Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Chronicles 27-29, Ecclesiastes 10-12 and Augustine's Treatise on the Profit of Believing 10

1 Chronicles 27 – A list of the people, heads of families, commanders of thousands, hundreds and officers—divisions numbered 24,000. Each one is assigned a month. Names that pop out are Banaiah, son of priest Jehoiada, commander of the third month’s division. He was commander of the Thirty. Asahel, Joab’s brother was in charge of the 4th.

Leaders of the tribes are named: Eliezer—Reubenites; Shephatiah—Simeonites; Hashabiah—Levites; Zadok for Aaron; Elihu (a brother of David)—Judah; Omri—Issachar; Ishmaiah—Zebulun; Jerimoth—Naphtali; Hoshea—Ephraimites; Joel—Half-tribe of Manasseh; Iddo—Half-tribe in Gilead; Jaasiel—Benjamin; Azarel—Dan. They are not fully counted because Joab refused (27:23).

Those in charge of the king’s treasuries in the country, in the cities, in the villages and in the towers; those in charge of the farming, the vineyard, the care of the grapes and wine cellars, olive and sycamore trees, over the stores of oil and the herds, over the camels and flocks—all these stewards are named.

Other big names in his administration: Jonathan (his uncle)—counselor; Jehiel—attended king’s sons; Ahithophel, then Jehoiada and Abiathar—counselors; Haushai—king’s friend; Joab—commander of the army.

1 Chronicles 28 David assembles everyone and talks about the planned Temple: The reason David cannot build it is because God told him, “You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood” (28:3). Solomon shall build it. His charge to Solomon is as follows: “know the God of you father, and serve him with single mind and willing heart for the Lord searches every mind, and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will abandon you forever” (28:9). He gives Solomon the detailed plan and all the supplies.

1 Chronicles 29 – All the provision, which David had made for the coming reign of his son is reviewed. The leaders and people make their own offerings. Then David says the following: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill offering? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.  For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from you hand and is all your own.  I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people , . . keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you” (29:14-18).

The next day they offer sacrifices – huge sacrifices: 1,000 bulls, 1,000 rams, and 1,000 lambs “and they ate and drank before the Lord on that day with great joy” (29:22). David’s son Solomon is re-consecrated. Zadok is made priest.  These acts of David come from the written records of Samuel, the seer; Nathan, the prophet and Gad, the seer.

Ecclesiastes 10 – A lot of unrelated sayings – not very meaningful

Ecclesiastes 11 – “[D]ivied your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead” (11:2). This sounds like pretty modern thinking!

“Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things” (11:5).

“Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning. When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless” (11:7-8).

“Rejoice in your youth, you who are young; let your heart give you joy in your young days” (11:9).

Ecclesiastes 12 – Remember your creator in the days of your youth. “To sum up the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments, since this is the whole duty of man. For God will call all hidden deeds, good or bad, to judgment” (12:13-14).

Augustine (354-439)
On the Profit or Benefit of Believing
10 - But, passing over in the meanwhile the depth of knowledge, to deal with you as I think I ought to deal with my intimate friend; that is, as I have myself power, not as I have wondered at the power of very learned men; there are three kinds of error, whereby men err, when they read anything. I will speak of them one by one.

The first kind is, wherein that which is false is thought true, whereas the writer thought otherwise.

A second kind, although not so extensive, yet not less hurtful, when that, which is false is thought true, yet the thought is the same as that of the writer.

A third kind, when from the writing of another some truth is understood, whereas the writer understood it not. In which kind there is no little profit, rather, if you consider carefully, the whole entire fruit of reading.

An instance of the first kind is, as if any one, for example, should say and believe that Rhadamanthus hears and judges the causes of the dead in the realms below, because he has so read in the strain of Maro. For this one errs in two ways: both in that he believes a thing not to be believed, and also in that he, whom he reads, is not to be thought to have believed it. I think he’s referring to stories created by authors but not “believed in” by them like the story of Rhadamanthus, judge of the underworld.

The second kind may be thus noticed: if one, because Lucretius writes that the soul is formed of atoms, and that after death it is dissolved into the same atoms and perishes, were to think this to be true and what he ought to believe. For this one also is not less wretched, if, in a matter of so great moment, he has persuaded himself of that which is false, as certain; although Lucretius, by whose books he has been deceived, held this opinion. For what does it profit this one to be assured of the meaning of the author, whereas he has chosen him to himself not so as through him to escape error, but so as with him to err. Here he is saying that while Lucretius believed that everything – man included – was made of material atoms and would eventually return to that in a simpler state. Augustine believes that this is false though the author definitely believed it to be true. Many moderns would say that Augustine has done just this, persuaded himself erroneously to believe that the soul of man is eternal and will never die.

An instance suited to the third kind is, if one, after having read in the books of Epicurus some place wherein he praises continence, were to assert that he had made the chief good to consist in virtue, and that therefore he is not to be blamed. For how is this man injured by the error of Epicurus, what though Epicurus believe that bodily pleasure is the chief good of man: whereas he has not surrendered up himself to so base and hurtful an opinion, and is pleased with Epicurus for no other reason, than that he thinks him not to have held sentiments which ought not to be held. This error is not only natural to man, but often also most worthy of a man. The person “interpreting” Epicurus here, and telling others of him, is clearly mistaken in Augustine’s eyes; Epicurus did not teach that virtue was the chief good but rather that man should live according to his pleasures. But Augustine is trying to find an example of people using literature or philosophy that they really didn’t understand as the author meant it to be understood, but who did this in a sincere way that actually brought some good to them.

For what, if word were brought to me, concerning some one whom I loved, that, when now he was of bearded age, he had said, in the hearing of many, that he was so pleased with boyhood and childhood, as even to swear that he wished to live after the same fashion, and that that was so proved to me, as that I should be shameless to deny it: I should not, should I, seem worthy of blame, if I thought that, in saying this, he wished to show, that he was pleased with the innocence, and with the temper of mind alien from those desires in which the race of man is wrapped up, and from this circumstance should love him yet more and more, than I used to love him before; although perhaps he had been foolish enough to love in the age of children a certain freedom in play and food, and an idle ease?

For suppose that he had died after this report had reached me, and that I had been unable to make any inquiry of him, so as for him to open his meaning; would there be any one so shameless as to be angry with me, for praising the man's purpose and wish, through those very words which I had heard? What, that even a just judge of matters would not hesitate perhaps to praise my sentiment and wish, in that both I was pleased with innocence, and, as man of man, in a matter of doubt, preferred to think well, when it was in my power also to think ill?

So, if you read the Old Testament, and get good from it even though you do not know exactly how to interpret it, it is harmless, provided it does not lead you into sin.

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