Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Judges. Day 57, Samson's Death And His Final Strike Against The Philistines

In Wednesday's study we found Samson giving in to Delilah's repeated questions regarding how he could be subdued. There was still one rule of his Nazirite vow he had not broken: he had never cut his hair. When we were studying Numbers 6 we learned that a Nazirite vow was usually for a limited duration. During that time the person could not cut their hair but, once the time period had been accomplished and all the rules successfully kept, the hair was cut and burned along with the offering that was made upon the completion of the vow.

But Samson has not completed the time period of his vow. His dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite was to be lifelong and therefore as long as he lives his hair must not be cut. This is what the angel of the Lord said about Samson before he was born, that he was to be dedicated to the Lord as a Nazirite from the womb and that his "head is never to be touched by a razor". (Judges 13:5) "Never" means never. But Samson chose his relationship with Delilah over his relationship with the Lord. Samson has never been a man with much self-control when it comes to Philistine women, but he had previously been able to love them and leave them, as the saying goes. When he met Delilah he allowed himself to become obsessed with her and was willing to do anything or give up anything to have her---even if that meant giving up the calling the Lord placed upon his life. 

Maybe you've heard this quote: "If you don't feel as close to God today as you did yesterday, who moved?" The author of Judges told us in verse 20 that the Lord had left Samson. But Samson left the Lord first. Samson is the one who moved. When the author of Judges says the Lord "left" Samson, he does not mean that the Lord has utterly rejected him, just that the Lord didn't enable him to evade the Philistines after his hair was cut. The Lord's ears will still be open to Samson when he cries out for help later in today's passage. 

Samson's head was shaved by Delilah's servant while he slept. Upon realizing the Philistines had arrived to capture him, Samson thought he could escape their clutches. But his strength was gone. The consequences of his poor decisions are severe and shocking, for the Philistines are a violent and cruel people. "Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison." (Judges 16:21) He's blind and in chains, consigned to the monotonous task of grinding the grain of his enemies day in and day out. While he's occupied in this manner, there's something the Philistines have forgotten to take into account. "But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved." (Judges 16:22)

Not only have they subdued the famous Samson and assigned him one of the most menial tasks, but the Philistines want to humiliate him and make sport of him too. "Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, 'Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.' When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, 'Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.' While they were in high spirits, they shouted, 'Bring out Samson to entertain us.' So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them." (Judges 16:23-25a) Dagon, of course, did nothing for the Philistines. Their non-existent god had no hand in their capture of Samson; Samson delivered himself into their hands through his disobedience to the Lord. 

The very thing these people are celebrating---the capture of Samson---will be their downfall. We don't know how long Samson has been in their custody but it's long enough that his hair has grown back out quite a bit. He's been in their custody long enough that he's repented of his sins and rededicated his heart to the Lord. He's renewed his Nazirite vow and the hair on his head is a part of that vow. In a humble spirit and in faith, Samson prays to the Lord and asks to be used of Him one more time in Israel's fight against the wicked Philistines. Samson realizes that, if he had lived a life fully committed to the Lord, he could have done so much more for the Lord and for Israel than he's actually done. But he also realizes that, if the Lord grants his request, he can finish strong for the Lord. He can also put the false Philistine god to shame and bring glory to the name of the God of Israel. "When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, 'Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.' Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, 'Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.'" (Judges 16:25b-28)

Samson has not always lived a godly life but he's the Lord's appointed judge of Israel. When the Philistines captured Samson and gouged out his eyes, they were attacking the political leader of God's people. This was an insult to the Lord Himself, who placed a calling upon Samson's life even before he was born. The Lord takes it personally whenever someone does harm to any of His people; He takes it as personally as if the harm was actually done to Him. As it is said in Zechariah 2:8, "Whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye." When the Lord gives Samson the strength he asks for, He's not only avenging Samson but He's also avenging His people Israel and He's avenging His own reputation. 

"Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived." (Judges 16:29-30) We know there were three thousand Philistines on the roof. There must have been at least that many inside the temple, possibly more. Samson must have killed, at minimum, six thousand enemies of Israel on the day he died.

"Then his brothers and his father's whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years." (Judges 16:31) In Judges 13 we learned that Samson's mother was unable to conceive children until the Lord miraculously enabled her to conceive and give birth to Samson. It appears that, after Samson's birth, his mother and father were able to have at least two more children since the Bible says his "brothers" retrieved his body and buried it in the tomb of their deceased father.

The Lord used Samson to do good for the Israelites in their fight against the Philistines. The Lord knew everything about Samson before he was ever born. He knew everything Samson would ever do but He intended to use him to do great things in spite of his moral shortcomings. The Lord was able to use even Samson's mistakes against the Philistines. This in no way excuses any of Samson's sins but simply proves to us that no human being is powerful enough to thwart the Lord's plans and that the Lord is able to use flawed human beings as a part of His plans. Samson would have been a better judge if he'd been fully committed to the Lord. He'd have been more of a blessing to his people Israel. He'd have achieved greater and more decisive victories over the Philistines. Instead of leading Israel for twenty years, he might have led Israel for many decades until he died peacefully in bed in his old age. After Samson became a prisoner of the Philistines, I think he came to the conclusion that he would have lived his life differently if he could have lived it over, but at least he finished strong. At least he finished in faith. And because he finished strong and in faith, we find his name in the list known as the "Hebrews Hall Of Faith". In Hebrews 11 his name is mentioned with those who set great examples of faith in the Bible, such as the patriarchs, King David, and the prophets. This is how we know Samson's heart was right with the Lord when he died. Samson got off track from time to time. He sometimes put other things or other people ahead of the Lord. But he died in faith and someday, when we have gone on to be with the Lord, Samson is one of the people who will be there too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Judges. Day 56, Samson And Delilah, Part Two

Three times Samson has told Delilah a false story about the secret of his strength. As we discussed yesterday, I don't believe he was aware she was trying to betray him to the Philistines. The Bible doesn't say he knew that men were hiding in Delilah's house ready to take him into custody if any of the strength-taming tricks actually worked. The Bible doesn't say the men ever revealed their presence. For most of my life I had the impression that each time Delilah bound him with various objects, he "escaped" from the grasp of the Philistines, but a closer examination of the story doesn't appear to back that theory up. 

In a way, it's a relief to me to realize he was never as foolish as I thought he was. Or at least, he wasn't foolish in the way I thought he was. I kept wondering, "Why does he return to Delilah's house time and time again, knowing she's working for the enemy?" But in my opinion, the text we examined yesterday indicates that Samson never knew she was working for the enemy. He likely thought that the repeated questions about the source of his strength, and Delilah's repeated efforts to tie him up, was a new but intriguing part of their physical relationship. He's so thoroughly infatuated with her that it never occurs to him that she isn't equally smitten with him. Even when her questions become a source of intense vexation to him, he can't stay away from her. His love for her has captivated him in a way that no ropes or chains ever have.

"Then she said to him, 'How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength.' With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick of it." (Judges 16:15-16) She resorts to emotional blackmail. She says things like, "People who love each other are honest with each other. People who love each other share everything with each other. You keep saying you love me but I don't believe you. How can I when you won't tell me the truth? If you really loved me you wouldn't keep anything from me. You've made a fool of me, not only by telling me lies but by making me think you love me when you really don't." 

Delilah goes on like this "day after day", according to verse 16, and Samson has heard these questions until he's sick of them but still he can't make himself stay away from her. Worn down by the tears and emotional blackmail, he decides to put an end to the nagging by telling her about his Nazirite vow and the reason why he has never cut his hair. He thinks this will prove his love to her and restore peace to their relationship. He still does not suspect she intends to betray him. If he did, I can't imagine anything that would have been compelling enough to put himself in a helpless position in the presence of the Philistines. "So he told her everything. 'No razor has ever been used on my head,' he said, 'because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother's womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.'" (Judges 16:17)

Delilah can tell Samson has reached the limits of his resistance. He's a defeated man, emotionally speaking, and she can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. She is overjoyed, I'm sure, at the thought that the large reward will soon be hers for helping the Philistines capture him. Samson probably sees the joy in her eyes and thinks all is now well between them: she will no longer doubt his love and the two of them can live happily ever after. She probably plays into this misconception, hugging and kissing him and thanking him for setting her mind at ease regarding his loyalty. 

It's interesting to note, in our next verse, that on this occasion there are no Philistines hiding in her house as they were on some of her earlier attempts. I don't know how long it took Delilah to wear Samson down but it was long enough that the Philistines had stopped believing she'd be able to do it. While still entertaining Samson at her house, perhaps with dinner and wine and romance, she sends a servant out with a message to the Philistines that she has accomplished the mission. "When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, 'Come back once more; he has told me everything.' So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands." (Judges 16:18)

The men wait while Delilah does the one thing that will rob Samson of his strength. "After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him." (Judges 16:19) What has put Samson into such a deep sleep that he doesn't feel a servant shaving his head? For one thing, I think that the days or weeks or months of conflict with the woman he loves caused him to be mentally and emotionally exhausted. For another thing, relief has a way of making a person sleepy. Have you ever been really worried about something and, when the situation works out or the good news comes, you find yourself barely able to keep your eyes open? When the adrenaline from the anxiety wears off, the body becomes aware of the strain it's been under. Samson may have fallen into a deep sleep for other reasons too, especially if Delilah served him a large heavy meal and especially if he indulged in any alcohol. (Alcohol was forbidden to a Nazirite, but we've already seen Samson breaking every Nazirite vow except the one about cutting his hair, which is about to be broken.) It's possible he also slept with Delilah on this visit to her house, so when you combine all these factors together, it's not that difficult to imagine he could fall asleep so soundly that he doesn't realize someone with a razor is busy chopping his braids off.

"Then she called, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' He awoke from his sleep and thought, 'I'll go out as before and shake myself free.' But he did not know that the Lord had left him." (Judges 16:20) Was Samson's strength literally in his hair? No, because every time we find him performing amazing feats of strength, we are told that he was enabled to do them by the Spirit of the Lord. Samson's strength came from the Lord, not from his hair. But in telling Delilah about the reason for his hair having never been cut, he broke the last of his Nazirite vows. In doing so, he placed his relationship with this heathen woman above his relationship with the Lord. And although we never find Samson engaging in the worship of false gods, he has made Delilah an idol in his life. The Bible tells us "the Lord had left him" but if Samson is being honest he'd have to admit he left the Lord first. The Lord cannot bless sin and that is why He doesn't give Samson the strength needed to avoid capture by the Philistines. Samson has been compromising with sin for a long time, one by one trespassing against his vows to the Lord, and now he has finally broken the final rule a Nazirite must keep. 

The rules he agreed to live by should not be regarded as a form of legalism: an effort to obtain grace through works. The keeping of these rules were intended to reflect the condition of the person's heart. The outward consecration was to be evidence of the consecration of the heart. The keeping of the Nazirite vows were intended to display a heart that was devoted to God. This is grace by faith. 

Yesterday I quoted the lyrics of a secular song that I said reminded of Samson's obsession with Delilah. I didn't quote all the lyrics that reminded me of Samson. I saved one of the verses for today, because in the song called "When A Man Loves A Woman" we read that a man this deeply in love will "turn his back on his best friend if he puts her down". Samson has turned his back on his best friend---the Lord---because he's fallen madly and irresponsibly in love with an idolatrous woman. Delilah is not the type of woman a man of God should have anything to do with. She's not the type of woman a judge of Israel should have anything to do with. Samson was aware that neither the Lord nor his parents nor his fellow Israelites thought she was an acceptable mate for him. In spite of this, he thought he had to have her. I am sure the Holy Spirit must have pleaded with him time after time to let her go and give his heart fully to the Lord, but Samson must have hardened his heart against those pleas because of his obsession with Delilah. He turned his back on his best Friend for putting her down, as the song goes. And he will regret it for as long as he lives, which won't be that much longer.

But thanks be to our loving and merciful God, He hasn't forsaken Samson even though He won't give him the strength to evade his captors. Samson will repent of his mistakes and turn his heart fully to the Lord in his final days and the Lord will hear his cry for forgiveness and mercy. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Judges. Day 55, Samson And Delilah, Part One

In yesterday's study Samson met Delilah and fell in love with her. Realizing they could use this weakness against him, the rulers of the Philistines offered Delilah what amounted to over $10,000 in silver at today's prices if she would entice Samson to reveal the secret to his strength. Today we begin to study the portion of Scripture involving Samson and Delilah's unhealthy---and ultimately doomed---relationship.

We closed yesterday with this: "So Delilah said to Samson, 'Tell me the secret of your great strength so you can be tied up and subdued.'" (Judges 16:6) Now he replies to her with a falsehood: "Samson answered her, 'If anyone ties me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not yet been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man.'" (Judges 16:7) 

Not long after this conversation, Delilah obtains these materials from the Philistines and tries them out on Samson. "Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she tied him with them." (Judges 16:8) He is a willing participant, not suspecting she's trying to betray him. I'm going to try to phrase this as delicately as I can, but I believe Samson thinks the two of them are incorporating something new into their sexual encounters. He has no idea the Philistines are lying in wait to capture him. He eagerly submits to being tied up by the seductive Delilah because he finds it exciting. 

Some of the Philistines came to Delilah's house and concealed themselves before Samson arrived. Now that she has him securely tied with seven bowstrings, she speaks the words that were probably agreed upon beforehand as the signal for the men to get ready to jump out and seize Samson. "With men hidden in the room, she called to him, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' But he snapped the bowstrings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered." (Judges 16:9) Samson still thinks this is a game between the two of them. He doesn't know men are hiding in the house. When Delilah shouts, "The Philistines are upon you!" and the hidden men hear the bowstrings snapping, they remain where they are. These men were prepared for the possibility that Samson might lie to Delilah and they devised this test to make sure he was securely bound before they revealed their presence.

I don't know whether she was prepared for this possibility or not but she pouts and pretends to have hurt feelings. "Then Delilah said to Samson, 'You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.'" (Judges 16:10)

Samson tells her a second falsehood, no doubt still thinking this is an entertaining game of romance. "He said, 'If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man.'" (Judges 16:11) Delilah and the Philistine rulers either don't know or have forgotten that Samson easily snapped the new ropes that the men of Judah bound him with in Chapter 15. The Judahites intended to hand him over to the Philistine soldiers who were camped at Lehi but the Bible told us that the new ropes became "like charred flax" and dropped from his hands. Delilah gets new ropes and, on a separate occasion, invites Samson over to her house again while men are concealed there.

"So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads." (Judges 16:12) He still thinks this is a game. Whenever she shouts, "The Philistines are upon you," he jumps up and demonstrates his strength to her. He believes she enjoys these demonstrations of his manly strength. He has no idea his life is in the hands of the woman to whom he has unwisely given his heart.

Again she appeals to his emotions by pretending to be hurt and confused by his refusal to reveal how he can be overpowered. "Delilah then said to Samson, 'All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.' He replied, 'If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I'll become as weak as any other man.' So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric and tightened it with the pin. Again she called to him, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric." (Judges 16:13-14) Why is Samson so deeply asleep that Delilah can weave the braids of his hair into the loom? Some scholars suggest he's fallen prey to a post-coital slumber. Others believe he drank to excess and sank into sleep, while others think Delilah may have drugged him. It could be any or all of these explanations or none of them, but in my opinion he was so blinded by his love/lust for this woman that he was lulled into a false sense of security. He believes he is safe with her because he wants to believe he is safe with her. He wants to believe she is a good woman who genuinely loves him and would never betray him. I'm reminded of the song "When A Man Loves A Woman" where the lyrics go, "If she is bad, he can't see it; she can do no wrong." 

Samson still doesn't suspect that all these encounters with Delilah are a plot to turn him over to the Philistines. She's like a drug to him; he can't get enough of her. When we study the second half of this portion of Scripture tomorrow, we'll find him returning to her house again and again where she'll pester him about the secret of his strength so many times that at last he capitulates and tells her everything she wants to know. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Judges. Day 54, Samson Escapes An Ambush At Gaza/Samson Meets Delilah

At the end of Chapter 15 we were told that Samson judged Israel for twenty years. The events contained in Chapter 16 are believed to have taken place near the end of his judgeship. We don't know what happened between Samson's victory over the Philistines at Lehi and the events of Chapter 16. 

As we begin our study today, Samson travels down to Gaza---for what purpose, we are not told. Gaza was under Philistine control at the time and it lay about thirty miles south of Samson's hometown. In my background study I found the opinion that he may have been there to spy out the city in order to perpetrate an attack upon the Philistines. He will later kill a large number of Philistines in Gaza, though not in the manner he originally intended or expected. Regardless of what he did on his trip to Gaza in the daytime, we find him in a house of ill repute that night. "One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her." (Judges 16:1) Samson must have remained single (though not necessarily celibate) since his short and unsuccessful marriage to the Philistine woman. The way verse 1 is worded sounds as if he spotted this woman while going about his business and impulsively decided to go home with her. If that's the case, we see that in twenty years he still has not attained a great deal of self-control. 

But I must point out that not everyone who teaches on this passage of Scripture believes Samson indulged in sexual relations with the woman. They say that, just as the men who spied out Jericho hid at the house of a prostitute during the night without committing any sexual sins with her, Samson merely sought refuge in the house of a prostitute overnight until he could slip out the city gates in the morning. It could be that he paid her the normal sum of doing business with her but that he only sought a safe place to sleep, not the pleasure of her company. I am not sure whether to believe Samson slept with her or not, but we've already seen that he doesn't use the best judgment when it comes to women. He disobeyed the word of the Lord and the wishes of his parents in order to marry a heathen Philistine woman. We'll soon see him in yet another love relationship with a Philistine woman, the beautiful Delilah, to whom he does not appear to be married. And in between those two relationships we find him at this prostitute's house. I would like to think he didn't do anything immoral with the woman in Gaza but if he did it would be in keeping with his character. It would also be in keeping with a pattern that repeats itself in his life: he's already been betrayed by his Philistine bride, this prostitute is about to betray him, and Delilah will betray him. 

There are men in Gaza who would love to take Samson's life and they receive word that he is in the city. Several of the commentaries I consulted offer the opinion that the prostitute sent a messenger from her house to make it known that Samson was there. The name of Samson was famous in Israel due to his victories over the Philistines but that doesn't mean he wasn't an ordinary-looking man who could easily blend into a crowd. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that he was bigger than the average man; it's just that from time to time he was given superhuman strength by the Lord to fight against the enemies of Israel. I think that, during the day while the city gates were open, Samson was able to go about his business without anybody taking notice of him. If his enemies had known during the daytime that he was there, I think they would have gone ahead and tried to seize him in the daytime. I believe this because, when they learn he is there, they intend to wait for daylight to capture him. This means they didn't feel they needed to catch him off guard during the night but felt they could confront him in the light of day. "The people of Gaza were told, 'Samson is here!' So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, 'At dawn we'll kill him.'" (Judges 16:2)

Samson doesn't stay all night. It may be that he suspects his presence has been betrayed. Or it may be that he is warned in his spirit by the Lord. While his enemies think he is either cavorting with the prostitute or fast asleep, he gets up around midnight and boldly escapes their clutches. "But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron." (Judges 16:3) Just as Samson made fools of the Philistines who came out against him at Lehi, he makes fools of the men lying in wait for him in Gaza.

The men evidently did not pursue him because a while later we find him in the Valley of Sorek where he meets and falls for another Philistine woman. "Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah." (Judges 16:4) This area's name means "Grape Valley" due to the vineyards located there. It's believed to have lain along the border of the Philistine territory and the territory of the tribe of Dan, which is Samson's tribe. 

The Bible doesn't tell us that Samson ever married Delilah, just that he was in love with her. Samson appears to have been a man easily ruled by his emotions. Have you ever known anyone who seemed to fall in love at the drop of a hat? Have you ever known anyone who falls madly in love with everyone they go out with? I think a lot of people confuse lust for love. Or they are attempting to satisfy some deep-seated need for approval and acceptance. Or they believe a mere human being can complete them and be their soul mate. But no human being can satisfy our every need. Our one and only true soul mate is the Lord! We were created by Him and for Him; nothing less will ever satisfy our souls. When we place all our expectations on someone who is just as frail and mortal as we are, we are going to end up being disappointed, which is what's about to happen to Samson. 

Delilah isn't nearly as in love with him as he is with her. If she feels any affection for him at all, it's not enough to dissuade her from doing as asked when some of the Philistine leaders offer her a reward in exchange for using her feminine wiles to help them capture him. "The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, 'See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.' So Delilah said to Samson, 'Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.'" (Judges 16:5-6)

The reward amounts to $10,890.88 at today's silver prices. This is a considerable sum of money and Delilah doesn't hesitate to accept their offer and begin working on Samson. In tomorrow's study he will refuse to tell her the truth for a while but she will eventually wear down the physically strongest man in the Bible. That's because he has a weakness for Philistine women or for something they represent to him. He's seeking a connection with someone that satisfies him in every way, but a relationship with a human being cannot possibly satisfy every need a person has. A good marriage can bring a lot of happiness into a person's life, but not even the most godly and loving husband or wife can fulfill the deepest emotional and spiritual needs of another. Only God can do that.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Judges. Day 53, Samson's Vengeance, Part Two

Samson set the crops of the Philistines on fire after he found out his Philistine father-in-law gave his wife to another man. In retaliation, the Philistines burned his wife and father-in-law to death. To avenge his wife's death he attacked and slaughtered "many of them", according to yesterday's passage. Now he's hiding in a cave at Etom (which lay within the borders of Judah) waiting to see what will happen next.

"The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. The people of Judah asked, 'Why have you come to fight us?' 'We have come to take Samson prisoner,' they answered, 'to do to him as he did to us.'" (Judges 15:9-10) The men of Judah suppose these soldiers have come out to make war with them. Since they have no doubt been paying their assigned tribute to their Philistine oppressors, they ask, "What do you have against us? Why have you come out to fight us?" And the Philistines say something like, "Our dispute isn't with you. It's with Samson. He slaughtered many of our men and we've come out to find him and arrest him. Then we will execute him."

It is apparently known by many in Judah that Samson is hiding at Etom. Perhaps the Judahites were willing to give him sanctuary until now when it appears as if doing so will bring the wrath of the Philistines down upon them. "Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, 'Don't you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?' He answered, 'I merely did to them what they did to me.'" (Judges 15:11) I believe Samson knows what the angel of the Lord said to his mother before his birth: that he would lead his people in the fight against the Philistines. But his fellow countrymen either don't know or don't believe the prophecy regarding his calling. They are willing to continue submitting to the Philistines, probably out of fear of the Philistines' more advanced weaponry and the enormous number of soldiers at their disposal. They would rather turn Samson in than fight the enemy. "They said to him, 'We've come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.'" (Judges 15:12a) 

We have to keep in mind that these men have lived in subjection to the Philistines for forty years, according to Judges 13:1. This means that many of the three thousand men who've come out to capture Samson (or perhaps all of them) aren't old enough to have been alive, or were too young to remember, a time when Israel wasn't subject to this dreadful enemy. Their reluctance to rise up and fight off the yoke of oppression is understandable from a human viewpoint. From a spiritual viewpoint their fear is less defensible, for the Lord is stronger than any enemy. I think that, although Samson hasn't exactly set a phenomenal example of godliness, he understands something these men don't: no enemy can stand before them if they will put aside every form of idolatry in their midst. If they will commit themselves to the Lord and do what He says, they can't lose.

Because Samson knows this, he is willing to allow the men to hand him over to the Philistines. "Samson said, 'Swear to me that you won't kill me yourselves.'" (Judges 15:12b) Samson is a very physically powerful man. He knows the Judahite soldiers might fear him enough to not want to deliver him alive to the enemy; they might choose instead to kill him and hand his dead body over. But if they deliver him to the Philistines alive, he believes the Lord will enable him to strike a major blow against the enemy. He says something like, "I'll surrender to you peacefully and go with you without causing any trouble. Just don't let me be struck down by a fellow Israelite. If I must die, let it be at the hands of the enemy." They agree to his terms. "'Agreed,' they answered. 'We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We won't kill you.'" (Judges 15:13a)

"So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men. Then Samson said, 'With a donkey's jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey's jawbone I have killed a thousand men.' When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi." (Judges 15:13b-17) His victorious one-man fight against the Philistines was so amazing and so famous that the area was named "Jawbone Hill" to commemorate the battle. 

It must have taken quite some time and a lot of physical effort to fight and slay a thousand men. Samson is exhausted and dehydrated. There is no visible source of water in the area but he thinks surely the Lord didn't bring him all this way and give him this great victory only to allow him to perish from thirst. "Because he was very thirsty, he cried to the Lord, 'You have given Your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?'" (Judges 15:18) 

It was an ancient custom to desecrate the dead body of a powerful enemy. A body might be hung on a pole, for everyone to see, until it rotted and fell apart. Samson does not especially want to die, but if he does die, he does not want the godless Philistines having access to his earthly remains. The Lord answers his prayer with a miracle. "Then God opened up a hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines." (Judges 15:19-20) To commemorate this miracle, the spring became known as "the well of him who cried".

Samson has done valiantly in today's passage. He has done valiantly because he placed his faith in the Lord. As a result, the Lord gave him superhuman strength in his fight with the Philistines and the Lord miraculously supplied water to meet his needs. But in tomorrow's study, as often happens following a spiritual high, a spiritual low follows. This is why we must be on guard at all times against the wiles of the devil because he doesn't always choose to kick us when we're down. Sometimes he's more successful in leading us astray right after the Lord has done great things for us. That's because we may let our guard down in the aftermath of an enormous victory. Join us tomorrow as we begin our story of one of the most unwise love connections in the Bible: the story of Samson and Delilah.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Judges. Day 52, Samson's Vengeance, Part One

Samson left his marriage feast in anger on the seventh day when he learned his new bride had given the answer to his riddle to the Philistine men of his wedding party. This caused him to lose a wager he'd made with them: that if they could solve his riddle he would give them thirty cloaks and thirty suits of clothes. To make good on this wager, he killed thirty Philistine men and gave their belongings to the men of his wedding party. Then he went home to his father's house in a rage.

Some time has passed and Samson's anger toward his wife has cooled. He wants to make up with her so he takes a young goat as a peace offering and travels back to Timnah to see her. "Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife." (Judges 15:1a) The fact that it is wheat harvest will be important later in our story.

Samson arrives at the home of his father-in-law. "He said, 'I'm going to my wife's room.' But her father would not let him go in. 'I was so sure you hated her,' he said, 'that I gave her to your companion. Isn't her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.'" (Judges 15:1b-2) The words rendered as "your companion" are believed to be a reference to the one who served as his best man at the wedding. This is the role referred to in the Bible as "the friend of the bridegroom". John the Baptist called himself "the friend of the bridegroom" when speaking about Jesus Christ. In John's analogy Jesus is the bridegroom, His church is the bride, and John the Baptist is a character who bridged the Old Testament and the New Testament---he is the one who stands by and looks on with joy as the bridegroom makes His arrival on the scene. 

Samson may have departed Timnah in a rage several months earlier but he didn't divorce his Philistine bride. Her father had no right to give her in marriage to another man while she was still married to Samson. I think Samson's father-in-law realizes he's made a terrible error of judgment. He believed he'd seen the last of Samson. But now this strong young man is standing in his doorway with a burning anger in his eyes. Samson's father-in-law recalls how he slew thirty men, who had done nothing to him, in order to give their belongings to the men who participated in the wedding. If he was willing to kill men against whom he had no grudge, what more will he do to the man who put his wife into the arms of another? Scrambling for a way to pacify Samson's anger, he points out that the younger sister of Samson's wife is the prettiest of the two. He says something like, "My younger daughter is far more attractive than my older daughter anyway. I bet she'd have been the one you wanted if you'd seen her first! You're actually getting a better deal by taking her as your bride. We can do the ceremony immediately and she can be your wife today!"

Samson wants the woman to whom he is legally married, not this substitute. He makes a threat to his father-in-law and apparently to several other men of the household or of the town. "Samson said to them, 'This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines.' So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and the standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves." (Judges 15:3-5) We don't know how Samson trapped this many foxes. (Many scholars believe the word rendered as "foxes" should actually be "jackals". That may be so, since jackals run in large packs and it would be easier to trap three hundred jackals than three hundred foxes.) We don't know how many days it took Samson to trap the animals or whether he had help. The Bible doesn't tell us whether he traveled to Timnah alone or whether he had friends and servants with him. Whatever the case, he manages to accomplish this before the harvest is over and by this method he ruins that year's wheat harvest for the Philistines and he heavily damages their vineyards and olive groves at the same time.

The foxes (or jackals) were understandably panicked and confused. They ran through the fields and vineyards and groves in an attempt to escape from the burning torches, setting on fire everything in their path. This story is disturbing from an animal welfare standpoint. The story of Samson's life is disturbing from a number of other standpoints. He's not a likable man. He's not a man with self-control. He's not a man who tries at all times to live according to the word of God. But when the angel of the Lord foretold his birth and said he would "take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines" (Judges 13:5), he didn't say Samson would be a shining example of godliness to the nation. The Lord chose Samson to be a judge and a deliverer at this particular point in history because He knew what Samson's personality would be like. He knew Samson would be the type of man He could use to "confront the Philistines" (Judges 14:4) 

Not every leader who rises to power is a godly man or woman but that doesn't mean the Lord didn't choose them to be a leader at that particular point in history. The prophet Daniel said that the Lord controls who is in political power on earth: "He deposes kings and raises up others". (Daniel 2:21) The Apostle Paul said the same thing in Romans 13:1: "There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." So, whether the leader of a nation is a godly person or a wicked person, they did not rise to power outside of the Lord's will. At times He allows a godly and lovable leader to come to power and at other times He allows a sinful and hated person to be in power, but at no time is anyone in charge who is not of His choosing. He "deposes kings and raises up others" in order to accomplish His purposes. The Lord has raised up Samson to be a leader in the book of Judges not because he strives to live a godly life but, in many ways, because he doesn't. Samson is a man with anger issues. He is a man who gives in to his passions. He is a man who does not appear to reverence the regulations of his Nazirite vow. But because he's this type of man, he's the right man for the job of confronting the Philistines and loosening the hold they have over Israel at this point in history.

Samson's volatile temper and his burning of the crops of the Philistines has the opposite effect than he intended. His wife is not restored to his bosom but instead loses her life. "When the Philistines asked, 'Who did this?' they were told, 'Samson, the Timnite's son-in-law, because his wife was given to his companion.' So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death." (Judges 15:6) The Philistines blame Samson's father-in-law and Samson's wife for their predicament. They have no harvest to store up for the winter. This means that men and women and children who had nothing to do with the dispute between Samson and his father-in-law may go hungry. In retaliation for this hardship, the Philistines kill Samson's wife and her father.

Upon hearing of the murder of his wife, Samson goes out to avenge her death. "Samson said to them, 'Since you've acted like this, I swear that I won't stop until I get my revenge on you.' He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam." (Judges 15:7-8) Samson hides in a cave like a fugitive. He may feel certain that the Philistines will band together and come after him. Or he may be waiting to see whether they feel like they've gotten even with him and will let him return home. In tomorrow's study we'll find men of Samson's own nation willing to hand him over to the Philistines when the Philistine army comes out in battle array and camps within the borders of the tribe of Judah. But we'll also find the Lord delivering Samson from the Philistines because the Lord still has work for Samson to do.

Friday, January 21, 2022

The Judges. Day 51, Samson's Marriage, Part Three

Samson is on his way to Timnah for his wedding. In yesterday's passage we learned that on the way there he ate honey from a nest that bees had made in the carcass of the lion he killed on an earlier trip. He also gave some of the honey to his parents, who did not know its origin, and they ate it too. Yesterday we discussed how his contact with the carcass broke his Nazirite vow. 

Samson has not been living as carefully as he should. He is marrying a heathen wife from among the Philistines. He may have broken the rule against Nazarites consuming anything from the grapevine; he was in the vineyards of Timnah when the lion charged at him and he did not tell his parents about killing the lion, perhaps because he was doing something wrong when the incident occurred. Then he made himself ceremonially unclean by touching the carcass of the lion and consuming honey from it. Next he will use the incident of the lion to pose a riddle to the Philistine men who make up the groom's court during the days of his wedding feast.

"Now his father went down to see the woman. And there Samson held a feast, as was customary for young men. When the people saw him, they chose thirty men to be his companions." (Judges 14:10-11) A wedding feast went on for seven days. Some scholars suppose this particular wedding feast included a lot of drinking. Although we might suppose the Philistine men became drunk, the author of Judges does not say whether or not Samson also indulged. If he did, this was another breaking of his Nazirite vow, but we don't know whether he's in high spirits due to the special occasion or whether he and his companions are intoxicated. 

"'Let me tell you a riddle,' Samson said to them. 'If you can give me an answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. If you can't tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.' 'Tell us your riddle,' they said. 'Let's hear it.'" (Judges 14:12-13) This was an expensive wager for whoever would have to pay up. The linen garments were likely an outer wrap and intended to be of fine linen. The sets of clothes are believed to be dressy clothes such as one would wear to an important occasion. In today's world, the items in Samson's wager could be compared to thirty overcoats and thirty business suits. 

"He replied, 'Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.' For three days they could not give the answer." (Judges 14:14) The riddle refers to his secret killing of the lion in the vineyards. Out of the eater, out of the strong (the lion) came something to eat, something sweet (the honey). Samson knows this is a riddle that the men almost certainly cannot solve. He expects to be the recipient of thirty coats and thirty suits. 

The men don't want to have to come up with thirty coats and thirty suits. They made the wager when they were probably flushed with wine and not thinking about the high cost of failing to solve the riddle. Now, on the fourth day of the feast, the reality of their predicament is becoming clear and they are getting worried about it. "On the fourth day, they said to Samson's wife, 'Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father's household to death. Did you invite us here to steal our property?' Then Samson's wife threw herself on him, sobbing. 'You hate me! You don't really love me. You've given my people a riddle, but you haven't told me the answer.'" (Judges 14:15-16a) 

These young men threaten violence and Samson's wife knows it's not an empty threat. Scholars are generally very critical of her for trying to coax the answer to the riddle out of Samson but I think she was between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. Whether she was in love with her new husband or not, she doesn't want her parents burned alive. She doesn't want herself burned alive either. Her concern for her own personal safety and for the safety of her family is stronger than whatever she might feel for her bridegroom. Had she been a woman of the Lord, she might have appealed to Him for protection against the angry and violent young men in the wedding party. But she is a pagan woman from an idolatrous culture and instead of calling upon the Lord she relies on emotional blackmail to get the answer from her new husband. Why did she not tell Samson about the threats and give him a chance to protect her and her family? We don't know. It could be that she did not have enough confidence in him---that she did not think highly enough of him. Or it could be that she didn't believe the God of Israel was powerful enough to enable Samson to defend herself and her family against violent men and the gods of the Philistines. 

Samson, evidently unaware of the threat made against his bride and her family, tries to soothe what he assumes are just hurt feelings by telling her that he has revealed the answer to the riddle to no one. "'I haven't even explained it to my father and mother,' he replied, 'so why should I explain it to you?'" (Judges 14:16b) She continues to appeal to him for the remaining days of the feast. "She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continue to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people. Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, 'What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?'" (Judges 14:17-18a)

Samson knows his wife has revealed the answer to them. He does not believe there is any way they could have figured it out on their own. The riddle he chose was impossible for anyone to solve who did not know the story of the lion and the honey, and he had never told anyone the story of the lion and the honey until he told his new bride. "Samson said to them, 'If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.'" (Judges 14:18b) 

Many scholars propose that Samson's wife had been unfaithful to him not only emotionally but physically as well. They believe his accusation against the men of having plowed with his heifer means that one or more of them had slept with her during the week of the feast. Other scholars believe he's just saying something like, "If you had not interfered in my marriage and gone behind my back and coerced my wife into finding out and revealing the riddle, you could never have solved it." 

Samson is in a difficult position. He does not have thirty coats and thirty suits to give to these men but he's obligated to pay up. Had he not paid up, I think these violent men would have done to his family what they had threatened to do to his bride's family. Though Samson got himself into this fix through poor judgment (being in a vineyard where he was attacked by a lion, eating honey from the carcass later on, marrying a heathen woman, proposing a wager he thought he couldn't lose), the Lord gives him the strength to make good on the wager. In doing so, the Lord fulfills a purpose which He had in mind all along, which was "seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines". The Lord intends to help the Israelites who are under Philistine oppression and He intends to use Samson as an instrument in this conflict. In order to make good on his wager, Samson kills thirty Philistines and gives their garments to the men from his wedding party. "Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle." (Judges 14:19a)

"Burning with anger, he returned to his father's home. And Samson's wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast." (Judges 14:19b-20) It is thought that Samson didn't bring his wife to live with him at his father's house because, as a heathen woman, she would not have been welcome there. It will be clear to us in our next chapter that Samson is not the one who gave his wife to his best man from the wedding. We will see that he still considers her his wife even though they are not currently living in the same house. During his absence his wife was given to another man by her father, according to what we'll read in Chapter 15. When Samson goes back to Timnah to visit his wife, her father will refuse to let him see her and will inform him that she's the wife of another man now. We don't know whether or not Samson consummated the marriage with his wife during the seven days of the feast, but either way she is his wife in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the Lord. This probably didn't mean much to the wicked Philistines but it meant something to Samson. In revenge he will ruin their crops and they will retaliate by murdering his wife and her family. Samson will then make war with them.

We are going to find Samson behaving in ways that aren't always admirable. The Lord will use him in Israel's fight against the Philistines not because he's perfect but in spite of his imperfections. This doesn't mean it's okay for Samson to break his Nazirite vows or to have an obsession with Philistine women or to have such a weakness for the approval of women that he's willing to violate his principles. But it shows us that the Lord's purposes are never thwarted by man's actions. The Lord even uses unbelievers in His plans, as evidenced by the occasions in the Bible where He uses heathen nations to correct His wayward children and bring them back to the right path. Samson is not an unbeliever but he'll fall prey to his carnal inclinations from time to time, and yet we'll find his name in the list known as the "Hebrews Hall Of Faith". When speaking of the men and women of the Old Testament who had the faith to accomplish great things, the Apostle Paul concluded, "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies." (Hebrews 11:32-34) 

Samson is going to make some mistakes but he's going to finish strong. And isn't that better than starting strong and finishing in weakness? In spite of going off course at times, Samson's name is one of the most famous names in the Old Testament. This doesn't give any of us license to sin with the attitude that the Lord can use us anyway, but it ought to encourage us that we haven't been disqualified by mistakes of the past. If we Love the Lord and commit ourselves to Him, He's not going to reject our willingness to serve. No matter what we did way back when, He can enable us to finish strong.