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    19th April 2007

    A few words about Samson, but first…

    …today was my birthday. I have finished 22 years now (that means that I’m 22!). To check out why April 19 is an interesting day to have a birthday on, see my post from last April 19.

    All in all a good day. I just got back from eating dinner with some family and friends out at Biaggi’s, which was good. The drive back from school was decent – traffic wasn’t too bad and there was a lovely sunset. Before I left campus I met my friend Emily’s mom, and got an unofficial invite to Emily’s wedding in June. I went to class for a couple hours this afternoon and this morning and did some reading in between. I ate custard for lunch and creme brulee after dinner – and my sister and brother-in-law got me Lego fruitsnacks!

    But it all started out with waking up and finishing a paper on Judges 15:1-8 that I had been working on for my Hebrew class. A few notes on this paper: 1) It was actually due last Friday. I asked for an extension until Monday, and finally turned it in today. Nice work, me! 2) Judges 15:1-8 is a part of the story of Samson, of Samson and Delilah fame (and for all you out there who aren’t sure who I’m talking about here, Delilah was famous as a biblical character long before the Plain White T’s made their rather catchy song, “Hey there Delilah”). However, this particular passage comes before Delilah enters the scene.

    Samson is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He always has been. As children, we XY carriers (that is, little boys) like his story because he’s the biblical superhero, like Hercules or Superman tearing down the Temple of Dagon. When I got a bit older, I started to see him as the big dumb oaf character, like Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove. He was also kind of like the worst judge/Nazirite ever. As a Nazirite he would have made vows against drinking alcohol, cutting his hair, and touching dead bodies, all of which he probably did. As a judge he was supposed to deliver the Israelites from their oppressors, but Samson was always caught up in getting personal revenge – or getting a little action (if you don’t know what I mean by this, ask your parents and they’ll lie to you so I don’t have to). He was an intriguing character.

    This passage in particular has always killed me. It begins like this (I’m quoting the NIV translation because I like it better than my own):

    Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife. He said, “I’m going to my wife’s room.” But her father would not let him go in.

    Ok, Samson has to say that he’s going to his wife’s room. That’s awesome. And then his father-in-law doesn’t let him. All I can say is, I hope that is NOT my situation on MY wedding night. The father-in-law explains:

    “I was so sure you thoroughly hated her,” he said, “that I gave her to your friend. Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.”

    Now things are really getting ugly. The friend here was actually Samson’s best man from his wedding feast in the chapter before. I mean, on the one hand, if the younger sister really is more attractive this might be a good deal; but chances are, Samson went for the hot sister in the first place – I mean, come on, he’s a big dumb lummox afterall… And now he’s kind of upset about this:

    Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.

    And so Samson goes for an absolutely outrageous revenge. How long would it have taken to catch 300 foxes? Probably a good long while, and so Samson probably felt pretty satisfied with himself, until…

    When the Philistines asked, “Who did this?” they were told, “Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his friend.” So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.

    Of course, the Philistines had to of known at this point that Samson wasn’t going to sit back and take this. In Judges 14 he killed 30 men because the Philistines answered his riddle, and just a moment ago he burned up all their crops because his Philistine father-in-law dishonored him. And just in case the Philistines were figuring that Samson no longer cared about his estranged wife and said father-in-law,

    Samson said to them, “Since you’ve acted like this, I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them.

    After this revenge, Samson did stop – or at least he tried to for a little while – or maybe he was just tired:

    Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.

    The body of my paper on this passage was primarily technical notes on the parsing of Hebrew verbs and word studies on key vocabulary – all of which I will spare you (if you really want it, drop me a message and I’ll email it to you…), but there were a few key insights that might be useful to someone out there – and if not, perhaps someone will at least find them interesting. The first bit explains some of the dynamics surrounding the situation at the beginning Judges 15:

    The word that the father-in-law uses to express his belief that Samson hated his wife is also used in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which details a situation very much like this one: If a woman who has been divorced remarries and is hated by the second man, she cannot go back to be the first man’s wife.
    This explains the father’s ungovernable rage. He has performed an irreparable act in giving his daughter to another man, and she cannot return to Samson under any conditions (Deut. 24:1-4). His only hope of salvaging anything from the situation is to offer ‘her younger sister.’ But Samson wants the elder one, and to deny that he had divorced her would only compound the hopelessness of the situation by making her an adulteress (quote from Robert G. Boling, Judges (Anchor Bible) (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 235).

    This next section is how I set the context of the passage:

    The Samson story begins in Judges 13 with his birth narrative and progresses in chapter 14 through his “courtship” and wedding feast – which ended disastrously after his wife gave up the answer to his riddle. The story continues in Judges 15 with the aftermath of the wedding-gone-bad, as Samson tries to visit his wife at her father’s house. Samson’s Timnite father-in-law denies him, explaining that after Samson ran away from his own wedding feast, his wife was given to the best man. Though the Timnite offers his younger daughter in place of the older, Samson makes revenge by burning the Philistines crops and oliveyards. The Philistines in turn kill Samson’s wife and father-in-law for causing all this trouble, a favor which Samson returns by slaughtering them leg on thigh and then escaping to the cleft in the cliff of Etam.

    The book of Judges is characterized by two opposing themes. The first is that of the corruption and cultural assimilation of the Israelites. This is represented by the Israelites worship of foreign Gods (2:11-15), marrying of foreign women (3:6), submission to foreign rulers (15:11-13), and all the people doing what was right in their own eyes (21:25). This is balanced by the theme of God choosing and using persons to deliver his people from oppression and redirect them toward their God, Yahweh. Each of these undercurrents are clearly present within this passage: Samson has trouble because he marries a foreigner – who seemed to be right in his eyes (14:3); and then his trouble is compounded because he seeks vengeance on his own terms (15:3,7). But we also know that this marriage is from the Lord as a pretext to act against the Philistines (14:4) – and he does act against the Philistines in this passage, though here it is not an action that liberates the community as is his final action (16:28-31).

    And finally, this was the application section of my paper:

    Samson is very often treated as the whipping boy of the judges. Every Sunday school attending child knows the story of Samson and Delilah, and the moral that we learn is that Samson thought his strength came from his hair, but then he realizes that his strength really comes from God and is thus able to bring the temple down. As adults we know Samson as the goon with a womanizing problem – all bronze and testosterone, no brains. And in scholastics, “Samson is considered an anti-hero, the ’embodiment of all that was wrong with the judges’… Unable to see beyond his obvious struggles with the flesh, commentators relegate Samson to the role of negative paradigm – a model of ‘how not to judge Israel.'” (quote from Robert Boling again)

    I love this passage because of the humor in Samson’s words and his father-in-law’s response in v.1, but I find now that the picture of Samson as God’s goon/buffoon/big-dumb-lummox is certainly incomplete, if not entirely off-center. In his article “Samson – The Last Judge,” Robert Starke encourages us to look at Samson as one who was set aside by God – from birth and for a purpose. Commentators often point out how Samson did not fulfill all of his Nazirite vows: He spent time at drinking parties, got his hair cut, and kills all sorts of people. Rarely do they point out that he stood out from the Israelites who had become accepting of their Philistine rulers, choosing to give Samson up rather than support him in his battle against the Philistines (15:11-13). Rarely do we remember that Samson makes his way into the beloved “heroes of the faith” of Hebrews 11 – and we have to believe that it is for more than killing a lion with his bare hands.

    There are riches to be mined from this narrative concerning assimilating to culture, living with purpose, and God’s ultimate role in working deliverance for his people – God chose Samson before birth and used Samson for his purposes in spite of Samson’s shortcomings. However, it is hard to see these themes in this passage. We either see a man with disdain for human life – including his own wife – and using his troubled marriage as a pretext to pursue the Lord’s purposes; or we see a man who suffered great loss – the life of his wife and father-in-law – because he pursued vengeance on his own terms. In the slaughter stories that precede and follow theses verses, the Spirit of the Lord comes on Samson before he fights the Philistines (14:19;15:14) – here there is no such mention, and instead the language Samson uses is “I” driven. We must be very careful in discerning what the will of our God is, and patient in waiting for vengeance. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord, and we may suffer greatly if we pursue it at our own prerogative.

    If this little foray into biblical studies has piqued your interest, I highly recommend reading Robert Starke’s “Samson – The Last Judge”; it argues that Samson, as the last judge, is a prefigure to Christ. Very interesting. It was recommended to me by my cousin Dave Holmlund (thanks Dave!).

    6 comments

    6 Responses to “A few words about Samson, but first…”

    1. Josh Leo says:

      you got to love that Samson didn’t just burn down the fields, he spent all that time and energy catching foxes, tying their tailes together, then getting torches, tying the torches to the tales, lighting them all (all 150 torches) then letting them run around… he was a creative guy…

    2. Kimmy says:

      First of all Happy Birthday!!!! :o) I thought you might like some more info on birthdays so I did lots of research by going on wikipedia. Here are a few things they said. “Even today, the celebration of birthdays is not universal in the West; in addition to those people preferring name day celebrations, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate either, considering their origins to be pagan festivals along with Christmas and Easter. Many adults loathe celebrating it as it reminds them that they are getting progressively older. And in some activities that are not year-round, birthday acknowledgements may be discouraged because of some birthdays not falling during the season.

      In most English-speaking countries it is traditional to sing the song Happy Birthday to You to the honored person celebrating his birthday. The Happy Birthday Song melody is thought to be the most frequently sung melody in the world. Similar songs exist in other languages such as “Lang zal hij/zij leven” (and several others) in Dutch, “Zum Geburtstag Viel Glück” in German, “Cumpleaños feliz” in Spanish, “Sto lat” in Polish and “Tanti Auguri a te” in Italian. This happens traditionally at a birthday party while someone brings a birthday cake into the (often darkened) room.”

      Here was my favorite section:
      “For special birthdays and for when the number of candles might be considered impractical or a fire hazard, special candles might be substituted for the many individual candles. These candles are in the shape of a numeral; for example, on the fifth birthday there may be one candle on the cake in the shape of the numeral 5, and on the fiftieth birthday there may be two candles on the cake, one in the shape of the numeral 5 followed by the other in the shape of the numeral 0.”

      Second, thanks for sharing on Samson. You gave good insights. For a long time I did see him as the sunday school super hero but in the past couple of years I read it more carefuly. Upon reading more closely I saw him as the big dumby with a womanizing problem. I still see some that but your application part helped me to see the biblical hero again.

    3. Daryl says:

      Thanks Kimmy, and thanks for the info. Yeah, Samson… Well, you know how I feel about him!

    4. Loren says:

      Of course the 2 dollar Lego fruit snacks make the blog but all those fancy high end clothes did not! 😉 Happy bday.

    5. Cousin Dave says:

      Glad you liked that Kerux article! If Christian theology can be done on hallucinogenic drugs like acid, this article is about what I would expect. Rock on, –d

    6. Daryl says:

      So, Dave, are you talking about my article or the one from Kerux – ’cause I wasn’t on acid, but if my article reads like I was, I would take it as a compliment.

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.