a proud and talkative mind by discussions of certain learned men in the school? Such as they then found me, disdainful forsooth as of old wives' fables, and desirous to grasp and drink in, what they promised, the open and pure Truth?

But what reason, on the other hand, recalled me, not to be altogether joined to them, so that I continued in that rank which they call of Hearers, so that I resigned not the hope and business of this world; save that I noticed that they also are rather eloquent and full in refutation of others, than abide firm and sure in proof of what is their own. But of myself what shall I say, who was already a Catholic Christian? Teats which now, after very long thirst, I almost exhausted and dry, have returned to with all greediness, and with deeper weeping and groaning have shaken together and wrung them out more deeply, that so there might flow what might be enough to refresh me affected as I was, and to bring back hope of life and safety.

What then shall I say of myself? You, not yet a Christian, who, through encouragement from me, execrating them greatly as you did, were hardly led to believe that you ought to listen to them and make trial of them, by what else, I pray you, were you delighted, call to mind, I entreat you, save by a certain great presumption and promise of reasons? But because they disputed long and much with very great copiousness and vehemence concerning the errors of unlearned men, a thing which I learned too late at length to be most easy for any moderately educated man; if even of their own they implanted in us any thing, we thought that we were obliged to retain it, insomuch as there fell not in our way other things, wherein to acquiesce. So they did in our case what crafty fowlers are wont to do, who set branches smeared with bird-lime beside water to deceive thirsty birds. For they fill up and cover anyhow the other waters which are around, or fright them from them by alarming devices, that they may fall into their snares, not through choice, but want.

So he begins his treatise by saying that he was drawn into the “snares” of the Manichees by their assertions that the Church he was raised in did not satisfy “reason,” but relied on “superstition” and “authority” [probably their assertion of apostolic continuity. He and his friend Honoratus were drawn to the Manichaean interpretation of the gospel.

The Treatise is devoted to exploring not the doctrines of the church so much as the nature of and the value of “believing.”

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