JUDGES 13, 14, and 15
Samson, whose name means ‘Brightness’ was much-wanted baby, a spoilt teenager, and a nasty piece of work as a man. His twin driving forces in life were a lust for beautiful women and the arrogance that comes from overwhelming physical power over men. He indulged both those impulses to the max! He managed to break just about every vow that his parents made to the Lord on his behalf, and virtually every rule in God’s Book; what is surprising is that the Lord waited until the final condition of Nazirite living had been broken (the cutting of his hair) before switching off the power! What is even more surprising is that the Lord chose to use him in the first place – but that is part of the mystery of God’s grace that defines it as ‘grace’.
The Angel of the Lord visited Manoah and his wife – they were Danites and lived on the West coast of Israel not far from the Philistine coastal region. This, of course, was before the wholesale migration of the Tribe of Dan to the far North of Israel (see Judges 18). The Lord promised the couple (previously barren) a baby son if they brought him up to be a Nazirite all his life (see Numbers 6). The conditions included the avoidance of wine and grape juice, dead bodies, unclean food, and the cutting of any hair on his head. Since he was to be set apart ‘from the womb’, it meant that his mother also needed to avoid fermented substances and unclean foods during pregnancy too. Well, it happened, just as God said, and as the boy grew up, the Spirit of God began to fill him. Like every Israelite man, Samson was forbidden to marry a foreign woman from outside the tribes of Israel.
However, the now grown man spotted a very attractive young Philistine woman and was instantly attracted to her. “Get me her for me as my wife” he ordered his parents, much to their disgust. It was absolutely forbidden to marry a foreigner who would have worshiped the gods of Canaan. But Samson thought he knew best, and, on this occasion, God was overruling in the situation, looking for an opportunity to provoke a conflict between Samson and the Philistines. This is actually a fascinating practical example of God’s revealed will (his Word) being in conflict with his sovereign determinate will. It even goes beyond the Lord simply making the best of a bad situation (Romans 8:28).
Samson then gets opportunities to demonstrate the power of God through his superhuman physical strength in battle. Given that his enemies often asked Samson the secret of his great strength, it is obvious that he didn’t have a muscular appearance and he didn’t ‘work out’! Killing a young lion with his bare hands was impressive; later, eating honey from the dead carcass was less so! At the wedding feast, he thought that a cryptic riddle would break the ice – for a small wager, of course. Evidently the Philistines took riddles very seriously indeed and threatened to burn the wife and father-in-law to death if they couldn’t extract the answer to this one. (Not nearly as gentlemanly as Daily Telegraph Crossword readers!) This rather put a cloud over the nuptials for the week and eventually Samson told his wife the answer, just to keep her quiet. Faced with being burned alive or being disloyal to hubby, she took the logical course of action and so Samson was left needing a quick trip to the nearest clothes store! Fortunately, he chanced across thirty guys who weren’t too bothered about hanging on to their clothes when faced with the famous lion-killer!
Oddly enough, Samson’s father-in-law decided to ditch his son-in-law and marry off his daughter to a local man. Surprised, later on, to see Samson on the doorstep, he hastily offered the even-more-stunning younger sister as a replacement; but Samson’s pride was wounded, and he left in a mighty rage, seeking revenge. Pausing only to catch three hundred foxes – how long would it actually take to accumulate that many?! – he used them as mobile firelighters amongst the Philistine grain, destroying it all. This was also a great insult to their god, ‘Dagon’, which means ‘grain’. In retaliation, the Philistines burned wife and father-in-law to death after all! This had the dubious effect of worsening Samson’s temper.
This episode finally ends with Samson grabbing a convenient donkey’s jawbone (I imagine that the donkey was grateful to be dead!) and killing a thousand Philistine warriors. Do you remember Shamgar, who could only manage to kill six hundred of them by swinging an ox-goad (Judges 3:31)? It seems that there was a period of respite for up to 20 years whilst Samson was generally in charge, and perhaps the Philistines wisely decided to ‘back off’ for a while – if only to build up their numbers again!