Sunday 14th May 2023

JUDGES 16 and 17

“Every person has their price” – this seems to be a bit of a theme today.  Samson with his infatuation with exotic foreign women booked up a session with a prostitute in a Philistine stronghold of Gaza.  Being Samson, he wasn’t quiet about it either!  So half the population, bent on revenge, made plans for a dawn raid.  God was gracious with his wayward son and prodded him awake at midnight to escape – which he duly did – removing the city gates, posts, bars, and frames as a souvenir and carrying them 38 miles to Hebron!  Not content with this close escape, he then linked up with another Philistine woman, Delilah, and of course fell in love again – this time in a non-financial way.  Although ultimately it cost him his life!  What is it about Philistines and riddles!  “If you loved me, you’d tell me”, she nagged, on and on and on.  He didn’t pay her, but the Philistine rulers did – a vast sum of money, so desperate were they to overpower him.  So eventually he gave in to her demands and, whilst he slept, the barber broke the final Nazirite vow for him.  For the first time in his life, Samson was powerless.  His strength had gone, and the Lord had departed from him, it appeared.

The Philistines were more interested in humiliating and torturing him than in merely killing him; they enjoyed gouging out his eyes and forcing him to pull the grinding wheels around over the grain – in effect paying homage to their grain-god, Dagon.  They chose to humiliate him at Gaza, the place of his previous triumph.  Crowds jeered and mocked him, and the whips cracked incessantly on his bare back.  Then a note of hope: as he rested his aching head in his hand, he noticed that the hair had begun to grow again!  Numbers 6:9-12 refers to a fresh period of consecration for the Nazirite, after their hair had been cut off, and it seems that Samson had not been forgotten entirely by the Lord; a fresh hope and a new faith stirred in his heart, giving him the expectation that he could still be useful to the King of Kings.  (And don’t we all so want to be useful to him!) 

And so, it was the turn of the Philistines to act arrogantly and to delude themselves that they, and not the Lord, were in full control.  They stood their enemy in, architecturally, the most dangerous position in their temple, between the two wooden supporting pillars on stone bases that held the entire roof up.  Three thousand worshippers were on the flat roof and many thousands were below surrounding the statue of Dagon.  What restored Samson’s immense strength was not his hair, but his prayer; it barely carried any overtone of repentance and spoke more of revenge, but God’s gifts are given unconditionally and for one last time the awesome power returned – long enough to part those two great pillars and to bring the house down.  As killings go, it was spectacular; as judges went, Samson’s life was sad and baffling.  In theory he had led Israel for twenty years, yet he did all his work in a fiercely independent fashion and stood out as a loner with few friends and fewer followers.  This last judge was arguably the worst! 

After the account of Samson, the final five chapters of Judges are a kind of epilogue to the Book and describe graphically the depths to which human behaviour can sink.  In chapter 17, an Ephraimite named Micah steals a huge amount of money from his own mother, and only confesses this to her when he believes he is under her curse.  His mother then forgives him and gifts him some of it back to make a forbidden idol in a shrine at which the household then worshipped.  They then pay a young homeless Levite from Bethlehem – later identified as Jonathan, son Gershom, son of Moses – to be the resident priest in the home, hoping to ‘buy’ the Lord’s favour upon the household.

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