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Chapter 1

INTRODUCTION

The wisdom tradition of Israel departs in a remarkable way from the dominant Old Testament attitude toward personal enemies.

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and Yahweh will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22

This instruction, cited by Paul in Romans 12:20, articulates an ethic of treating enemies in a beneficent manner. It is perhaps the closest the Old Testament comes to Jesus' com- mand to love the enemy (Matt. 5:44). A few other passages in the wisdom literature speak of treating enemies in a non-aggressive way.1

Examples of beneficent responses to enemies may be adduced in other complexes of Israelite tradition. Exodus 23:4-5 commands one to return the enemy's stray ox or ass and to help him lift up his overburdened beast.2 Narratives tell of Joseph aiding his brothers who had conspired to kill him, to cast him into a pit and to sell him to the

1 2 Prov. 16:7; 24:17-18; Job 31:29-30. S. Driver, A Critical and Exegetical Commenter on Deuteronomy (3rd ed., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901), p. 250, commenting on Deut. 22:1, the deuteronomic reformu- lation, calls the Exodus form of the law "an old-world anticipation of the spirit of Mt. 5:44."

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