Monday, June 09, 2008

Judges 15

Judges 15: Samson kills more Philistines

Synopsis

The NIV title for this passage is “Samson’s Vengeance on the Philistines,” but I don’t know if this really falls in the “vengeance” category. On the other hand, the people who put together the NIV probably know better than me…

In this passage, Samson decides to go back and visit his wife. You may recall that she was given to someone else, in the last passage, but apparently nobody bothered to tell Samson this. He tries to go up to her room, but her father won’t let him. He tells Samson that he was so sure that Samson hated her that she was given to someone else. Then her father suggests that Samson take his wife’s sister, instead. (In verse 2 the father tries to entice Samson with the younger sister’s looks—“Isn’t her younger sister more attractive?”—but I wonder if he was just trying to placate Samson, because he’s afraid that Samson will do something crazy. After all, last time he encountered the Philistines, he killed thirty of them just to get their clothes.)

But Samson doesn’t want the younger sister. He’s angry that he can’t get the woman that he married. And the result?

Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” (verse 3)

His solution is one of the most bizarre acts of revenge I’ve ever heard of. It seems more like a prank than revenge. He gets three hundred foxes, ties them together by the tail, and puts torches into the tails. He then lights the torches, and sets the foxes loose in the Philistine’s fields, burning up their grain, their olive groves, and their vineyards. Frankly, I’m amazed that someone would go to this much trouble! It almost seems that it would have been easier to simply torch the fields yourself, rather than messing around with three hundred foxes, and trying to tie all of their tails together.

In any event, once he’s done it, the Philistines start asking around, to see who it was who torched their fields, and find out that it was Samson, because his wife was given to someone else. So the Philistines burn Samson’s wife and her father to death. Which, in turn, gives Samson even more reason to take revenge, so he slaughters many of the Philistines, before going back to Israel, to hide in a cave.

So the Philistines follow him into Judah, although they don’t know exactly where he is. The Israelites ask the Philistines why they’ve come, and the Philistines respond that they’ve come for Samson. The Israelites aren’t about to mess around with the Philistines; three thousand of them go to get Samson, to hand him over. They scold Samson for all that he has done to the Philistines—who are, after all, ruling Israel right now—and tell him that they’re handing him over. He makes the Israelites promise not to kill him, just to hand him over, and they agree. They bind him up with ropes, and bring him to the Philistines.

As Samson approaches the Philistines, they begin to advance on him, but once again the Spirit of the LORD comes on Samson, and the ropes that had been on him become “like charred flax” (verse 14), and fall off of him. He then picks up a donkey’s jawbone, and uses it to strike down a thousand Philistines. (In honour of this event, the place where he did this is named Ramath Lehi, which means “jawbone hill.”)

After killing his thousand Philistines, Samson becomes very thirsty, and cries out 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?” (verse 18). So God causes a spring to form, and Samson drinks from it, renewing his strength. (The spring is named En Hakkore, which means “caller’s spring.”)

We are told, at the end of the passage, that Samson leads Israel for twenty years, “in the days of the Philistines” (verse 20); I’m not sure if that means that this twenty years only covers the time when the Philistines were over Israel.

Thoughts

If I may state the obvious, Samson is a pretty violent man, whose reactions always seem more extreme than the situation warrants. In fact, Samson is a good example of the fact that the Holy Spirit works differently in the Old Testament than He does after Jesus’ resurrection. Although the “Spirit of the LORD” is coming on Samson in this passage, and giving him strength, one thing he is not exhibiting is self control!

I wonder how Samson felt about the fact that his fox prank got his wife burned to death? We aren’t told anything in the text about his feelings on the subject; he definitely felt it warranted revenge, but he felt that pretty much anything the Philistines did warranted revenge. I wonder if he really cared about her, or if she was just a symbol? Or did he just consider her to be his property, and although he didn’t care about the property, it was still his, and he wanted it?

Although God chose Samson to be His tool to be used against the Philistines, I think it’s pretty clear that we aren’t to emulate Samson’s behaviour. Samson is often held up as an example of the fact that God uses sinful people to do His work. Personally, I could also be held up as such an example; He uses me to do His work, even though I’m sinful, and even though my sin often prevents me from doing His work as I should. But He still chooses to use me, instead of doing it Himself.

I’m also struck by Samson’s demanding water from God, after striking down the Philistines. This is a man who wants every desire to be immediately gratified, even to the point that he’s willing to start barking orders at the LORD. Luckily for Samson. the LORD is patient, and doesn’t destroy him for his insolence. And luckily for us, He is still patient, and doesn’t destroy us either; I think we’re probably all guilty of feeling that the LORD hasn’t done right by us, from time to time, even if it’s not as brazen as Samson’s reaction.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Judges 14

Judges 14: Samson gets married

Synopsis

In the last passage, we read about Samson’s birth being foretold to his parents, and then the actual birth itself. The passage ended by saying that the Spirit of the LORD began to stir in Samson. So he was off to a very good start. However, in this passage, Samson’s personality begins to come through.

The passage begins with Samson going to a place called Timnah, seeing a young Philistine woman, and deciding that he would like to marry her. It seems impulsive, and even more so when you read how he phrases his request to his parents:

When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”

His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?”

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.”

(verses 2–3)


His parents are rightfully worried, because the Israelites are only supposed to marry other Israelites, however, verse 4 tells us that “this [is] from the LORD, who [is] seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines” who are currently ruling over Israel.

So Samson and his parents head to Timnah, I assume so that Samson’s parents can arrange things with the woman’s parents. But on the way, Samson is attacked by a lion and kills it with his bare hands. In fact, we are told that he killed the lion as easily as he might have killed a young goat. But apparently his parents weren’t with him at the time, because we are told that he didn’t tell them about it. In any event, when they get to Timnah Samson talks to the woman, and likes her.

They go back home, and then, later on, as he is heading back to Timnah to marry her, he stops off to take a look at the lion’s carcass, and finds a swarm of bees has started living in it. He scoops out some of the honey, to eat on his way. I don’t know what was going through his head, to decide to eat some honey out of a lion’s carcass, but that’s what he did. Worse yet, when he rejoins his parents, he gives them some, too, but doesn’t tell them where he got it.

They get to Timnah, and while Samson’s father goes to talk to the woman—there is probably some cultural stuff going on that I don’t understand—Samson throws a seven day feast, as is customary for bridegrooms. He is also given thirty “companions” (verse 11), I assume by the Philistines. While at the feast, Samson decides to give the Philistines a riddle to solve: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” (verse 14). The prize for winning is thirty sets of linen garments and clothes; if the Philistines solve the riddle, within the seven days of the feast, Samson will give them the clothes, and if they can’t, then they have to give him the clothes.

Unfortunately, the Philistines aren’t able to solve the riddle. Even more unfortunately, they’re sore losers:

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 rob us?” (verse 15)

Not surprisingly, this upsets Samson’s bride-to-be. She goes to see him, and throws herself upon him, crying because he has given the Philistines a riddle but hasn’t even given her the answer, and therefore he doesn’t really love her. He replies that he hasn’t even explained the riddle to his parents, so why should he explain it to her? But this doesn’t satisfy her of course—would it satisfy you, if your whole family was being threatened?—so she cries for the entire feast.

(As an aside, there seems to be some confusion about the timing of these events. The feast is seven days, but in verse 15 (quoted above), the footnote says that it might have been the fourth day that the people went to Samson’s bride-to-be, or it might have been the seventh day. So she had either four days to worry, or one. (Probably four, because in verse 14, it says that the Philistines couldn’t come up with an answer for three days, before going to the bride-to-be.) But then, in verse 17, it says that after her conversation with Samson, she cried for the whole seven days of the feast, which doesn’t agree with either of the numbers of days given in verse 14. So I’m not sure how long these events happened, but I don’t think it’s germane to the story, either.)

Finally, on the seventh day of the feast, because she’s been crying the whole time and pressing him, he breaks down and explains the riddle to her. She explains the riddle to the Philistines, and then they present Samson with the answer. But Samson does not seem to feel that they won fair and square, because they got the answer from his bride-to-be. (In verse 18 Samson says, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”)

So Samson fulfils his obligation, but he does it his own way: The Spirit of the LORD comes on him, and he goes to Ashkelon, strikes down thirty Philistines, strips them of their belongings, and gives those clothes to the people who had explained the riddle. Then, “burning with anger” (verse 19), he returns home to his parents’ house.

And he doesn’t bring his wife with him; she is given to the person who had attended Samson at the wedding. Which is an important point, that we’ll revisit in Chapter 15.

Thoughts

This passage begins to show us Samson’s impulsive side; he sees the Philistine woman, and wants to marry her, period. There’s no thinking about the decision, or seeking advice, or thinking about the fact that Israelites are not supposed to marry non-Israelites, it’s just immediate gratification of his desire. However, as stated above, his desire for the woman is also from God, because God is seeking an opportunity to put Samson into conflict with the Philistines.

I’m sure this brings up the usual question, for most people: does that mean that God caused Samson to sin? Or does it mean that Samson sinned, and God used that sin to produce good results? Neither of these can be the full answer; God does not cause people to sin (James 1:13–15), but God is in control (e.g. Philippians 3:20–21, Revelation 16:8–9), so He’s not just sitting back waiting to see what will happen, and then trying to make something good come out of it. (Credit where credit is due: I believe the phrasing for that last sentence came from my pastor; I do pay attention, during the sermons!)

But I’m not sure how much cause I can credit God with, and how much I can credit Samson with. Can we say—and these are honest questions, not rhetorical—can we say that God caused Samson to be attracted to the woman—believing, as I do, that attraction is not in and of itself sinful—but that Samson took that attraction into the realm of sin? When Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, I take that to apply to Christians, and not necessarily to non-Christians—but does that also apply to someone in the Old Testament, like Samson? If so, then I would say that Samson should have been able to withstand the temptation of being attracted to the woman, but God would have known, when giving Samson the attraction, that he wouldn’t. But I have to be careful how I phrase that—and may have phrased it incorrectly—because, as already stated, God wouldn’t cause Samson to sin. And now my head has exploded, and my confusion has splashed all over my monitors.