Samson stormed off in anger at his wife’s betrayal. He returns after he calms down but it is too late. His wife has been given to someone else. He enacts his vengeance and it spirals from there.
Samson’s wedding certainly didn’t go according to plan; his or anyone else’s, except maybe God’s. God let Samson choose a wife from the Philistines to get a toehold into deliverance for His people. Strange way to go about it, if you ask me, but then I’m not God so who am I to judge.
I have actually already been judging Samson since I started reading his story. Some of the ‘labels’ I have put on him so far are: stubborn, entitled, hotheaded, arrogant, reckless, scheming, spiteful and vengeful. I wish we were given some of the regular day to day stories about him so we could have a chance to gage his extreme behavior against it. We are told that “He judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (verse 20). NO WAY could he have gotten away with this ‘scorched earth’ attitude with his own people, at least not for that long.
Did you notice that in his actions fueled out of anger he doesn’t strike the one who angered him directly or decisively? With his wedding, he doesn’t punish his wife for betraying him or the men for threatening her. He strikes down 30 men from another city to take what he needed to pay the debt those he was actually angry with required. In the first part of today’s story he takes out his anger against his father-in-law against on a whole community. His father-in-law and wife will ultimately pay for their sins against him but not by his hands.
There is one act that Samson does that is directly against those who wronged ‘him.’ After the Philistines discover the root of Samson’s anger when burning the fields, they ‘pay back’ his father-in-law and Samson’s wife for their part in all of this. Samson then confronts them directly for their actions and claims that once he is finished punishing them, he will be satisfied. “’If this is what you do, I swear I will be avenged on you, and after that I will quit.’ And he struck them hip and thigh with a great blow” (verses 7b-8a).
Samson’s actions certainly stirred the hornet’s nest. “The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1). Israel is NOT happy under their rule and the Philistines are not a ‘friendly’ conqueror. The Philistines will do whatever it takes to ensure the Israelites recognize their authority and STAY in their place; defeated.
The Israelites didn’t like their position but neither were they ready to change it. They don’t fight back against the Philistines. They are ready to do whatever they are told to in order to keep the fragile peace that has been established. “Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, ‘Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?’ … ‘We have come down to bind you, that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines’” (verses 11a & 12a).
Samson allowed them to tie him up and deliver him to the Philistines AFTER they promised that they wouldn’t hurt him themselves. He did not fight against his own people. His quarrel was not with them, even when they were acting on behalf of those who were seeking his life. He knew they were acting out of fear for their own safety.
The fact that 3,000 men came out together to get him speaks VOLUMES! I don’t know if they were planning to overwhelm him physically with the sheer strength of their numbers or if they were using an overwhelming appeal instead. Samson’s strength was well known by this time so they bind him with “two new ropes” (verse 13b) before handing him over to the Philistine forces.
There is no trial awaiting Samson where he will ‘answer for his crimes’ against the Philistines. What awaits him is ‘judge, jury and executioner’ in the form of the Philistine. Samson is not given an opportunity to defend himself in a court of law or even be imprisoned for his crimes. “When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him” (verse 14a). These were armed men bent on enacting revenge against the one man who had caused them so much trouble. Talk about mob violence! They did it this way because they knew that one man or even a normal guard contingent wouldn’t be able to take on Samson alone.
The thing is that they weren’t taking on Samson ALONE. They were taking on the Lord who rested on Samson in these times of retribution and protection. “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces” (Judges 14:6); “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle” (Judges 14:19); “Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men” (verses 14-15).
The battle we see today is between men armed with swords, armor, probably spears and arrows too against one man who was initially bound by ropes. The Philistines didn’t wait quietly for him to be handed over but came out shouting to meet him. In practical terms, Samson was defenseless, but not in reality. ONE man under the Spirit of the Lord found ONE BONE and fought ONE THOUSAND men with WEAPONS OF WAR, and WON! We are not told that any of the 3,000 men of Judah rushed to his aid. But I bet they stood witness! What a story they would have to tell to those around them!
Samson’s words following his victory could be taken in a several different ways. “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey have I struck down a thousand men” (verse 16). He could be thumping his chest and touting his own victory. He could be looking down at the bone in his hand in wonder. He could be shaking his head in pity at those who challenged the Lord’s anointed. He could be looking around at the carnage and wondering what’s next and if he is safe now. He could also be looking down in disgust at the death that one instrument brought. I’m leaning towards numbers 1 or 2. I’m hoping he is firmly in the camp of number 2.
Samson next words show that he realizes that it was not him alone who enacted this great victory. “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of Your servant” (verse 18b). But Samson wasn’t calling out to the Lord to thank Him for the help during the battle or even offer Him praise. He was calling out in his own need. He was VERY thirsty! Of this I have NO DOUBT. Who knows how long this battle lasted. His actions would have drawn on ALL of his reserves and he was spent. He needed water to refresh himself and the Lord granted him one more miracle in that place.
When looking for these instances of the Spirit of the Lord falling on Samson, I noticed that it wasn’t mentioned with him catching the foxes and lighting the grain of fire. It was also not mentioned when he struck the men who “burned with fire” his wife and father-in-law. These acts were done under his own strength. I wonder how long it took him to catch and tie together 300 foxes. Why so many? How did he come up with this idea? Hopefully the ropes holding the torches burned off before the foxes burned up!
I’m wondering how many of my original labels for Samson are actually right. Did they represent him correctly? I KNOW he was God’s instrument for Israel’s deliverance but I also KNOW that God can use ANYONE for His will. Was Samson two different personalities; one for his enemies and another for his ‘family’? I would think his temper would have to be better controlled for him to be judging Israel for 20 years. We will see that his ‘other appetites’ weren’t under control and caused him a WHOLE LOT of trouble!
I would have expected someone who is called by God from before birth to be more like Jesus or even John the Baptist. They both walked in God’s ways during their lives. They didn’t demonstrate volatile anger. Jesus freely gave forgiveness. John called people to repentance. But that was not Samson’s call. His was to stir the people to rebellion. It was to show them that they could stand up against their oppressors and that God would help them to throw off their chains. God uses different people, with different personalities, in different roles to accomplish His work. “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Ester 4:14b). God even used Pharaoh and his stubborn heart. Certainly he can use a former hothead like me somewhere along the way.
Father God, Samson’s story used to thrill me as a child. The man with his amazing strength fighting God’s battles. But I see him with different eyes now. I don’t see the ‘hero of old’ like I once did. He is no less an instrument of Your deliverance for his people because of how I see his story today. But I look at his life and wonder what else he was. Was he a just judge? Did he turn the hearts of the people towards You? Did he give credit for all he did to You? Did he take his Nazirite vow seriously beyond the cutting of his hair? Was he required to follow the rest of the vow in his life?
How do You want me to view him now?
“As a flawed man that I was able to use because he still allowed me access to his heart. As a man who fulfilled the role I had for him at the time. He walked in the path I prepared for his life, most of the time. And it was a path that was necessary for the day he walked in.”
Let me, Your flawed child, walk also in the path You have prepared for me in the day I live in. Even if that path is to look deeper and ask hard questions. I will NEVER doubt that You have ALL THINGS in Your control and that Your ways are good! Sometimes that ‘good’ has to get a little bit rough before it finally works out. “It has to hurt if it is to heal” (The NeverEnding Story 1984).
This world is in that ‘hurting’ stage right now. I’m praying for the healing that will eventually come. It probably won’t be any time soon but I trust You will put the right people in it to bring it about at the right time; even if that time is after Jesus returns.