Saturday, September 14, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 25 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 27

2 Chronicles 25 – Amaziah  is 25 when his reign starts, and he reigns for 29 years. He does what is right, but “not with a true heart” (25:3). He executes the people involved in his father’s death, but not their children. This is praised, for he follows here the dictate of Moses. “Parents must not be put to death for the sins of their children, nor children for the sins of their parents. Those deserving to die must be put to death for their own crimes” (25:4).

He organizes the people militarily, and hires 100,000 mercenary soldiers from Israel. This is not mentioned in the Kings version. A “man of God,” comes to him and rebukes him for doing it, “for the Lord is not with Israel” (25:7). Amaziah asks what he should do about the soldiers; he’s paid them a huge amount of money. The man of God warns him that God will strike him down even with their strength. He needs to act on his own.  So Amaziah dismisses the men and sends them home, but they are furious with him (25:10).

Amaziah leads his people to the Valley of Salt and strikes down 10,000 men of Seir, the “Valley of Salt” (25:11). This has to be Edom according to the story in Kings. Another 10,000 are captured alive and taken up to the top of a cliff, where they are thrown down “dashing them to pieces on the rocks below” (25:12). Meanwhile, the disaffected mercenaries fall on Judean cities from Samaria to Beth-horon, killing 3,000 and taking booty (25:13).

Amaziah messes up by bringing home with him the gods of Seir, setting them up as idols, and making offerings to them (25:14). The Lord sends a prophet to rebuke him. “I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my advice” (25:16). Amaziah asks the prophet “Who made you the king’s counselor?” (25:16)

Amaziah is feeling uncertain about the role of the prophet. Look at the destruction of northern Judean cities that followed the last time he listened to a man of God! Maybe he thinks he should go his own way this time.

Then comes the part about Amaziah challenging Israel’s king, Joash. He says they should “look one another in the face” (25:17). Joash sends a mysterious reply, “Out in the Lebanon mountains, a thistle sent a message to a might cedar tree: ‘Give your daughter in marriage to my son.’ But just then a wild animal of Lebanon came by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it” (25:18). He sees Amaziah as full of himself, aspiring to too high a place.

Amaziah insists—but the text says it was all God’s doing. God wants to punish Amaziah for importing the Edomite gods. Judah is defeated at Beth-shemesh. Amaziah is taken and brought to Jerusalem. Joash breaks down a good part of the wall. He takes all the treasure from the temple and hostages as well and returns to Samaria. Amaziah outlives Joash by fifteen years. But from the time he turned away from the Lord, a conspiracy against him is hatched in Jerusalem. He flees to Lachish in central Judah, but they send after and kill him there. He is buried in Jerusalem.

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
27 - But now hear, what I trust I shall by this time more easily persuade you of. In a matter of religion, that is, of the worship and knowledge of God, they are less to be followed, who forbid us to believe, making most ready professions of reason. For no one doubts that all men are either fools or wise. But now I call wise, not clever and gifted men, but those, in whom there is, so much as may be in man, the knowledge of man himself and of God most surely received, and a life and manners suitable to that knowledge; but all others, whatever be their skill or want of skill, whatever their manner of life, whether to be approved or disapproved, I would account in the number of fools.

And, this being so, who of moderate understanding but will clearly see, that it is more useful and more healthful for fools to obey the precepts of the wise, than to live by their own judgment? For everything that is done, if it be not rightly done, is a sin, nor can that anyhow be rightly done which proceeds not from right reason. Further, right reason is very virtue. But to whom of men is virtue at hand, save to the mind of the wise? Therefore the wise man alone sins not. Therefore every fool sins, save in those actions, in which he has obeyed a wise man: for all such actions proceed from right reason, and, so to say, the fool is not to be accounted master of his own action, he being, as it were, the instrument and that which ministers to the wise man.

I am hoping here Augustine does no think that “fools” and “uninstructed” or “uneducated” are the same thing. For just going to school or getting an education is not something that will make you wise. These are deep character-matters. And I am not even sure I accept without explanation what he says about “sin” here. I am not convinced that “everything that is done, if it be not rightly done, is a sin” – I think things done wrongly from a good spirit might be salvageable.

Wherefore, if it be better for all men not to sin than to sin; assuredly all fools would live better, if they could be slaves of the wise. And, if no one doubts that this is better in lesser matters, as in buying and selling, and cultivating the ground, in taking a wife, in undertaking and bringing up children, lastly, in the management of household property, much more in religion. For both human matters are more easy to distinguish between, than divine; and in all matters of greater sacredness and excellence, the greater obedience and service we owe them, the more wicked and the more dangerous is it to sin. Therefore you see henceforth that nothing else is left us, so long as we are fools, if our heart be set on an excellent and religious life, but to seek wise men, by obeying whom we may be enabled both to lessen the great feeling of the rule of folly, while it is in us, and at the last to escape from it.

I think I know where he is going here and I am sympathetic. I think it is very fair to say that people have been seeking “wisdom” from the Old Testament writings and narratives for thousands of years, and they have found in the writings a great deal of nourishment.

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