Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Story of Samson (Judges 13-16)

The following quote is taken from

"More of Samson's Murders - (The Lord saves Samson from standing trial for 30 murders and arson by allowing him to kill 1000 more men.)  When he reached Lehi, and the Philistines came shouting to meet him, the spirit of the Lord came upon him: the ropes around his arms become as flax that is consumed by fire and the bonds melted away from his hands.  Near him was the fresh jawbone of an ass; he reached out, grasped it, and with it killed a thousand men."  (Judges 15:14-15 NAB)

You can read the full story of Samson in Judges chapters 13-16:

            Samson's story is found in the book of Judges, which describes the time period after Israel settled in Canaan but before they had a king.  First of all, we need to examine this passage in a historical context.  It is important to note that the Bible does not always approve everything that it records.  Just because there is an act of violence recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of that act of violence.  Some parts of the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), are books of history.  The book of Judges is one such book, describing the nation of Israel during the period of the judges (circa 1380-1050 BCE).  The book of Judges is not part of the Law (Torah) given to the Israelites, and does not contain instructions on how to live a life that pleases God (such as Paul's letters in the New Testament).  It is a book of history.
            Samson's birth was foretold to his parents by the angel of the Lord, who said that the child would be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from birth.  This meant that he was forbidden from drinking alcohol, no razor could ever be used on his head, and he must not go near a dead body (Numbers 6:1-8). 
            When Samson grew up, he became a stubborn, willful, lustful and violent man, rebellious against God's commands.  First, he killed a lion with his bare hands and later ate honey from the lion's carcass, in violation of the command against going near a dead body (Judges 14:5-9).    Next, he married a Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-3, 10-20), in violation of God's command for Israelites not to marry people of other nations (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).  During the wedding feast, he gave his 30 Philistine companions a riddle to solve, and when they couldn't solve it, they went to Samson's wife and threatened to kill her and her family if she didn't find out the answer for them.  She found out the answer and they told it to Samson, who was so enraged that he went to a neighboring area and killed 30 Philistines to make good on his wager - 30 linen garments and sets of clothes for the companions who had solved the riddle.  Then he stormed home, without his wife.
            Later when he went back for his wife, the woman's father informed him that she had been given to another man.  In response, Samson burned Philistine crops, and when the Philistines found out, they murdered Samson's wife and father-in-law by burning them to death.  This led to more bloodshed when Samson killed many of them shortly afterwards, and then killed 1,000 more who pursued him.
            Samson's wild rebellion continued - he slept with a prostitute (Judges 16:1-3), in violation of the Law (Leviticus 19:29).  Finally, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah who later betrayed him to the Philistines; he revealed to her that his hair could not be cut because of the Nazirite vow, and while he slept, they cut his hair.  The Lord left him, and the Philistines gouged out his eyes and took him to prison (Judges 16:4-22).
            At the Philistine temple, while Samson was forced to perform at one of their festivals, he prayed that God might give him strength one more time to avenge the loss of his eyes, and God granted his request - Samson pushed the pillars that supported the temple, and the entire structure came crashing down, killing Samson and thousands of Philistines (Judges 16:23-31). 
           There are a few things that we must consider when reading this passage.  First, the Philistines were a nation that was hostile to the Israelites, oppressing them for 40 years (Judges 13:1).  They murdered Samson's wife and father-in law by burning them to death (Judges 15:6).  God had determined that he would use Samson to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5, 14:4). 
            Samson's sad story is an example of a time that God used a person to accomplish his purposes, even though that person rebelled against his commands.  Samson was a selfish, stubborn man who cared only about his pride and his passions, and this eventually brought about his capture and death; his sins did not go unpunished.  However, God still used him to free Israel from Philistine oppression.  God can bring good out of any circumstances, even sin and death.  "Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds.  Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 32:18-19, NIV).