Friday, February 19, 2010

Judges 13-16: Samson, or Proof that God Can Use a Doofus

You're going to tell me that I'm giving Samson a hard time, but I have a hard time liking this guy, and it's not just because of Delilah.  All the good things he did were the result of his own stupidity.  Let's look at his life.

So we begin in chapter 13 with the age-old story of Israel doing evil, and the Philistines oppress them for 40 years.  Then an angel appears to a woman who has no children and tells her she's going to give birth to a son who will deliver Israel from the Philistines, but there's a catch: he is to be a life-long Nazarite.

If you remember from reading the Law, "Nazirite" referred to a certain type of vow that a person would take for a period of time, and during that time they could not drink wine or any other strong drink, and they couldn't cut their hair either.  Normally the vow and its conditions were temporary, something that an adult would choose to do.  Samson's the only person I know of who was a Nazirite his whole life.  Pretty cool.

I like Samson's parents, I think.  Or at least, I'm glad that this story's not all about Samson but that we get to see a little bit of them.  After the angel visits the woman, whose name we don't even know, she tells her husband what happened, and he prays to God that the angel will come again so that he can tell them how to raise their kid.  Isn't that great?  First of all that he believes his wife right off the bat, and secondly that the reason he wants to see the angel is not because it would be really cool, but because he wants advice.  This guy's name, by the way, is Manoah.  I like Manoah.

So guess what?  The angel does come again, and Manoah gets to meet him.  He doesn't know that it's the angel of the LORD; he seems to think he's a regular person because he keeps referring to him as "man."  So he asks the angel some questions, which the angel really doesn't answer directly.  Then Manoah asks the angel what his name is, and we get another clue that the angel of the LORD may be the LORD himself, a theophany: he responds, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?"  the "wonderful" there means "incomprehensible."  That immediately brings my mind to Isaiah, where he prophesies the birth of Christ and says His name shall be, among other things, Wonderful.

So then Manoah wants to make dinner for the angel, and he gets some food and puts a burnt offering and a grain offering on a rock, and God sends a flame of fire down from heaven and the angel ascends in it, or something like that.  So then or told them stuff or shown them stuff. Manoah knows who he's just been talking to and thinks he and his wife are going to die for seeing God, but she says if they were going to die He wouldn't have accepted their offerings  Smart lady.

Okay, so now it's Samson's turn.  Samson gets born and grows up.  One day he sees a Philistine girl and without talking to her or anything, he goes home and tells his dad he wants to marry her.  His father says, are the pickings really that bad amongst our own people that you want to marry a Philistine?  Samson's response?  "She looks good to me."  I just have this picture of Samson talking like a stereotypical caveman and grunting.  Whatever happened to people like Isaac who trusted his dad to find him a wife, and loved Rebekah his whole life?

So finally Samson goes back and talks to her, and what does the text say?  "She looked good to Samson."  I don't think he really got much out of talking to her, personally.

Next, we find out that Samson is also kind of a pushover.  He's throwing a wedding party, because he really is going to marry this girl, and he tells all her friends a riddle that they can't guess, promising them new clothes if they can guess, but demanding new clothes from them if they can't.  I think he is purposely trying to trick them so that he'll get 30 new outfits. They talk to the bride and tell her to coax the answer out of him or else they'll burn her father's house down.  So she goes and pesters him for a whole week, and finally he cracks and tells her, so she tells the men, so they can answer Samson's riddle.  Apparently he doesn't have any extra clothes because he goes out of town and kills 30 Philistines so he can take their clothes and give them to his new wife's friends.  And he's so angry that he doesn't even go back to his own wedding, and guess what?  His bride is given to Samson's friend.  Ouch!  Can't say I'm surprised though.

So Samson waits a few months before thinking he wants to be a husband, and then he goes to visit the girl he is supposed to be married to, and her father doesn't let him see her.  He offers Samson a different daughter though.  So Samson gets angry, but he doesn't want people to blame him for killing Philistines again, so he go rounds up 300 foxes - do not ask me how - and ties two foxes at a time together with a torch between their tails, and lets them go right by the grain fields, which is ready to be harvested at this time.  So the Philistines go to Samson's non-wife and burn her and her father to death.

Samson says "I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit."  What a nice guy.  So he just goes on the rampage and kills we don't know how many of them.  Then he goes and lives in a cave, until the Philistines come looking for them, and then he takes the jawbone of a donkey and kills 1000 men with it.  By the way, click here to see how this would actually have worked.

Next is the story we're all familiar with: Delilah.  But first he goes and sleeps with a prostitute, a Philistine prostitute at that.  Why can't Samson live with his own people and just go kill Philistines on the weekends or something?  Then he meets Delilah, who is also a Philistine, and falls in love with her.  Apparently the feeling isn't mutual because the Philistines pay her to find out the secret to Samson's strength.  You know the story: the first three times she asks him, he tells her something totally bogus, but the fourth time he tells her that his hair has never been cut, and so she cuts his hair off, he becomes normal, and he gets captured by the Philistines.  They gouge his eyes out, which is really really really gross to me, and parade him around at one of their parties.

Finally, finally Samson does something intelligent.  He prays.  In this story, we've seen the Spirit of God come upon Samson to endow him with strength, but we haven't seen Samson acknowledge God, in spite of being a Nazirite and everything.  In fact, he seems to be the most un-Israelite Israelite we've yet met: he doesn't live with his own people, he doesn't appear to have any kind of communication with God, and the only women he's interested in are Philistines, whom the Israelites are forbidden from intermarrying with.  But now, at rock bottom, Samson turns to God and prays that God will give him strength one last time.   True, Samson seems concerned only with avenging himself because the Philistines took his eyes, but God listens to him, and Samson pulls an entire giant house down, killing well over 3000 Philistines - and Samson.

It seems to me like Samson was really motivated by hormones, and that both got him into trouble and caused him to kill a bunch of Philistines, which was what he was born for.  And that brings me to the title of this blog.  Samson may have been a total Neanderthal without an ounce of gentleman in him, and he may have been really hormonal and made stupid rash decisions, but God used those things to do what He had always intended to do with Samson, in delivering Israel from the Philistines.  God can even turn our foolishness and our stupidity into something useful to Him.  Isn't that crazy?

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