R-rated People -- 9/26/2021
Think about how we teach our children the stories of the Bible. We take random stories, usually focusing on one of the "heroes." We then rip those stories out of their larger context and thoroughly cleanse them of anything we wouldn't want kids to hear. Then we emphasize an attribute of the hero, suggesting that the kids should show more of that attribute in their lives too. We'll even tack on a moral to the story, just like you do with a fairy tale. By the time we're done, these Biblical people are little more than caricatures, or cartoon characters.
Take Samson. He's the super-strong dude who protected God's people. He took out a thousand bad guys using just the jawbone of a donkey. And yeah, he fell in love with the wrong girl, and it seemed like the bad guys won, but not really! Samson was able to take them all out. Like I said earlier, Samson is a lot like Superman. And the way we usually present him makes him seem just as "real" as a comic book character. The problem is, Samson was a real person, a complex individual with moral failings. He broke his vows. He had a problem with lust. He was a sinner.
Actually, all of the Biblical people we turn into fairy tales were the same. Abraham had trust issues. Moses couldn't control his temper. Jeremiah was depressed. Peter suffered from perpetual foot-in-mouth disease. David turned out to be an adulterer, a liar, and a murderer, and that's just in his dealings with Bathsheba. Samson, like the rest of them, wasn't a pillar of righteous thought or action. He wasn't a fairy tale prince or hero. No, Samson was a sinner, just like you and me. Thank God for that.
God uses R-rated people.
The Samson story begins, as many do in the book of Judges at an especially dark time for Israel.
God had rescued Israel numerous time from Canaanite oppressors but now she had been subjugated for forty years by a people group that make the Canaanites look literally stone-aged.
The Philistines were likely the dreaded “sea peoples” who ravaged the ancient world not unlike the Vikings terrorized Medieval Western Europe. In the case of Canaan they had moved into the coastal cities and made themselves a home, subjugating the population there including Israel and inclusively taking to themselves the Canaanite gods.
Israel seemed so utterly demoralized the Judges pattern is broken here in that she doesn’t even call to Yhwh for help. Israel it seems is lost, backed into a corner with no way out.
Another barren woman...
We meet an unnamed woman who can’t conceive a son. This woman’s predicament is Israel’s predicament. For her there is no way out. She is cut off. If her husband is smart he’ll abandon her and shop around for a woman who can accomplish what her culture assumed gave her value.
This “angel of the Lord” shows up to tell her she will have a son, and he will be from birth a Nazarite, someone separated by oath in dedication to God. He will deliver Israel out of its own barren corner out from the bondage of the Philistines.
This poor women doesn’t know what to make of it so she tells her husband who is named Manoah.
He seems to have some religious or spiritual knowledge about him and he’s probably more than a little skeptical about his wife’s “spiritual” experience so he prays that God would do him the favor of informing him of this “God thing”. God answers his prayer but again in a frustrating way. The angel shows up again, but again to the woman and she runs and finds her husband.
The angel won’t give him the time of day or answer his questions, he mostly repeats himself. When the man presses for details the angel simply tells him that his name is too “wonderful” for him. This is all beyond his comprehension and he should stop trying to appropriate all of this. This is God working and he should just get with the program.
All Strength and No Wisdom
As Samson grows up we see that on one hand he is “blessed” by God. He’s got good parents who love and care for him, but Samson is deeply flawed. Samson is all strength and appetite and it seems what he really has a taste for is Philistine women.
This sets up for us the deep ironies of this story and the deep way that through Samson God is illuminating who Israel is.
Israel has always had a deep taste for the fertility gods of Canaan.
Israel has lost all of her miraculous strength by chasing after these gods, and this will be precisely
Samson’s story. However, through Samson’s flaws the LORD will save Israel.
The Irony of the Nazarite Vow
The Nazarite vow was normally a short term vow of consecration.
Samson’s life became an enduring incarnation of that vow.
That Nazarite vow was a ceremonial intensification of who Israel was intended to be, God’s first born, his holy priesthood, his anointed.
Samson’s life, however, like Israel’s, was exactly the opposite. He had power, anointing, but he saw the Philistine women and could not say no to the part of himself that wanted them. The Philistine women, like Israel’s Canaanite gods, would tease Samson/Israel, lure him in only to betray him.
SO THE STORY HAS THIS UGLINESS TO IT. SAMSON CANNOT STOP BETRAYING HIS CONSECRATION...
And yet the story has Love in it. It is God’s love for Israel that brings him to intervene in Israel’s misery unbidden. Samson is a lustful guy, but it is only when he actually lets love in that he is bound, blinded, and arms stretched out.
The story of Samson is a story of his relationship with three women. First his failed marriage to the girl at Timnah, next the prostitute at Gaza, and last the most famous of the three, Delilah in the Valley of Sorek.
The wife of his failed marriage caves into the threats of her countrymen to betray the trust of her husband. Through complaints of “you don’t love me” she gets out of Samson the secret to the riddle he used to chide his duplicitous brides-men. We learned that Samson wanted his wife, but it doesn’t say he ever loved her. He learned that letting her into his heart, just as he feared, meant vulnerability, something only his divinely endowed strength could rescue him from.
The second woman was a half-a-night-stand. Gaza was to be his prison but he not only broke the gates but carried them off.
In Delilah, however, Samson meets his match. This woman he loves and he will learn what love demands.
Samson cannot be beaten by strength, only by love.
Remember, how we said God reveals his divinity in how he solves problems. The story has layers and textures to it.
Samson seems closest and furthest from Jesus at the same time.
Both are prophesied from birth to be deliverers of Israel
Both are products of symbolic conditions, one of barrenness and the other virginity
Both exemplify Israel in her mission and her call
Both are moved by the Spirit of God to do the work of God
Both are unconquerable by the violence of their enemies
Both finally become victims of their enemies because of love
Both are trying to free God’s covenant people
Both die humiliated with arms outstretched
It is at the cost of their lives that God accomplishes his work through them
Once we see how God solves problems.
The part we play in our story with God is not Samson but Delilah. We sell our selves and bodies for money. We betray the one that desires us to his enemies. It was Jesus who came in love, let us into his hearts and for 3o pieces of silver sold him to become the humiliated entertainment of his enemies.
To be a Christian is to be a repentant Delilah. The story tells us nothing, but if Delilah knew the love he had for her, and saw in his sacrifice the value of that love, it would change her. To be a Christian is to be changed by that love and then to see not simply the fall of the temple of Dagon, but the resurrection of the temple of the LORD which was from the start and has always been his creation.
Research credit: S Matherson, P Vanderklay.