Monday, September 16, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 26-27 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 28-29

2 Chronicles 26Uzziah is 16 when his reign begins—he will reign 52 years in Jerusalem (783-742 BC). His mother is Jecoliah of Jerusalem. “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (26:4-5).

He becomes very strong. God helps him against the Philistines, the Arabs in Gur-baal and the Meunites. He builds towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, the Valley Gate and at the Angle and fortified them. He builds towers in the wilderness too and makes cisterns so his herds can have water. He “had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil” (26:10). He also has a large army of 307,500. In Jerusalem, “he set up machines, invented by skilled workers, on the towers and the corners for shooting arrows and large stones” (26:15).

His growing strength leads him to become proud, and this leads to his downfall (26:16). He challenges the priests, who are descendents of Aaron, by going into the temple to make sacrifice there himself. Hezekiah rebukes him for it, and Uzziah becomes angry. As a result “a leprous disease broke out on his forehead” (26:19) and it does not go away. His son Jotham has to take charge of the public duties his father has, but Uzziah remains the power behind the throne. I think the ethic developed here during the time of the monarchy in Judah is very important ultimately in the development of a different view of kingship in “the west.” Because of the influence of the Old Testament tradition, even kings were held to be subject to something higher – God. Absolute monarchy prevailed in the west for a long time but it was never completely absolute. Kings were not gods as they were in the east.

2 Chronicles 27 – Jotham (742-735) is 25 when he begins his reign. His mother’s name is Jerushah, daughter of Zadok. “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord . . .only he did not invade the temple of the Lord” (27:2). But the people still followed corrupt practices. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord as well as forts and tower in the wooded hills of Judah. He prevailed against the king of the Ammonites. They paid him tribute for a number of years.

John Bright’s History of Israel says that during the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, prosperity in Judah and abuse of the poor became problems and laid the groundwork for the prophetic response. There is a loss of a sense of covenant law, a reduction of Yahwism to a religion “of the lips” only. Amos’ ministry is in the mid 8th century. He is not from the prophetic orders, but is rather, a sheep-breeder. His vocation to preach comes from the Lord and his message is to attack the notion that Yahweh’s election guarantees protection.

2 Chronicles 28 – After Jotham, his son Ahaz becomes king. “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord. . .but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (28:1-2). He casts images for the Baals, made offerings in the valley of the son of Hinnom and “made his sons pass through fire” (28:3). He made offerings on the high place “and under every green tree” (28:4). The Lord put him into the power of the king of Aram and the king of Israel, Pekah. He killed 120,000 in Judah in one day (28:6) !! And Zichri of Ephraim killed the king’s son Maaseiah and several others.

The people of Israel took 200,000 of their kin (from Judah) captive along with booty and brought them to Samaria. But a prophet of the Lord, Obed, was there to greet them when they arrived. “Now hear me, [he tells them]. . send back the captives whom you have taken from your kindred, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you” (28:11).

The Lord is angry with them because of the fury with which they slaughtered their kindred and because of their intention to reduce the rest to servitude. Ephraimite chiefs stand against the returning forces [because of their concern over what Obed has said]. The result is the troops leave the booty and captives with them. They clothe the naked, feed the hungry and anoint them and bring them to Jericho. The Jerusalem Bible notes that this episode foreshadows the “Good Samaritan” story that Jesus tells.

King Ahaz sends to the king of Assyria for help against the Edomites and Philistines. “[T]he Lord brought Judah low because of King Ahaz of Israel, for he had behaved without restrain in Judah and had been faithless of the Lord” (28:19). King Tilgath-pilneser [Tiglath-pileser] comes but instead of helping him, he oppresses him. As things got worse, Ahaz become even less faithful. He sacrificed to the gods of Damascus because he thinks these gods have helped them. But this is the “ruin of him.” (23) He closes the temple and makes altars “in every corner of Jerusalem.” (24) When he dies, he is buried in Jerusalem, but not in the tombs of the kings of Israel. His son Hezekiah, succeeds him. John Bright’s History of Israel says Tiglath-pileser III (745-727) moved against the Arameans to the sough (the Babylonians), Urartu to the north and Israel and Philistia to the west. He begins a policy of permanent conquest, not just subjugation and tribute (273).

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
28 - Here again arises a very difficult question. For in what way shall we fools be able to find a wise man, whereas this name, although hardly any one dare openly, yet most men lay claim to indirectly: so disagreeing one with another in the very matters, in the knowledge of which wisdom consists, as that it must needs be that either none of them, or but some certain one be wise? But when the fool enquires, who is that wise man? I do not at all see, in what way he can be distinguished and perceived. For by no signs whatever can one recognize any thing, unless he shall have known that thing, whereof these are signs. But the fool is ignorant of wisdom. For not, as, in the case of gold and silver and other things of that kind, it is allowed both to know them when you see them and not to have them, thus may wisdom be seen by the mind's eye of him who has it not. For whatever things we come into contact with by bodily sense, are presented to us from without; and therefore we may perceive by the eyes what belong to others, when we ourselves possess not any of them or of that kind. But what is perceived by the understanding is within in the mind, and to have it is nothing else than to see.

This is kind of what I was saying. These are deep character-matters. Being a “fool” is not the same as being “a seeker” who acknowledges that there is wisdom “out there” and to some extent “within” but does not yet have the judgment to discern it – yet.

And But the fool is [by definition] void of wisdom, therefore he knows not wisdom. For he could not see it with the eyes: but he cannot see it and not have it, nor have it and be a fool. Therefore he knows it not, and, so long as he knows it not, he cannot recognize it in another place. No one, so long as he is a fool, can by most sure knowledge find out a wise man, by obeying whom he may be set free from so great evil of folly.

29 - Therefore this so vast difficulty, since our enquiry is about religion, God alone can remedy: nor indeed, unless we believe both that He is, and that He helps men's minds, ought we even to enquire after true religion itself. For what I ask do we with so great endeavor desire to search out? What do we wish to attain unto? Whither do we long to arrive? Is it at that which we believe not exists or pertains to us? Nothing is more perverse than such a state of mind. Then, when you would not dare to ask of me a kindness, or at any rate would be shameless in daring, come you to demand the discovery of religion, when you think that God neither exists, nor, if He exist, has any care for us? What, if it be so great a matter, as that it cannot be found out, unless it be sought carefully and with all our might? What, if the very extreme difficulty of discovery be an exercise for the mind of the inquirer, in order to receive what shall be discovered? For what more pleasant and familiar to our eyes than this light? And yet men are unable after long darkness to hear and endure it. [I think he’s talking about physical “light” here]

What more suited to the body exhausted by sickness than meat and drink? And yet we see that persons who are recovering are restrained and checked, lest they dare to commit themselves to the fullness of persons in health, and so bring to pass by means of their very food their return to that disease which used to reject it. I speak of persons who are recovering. What, the very sick, do we not urge them to take something? Wherein assuredly they would not with so great discomfort obey us, if they believed not that they would recover from that disease. When then will you give yourself up to a search very full of pains and labor? When will you have the heart to impose upon yourself so great care and trouble as the matter deserves, when you believe not in the existence of that which you are in search of? Rightly therefore has it been ordained by the majesty of the Catholic system of teaching, that they who approach unto religion be before all things persuaded to have faith. I’ll say “amen” here.

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