Summary: Samson is a tragic hero of Scripture, especially gifted but ensnared by the pagan culture, which captured him morally and then literally. He was a man of great physical strength but ethical weakness.
“Samson’s Fury & Infatuation”, Judges chapters 13-15 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Samson is a tragic hero of the Bible. He was especially gifted but he became ensnared by the pagan culture, which captured him morally and then literally. He was a man of great physical strength but ethical weakness. We’re going to consider his birth (ch 13), marriage (ch 14), and his vengeance (ch 15). Next week we’ll talk about Delilah and that infamous haircut (ch 16).
A. Samson’s Birth & Calling (chapter 13)
During the life of Samson, Israel’s enemy was the Philistines, who occupied Israel for 40 years. From them we get the name Palestine. The Jews did not feel oppressed; they were affluent and apathetic, and so they accepted Philistine rule. Unlike previous occasions, the people did not ask God for deliverance. Nonetheless, God raised up Samson to wage a one-man war against the enemy. By co-existing with pagans, complacent Israel was in danger of losing its ethnic and spiritual identity, of being assimilated by the Canaanite culture. God intervenes out of faithfulness to His covenant with Israel, to preserve His people.
Samson was called by God before he was born. His parents were childless, unable to conceive, which was considered a sign of divine disfavor…yet the Angel of the Lord appears to them and explains that they will have a son set apart by God as a Nazarite, a great privilege and responsibility. With fear and wonder they express their desire to do all they can to nurture their son properly and prepare him to live for God.
For men or women, taking on a Nazarite vow meant they would consecrate themselves for service to God. There were 3 stipulations regarding this divine calling, from the book of Numbers (6:1-21):
1. They could not partake of the “fruit of the vine”, meaning abstinence from wine, in order to live a simple and sober life. Even Samson’s mother had to abstain during her pregnancy, as Samson was set apart from the womb;
2. Nazarites had to refrain from cutting their hair as an observable sign of their vow;
3. Nazarites were to avoid contact with a dead body, which would disqualify them for Tabernacle worship.
Samson’s birth and calling were similar to John the Baptist, who also was a Nazarite.
B. Samson’s (almost) marriage (chapter 14)
It seems that the only way to motivate Samson to combat the Philistines was to get him riled over losing his bride and losing face…
A Philistine girl catches Samson’s eye and it’s “lust at first sight”. Samson tells his parents to arrange the marriage, dismissing their objections. They are appalled that he would want to marry a pagan girl, one outside of God’s covenant with Israel. Samson reveals his disregard for parental authority and the fifth Commandment. His fatal attraction to Philistine women proved to be his downfall. It doesn’t bother Samson that he is violating the traditions of his people and the restriction of the Law against mixed marriages. Proverbs 17:21 warns, “To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.” Samson argues in vs 3 (literal translation), “she is right in my eyes”, which is very close to the key verse describing this entire period of the Judges: “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6). The only good result of this union was the destruction of God’s enemies; He used Samson’s moral weakness to accomplish His purpose, vs 4: “(God) was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines.”
On a visit to arrange his wedding, Samson is attacked by a lion, and here he discovers his miraculous strength. Without a weapon, he tears the lion apart. Samson was a “Jewish Hercules”. We picture him as some pumped-up superman (like WWF’s the Rock). But he was more likely an ordinary-looking person, which makes sense. It was evident that God had given Samson his strength—he didn’t become strong by working out. Samson doesn’t tell anyone about the lion incident, because he would have to undergo a lengthy cleansing ritual at the Tabernacle, and he was too busy taking care of personal interests.
On his return trip Samson sees the lion carcass occupied by a hive of bees, and he devises a clever riddle. Riddles were given great importance in the ancient world. Considering his life, Samson himself was a riddle. As the wedding was being prepared, Samson wagers his riddle as a challenge to the 30 groomsmen. The wedding feast would last 7 days, giving them a week to figure it out. They were stumped, and determined the only way to solve the riddle and win the bet was by threatening Samson’s bride. Her tears unlock the secret. When the groomsmen so easily and glibly “solve” Samson’s riddle, his anger is roused, and he correctly concludes that they coerced the answer from his bride. He rebukes them (vs 18), “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle!”…and then proceeds to take vengeance, slaughtering 30 Philistines.