4.28 Judges -- Samson I
After Jephthah's short period of leading Israel, three other judges ruled briefly. Israel reverted to idolatry, and God gave them up to a new oppressor, the Philistines.
This leads into the saga of Samson, who was the most outlandish of all Old Testament leaders. Neither Jewish nor Christian scholarship can incorporate him into their teachings without considerable censorship and reinterpretation. Yet he is the most famous and heroic of all the judges, and the story of his life occupies 4 central chapters of the book (Judg 13-16). Sometimes it is hard to distinguish whether the spirit motivating his actions is divine or human -- they tend to overlap. His entire life is one of excess, of what is called today "acting out." But in this very aspect of his nature, he shows us some characteristics of God that are not seen in other leaders. By no means is he a fringe figure or "crank" -- from his very birth, he was elevated above his peers.
a. birth of Samson (Judg 13)
Samson's birth was miraculous. He came from the tribe of Dan, of whom Joseph prophesied:
Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider tumbles backward (Gen 49:16-7).
An angel appeared to a barren woman and told her that her son was to be a Nazirite from birth. This put Samson in the league of Samuel and John the Baptist! The calling on his life was above that of a prophet, who speaks the words of God. Samson was to be a deliverer, one like Moses who did the deeds of God.
b. Raiding the Philistines
He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him (Judg 13:24-25).1
Samson was quite willing, at first, to mingle with and marry Philistines. The outcome was that he became almost like them, a sensualist and hedonist, and then was caught up in an ever-escalating war of revenge with them. His first foray was to take a bride from among the Philistines. This makes absolutely no sense by any Biblical standard, as his poor parents realized: "Can't you find a nice Jewish girl?" (Judg 14:3). Not only was marriage to a Canaanite woman forbidden by Mosaic Law, but Samson was a Nazirite. He had to be scrupulous in matters of food and drink and barbering -- so how could he even consider a much greater offense? He strained out gnats while swallowing a camel. Yet not only did God permit this relationship, He may even have instigated it in order to stir up trouble with the Philistines (Judg 14:4). So much for a peacemaking God.
Samson went with his parents to visit the Philistine girl. On the way, they were attacked by a lion. Immediately,
The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power (Judg 14:6).
This same phrase is used two more times in his life (Judg 14:19, Judg 15:14). On the first occasion, he tore the lion apart with his bare hands. Perhaps this was a warmup for the other two times, each of which preceded fighting with Philistines. Killing the lion led to finding honey in its body later on, then posing a riddle to guests at his wedding, and making a wager with them. Samson's bride, providing a preview of Delilah's later behavior, whined and wheedled Samson to tell her the answer to the riddle, so she could reveal it to the guests. The point of the entire story, and of the marriage itself, was reached when Samson lost the bet, and in fury went to another Philistine city, killed 30 men and took their garments to pay the wager. The Holy Spirit empowered this "random act of violence."
The same young lady provided the pretext for another outburst of vengeance. When Samson returned to his Canaanite wife, he found that after he left her, her father had given her to another man of the wedding party. For some reason, this prompted Samson to burn the fields and crops of the Philistines by tying foxes together and setting their tails alight. A college prank, no harm done (except to the foxes). The Philistines retaliated by burning to death the ex-wife and her father! Samson went on the warpath and "slaughtered many." All of this is grist for the young men's Sunday School class, except that they rarely get to read these chapters. Samson's life is highly censored by Sunday School teachers and preachers, because it consisted totally of sex and violence.