Monday, August 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Chronicles 21-22, Ecclesiastes 6-7 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 8

1 Chronicles 21 – Satan, it says, inspires David to take a census. Joab tries to warn him that it will bring guilt on Israel, but the king insists. Joab comes back with a number of 1,100,000 of military age and readiness in Israel and 470,000 in Judah. Even in David’s reign they were conceived of as separate segments; either this or the writing of Chronicles comes after the division of the two kingdoms. But Joab does not complete the count in Levi and Benjamin’s territories “for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab” (21:6). Sure enough, the Lord strikes Israel. 

David repents and the Lord gives him a choice of three punishments: three years of famine, three months of military devastation, or three months of devastation by pestilence. David says, “I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but let me not fall into human hands” (21:13). So the Lord sends pestilence and 70,000 die.

The Lord contemplates the destruction of Jerusalem but then recalls his angel.  In the moment of his relenting, the angel is by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. “David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces, And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave the command to count the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my God; be against me and against my father’s house; but do not let your people be plagued!’” (21:15-17)
The angel commands that David set up an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor. David offers to buy the site. Ornan offers everything to David, but David pays full price and then presents the oxen for burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for a grain offering. The Lord commands the angel to put the sword back into its sheath.  Art the time the Lord’s tabernacle was in the high place at Gibeon, but David feared to go before it “for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord” (21:30). So he establishes a new house for the Lord and his altar.

1 Chronicles 22 – David intends to have the temple built at this spot.  All the preparations are made—materials are gathered: stones, iron for nails, bronze, cedar logs. He worries that his son will not have the experience to carry out the task as it should be done. He charges Solomon with the task and tells him he himself could not do it because the Lords word revealed to him that he had “shed much blood and . . .waged great wars” (22:8), so he cannot build the house. The Lord’s word says, “See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace.  I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.  He shall build a house for my name.  He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever” (22:9-10).

The words here are very messianic in flavor. They exceed the mere wish of a father for the success of his son. It is David who wishes wisdom for Solomon in this text. It seems that all the achievements of Solomon are to be attributed to David—he has decided on the building of the Temple; he has assembled the materials; he has prayed that his son will have wisdom. He orders all the leaders of Israel to help his son.

The great work God gives us too is the building up of His Kingdom – that Temple on earth were man lives the life God intended for him from the beginning and for it we need tons of wisdom, tons of human experience from which to draw the mortar, and many, many tons of faith. It will not be the work of one generation, but the total offering of all who have ever strived for it with God’s help.

Ecclesiastes 6 – “There is another serious tragedy I have seen under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity. God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever wants, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. They die, and someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth. This is meaningless—a sickening tragedy” (6:1-3).

Often the “good things” we have in life are undercut in some way. Leaving us without contentment or a sense of meaning. No one ever seems to have “enough.”

And he says that everything is just destiny. “in the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone?” (6:12)

Ecclesiastes 7 – “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born” (7:1).

“Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time” (7:3-4).

“Don’t long for ‘the good old days.’ This is not wise. Wisdom is even better when you have money. Both are a benefit as you go through life. Wisdom and money can get you almost anything, but only wisdom can save your life” (7:10-11).

“Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life” (7:14).

“Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (7:20).

Wisdom is good because it gives us protection. Still, in many ways, wisdom is “beyond [our] reach. Reality lies beyond [our] grasp; and deep, so deep, who can discover it?” (Jerusalem Bible 7:24-25).

Augustine (354-439)
On the Profit or Benefit of Believing
8 - For that both history of the Old Testament, and ætiology, and analogy are found in the New Testament, has been, as I think, sufficiently proved: it remains to show this of allegory.

Our Redeemer Himself in the Gospel uses allegory out of the Old Testament. "This generation," says He, "seeks a sign, and there shall not be given it save the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so also shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

For why should I speak of the Apostle Paul, who in his first Epistle to the Corinthians shows that even the very history of the Exodus was an allegory of the future Christian People. "But I would not that you should be ignorant, brethren, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses, in the cloud, and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed with them; and that Rock was Christ. But in the more part of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. But these things were figures of us, that we be not lustful of evil things, as they also lusted. Neither let us worship idols, as certain of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as certain of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand men. Neither let us tempt Christ, as certain of them tempted, and perished of serpents. Neither murmur we, as certain of them murmured, and perished of the destroyer. But all these things happened unto them in a figure. But they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have come.

Now, it is interesting that that “end of the world” that the earliest Christians talked about – because Christ talked about it in Mark 13 – now has to be seen somewhat figuratively as well. Augustine is living more than three hundred years after Christ walked. Maybe when he says that “we” are the ones “upon whom the ends of the world have come” he is still seeing the words as applying to his generation, but I think he may be saying that “the ends of the world” is a spiritual time, a conclusion of the “narrative” begun in the Old Testament and that narrative is mostly one to be received/interpreted spiritually.

There is also in the Apostle [Paul] a certain allegory, which indeed greatly relates to the cause in hand, for this reason that they themselves are wont to bring it forward, and make a display of it in disputing. For the same Paul says to the Galatians, "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one of a bond-maid, and one of a free woman. But he who was of the bond-maid was born after the flesh: but he who was of the free woman, by promise: which things were spoken by way of allegory. For these are the two Testaments, one of Mount Sinai gendering unto bondage, which is Agar: for Sinai is a mount in Arabia, which borders upon that Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But that Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all."

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