Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves (1Sam 2)

1Samuel 2 opens with a little prayer by Hannah. Like many such passages, it contains a lot of flowery language that the SAB is going to take issue with. Note that this is poetic language; in taking the last point first, ("The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them.") the SAB labels this verse as violent, unjust and intolerant, but notably does not call it absurd. If we were to take it literally rather than poetically, it would be quite absurd. How many "adversaries of the Lord" in the Bible were literally "broken to pieces"? Generally, that doesn't happen to people. Also, to say that "he [will] thunder upon them" would, if taken literally seem to imply that thunder and lightning issue forth from the very body of the Lord, which is a silly image indeed (to my mind anyway; I'm sure to many skeptics, it's no more silly than a dozen other Biblical images). That being said, I'll grant the claims actually leveled against the passage.

But as to the previous two notes? "The Lord killeth" says verse six. Violent? Well, certainly sometimes. I think the sentiment of this verse (and really, the whole prayer/poem) is that ultimately, everyone's life is in God's hand. As for the claim that earth is set upon "pillars", well, I'd say that there's poetic license going on here, and in the similar verse of Job. Technically, the earth isn't set upon "nothing" either, but due to the forces of gravity, one could say that it's set upon an orbital path about the sun, or perhaps one could say that it's sort of set upon itself. In my mind, the point of talking about "pillars" is to establish a word picture of God building the earth as someone would build the biggest house in the world. Building a house is a big deal, but to the minds of these people, the earth was the biggest object in the universe, and God built that. "Wow", you're supposed to think; and really, the statement that it's built on nothing is also supposed to be a "wow" moment, because really, who else could take a huge object like the earth and just stick it in the sky and have it stay there? These statements are not scientific ones, but expressions of wonder in the place of full scientific understanding.

Hannah's story out of the way, the story turns once again to Eli and his family, particularly his sons. It's a terrible fact that no religion is perfect in its practice, and ancient Judaism here gives an example of its bad side. Eli's sons had a whole list of terrible things that they were doing, and I won't go into it, other than to say that pretty much everything said about them is bad. They were using their positions as priests to take advantage of people; God gave more than a few things over to the priests for their own use, but Eli's sons apparently wanted more, stealing food from the sacrifices and seducing women with their power. Eli is held accountable for his sons' actions, since he knew about it and did nothing (well, he gave them a warning, but that's about it; perhaps he should have done more). God sends a message that the day is coming that Eli's family is going to suffer, and in particular, his two sons will die on the same day as a sign. Sure, all of this is violent, etc., but think about the position that this family held in this case. As a priestly family, they were supposed to be God's representatives on earth. When priests start to do things that make God look bad, how is God supposed to deal with them, especially if they refuse to stop after a warning? Are we really to be more upset by a man having two wives that he tries his best to deal with fairly than a couple of priests who are stealing from people in the name of God and turning the Tabernacle into a whorehouse?

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