Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Angel of the Lord Sat Under the Fir [Oak] Tree, and Other Tales

I was reading Judges recently. Haven't taken a tour through that book of the Old Testament in a number of years, alas.

Coming back to the tale of Gideon, at this point in my life, I was refreshed and found the old story one of wonderment:

"And an angel of the Lord came, and sat down under the fir[*] tree, which was in Ephratha in the land of Joas, father of Esdri; and Gedeon his son was threshing wheat in a wine-press in order to escape from the face of Madiam. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty in strength.

And Gedeon said to him, Be gracious with me, my Lord: but if the Lord is with us, why have these evils found us? and where are all his miracles, which our fathers have related to us, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt? and now he has cast us out, and given us into the hand of Madiam. And the angel of the Lord turned to him, and said, Go in this thy strength, and thou shalt save Israel out of the hand of Madiam: behold, I have sent thee. And Gedeon said to him, Be gracious with me, my Lord: whereby shall I save Israel? behold, my thousand is weakened in Manasse, and I am the least in my father's house. And the angel of the Lord said to him, The Lord shall be with thee, and thou shalt smite Madiam as one man.

And Gedeon said to him, If now I have found mercy in thine eyes, and thou wilt do this day for me all that thou hast spoken of with me, depart not hence until I come to thee, and I will bring forth an offering and offer it before thee: and he said, I will remain until thou return.[**]

And Gedeon went in, and prepared a kid of the goats, and an ephah of fine flour unleavened: and he put the flesh in the basket, and poured the broth into the pot, and brought them forth to him under the turpentine tree[***], and drew nigh. And the angel of God said to him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and put them on that rock, and pour out the broth close by: and he did so. And the angel of the Lord stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened bread; and fire came up out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened bread, and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.

And Gedeon saw that he was an angel of the Lord; and Gedeon said, Ah, ah, Lord my God! for I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face. And the Lord said to him, Peace be to thee, fear not, thou shalt not die.

And Gedeon built there an altar to the Lord, and called it The Peace of the Lord, until this day, as it is still in Ephratha of the father of Esdri."

From Judges Ch. 6 - LXX as translated by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton

*Some trans. this as a "Terebinth," many as "Oak." The translation to "Fir" found in Sir Lancelot Brenton's LXX translation is unusual.

**The NETS translations of the LXX [variants A & B] read: [A] "And he said 'I am he; I will stay seated until you return.'" [B] "And he said, 'I am he; I will sit down until you return.'"

***"Turpentine" tree as translated here is consistent with the Terebinth trees, part of the cashew family, one of which is indigenous to the areas of Palestine, and a source of resin for turpentine.


The angel of the Lord comes and sits down under the tree. Gideon hastens out and talks to him. It is only after he makes his offering and it is consumed that he realizes fully with whom he is speaking. Nevertheless, he seems to have some inkling of this, or else to whom was he offering sacrifice? If devout, Gideon would only have made sacrifice to the Living God, the God of Jacob.

In the NETS translation the significance of the words "I am he" are telling. Brenton's parallel Greek text has the words [roughly transliterated] "Ego Eimi." In Exodus 3:14, the Lord tells Moses: Ego Eimi Ho On, which Brenton translates, not unrightly I think, "I am THE BEING." As our priest says "Christ our True God, the Existing One."

Gedeon sees the pre-incarnation manifestation of the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, and is afraid, for no man may see the face of God and live. But the Angel of the Lord brings the words he brings to the disciples in the upper room: "Peace be to thee."

Many times during the Orthodox Christian Liturgy the presbyter or bishop, in the name of Christ, turns and stands forth and proclaims: "Peace be to thee." I have never thought of it in terms of the mortal fear of being in the presence of the living God and Gideon's story. For indeed, we stand in the throne room at that moment, and we need to hear those words, for we should be like Gideon and cry "Ah! Ah!"

Gideon's experience is very similar to Abraham's hospitality to the three men. Indeed, the interplay of conversation has many similarities.


I commend to any reader to read the more lengthy account of Esther found in the LXX, and of course, the tale of Esther is one worth reading many times.

more to follow . . .


Blogger Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I thought there were perchance some misspellings in your quoting of the text, but then it seemed that the text you are quoting is just written in another era. This is the translation of the LXX by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton? Who was he, and when did he do this translation? (It just occurs to me that I can look this up on wikipedia. Sorry, I will do that, unless you care to comment further, or as to why you use his translation. It reads nicely.)

The Old Testament stories are so very interesting and foundational for us as Christians, and I am blessed by reading them as well as this post.

Thanks for posting this!

10:51 AM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Wow, I agree, what a wonderful point about the call of "peace be unto all" in the Liturgy.

And, the more lengthy Esther is fabulous.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Hilarius said...

Typos in transcribing are my fault and I will endeavor to correct them in good time; but "Gedeon" is Brenton's spelling, not mine. Also, the lower case following a question mark in some of the dialog is in the Brenton print, and is not me.

Brenton is perhaps the most available LXX with English and Greek in parallel text to be had (easy to find at Powell's and a handsome hardbound book), although many do not like the English translation. Me, I think it's fine, and I can read just enough Greek to satisfy myself about questionable points where I want.

If I were looking for an LXX with fancy apparatus or some such, maybe another translation would suit, but often translations (like NETS) do not have the Greek alongside and other LXX texts have Greek with no English. And interlinear texts are clunky to just sit and read.

Brenton's translation was originally published in 1851.

There is an amusing (to me) note in the introduction as follows:

We find amongst the members of the Eastern Churches who use the Greek language, that the Septuagint has been and is still so thoroughly received as authentic Scripture, that any effort to introduce amongst them versions which accurately represent the Hebrew (as has been attempted in modern times) has been wholly fruitless.

Thus the Septuagint demands our attention, were it only from the fact that the whole circle of religious ideas and thoughts amongst Christians in the East has always been moulded according to this version. Without an acquaintance with the Septuagint, numerous allusions in the writings of the Fathers become wholly unintelligible, and even important doctrinal discussions and difficulties (such even as some connected with the Arian controversy) become wholly unintelligible.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

The comment you quoted reminds me of the language and talk about Orthodoxy that we find in Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, also dating from the 1850's, of which I am very fortunate to possess a copy.

It was comforting to me, when reading these lectures, to see how the Orthodoxy of 150 years ago is essentially the same as it is today. I found some of the false characterizations amusing though, but not offensive. It gives me the idea for a blog post, quoting some passages from these lectures.

I really enjoyed this post of yours, by the way.

8:06 PM  

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