Samson, Part Three

A Life of Compromise, Judges 15

Similar to the story of Jesus, Samson’s youth is ignored, and when next we meet up with Samson, we see him falling in love with a Philistine.  Herbert Wolf makes the keen observation that the saga of Samson begins and ends exactly the same way:  Samson displaying a fatal weakness for Philistine women.  These women must have really been something, because Samson could not seem to get a grip on feelings toward them.

Chapter 15 of Judges is the story of compromise, specifically how a life of compromise set the direction of Samson’s life on a collision course with disaster.

1.  Samson:  Compromised in marriage, 15:1-2

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman.  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.”

This first compromise begins with Samson traveling some four miles to the town of Timnah, which was a small town on the border of Dan and Judah.  The fact that there was a Philistine presence in that town shows how far these people had penetrated into Israelite territory.  We also get a sense of what the Philistine oppression was like at this time.  Since Samson seemed to be free to travel and roam around, and was able to marry a Philistine woman, the Philistine rule, at least at this point in time, wasn’t harsh and could be described as almost peaceful.

At any rate, Samson saw this woman, became infatuated with her and wanted badly to marry her.  It was the custom of Hebrew parents to arrange the marriages of their sons; it was their job to find a bride for Samson.  Here, though, Samson found his own bride, but wanted his father to make all the arrangements.

We’ll discuss the theology of God’s sovereignty in this situation in a moment, but for now it should be noted that Samson was willfully going against the written law of God.  He had no business seeking a wife outside of the Jewish faith.  Samson had compromised his faith by allowing himself to become infatuated with a woman who was an unbeliever.  As a follower of God, and as a Nazarite, Samson should have turned away; he should not have become associated with unbelievers.  But, he made a deliberate decision to disobey God and to follow the desires of his flesh.

The first verse firmly establishes Samson’s character; he was a man of emotion, dominated by his senses.  He “saw” this woman and wanted to marry  her.  Clearly, Samson was not a logical thinker, but a man who followed his sensual drives, a man who sought gratification outside bounds set by God.  But, Samson’s  character, or lack of it, is indicative of both the state of Israel and the kind of men judging it.

What a clear warning for believers today, who are so used to “instant gratification.”  Ours is a society dominated by “situational ethics,” even in the Body of Christ, where Christians have become skilled in deciding what is morally and ethically right based on standards they themselves have set.  In too many of our lives we have lost respect for God’s Word and authority in our lives.  Just as Samson compromised his Nazarite vows, so believers have compromised their faith.

2.  Samson:  Compromised by disrespecting his parents, 14:3-4

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.”  (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)

Even though Samson’s choice of a bride was his own, he still wanted his father, in the custom of the day, to make all the arrangements necessary for the marriage.  This marriage was in complete opposition to the God’s prohibition against Israelites marrying foreigners (see Deuteronomy 7:1-3; Judges 3:6).  The reason for this prohibition was simple:  foreigners worshiped foreign gods, and the Lord knew the best way to keep His people faithful was to keep temptation from them.  That’s why that prohibition exists to this very day:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  (2 Corinthians 6:14)

There is reason for that verse; it’s not that God wants to make us unhappy or keep people out of our lives, it’s to protect our hearts and the integrity of the Body of Christ!  A Christian should always marry within the Faith.  There are those who think they can disregard this command and still find happiness.  But that’s a romantic, naive notion.

As far as his parents were from the Lord, even they recognized that Samson’s behavior was not only breaking the Law of Moses but also breaking his Nazarite vows.  But Samson was a determined man, and his reply to his parents was emphatic:  “She’s the one, I want her.  Period.”  Nothing was going to dissuade Samson.

Of interest is the parenthetic phrase:

(His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)

The question is, just what “was from the Lord?”  Did God secretly arrange this marriage?  Did the Lord put this Philistine woman in Samson’s view because He knew Samson’s’ weakness for women and God simply exploited that weakness for His own ends?  God does not work that way.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  (James 1:13-14)

Clearly, God did not cause Samson’s lust to overpower his common sense.  Rather, this is a classic example of how God used Samson in spite of his wrongful and sinful motives.  Younger observes,

Without God’s involvement behind the scenes, left to himself, Samson would never have become involved in God’s plan for delivering Israel.

3.  Samson:  Compromised as a Nazarite, 14:6-10

The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.  Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her.

Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass. In it was a swarm of bees and some honey,  which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass.

Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms.

Samson’s parents, after their initial opposition to the marriage, lose their resolve and journey with their son down to Timnah to make the wedding arrangements.  Apparently, he got separated from them and we have this display of his amazing strength, whereby he killed a raging lion with his bare hands.   This is a significant episode because of the phrase “came upon him in power.”  That’s a way to translate the Hebrew salah, and it’s the first time in the Bible that the Spirit’s work is described using that word.  Literally, it means, “to rush upon,” and describes how the Spirit of God infused Samson with incredible strength.

As amazing a feat as this was, the whole story of their journey to Timnah is one of great sadness because we see Samson showing even more disregard for his parents, his God, and his Nazarite vow.  Consider:

  • Verse 5 says:  they approached the vineyards of Timnah.  Why where they going off the main road into a vineyard?  Specifically, this is where it seems Samson is separated from his parents.  It is implied that that he went into the vineyard to eat some grapes, something forbidden in his Nazarite vow.
  • Verse 5 goes on and tells us that suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him.  It is not inconceivable that the Lord used this lion as a warning to Samson to get away from the grapes.
  • Verse 6 details in graphic fashion what Samson did to that lion, with the Lord’s help, and it’s truly an inspiring event.  We also read this:  he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.  Continuing to disrespect his parents, Samson kept the incident from his parents.  One could argue that it was none of their business, but that phrase is in the Bible for a reason, we are to take notice of it.
  • Not only had he probably broken his Nazarite vow by eating grapes, but when Samson killed the lion, he came in contact with its corpse, another violation of his Nazarite vow.  He did this not only once, but twice, as indicated in 9.
  • Further, in verse 7, again we are told that he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her.  According to Jewish law, after Samson killed the lion, touching its corpse, he should have went down to the temple to cleanse himself.  But that was an eight-day ritual!  And Samson had no intention of delaying his marriage.  The phrase “he liked her” literally means “she was right in his eyes.”  Once again, the emphasis is on what Samson saw, and what he saw, he wanted, and nothing would stand in his way.
  • Verse 8 says Samson was on his way to be married and he deliberately turned to look at the corpse of the lion.  Samson saw not only a rotting corpse, but something truly strange.  Instead of maggots and flies inhabiting the corpse, Samson saw bees and a quantity of honey!  Again, he saw, and he wanted, and he broke his vow.  Honey in a corpse is so unusual, many commentators have suggested this was a test from God for Samson.  If this was the case, he failed miserably.  Samson, by his actions, showed that God and God’s word were not nearly as important as what is “right” in his own eyes.  Again, he kept this from his parents.
  • Finally, in verse 9, we read this:  Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms.  These feasts were very common in the ancient Near East and usually lasted for a week or more, and involved lots and lots of drinking.  In fact, the Philistines were known for their heavy consumption of alcohol, so much so that most of the ancient potter attributed to Philistine culture are pots known as “beer jugs”  (Dothan).  It a foregone conclusion that Samson bent the elbow quite a bit at his feast.

4.  Samson:  Compromised himself, 14:11-20

The 30 male companions were probably assigned to Samson as his bodyguards, although as it turned out, they were ones needed protecting, not Samson.  In all likelihood, these men came from his brides’ family.

As a form of entertainment, Samson proposed a riddle to his 30 Philistine friends:

“If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.  If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.”
“Tell us your riddle,” they said. “Let’s hear it.”

He replied,
“Out of the eater, something to eat;
out of the strong, something sweet.” (verses 12-14)

Since clothing was highly regarded in Near Eastern culture, Samson’s offer was attractive to the men.   We know from history that Philistines were comfortable with gambling and also like to prove their mental superiority to others.  However, this riddle, which is ridiculous by anybody’s standards, proved far too difficult for them.    In their frustration, the men turn to Samson’s new bride for help.  She nagged and nagged her husband until, after a full seven days, she succeeded in breaking him and he told her the solution to the riddle, and the Philistine men won the bet.

But Samson must have suspected something because his response to these men is interesting:

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have solved my riddle.” (verse 18b)

That’s a proverbial saying which means, simply, “You used my wife to get the answer, so you cheated.”  And so, the result of this:

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father’s house.  (verse 19)

We learn a lot about Samson’s character, or lack of it, from this episode.  First, Samson would have easily won his bet if he had behaved himself and kept his mouth shut.  He may have had great physical strength, but he was in all other ways, a very weak man.  Second, his attack on the Philistines was a great accomplishment made possible only because the Lord was executing His judgment on them through Samson. But for Samson’s part, he acted out of anger, not out of a godly desire to save Israel.

Samson had absolutely no self control.  And because his marriage was not consummated, his new bride, the woman he wanted so badly, was given to another.

Hard lessons about compromise

Samson is the prime example a narcissist, of one skilled in situational ethics.  He does what is right in his own eyes for his benefit.  He has no respect for authority, either human (his parents) or divine.  He has no interest in keeping God’s law or seems utterly concerned with his special Nazarite status.  He is completely self-observed, concerned with sinful things like revenge and retaliation.  Indeed, Samson’s character is that of the fool in Proverbs:

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. (10:1)

A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom. (10:21)

Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly. (17:12)

A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating. (18:6)

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (29:11)

Despite Samson’s obvious sinful shortcomings, God’s will was accomplished, not through Samson, but rather, in spite of Samson.  Nothing can frustrate the will of God.

(c) 2008 Witzend
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