samson

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who...
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to ...um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society--and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; the attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies, but he never led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also...
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

    1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
    1. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
    1. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Judges 16, Acts 20, Jeremiah 29, Mark 15

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 16, Acts 20, Jeremiah 29, Mark 15. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 16.

When Samson went to visit his wife in Judges 15:1-2, it was probably some physical affection he had in mind. Note that he was going to “her room” in verse 1, so he probably wasn’t planning to take her out to dinner then for a romantic moonlit stroll. Unexpectedly single and still feeling lonely, Samson turned to a prostitute here in Judges 16:1 to find the satisfaction he did not find with his now ex-wife. The Philistines thought they would gang up on him and defeat him when he left the next morning (v. 2), but Samson decided to leave in the middle of the night (v. 3), perhaps to keep the cost down (?). The gates to the city were undoubtedly locked, both due to the hour of the night and to keep Samson from escaping so they could take him in the morning. But Samson, never one to miss a chance to mess with the Philistines, let himself out of the city by ripping off the gates and carrying them to a hill (v. 3). where everyone would know that something unusual and terrifying had happened overnight.

Then he met Delilah (v. 4) and even “fell in love with her.” This suggests that his infatuation with her was more than physical and his intentions toward her were more than temporary. Since his first marriage had gone so poorly and since the Philistines had loose morals anyway, Samson apparently had a “sleep-over” arrangement with Delilah that allowed him to spend personal time with her without the costly entanglements of marriage. Delilah, however, was loyal to her nation, especially given the promise of her rulers to pay her well if she betrayed Samson (v. 5). The task she agreed to perform was to obtain “the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him” (v. 5). This suggests that Samson was not an unusually muscular man. The great feats of strength that Samson accomplished were done by God’s power, not because he was a workout warrior. If the Philistines could discover his secret, they could eliminate him as a problem in their lives.

Delilah dedicated herself to the task, asking him to tell her his secret in order to deepen their relational intimacy (v. 15), then keeping Samson around her house until he was good and sleepy. Each time he lied to her and each time she tried what he said. I suppose her excuse was that she wanted to test him to see if she was telling the truth, but you’d think that he would have gotten suspicious after she repeatedly tried to weaken him using the information he gave her. Foolishly, he trusted her and told her the truth after she tried to betray him three times. They say “love is blind” but it can also be really stupid, too. 

I said that Samson “trusted her and told her the truth” in the paragraph above, but that’s not exactly correct. He told her what he thought the truth was; the real truth was that his strength had nothing to do with his hair. It was God’s spirit coming on him in power that gave him such super-human strength. But Samson had been disobedient to God repeatedly—marrying a Philistine woman, consorting with a prostitute, and living with a woman he had married. When he started revealing his Nazirite vow, that was when the Lord “left him” (v. 20). It was not the length of his hair or anything else about him as a man that made him so strong. It was the power of God in his life, but his repeated selfishness and sin caused God to withdraw that power from Samson. 

This is what happens to us when we stop relying on the Lord and start to arrogantly trust ourselves instead. Although God used Samson for one mighty final act, his story is mostly about how one man presumed on the grace of God and lived his own sinful way, without regard to the consequences in his life. Instead of cultivating a strong relationship with God, Samson cultivated his sin nature. Instead of becoming the godly leader he could have been, Samson became a tragic figure who was used by God despite his lack of faith, not because of it. Don’t ever let success in any area of your life be the barometer of your walk with God. Walk with God and let him handle the rest.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 14.

After a great start as parents to Samson, things go wrong here in Judges 14. Old enough to marry now, Samson chooses a bride based completely on her looks. Note that he “saw” her in verse 1 but didn’t talk with her until verse 7. So his decision was based on attraction alone. Being attracted to your spouse is a good thing, but if that’s your only reason for marrying him or her, you are taking a great risk (see Prov 31:30). 

Beyond the shallow basis for Solomon’s desire to marry her, marrying a non-Israelite was forbidden in the Old Testament law (Deut 7:3). Samson’s parents may have known that or they may not have. It is hard to know how well the law had been taught to the people during the dark days of the judges. Their response in verse 3 shows that they at least knew it was not wise; yet it was Manoah’s responsibility to secure a wife for Samson. He could have put his foot down and refused Samson’s command, “Get her for me.” Why didn’t he? Perhaps the prophecy he and his wife had received about Samson and the fact that “the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him” (Judges 13:24) when he was young man caused Manoah to defer to Samson when he was young. Regardless of why, this passage shows that the early concern Manoah and his wife had for raising Samson according to the Lord’s commands that we saw yesterday in Judges 13 was not sustained into Samson’s young adulthood. Since Samson was an adult, he probably could have overridden his parents’ wishes and married her anyway, but it still would have been right for Manoah to encourage Samson to live by God’s word. It would also have been best for him to stand by his convictions and not cave to his son’s foolish desires.

As we’ve seen recently, God can use the sinful desires of people to work his will; that’s what Judges 14:4 is showing us. Although Samson was living in violation of God’s commands, God was using his sinful choices to accomplish his will and start the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines. So although Samson’s great start before he was born and as a young child did not produce a young adult who was strong for God, he still was used by God to accomplish God’s will for Israel. 

What strikes me in this passage is how a great start in following the Lord can be easily disrupted through sin. Samson had every advantage a spiritual leader could need. He could have been a man after God’s own heart years before David was even born. But instead of developing into the man he could have been based on all the grace God had poured into his life, Samson settled for positional leadership and leaned on his miraculous physical strength instead of developing strength of character. He became a successful military leader, yes, but not a godly man or a spiritual leader for Israel. 

It’s easy to start coasting in our Christian life, isn’t it? We see how much God has blessed us and grown us by his grace and we start living by what seems right in our own eyes rather than how God has commanded us to live. Even before his marriage week ended, Samson was paying the price for his foolish decisions (vv. 10-19). His “marriage” was over faster than many of the celebrity marriages we’ve heard about that last a year or less (v. 20). The seeds of his own moral destruction were being sown, but he was blind to it. Later in his life, decisions like this would lead to him literally becoming blind as well as limiting his effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. The message to me is, don’t coast on the grace the Lord has given in the past. Recognize how easily we fool ourselves and be diligent, by the grace of God, to follow his word day by day.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 13, Acts 17, Jeremiah 26, Mark 12

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 13, Acts 17, Jeremiah 26, Mark 12. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 13.

Most of the leaders we’ve read about in Judges are given a chapter or less in this book. The exceptions are Deborah (Judges 4-5), Gideon (Judges 6-8), Jephthah (Judges 9-12), and Samson (Judges 13-16). Among these four, Gideon and Samson were called to be judges by a direct appearance from the angel of the Lord, but Gideon received his call when he was an adult. Samson’s call came to his parents. In their case, God chose a man from a small town, Zorah (v. 2a) from an insignificant clan (v. 2b) who could not have a family to that point because his wife was barren (v. 2c). God in his grace chose these insignificant people, appeared to them directly and dramatically, and revealed that their son would be a military leader (v. 5) against the mighty Philistines who had dominated Israel for 40 years (v. 1). And, what made Samson unique among all the judges was that he was commanded “to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb” (v. 5b). The concept of a Nazirite was explained in Numbers 6. According to that passage, this was usually a temporary vow to God (see Num 6:13) during which the Nazirite was marked off from everyone else in Israel by diet (no grapes, wine, or raisins), appearance (no haircuts), and separation from the dead. Numbers does not tell us what the Nazirite is doing or why someone might make a temporary vow. In a society that struggled even to worship God by obeying the routine aspects of the law, it is likely that few, if any, took on the special circumstances of becoming a Nazirite. This is why the Angel of the Lord had to tell Manoah’s wife what to do to maintain Samson’s status as a Nazirite (vv. 4-5) and why Manoah prayed for a return visit from the Angel of the Lord to repeat the instructions (vv. 8-14). Samson was most unusual, not only because he was a Nazirite, but because he was commanded to be one for his entire life (v. 7).

Samson’s wife seems to have realized that the man who instructed her was more than just a prophet (v. 6: “He looked like an angel of God, very awesome”) but Manoah seemed to think that he was speaking to a mere man. This is why he attempted to show hospitality to this messenger (vv. 15-16). Eventually he learned that this messenger had a name that was too wonderful to share with Manoah (vv. 17-18) and, when the angel ascended through his food offering, he realized that he was speaking with none other than God himself (vv. 20-22). 

What an incredible start Samson had as a leader for the Lord. Not only was his destiny set before he was even conceived, but his parents were instructed by God himself on how to raise their son. Although we are not told that his parents were devout worshippers of the Lord before Christ appeared to them as the Angel of the Lord, it is clear that they received God’s word with faith and a serious desire to be obedient to what it said. What a challenge to those of us who are parents. Do we desire to see our children grow up to serve the Lord? Do we take seriously God’s commands, seeking to live them out for ourselves and teach them well to our children? Do we understand that God usually chooses the average guy from the unimpressive family to be great, simply because of God’s grace? Are we thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives as they come to know Christ by faith and begin to follow him (vv. 24-25)? 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.