Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 10-11 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 17

2 Chronicles 10 – Rehoboam goes to Shechem to be installed as king. When Jeroboam hears of it - he is down in Egypt - he returns and with him “all Israel came.” Jeroboam in an Ephraimite who was made overseer of the labor force of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh – Joseph’s descendants - under Solomon. According to 1 Kings 11:29-39, the words of the prophet Ahijah prophecies that he will one day rule over the ten tribes. He does and when his plot is discovered he flees to Egypt under the protection of Pharaoh Shichak. When Solomon dies, the northern tribes rebel against his son Rehoboam. They tell Rehoboam that his father made their “yoke heavy,” and they ask him to lighten it. If he does, they will serve him (10:4). 

He asks for three days to answer them.  He consults with “the older men” and they advise him to be “kind to this people and please them, and speak good words to them” (10:6), but he rejects this advice. The young men around him, his friends, advise him to outdo his father in being harsh.  When the people come to hear his answer, they are very displeased; but the text tells us that the hardness of Rehoboam’s heart (or head) in this matter is “a turn of affairs brought about by God so that the Lord might fulfill his word . . .” spoken by Ahijah to Jeroboam (10:15). They all leave.

It would do us good sometimes to see in our brokenness a kind of fulfillment of God’s design. God’s order in this universe is very complex – just look out the window and see how crooked and dappled everything is. Yet we know that it is all ordered in a deep and hard to discover way.

Rehoboam rules over only those Israelites who live in Judah. Hadoram, the taskmaster over forced labor is stoned to death. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. This is clearly an apology for the separatists of Israel, justifying their rebellion against the house of David.

2 Chronicles 11 – Rehoboam assembles an army of 180,000 to fight the rebels, but “the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah the man of God” forbidding Rehoboam to go up and fight his kindred. “Let everyone return home, for this thing is from me” (11:4). They do.

Rehoboam goes to Jerusalem, builds up cities for defense in Judah and Benjamin. Priests and Levites in all Israel come to him, leaving their common lands and holdings “because Jeroboam and his sons . . . prevented them from serving as priests of the Lord, and had appointed his own priests for the high places, and for the goat-demons, and for the calves that he had made” (11:15). Sincere seekers came after them from all the tribes, strengthening Judah. For three years they walked “in the way of David and Solomon” (11:17).

Rehoboam marries his cousin Mahalath, daughter of David’s son Jerimoth. She has three sons. And later, he marries another cousin, Maacah (Absalom’s daughter) whom he loved the most. In all he has 18 wives and 60 concubines, and they produce for him 28 sons and 60 daughters. He wanted Maacah’s son Abijah to be king. He “dealt wisely,” distributing his sons throughout the districts of Judah and Benjamin.

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
17 - "But they seemed there to make absurd statements." On whose assertion? Forsooth on that of enemies, for whatever cause, for whatever reason, for this is not now the question, still enemies. Upon reading, I found it so of myself. Is it so? Without having received any instruction in poetry, you would not dare to essay to read Terentianus Maurus [a Latin grammarian and authority on writing poetry in the 2nd c] without a master: Asper [Latin grammarian], Cornutus [Stoic philosopher], Donatus [grammarian and teacher of rhetoric], and others without number are needed, that any poet whatever may be understood, whose strains seem to court even the applause of the theatre; do you in the case of those books, which, however they may be, yet by the confession of nearly the whole human race are commonly reported to be sacred and full of divine things, rush upon them without a guide, and dare to deliver an opinion on them without a teacher; and, if there meet you any matters, which seem absurd, do not accuse rather your own dullness, and mind decayed by the corruption of this world, such as is that of all that are foolish, than those [books] which haply cannot be understood by such persons! You should seek some one at once pious and learned, or who by consent of many was said to be such, that you might be both bettered by his advice, and instructed by his learning. Was he not easy to find? He should be searched out with pains. Was there no one in the country in which you lived? What cause could more profitably force to travel? Was he quite hidden, or did he not exist on the continent? One should cross the sea. If across the sea he was not found in any place near to us, you should proceed even as far as those lands, in which the things related in those books are said to have taken place. What, Honoratus, have we done of this kind?

And yet a religion perhaps the most holy, (for as yet I am speaking as though it were matter of doubt,) the opinion whereof has by this time taken possession of the whole world, we wretched boys condemned at our own discretion and sentence. What if those things which in those same Scriptures seem to offend some unlearned persons, were so set there for this purpose, that when things were read of such as are abhorrent from the feeling of ordinary men, not to say of wise and holy men, we might with much more earnestness seek the hidden meaning. Perceive you not how the Catamite of the Bucolics, for whom the rough shepherd gushed forth into tears, men essay to interpret, and affirm that the boy Alexis, on whom Plato also is said to have composed a love strain, has some great meaning or other, but escapes the judgment of the unlearned; whereas without any sacrilege a poet however rich may seem to have published wanton songs?

That there are such difficult and perhaps offensive parts of the Old Testament, almost no one would deny. But I think what Augustine is saying is that if the fruit of the faith – the orthodox or what they called “catholic” [universal] version of Christianity that had gained so many followers by the 4th century despite oppression and persecution – is seen to be good, you should seek out the people who can best teach it before you start making decisions about what you might throw out and retain.

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