Saturday, August 3, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 9, Proverbs 4-5 and Augustine's Confessions 16

1 Samuel 9 – We are introduced to Saul’s family, a wealthy Benjaminite family from Gibeah (just north of Jerusalem), and to Saul, “the most handsome man in Israel” (9:2) and tall—“head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land” (9:2).

Kish, Saul’s father, sends Saul after some stray donkeys, and Saul searches everywhere for them.  Just when he is getting ready to give up, the boy who is with him suggests they consult Samuel, a man reputed to be a man of God.  Saul wonders what they will give him to help them out, but the boy has some silver.  They think of Samuel as a “seer” and the scripture tells us this was the word for prophet earlier in their history.  They meet some girls at a well (9:11) and ask them.  They follow instructions and go looking for him. 

Meanwhile Samuel the day before had some opening about how he would identify the man whom he is to anoint king.  Strangely, here, in verse 16, we hear God put the anointing of the king in much more positive terms.  The king—far from being a parasite and affront to God—is now described as the one who “shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.”

Here we see the recasting of the king’s request as something desired by God, indeed part of his plan.  The king will be his saving agent, as Moses was.  The description is put in Mosaic terms. The Jerusalem Bible note on page 353 adds that the pro-monarchy version we read here is the more ancient of the two lines of text we encounter in Samuel. The movement against the monarchy arose after the dissolution and corruption of it during the post-Solomon period—a dissolution that finally ended in the destruction of both branches and the period of exile. This would put composition of this text—or its final redaction—into the period of the 6th c. BC, during the exile. This last is my guess.

Saul finds Samuel, and Samuel tells him to eat with him and then return in the morning, when he will tell him all that is on his mind (9:19) He also mentions the donkeys out of the blue—they are found.  Saul talks of himself as “from the least of the tribes of Israel, . . .the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin” (9:21). Samuel tells Saul to send his companion on and to stay so “that I may make known to you the word of God” (9:27).

Proverbs 4 – “My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment” (4:1).

“The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over” (4:18-19).

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life . . . Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you” (4:25).

The wisdom writer here was once a son whose father tried to tell him these same things. It is the tradition for fathers to teach their sons the ultimate value of Wisdom. Wisdom will multiply the years we have, will keep us from stumbling and give us a “glorious diadem” in the end (4:9). Do not follow the path of the wicked.

Proverbs 5 – He warns his son against “noticing” the loose-living woman whose “steps lead down to Sheol” (5:5). Go nowhere near her door or all will be lost. “Find joy with the wife you married in your youth” (5:18).

Love wisdom and instruction, for life flows from that source. And do not be seduced into adultery – here sexual – but also anything that calls you into darkness.

Augustine (354-439)
16 - And yet I erred, O Lord God, the Creator and Disposer of all things in Nature — but of sin the Disposer only—I erred, O Lord my God, in doing contrary to the wishes of my parents and of those masters; for this learning which they (no matter for what motive) wished me to acquire, I might have put to good account afterwards. For I disobeyed them not because I had chosen a better way, but from a fondness for play, loving the honor of victory in the matches, and to have my ears tickled with lying fables, in order that they might itch the more furiously— the same curiosity beaming more and more in my eyes for the shows and sports of my elders. Yet those who give these entertainments are held in such high repute, that almost all desire the same for their children, whom they are still willing should be beaten, if so be these same games keep them from the studies by which they desire them to arrive at being the givers of them. Look down upon these things, O Lord, with compassion, and deliver us who now call upon You; deliver those also who do not call upon You, that they may call upon You, and that You may deliver them.

But Augustine knows that he was no better as a child in discerning what was really important. At bottom, he knows that all of us need “deliverance” – a reorientation in love to that which is important, that which is “of the Lord.”

Interesting how similar (by chance), the focus of Proverbs is to the focus of Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine is more critical of the teachings of wise men, or at least he does not assume that the teaching of elders is always the Wisdom God wants us to learn. The writer of Proverbs had more faith in the wisdom of the community’s elders.

No comments:

Post a Comment