Tuesday, November 6, 2018


If you thought that the story of Jephthah had some unusual twists, hang on to your armchair for the story of Samson.

I believe that most people in western cultures know something about Samson. Most everyone has at least heard of him. Perhaps you did not remember that Samson is listed as one of the long line of judges of Israel, but probably you do remember that he was incredibly strong until he got his hair cut, and that his wife Delilah had given away this secret of his strength.

Unfortunately for those of us who are trying to explain the story and find applications in it for our own lives, these are not the strangest aspects of the life of Samson.

Some of the things that we may think that we know about Samson are not exactly the way we have heard them. For instance, Delilah was not actually his wife, but his lover. There are also a few other things that we will need to clear up.

The best that we can do is take this step by step. 

The Philistines
The story begins in a way that is familiar for the times. Since the previous judge who had ruled the Israelites had died, the people again began to do evil in the sight of God. And again, just as God had done in the past, he gave them into the hands of a foreign nation in order to help the Israelites realize their need for reform. This time it was the Philistines who were the oppressors. Israel had suffered under their occupation for forty years when our story with Samson begins.

God was not allowing this to happen because the Philistines were more righteous than the Israelites. It was not that. These oppressors were, in fact, a very wicked people. Their wickedness was continuing and progressively growing worse. Even before the Israelites had seen the error of their ways and began to cry out to the Lord to rescue them, the wickedness of the Philistines had come to the point where God needed to intervene to stop this corruption of this creation.

In the case of Samson as judge, there was no previous crying out to God by the people of Israel for deliverance from their oppressors as there were in other occasions. There were no words of repentance spoken by the people, no regret for the ways in which they had abandoned the teachings of God. But God could wait no longer. The wickedness of the Philistines was so great that he felt he had to do something.

In our story of Samson, it may be true that it is this man who is the main subject of the account, but only slightly less important than this is the statement by God that he was seeking an occasion to demonstrate that he was against how the Philistines were living. He was seeking to punish them for their own wickedness (Judges 14:4).

In the case of the Israelites, once Samson became the ruler of Israel, he did not raise an army to defeat the Philistines and drive them out of the lands of the Israelites. Even after the death of Samson, the Philistines continued as the occupiers of the country. Relief for Israel, if it came at all, appears to be only partial. After all, can there be relief if there is no repentance? 

Another Repeating of the Cycle (Almost)
The repeated cycles of the Israelites descending into evil, followed by a repentance of the people and then deliverance by God, seems to have become a bit insipid in the days when Samson is raised up as judge. The entire society of the Israelites had become numbed to the evil among them. Some of the actions of the people of their society, actions that would have been shocking a generation earlier, had first become commonplace among the people and then accepted as part of the culture.

In the final days of the judges everyone did “what was right in their own eyes.” This sounds attractive in some ways, but as we shall see a couple posts later, this type of morality only descends increasingly into evil. For people to realize how far they have allowed their society to fall, it requires something that is so shocking that it would wake even the most deadened conscience. So it had to happen in that day.

Some of the events of those times should also be cautionary for us as a society, for if we take two seconds to think, we can see many of these same characteristics in our own morality. In our own day we see the distinctions between what is right and what is wrong becoming increasingly blurred, where everyone feels free to decide their own ethics.

The lifestyles of the Israelites were already becoming like this in Samson’s day. 

We Begin with the Mom
Samson’s own story begins with a woman and her husband who had no children and did not know why. This is also a reoccurring theme in the Bible that precedes the birth of some very significant individuals—Isaac among them, and also the great prophet and judge Samuel.

In those two instances, we have recorded for us the great yearnings of the parents for a child to be born to them (Genesis 15:2; 1 Samuel 1:11). We do not have these same expressions of yearning for a child with the parents of Samson. I suppose that we can assume that they wanted to have a child, since this was the culture of the day, but so far as we are told, Samson was not born to the parents as a result of them crying out to God for a child.

This time an angel suddenly appeared to this mother-to-be and said to her, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son.”

He did not stop speaking with this announcement to her, but continued: “See to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:3-5 NIV).

Notwithstanding these words by God of a “deliverance,” for the Israelites, I mentioned earlier that in the end there was no clear deliverance. In the end, the Philistines were not expelled from their lands. Why was this?

The angel spoke to the mother of Samson of the vow of the Nazirite, which was a most solemn vow. As we look at the life of Samson, it will be helpful to us in understanding this statement of God, and why, despite these words that speak of deliverance, the deliverance was incomplete. 

The Nazirites
What the angel meant by the boy being a Nazirite was a special designation given to someone who makes a special vow to the Lord. We learned in the previous post with Jephthah about the solemnity of making vows, and the vow of the Nazirite was very solemn indeed. God introduces this concept to Moses in the book of Numbers, chapter six: 

When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord. (Numbers 6:2-8 ESV) 

There were a few other instructions given Moses as well, but these are the primary ones. As God had said to Moses, this was a vow that a man or a woman could voluntarily take upon themselves for a designated time and which would come to a completion. Nevertheless, even though it was voluntary, during the time of the vow, he or she was to be entirely dedicated to the fulfillment of the vow. The word “Nazirite” actually comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated,” just as the ones under the vow were to be.

With Samson however, whether or not the child was to be a Nazirite was not a voluntary choice. It was an instruction to the woman from the angel who appeared to her. Also, the angel told the woman that this vow of the Nazirite was not to be for a limited time, but that her child was to be “a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” 

The News is Brought to the Dad
We never learn the name of the mother-to-be, but we do learn of her husband’s name. It was Manoah. The woman, trying to make sense out of what just happened to her, goes to her husband.

“A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death’” (Judges 13:6-7 ESV).

Manoah, hearing these words from his wife, was filled with many questions. If it was true his wife was telling him, he knew that they needed to prepare.

He spoke to the Lord and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.”

God obliged, and the angel again came to the woman at a time when she was alone in the field. We are not told what conversation first took place between the woman and the angel, but I can imagine that she did what she could to get assurances from the man to “not go anywhere until I come back with my husband.”

She quickly ran to Manoah. “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.”

Manoah followed his wife back to where the angel was waiting. “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?”

“I am.”

Manoah said to the angel, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?”

In all of this, Manoah never expressed any doubt about what his wife was telling him. In speaking to the angel, he simply was asking for further instructions. We, the readers of the story know that the man was really an angel, but Manoah and even his wife did not yet realize this. His wife had only told her husband that this man looked like an angel of God, and he had an appearance that was “awesome.”

The word does not mean the same as it does if we would hear it in these days. She did not mean that the guy was attractive necessarily, or a “looker” in any way. Aw-inspiring may be a better choice for a word, but the word actually has more of a connotation of instilling fear. Not frightening in appearance, but a type of fear that makes one realize that the person is very important. It is a reverent or a respectful type of fear.

The man was an angel, so it not surprising that he would have such an appearance. As I mentioned, we, the readers of the story know that the man was indeed an angel, and Manoah and his wife may have had their suspicions that he was, but it was not until what happened next that they were convinced of this.

Manoah said to the man, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.”

The angel declined the invitation for food, but told Manoah that if he wished to prepare the goat for an offering, they would offer it up to the Lord.

“What is your name,” Manoah asks the man, “so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” He still did not realize that he was speaking to the angel of the Lord.

The angel answered this question with a question of his own: “Why do you ask my name, since it is wonderful?” 

The God Who Works Wonders
Here is another word that has fallen into such common use in these days that it has lost its true significance. When the angel said that his name was “wonderful,” he did not mean that his name was the best name ever, but that it was a name that could not even be understood by Manoah. It was a name that was incomprehensible.

It is as King David said of the knowledge of God: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6 NIV).

Manoah did what the angel told him to do. He offered up the young goat on a rock to the Lord, along with a grain offering. It is interesting how the text states it; it says that he offered it “to the one who works wonders.” This word wonders is the same word in its root as the word that the angel used to describe his name—wonderful.

The author uses this connection to explain to us that this was no ordinary angel of the Lord, no ordinary messenger. This was a pre-incarnate appearance of God Himself.

As the young goat and the grain burned on the rock, and as the flame rose from the offering, the angel of the Lord also ascended into the heavens with the flame. Manoah and his wife, suddenly realizing what and whom they had just seen, fell on their faces to the ground.

“Surely we are going to die!” Manoah said to his wife. “For we have just seen God!”

His wife was a bit more circumspect. “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

True to her words, she and her husband did not die, and when the time arrived, the woman bore a son. She called his name Samson. 

The Unfaithful Nazirite
In the next post, we shall look at the life of Samson and see if we can explore some of the questions that we have concerning him and the times in which he ruled. I must tell you that it is not an entirely satisfying story, for despite the stories about the victories of Samson that we may remember, his life was not one that was lived to its potential.

After God’s extended explanation to Moses of what a Nazirite was to be, and the solemnity of the Nazirite vow, we see in the life of Samson repeated unfaithfulness to this vow. His adherence to the vow was not only lacking, but in many regards it was a complete failure. Interestingly, and despite the unfaithfulness of Samson, he is the only individual by name that we know of in the Bible who was actually called a Nazirite.

Certainly there were others, but we are told of none individually. Nevertheless, it seems that Samson was not the only one who failed in their vows of the Nazirite. The prophet Amos recites some words of the Lord concerning God’s history in dealing with his people: 

     “Then I raised up some of your sons to be prophets
     And some of your young men to be Nazirites.
     Is this not so, O sons of Israel?” declares the LORD. 

     “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
     And you commanded the prophets saying,
     ‘You shall not prophesy!’
     Behold, I am weighted down beneath you
     As a wagon is weighted down when filled with sheaves." 

Failure to fulfill these vows does not escape consequences. One cannot expect victory in one’s life if they are unfaithful in their vows. Amos continues: 

     “Flight will perish from the swift,
     And the stalwart will not strengthen his power,
     Nor the mighty man save his life.

     He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground,
     The swift of foot will not escape,
     Nor will he who rides the horse save his life.

     Even the bravest among the warriors will flee naked in that
     day,” declares the LORD. (Amos 2:11-16 NAS) 

Amos spoke of the fact that the people would not endure anyone who wished to dedicate himself fully to the Lord. They would not permit it. He spoke of prophets who brought the word of God, but the people would not hear of it.

“You shall not speak of these things!” the people told them. 

Resistance to the Truth
As we look at the life of Samson and note the ways that he failed in his vows, we can say also that the fault does not lay completely with him. The culture of the time had come to the point where the people would not permit one to live out his vows. The people would not listen to the words of the prophets who spoke to them in the name of the Lord.

All of this is not just ancient history far removed from us. There may be no person that we know of that is living the life of a Nazirite, but the whole situation is eerily similar to what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy speaking of the last days: 

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NAS) 

I am afraid that I must say that our days have more in common with the days of Samson than we might care to admit. Many today no longer want to hear the truth. The truth often hurts. They would rather hear words that encourage them to do “what is right in their own eyes.”

“Speak of me pleasant words.”
“Make me laugh.”
“Entertain me.”

I am going to ask your patience as I quote another prophet from the Old Testament. As before, the words are ancient, but the relevancy is contemporary:

Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll,
That it may serve in the time to come as a witness forever. 

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of the LORD;
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words. Prophesy illusions. 

“Get out of the way, turn aside from the path,
Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Since you have rejected this word
And have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them, 

Therefore this iniquity will be to you, like a breach about to fall,
A bulge in a high wall, whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant,
Whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter’s jar,
So ruthlessly shattered that a shard will not be found among its pieces
To take fire from a hearth or to scoop water from a cistern.” 

For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:8-15 NAS)

In the post following, we move on to the story of Samson.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.