Friday, September 20, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 31-32 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 33

2 Chronicles 31 – When all this is finished, “all Israel” goes out to the cities of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh and break down the pillars, the sacred poles and high places. Hezekiah organizes the priests and Levites, reestablishes the system of offerings and reinstitutes tithing so the priests and Levites can devote themselves to the Law. People give generously.

Hezekiah oversees everything carefully.  They have a surplus of wealth left over, so they build storage facilities for it. Hezekiah did “what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God . . .he did with all his heart, and he prospered” (31:20-21).

2 Chronicles 32 – After this, King Sennacherib of Assyria comes against Judah. In response, Hezekiah and his officers “stop the flow of the springs that were outside the city” (32:3) so that the enemy will find no water.

He also builds up walls that were broken and builds another wall outside the old wall. He gathers his soldiers and encourages them with this speech: “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (32:7-8).

Sennacherib sends an emissary to Jerusalem to try to persuade the people not to trust Hezekiah. He reminds them of the victories they had won over other peoples, the helplessness of their many gods to defend them. He also sends letters and has them read in a loud voice in their own language. “They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as if he were like the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of human hands” (32:19). Hezekiah, and Isaiah with him, pray and cry out to the Lord. In response, the Lord “sent an angel who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the King of Assyria. So he returned in disgrace to his own land. When he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword” (32:21). So they were saved.

Hezekiah becomes sick and nearly dies. He prays to God and God answers him; but this time Hezekiah (it says) does “not respond according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud” (32:25). The Lord’s wrath spills out on him and all Judah. When Hezekiah humbles himself, the Lord relents for a time.

Hezekiah’s reign is very prosperous materially. He makes changes in the water flow, closing the upper outlets of the water of Gihon and directing them down to the west side of the city of David. He also is said to do something about the envoys from Babylon sent to inquire “about the sign that had been done in the land,” but it is very mysteriously alluded to. It says, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in hers heart” (32:31). When he dies, his son Manasseh succeeds him.

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing

33 - Wherefore, although I am not able to teach, yet I cease not to advise, that, (whereas many wish to appear wise, and it is no easy matter to discern whether they be fools,) with all earnestness, and with all prayers, and lastly with groans, or even, if so it may be, with tears, you entreat of God to set you free from the evil of error; if your heart be set on a happy life. And this will take place the more easily, if you obey with a willing mind His commands, which He has willed should be confirmed by so great authority of the Catholic Church. For whereas the wise man is so joined to God in mind, as that there is nothing set between to separate; for God is Truth; and no one is by any means wise, unless his mind come into contact with the Truth; we cannot deny that between the folly of man, and the most pure Truth of God, the wisdom of man is set, as something in the middle. For the wise man, so far as it is given unto him, imitates God; but for a man who is a fool, there is nothing nearer to him, than a man who is wise, for him to imitate with profit: and since, as has been said, it is not easy to understand this one by reason, it behooved that certain miracles be brought near to the very eyes, which fools use with much greater readiness than the mind, that, men being moved by authority, their life and habits might first be cleansed, and they thus rendered capable of receiving reason.

Whereas, therefore, it needed both that man be imitated, and that our hope be not set in man, what could be done on the part of God more full of kindness and grace, than that the very pure, eternal, unchangeable Wisdom of God, unto Whom it behooves us to cleave, should deign to take upon Him (the nature of) man? That not only He might do what should invite us to follow God, but also might suffer what used to deter us from following God. For, whereas no one can attain unto the most sure and chief good, unless he shall fully and perfectly love it; which will by no means take place, so long as the evils of the body and of fortune are dreaded; He by being born after a miraculous manner and working caused Himself to be loved; and by dying and rising again shut out fear. And, further, in all other matters, which it were long to go through, He showed Himself such, as that we might perceive unto what the clemency of God could be reached forth, and unto what the weakness of man be lifted up.

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