To be honest, I didn’t expect this message to turn out as it did (but then they seldom do). Several weeks ago a good friend suggested that I needed to identify and emphasize the major themes of the Book of Judges and show how these fit into the overall scheme of Scripture. Little did I know that our text for this lesson would provide the occasion to do just that. I believe that this text and its message provide us with a unique means of viewing not only the message of this book, but also the message of the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. I realize that this sounds a bit grandiose, but bear with me and see if this might not be true.
I will begin this message by retelling the story of chapters 14 and 15 so that we see the flow of the author’s argument and view Samson’s “troubles in Timnah” as one piece. Having done this, I will call your attention to a few important details. Finally, I will seek to show how all these pieces fit together to help us understand not only Samson, but the nation Israel (particularly Judah) at this point in time. And having done this, we shall seek to show how this message serves as a key to understanding the Bible as a whole.
1 Samson went down to Timnah, where a Philistine girl caught his eye. 2 When he got home, he told his father and mother, “A Philistine girl in Timnah has caught my eye. Now get her for my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Certainly you can find a wife among your relatives or among all our people! You should not have to go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines.” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she is the right one for me.” 4 Now his father and mother did not realize this was the Lord’s doing, because he was looking for an opportunity to stir up trouble with the Philistines (for at that time the Philistines were ruling Israel) (Judges 14:1-4)2
We don’t know why Samson needed to travel to Timnah – a town in the land of the Philistines close to the northern border of Judah – but we do know that he saw a woman there and, in Samson’s mind at least, it was “love at first sight”3 – literally. One gets the impression that there was no conversation between Samson and this woman, just visual contact.4 When he returned home, Samson instructed his parents to secure this woman as his wife. This comes across to the reader as a demand, rather than a request.
Samson’s parents were rightly concerned. They would have had concerns had their son been a normal Israelite, but Samson had been designated a Nazirite even before he was conceived. How could he possibly fulfill his mission in life while married to a Philistine woman? And so Mr. and Mrs. Manoah expressed their concerns. Surely there was some young woman from among their tribe, or at least from some Israelite tribe, that he might find as an acceptable wife. Why would he seek a wife from among the uncircumcised Philistines?
Samson will have none of this. He has declared his intent, and he has given his parents their marching orders, and so he orders his father, “Get this woman for me as my wife!” The reason why he is so insistent is given, and it is completely consistent with the author’s description of the Israelites at this point in time: “Get her for me, because she is the right one for me.” The rendering, “she is the right one for me,” is an unfortunate paraphrase in my opinion. Far better to render as the translator’s note (or the rendering of the ESV) reads, “for she is right in my eyes,” a statement which is virtually repeated in verse 7.5 Samson is definitely a man of his times, as the author describes the spiritual condition of the Israelites in this same way:
In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6, NASB95).
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25, NASB95).
5 Samson went down to Timnah. When he approached the vineyards of Timnah, he saw a roaring young lion attacking him. 6 The Lord’s spirit empowered him and he tore the lion in two with his bare hands as easily as one would tear a young goat. But he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. 7 Samson continued on down to Timnah and spoke to the girl. In his opinion, she was just the right one (Judges 14:5-7).
For some reason, Samson’s parents are traveling with him to Timnah, but they don’t seem to be “together” as closely as we might assume. They seem to be separated by some distance and time.6 As he is approaching the vineyards7 of Timnah, a young lion rushes toward Samson, determined to kill him. The Spirit of the Lord likewise rushes upon Samson, empowering him to tear this beast limb from limb. When he rejoined his mother and father, he did not bother to mention this lion attack to them. No wonder, the now-dead lion apparently defiled him.8 If so, he should have immediately returned home and undergone the prescribed purification rites, but Samson was too intent upon reaching Timnah and accelerating the process whereby he could be (physically) united with the woman he was so attracted to. And so we are told that Samson continued on to Timnah with his parents. Once there, he talked with the woman (for the first time?), and he liked her (literally, “she was right in Samson’s eyes”).
8 Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to see the lion’s remains. He saw a swarm of bees in the lion’s carcass, as well as some honey. 9 He scooped it up with his hands and ate it as he walked along. When he returned to his father and mother, he offered them some and they ate it. But he did not tell them he had scooped the honey out of the lion’s carcass (Judges 14:8-9).
Samson and his parents make yet another trip to Timnah sometime later. For whatever reason, Samson went out of his way to view the lion’s carcass. Regardless, this would not have been the sort of thing a Nazirite would do. The carcass was defiling. Nevertheless, Samson comes upon the carcass, only to find that a swarm of bees had possessed it, and thus there was a honeycomb and honey that would have been “off limits” to Samson or his parents. That didn’t stop Samson. He scooped up some of the honey and proceeded back to his parents, eating some of it as he went. When he reached them he gave them some of the honey, not bothering to mention the source of this honey, thereby causing them to unknowingly defile themselves.
10 Then Samson’s father accompanied him to Timnah for the marriage. Samson hosted a party there, for this was customary for bridegrooms to do. 11 When the Philistines saw he had no attendants, they gave him thirty groomsmen who kept him company. 12 Samson said to them, “I will give you a riddle. If you really can solve it during the seven days the party lasts, I will give you thirty linen robes and thirty sets of clothes. 13 But if you cannot solve it, you will give me thirty linen robes and thirty sets of clothes.” They said to him, “Let us hear your riddle.” 14 He said to them,
“Out of the one who eats came something to eat;
Out of the strong one came something sweet.”
They could not solve the riddle for three days. 15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s bride, “Trick your husband into giving the solution to the riddle. If you refuse, we will burn up you and your father’s family. Did you invite us here to make us poor?” 16 So Samson’s bride cried on his shoulder and said, “You must hate me; you do not love me! You told the young men a riddle, but you have not told me the solution.” He said to her, “Look, I have not even told my father or mother. Do you really expect me to tell you?” 17 She cried on his shoulder until the party was almost over. Finally, on the seventh day, he told her because she had nagged him so much. Then she told the young men the solution to the riddle. 18 On the seventh day, before the sun set, the men of the city said to him,
“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
He said to them,
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have solved my riddle!”
19 The Lord’s spirit empowered him. He went down to Ashkelon and murdered thirty men. He took their clothes and gave them to the men who had solved the riddle. He was furious as he went back home. 20 Samson’s bride was then given to his best man (Judges 14:10-20).
In one sense, this was probably a typical Near Eastern wedding ceremony. There appears to be a fairly lengthy process which involves the family (especially the father of the groom, as seen in our text). There could well be negotiations regarding a dowry and other matters. Then there would be some kind of formal engagement, and from that time on, the two would be referred to as husband and wife, but the consummation of the marriage would not occur until the couple’s first sexual union. Some details and the actual ceremonies may have differed somewhat between the Israelites and the Philistines, but there would also be much similarity.
Manoah, Samson’s father, met formally with the bride, perhaps accompanied by her parents, and an agreement was reached. The couple now seems to be engaged, and this was to be followed by the customary “bachelor’s party,” which was held in the bride’s home town of Timnah. This was an apparently festive occasion at which time a good deal of alcohol was consumed. We are not told how Samson dealt with the wine and alcohol issue; my sense is that he had his fair share of it, in spite of the fact that he was a Nazirite.
No doubt Samson was prompted by a number of factors (including too much to drink) when he proposed a contest in the form of a riddle which he created, based upon his recent experience with the lion and the honey. Samson would give them a riddle to solve. If they solved it by the end of the celebration (7 days), he would give each of the 30 men a set of clothes (from under wear to outer wear); if they failed to solve the riddle, each of them was obligated to provide Samson with a set of clothing. His 30 groomsmen (provided for him from among the Philistines) accepted the challenge. And this was the riddle:
“Out of the one who eats came something to eat;
Out of the strong one came something sweet” (Judges 14:14).
This riddle turned out to be more difficult than the Philistine men had expected. No doubt their minds were racing as the clock (sundial?) continued to tick. As time passed and no answer was forthcoming, the men became more than a little concerned. They had no intention of putting out the kind of money their loss would require. And so they decided to take a more devious route: they would threaten to do bodily harm to Samson’s wife and her father (who were primarily responsible for their presence) if she did not get the answer from Samson and give it to them.
Samson’s bride knew these men meant what they said, and so she set about her task of getting Samson to reveal the answer to the riddle. She really turned on the charm, and then was forced to resort to tears until she wore him down and he told her the meaning of the riddle. This must have been some week of “celebration.” Samson’s “hired friends” were no doubt sullen and distant toward him and, worse yet, Samson’s wife continued to cry non-stop until she got her way.
By the time he had been hen-pecked for a week, I suspect that his romantic mood was greatly diminished. But what really set Samson off was having these 30 “friends of the groom” come to him with the answer to the riddle in the final moments of their competition:
“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
There was no question in Samson’s mind as to how the riddle was solved. They had acquired the answer by means of his wife. In a way, you have to feel sorry for Samson’s wife. She was not eager to make her husband angry, but she was terrified by the threats of these groomsmen. If I were Samson, I think I’d find a bit more sensitive way to refer to my wife than as “my heifer.” That must have helped to put her in a romantic mood. And so Samson and his wife have their first fight. Samson stomps off in a huff, determined to pay off his debt in a way that would make the Philistines “pay” for their treachery. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon (far enough away that those attending the wedding feast would not easily make the connection), and there he killed 30 Philistines, took their clothing, and returned to present an outfit to each of his groomsmen. He then stalked off to his father’s home (rather than to his wife’s room). One can hardly fault the woman’s father for concluding that this marriage was over before it was consummated. And so he gave his daughter to the best man, thinking that was the last he would see of Samson.
1 Sometime later, during the wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat as a gift and went to visit his bride. He said to her father, “I want to have sex with my bride in her bedroom!” But her father would not let him enter. 2 Her father said, “I really thought you absolutely despised her, so I gave her to your best man. Her younger sister is more attractive than she is. Take her instead!” 3 Samson said to them, “This time I am justified in doing the Philistines harm!” 4 Samson went and captured three hundred jackals and got some torches. He tied the jackals in pairs by their tails and then tied a torch to each pair. 5 He lit the torches and set the jackals loose in the Philistines’ standing grain. He burned up the grain heaps and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.
Some time passed. I would think this time period could be measured in weeks, rather than in days. Samson had cooled off, and once again he was in a mood for love. Hopefully his “heifer” was also ready to greet him with open arms, but just in case, he brought along a goat as a gift. I’m not going to try to defend Samson here; he was an insensitive brute. Instead of bringing flowers, he brings a goat. But then he didn’t call his wife “honey,” either; rather he called her his “heifer.” This man has a long way to go in the romance department.
Nevertheless, he has romance on his mind. He is now good and ready to consummate his marriage. He has every intention of going to her room, and it wasn’t to look at her scrapbook of wedding pictures. It must have been quite a surprise to be greeted by her father and told that his “wife” was no longer available, that she had been given as a wife to his best man. The father, a real romantic in his own right, tried to soften the blow. He not only explained that he assumed Samson didn’t want his daughter as his wife, but offered his younger, better looking, daughter as her replacement. How much do we expect this poor woman to endure? She’s threatened by 30 Philistine thugs (“rent a friends”), called a “heifer” by her husband, and then spoken of as less attractive than her younger sister. And her troubles are not over yet.
Samson is in no mood for a wife upgrade. He is angry, and he intends to make the Philistines pay for it. It is just a bit difficult to see the connection between the crops of many Philistine farmers and the offense Samson has taken. Why wouldn’t the father of the bride assume Samson was never coming back? Why doesn’t Samson take out his wrath on his wife’s father or her new husband? Somehow Samson takes out his anger on the Philistine farmers. No mention is made of the Spirit coming upon him mightily. Somehow Samson catches 300 foxes (or jackels), attaches them in pairs by binding their tails together, and then he attaches a burning torch to each pair and releases them.
You can probably visualize what happened as you read about it. The foxes would not have run in a straight line, but would have raced hither and yon as one of the foxes prevailed and then the other. We must remember that this happened during the time of the wheat harvest. The wheat was cut, but was not yet threshed. Shocks of wheat were standing upright in the fields, and there was sufficient stubble left that when it was set aflame the fire spread quickly, not only destroying the wheat crop, but also the vineyards and the olive groves. Samson thus struck a devastating blow to the economy of this whole valley.
6 The Philistines asked, “Who did this?” They were told, “Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because the Timnite took Samson’s bride and gave her to his best man.” So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father. 7 Samson said to them, “Because you did this, I will get revenge against you before I quit fighting.” 8 He struck them down and defeated them. Then he went down and lived for a time in the cave in the cliff of Etam.
The Philistines were enraged and promptly learned the identity of the culprits – Samson, his wife, and her father. They learned that Samson was taking vengeance on the Philistines because his wife was given by her father to the best man. The Philistines were decisive in handling this matter, burning the woman and her father to death.9 All this did was to escalate matters, for now Samson felt justified to attack and slaughter a large but undesignated number of the Philistines. And having done so, he retreated to a cave in the cliff of Etam.
9 The Philistines went up and invaded Judah. They arrayed themselves for battle in Lehi. 10 The men of Judah said, “Why are you attacking us?” The Philistines said, “We have come up to take Samson prisoner so we can do to him what he has done to us.” 11 Three thousand men of Judah went down to the cave in the cliff of Etam and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? Why have you done this to us?” He said to them, “I have only done to them what they have done to me.” 12 They said to him, “We have come down to take you prisoner so we can hand you over to the Philistines.” Samson said to them, “Promise me you will not kill me.” 13 They said to him, “We promise! We will only take you prisoner and hand you over to them. We promise not to kill you.” They tied him up with two brand new ropes and led him up from the cliff.
Here is the part that catches us by surprise. The men of Judah find themselves caught in the middle, between their Philistine masters and a trouble-making Samson. The cliff of Etam was in the territory belonging to Judah. When the Philistines came in force to capture Samson, they spread out near Lehi, close to where Samson was hiding. The Philistines were prepared for battle, and it looked as though they might engage the men of Judah. The men of Judah were most eager to avoid any hostilities with the Philistines, and so they employed more diplomatic means to avoid conflict. The men of Judah evidently agreed to locate Samson, arrest him, and hand him over to these Philistines.
The men of Judah must have feared that Samson would resist. Why else would they need to take 3,000 of their own men to secure Samson’s arrest? Finding Samson, they rebuke him for putting the people of Judah at risk. They did not look on Samson’s rule as a judge in Israel with favor. While he had been very successful at killing many Philistines, this was not perceived as a victory for Israel, but rather as an offense against Israel. Thus their rebuke: “Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? Why have you done this to us?” They did not see Samson doing them any favor and, likewise, Samson did not view it that way either. He was merely getting even with the Philistines for what they had done to him.
Samson and the men of Judah came to an agreement. They promised not to kill Samson if he would surrender to them and allow himself to be bound. They would then deliver Samson to the Philistines so that they could kill him. Samson’s Israelite brethren are overflowing with the milk of human kindness. And so Samson is bound and led from his place of hiding to be handed over to the Philistines not far away.
14 When he arrived in Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they approached him. But the Lord’s spirit empowered him. The ropes around his arms were like flax dissolving in fire, and they melted away from his hands. 15 He happened to see a solid jawbone of a donkey. He grabbed it and struck down a thousand men. 16 Samson then said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey
I have left them in heaps;
with the jawbone of a donkey
I have struck down a thousand men!”
17 When he finished speaking, he threw the jawbone down and named that place Ramath Lehi. 18 He was very thirsty, so he cried out to the Lord and said, “You have given your servant this great victory. But now must I die of thirst and fall into hands of the Philistines?” 19 So God split open the basin at Lehi and water flowed out from it. When he took a drink, his strength was restored and he revived. For this reason he named the spring En Hakkore. It remains in Lehi to this very day. 20 Samson led Israel for twenty years during the days of Philistine prominence.
When the Philistines saw the men of Judah approaching with Samson in their custody, bound with ropes, they felt this was going to be their moment in the sun of success. Now they would make Samson pay for his deeds, and they would be rid of this menace once and for all. And so they let out a great shout of triumph, charging toward him as they did so. At this critical moment, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson. The ropes that bound him fell away, leaving him free to seize a fresh jawbone of a donkey.10 With this unlikely weapon in hand, Samson now took on the Philistine attachment that had been sent to arrest him. A thousand Philistines were killed in this slaughter. It would seem that the 3,000 men of Judah stood passively by, watching in wonder as Samson destroyed these Philistines, yet not lifting a hand to help him. They didn’t want to risk “getting involved.”
Samson appears to be a man who was clever in his use of words. We can see this in his riddle regarding the lion and the honey in chapter 14, and we can see it here, as he creates his own epitaph. He does so by using a word play that is evident in the original Hebrew text, but would not necessarily be evident in an English translation. Moffatt, however, did capture this word play in his translation:
With the jawbone of an ass
I have piled them in a mass.11
This is hardly an example of humility nor is it an expression of worship. It is Samson’s tribute to himself, with no mention of God nor of the Spirit who empowered him. Do you suppose Samson composed this for the men of Judah who looked on with mouths gaping? He then threw the jawbone away, and from this time on, the place was called Ramath Lehi, meaning “hill of the jawbone,”12 or “Jawbone Hill.”13
Imagine the thirst and fatigue Samson must have felt after such an intense exercise. We have here the first recorded prayer of Samson, and I think we would all agree that it is not a model prayer. Nobody is going to be tempted to do with this prayer what some have done with the prayer of Jabez!
“You have given your servant this great victory. But now must I die of thirst and fall into hands of the Philistines?”14 (verse 18)
At least Samson gives God credit for his victory, but his request for water is hardly that of a humble man making his request of a sovereign God. As grandparents, my wife Jeannette and I try to be careful to listen to how our grandchildren ask for things, and we often require them to repeat their request politely. Samson would have never gotten away with his request for water at our house.
Nevertheless, God graciously granted Samson’s request. He did so by creating a permanent source of water – a spring – which Samson named En Hakkore. The author tells us that it remained there in Lehi to the day of his writing. That would mean that every time an Israelite passed by (or, better yet, paused to drink from it) he would be reminded of what God had done through Samson. The chapter ends with the author’s statement that Samson led (or judged) Israel 20 years. This statement will be repeated again at the end of chapter 16.
There are many points of interest in our text, but some seem to be more important than others. Taken together, these observations from our text will help point us to the message of our text. So allow me a couple of moments of your time to call some things to your attention from our text.
First, we should note that we have seen Timnah before in the Bible in the Book of Genesis:
12 Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 It was told to Tamar, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife (Genesis 38:12-14).
If Samson had known his Bible history, he would have recognized that the last Israelite to go to Timnah to find a wife didn’t fare so well for having done so. Judah formed an unhealthy friendship with Hirah, and then married a Canaanite woman who bore him three sons for whom Judah sought Canaanite wives. On this occasion Tamar, a Gentile, proved to be more pious than Judah.
Second, Samson took the wrong path willfully, for the wrong path was well marked by the Scriptures (the Pentateuch) and by the teaching of his parents. Samson knew what it meant to be a Nazirite, and yet this did not impact his search for a wife. While the Philistines were not technically Canaanites, his parents wisely warned him against marrying an “uncircumcised Philistine.” And yet Samson disregarded their warnings. While Proverbs was not yet written, Samson will prove to be an excellent example of many of the warnings found in this book. God’s will was clear to Samson; he just didn’t want to follow this path.
Third, I cannot help but read about Samson’s encounter with the lion without thinking about the warnings in the Bible regarding the “lion in the road.” There are two proverbs which speak of a lion in the road:
The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
I will be killed in the middle of the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13)
The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
A lion in the streets!” (Proverbs 26:13)
The sluggard worked hard at finding excuses to avoid hard work. One of these was the “lion in the road.” Who would possibly walk out the door if there actually was a lion outside? No one would do so because it would be suicide. While the sluggard only imagined a lion in the road, we read a real life account of one in 1 Kings 13:23-32. Shouldn’t Samson have recognized this rushing lion as a divine warning? And yet Samson simply sees the lion only as a good source for honey and good material for a riddle.
Fourth, Samson seems to speak when he shouldn’t and to be silent when he should speak. The Hebrew word often translated “tell” (nagad) is found 14 times in chapter 14. It is sad to see how Samson “tells” his secrets to those who will use them to bring him harm, while he withholds information from his parents. He did not tell them about being attacked by the lion or about how he killed it. He did not tell his parents that the honey he was offering them (which they ate) came from within the carcass of a dead animal, and thus he was bringing defilement upon them without their knowledge.
Fifth, unlike Israel’s earlier judges, Samson always seems to operate in solo mode. Samson always works alone. He does not ask or inspire others to join with him in battle with the Philistines. Samson always goes it alone. Indeed, Samson is a “loner.” He is not close to his parents, nor does he have any close friends. (At the wedding celebration, he is provided with 30 friends who were probably paid to fulfill their role.) Samson did not enjoy intimacy with parents, friends, or women.
Sixth, while Samson’s parents did not know it, God purposed to used Samson’s foolish choices and actions to further His purposes.
4 Now his father and mother did not realize this was the Lord’s doing, because he was looking for an opportunity to stir up trouble with the Philistines (for at that time the Philistines were ruling Israel). (Judges 14:4)
Think of the anguish Manoah and his wife experienced as they observed Samson’s disdain for his calling as a Nazirite. How many sleepless nights were there for these godly parents when they realized that in spite of their desire to raise Samson to be a godly young man, he had every intention of going his own way? While some might argue that they did not do enough to stop him from marrying a Philistine wife, they did clearly express their displeasure and sought to persuade him to marry an Israelite woman. In spite of their efforts, Samson was intent on going his own foolish way, more interested in satisfying his fleshly desires than in fulfilling his spiritual calling.
Here’s the beautiful thing: Samson’s sin would neither hinder nor thwart God’s purposes. Samson would be a deliverer, or, in the words of the Angel of the Lord, he would “begin” to deliver Israel from the Philistines.15 God’s purposes are vastly greater than anything we can imagine.16 What Samson’s parents could not see at the moment was that God would use Samson as an unwilling instrument, and thus He would accomplish everything that He had purposed.
In times like ours, things certainly look bleak, spiritually speaking. Our nation has forgotten and forsaken its spiritual roots. Christians are no longer respected as they once were, and there are indications that greater persecution is coming for those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and believe that the Bible is His inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word. We see Congress out of control, proposing legislation that would have seemed preposterous only a few years ago. Are we as Christians wringing our hands, as though God’s promises and purposes are at risk? Unlike Samson’s parents, we have been told what God is going to do in the future, and we have also been assured that no power on earth can thwart His plans and purposes. The very things over which we may be agonizing17 may be what God is using to accomplish His sovereign will.
Seventh, in spite of his intensive efforts to indulge his flesh, Samson found very little gratification. In the dark reaches of my memory, a song title came to mind: “I Just Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Think about it. Samson was strongly attracted to a Philistine woman. Much time and effort went into acquiring her as his wife. His wedding party was a disaster. His riddle was solved by men who forced his wife to betray his confidence, and thus he was required to provide 30 outfits to his groomsmen. His wife cried for much of the week of “celebration.” And in the end Samson never consummated this marriage. His wife was given to another (his best man), and then she and her father were burned to death by her own people. For all of his efforts, Samson certainly “got no satisfaction.”
Eighth, rather than support Samson by joining him is his battle with the Philistines, the men of Judah rebuked him for causing trouble, and then handed him over to the Philistines so that they could kill him.
We need to remind ourselves of the way the Book of Judges began:
1 After Joshua died, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who should lead the invasion against the Canaanites and launch the attack?” 2 The Lord said, “The men of Judah should take the lead. Be sure of this! I am handing the land over to them.” 3 The men of Judah said to their relatives, the men of Simeon, “Invade our allotted land with us and help us attack the Canaanites. Then we will go with you into your allotted land.” So the men of Simeon went with them. . . . 18 The men of Judah captured Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, and the territory surrounding each of these cities (Judges 1:1-3, 18).
The men of Judah dominate the first two chapters of the Book of Judges as those who led their fellow Israelites into battle with the Canaanites and the Philistines. Here in chapters 13-15 we see a completely reversed situation. The Philistines rule over Israel, and yet not so much as a cry for help is heard from the Israelites. Indeed, the men of Israel have willingly accepted Philistine rule; consequently, they are very upset with Samson for jeopardizing their relationship with their captors. When the Philistines congregate in Judah’s territory, the men of Judah make every effort to appease them in order to avoid hostilities and reprisal. Samson, the “Lone Ranger” in waging war with the Philistines, is viewed as the enemy, not the Philistines. Rather than stand with Samson, they hand him over to the Philistines. How can this be? What has happened to Samson and to the men of Judah?
Ninth, Israel (the men of Judah) and Samson are alike in that they are both looking to the Philistines for what God has promised to provide. For both Samson and the men of Judah, the Philistines are not the enemy; the Philistines are the providers of something that is deemed desirable. Samson does not just want this Philistine woman as his wife; every woman to whom Samson turns is a Philistine: his “wife” in chapter 14; the harlot at Gaza (16:1-3); and finally Delilah (16:4-22). Samson did not look to God to provide him a wife from within his own tribe, or at least from within Israel. He saw Philistine women as superior to Israelite women.
And the men of Judah somehow saw Philistine rule superior to being ruled by a judge whom God raised up. They resisted and rejected Samson’s leadership. They did not join with him when he fought the Philistines. Instead, they took him into custody, bound him, and handed him over to the Philistines to be put to death. Why? Because they saw Philistine rule to be superior to the rule which God would provide. They saw surrender to their enemies as being better than surrendering to God. The men of Judah, like Samson, looked to the Philistines for what only God can provide, and in the process, they both rejected God.
All of this prompts me to look for the point – the underlying message – of our text. What is God trying to teach Israel and us by this account of Samson in chapters 14 and 15? What is the point we are supposed to get, to reflect upon, and then to apply?
I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, “What About Bob?” This is not because the title contains my name, but because Bob Wiley is totally consumed with his own needs. At one point in the film, Bob manages to make his way to the lake where Dr. Leo Marvin (his recently acquired psychiatrist) is on vacation with his family. Trying to persuade Dr. Marvin to spend time with him, Bob cries out, “I need! I need! I need!”
I believe that Samson (individually) and the men of Judah (corporately) were in trouble spiritually because they were driven by illegitimate needs, needs which they so intensely pursued that they were willing to sacrifice their relationship with God to meet them.
It may be best to put this matter into a much broader biblical perspective, so let’s begin at the very beginning. When God created Adam and Eve, He made provision for their every need. They were placed in a garden which they were to cultivate. In that garden were trees producing all kinds of fruit. They were permitted to eat freely of every tree of the garden except for one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan approached Eve, needless as she was, and convinced her that she really did have an important need, a need for which God had apparently made no provision. She was deceived into believing that she needed that forbidden fruit, even at the price of disobeying God. As you know, the consequences of their decision18 to eat the fruit of that forbidden tree were severe – death – and a whole lot more.
From this point on, we see God’s plan for saving men from the consequences of the fall (and from their own personal sins). God promised Eve that He would provide a Deliverer from her own offspring (Genesis 3:15). Moses, Joshua, and the judges foreshadowed (to some degree) the Great Deliverer, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would come and save people from their sins.
But there is a very important lesson that God has been teaching men in the meantime: Man has but one great and all-consuming need – God. God worked in Abraham’s life to show him that He was his great need. Abraham did not need to lie (about his wife Sarah), but to trust God. Abraham did not “need” his only (at that time) son, Isaac; he needed God. And so Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac if that was God’s command.
Later, God demonstrated His power over Pharaoh, the great nation of Egypt and their gods, and the forces of nature when He delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. For 40 years, God led the Israelites in the wilderness, and the goal was to teach them to trust in Him, rather than in the gods of the heathen:
1 You must keep carefully all these commandments I am giving you today so that you may live, increase in number, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, emphasis mine).
Israel’s “wilderness wanderings” were for a purpose. On the one hand they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years so that the first generation (who doubted and disobeyed God) could die off. But on the other hand, God led His people in the desert to demonstrate to them that they could trust God to meet their every need. Yes, they needed bread, and shoes, and God provided for these needs. But most of all they needed to trust God to provide their every need. What they needed most was the Word of God, by which they were to live.
This passage in Deuteronomy 11 explains why God led His people to the “Promised Land,” rather than giving them possession of Egypt:
8 Now pay attention to all the commandments I am giving you today, so that you may be strong enough to enter and possess the land where you are headed, 9 and that you may enjoy long life in the land the Lord promised to give to your ancestors and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land where you are headed is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, a land where you planted seed and which you irrigated by hand like a vegetable garden. 11 Instead, the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy is one of hills and valleys, a land that drinks in water from the rains, 12 a land the Lord your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:8-12).19
God told the Israelites that He took them out of Egypt, where farming was done by means of irrigation (from the Nile River), to a land where “dry farming” was practiced. In Egypt, there was little question year by year as to whether or not there would be water for their crops. And so God led His people to a land where farming was dependent upon the rains. No rain – no crops. God did this because He wanted His people to understand that every part of their lives was bound up in their need for Him. It was God to whom they were to look for the rains and for their crops. Ultimately, their only real need was for Him. Trusting in Him was the key to meeting every legitimate need.
The nations around them put their trust in idols – their gods. Idols were (and continue to be) a means whereby men think they can manipulate their no-gods and have their “needs” met. No wonder these idols pertain to sexual virility and reproduction. No wonder they are alleged to give victory in battle or success in one’s endeavors. Idols are the means by which men believe they can manipulate their “gods” and meet their needs, based upon their performance.
God led the Israelites into the Promised Land where giants awaited them, along with great armies and huge, highly fortified cities. God did so because He was sufficient to meet their needs in conquering the land He had promised to give them. He did not quickly or easily drive out the Canaanites because He wanted His people to learn that they could trust in Him to give them the victory over their enemies.
As we read the Book of Joshua, we see how God greatly blessed His people with victory over their enemies when they trusted in Him and obeyed His Word. Judges starts out reasonably well, with Judah leading the way to military victory, trusting God to go before them as they engaged the Canaanites. But all too soon the Israelites began to settle for something less than victory, to settle for dwelling among the Canaanites rather than driving them out of the land. And thus they began to think and to act like the Canaanites among whom they lived. This led to the worship of their gods and to pagan practices that were an abomination to God. Once they embraced Canaanite values and practices, it was not so bad living under Canaanite (or Philistine) domination. When a fellow like Samson came along, he threatened the arrangement the men of Judah had come to accept, even enjoy. They wrongly supposed that Israel’s great need was not God, but peace, safety, and the enjoyment of life’s pleasures. It was now Samson who would have to go, not the Philistines.
In time (after the period of the judges passed), God would give Israel a king. It was easy for Israel to place their faith in these Israelite kings, rather than in God. Their leaders thus became their idols. But it did not take long at all to see that their leaders were mere men, with their own needs and weaknesses. Consequently, David “needed” some rest and relaxation, and then he needed another man’s wife, and finally he needed a man killed to cover up his sin. Solomon, too, had his needs, and as wise as he was, he needed too many wives and worshipped too many gods in his old age.
Speaking of kings, God’s instructions to Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy made it clear that kings were to need Him and to trust in Him only, rather than in wives (and the political alliances they brought), money, horses and chariots. The king did need to constantly read God’s Word:
14 When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king – you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. 17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).
Skipping over time, we come to the days when our Lord Jesus presented Himself as the Promised Messiah. The Israelites were at that time governed by Rome. They were looking for a Savior who would deliver them from Rome’s domination. Jesus looked like the solution to their needs. At His triumphal entry, Jesus was welcomed as Israel’s king. But during the course of His final week in Jerusalem, it became evident that His kingdom wasn’t what they expected and hoped for. And so when Jesus was arrested and tried before the Jewish and Roman authorities and refused to forcefully resist, the crowds suddenly changed their opinion of Jesus. Even the disciples fled, perplexed by what they saw and heard. While the crowds had once hoped Jesus would overthrow Rome and establish His rule in Jerusalem, they now cried out, “We have no king but Caesar.” And when it became evident that Jesus was not the revolutionary they wanted, they called for Pilate to release Barabbas and to crucify Jesus. Just as Israel rejected Samson as their deliverer in Judges, choosing instead to submit to the Philistines, so Israel rejected Jesus in New Testament times, choosing instead Barabbas and Caesar.
Samson failed to live up to the standard set for a Nazirite. Likewise, all of Israel’s leaders fell short of the standards God had set for Israel’s leaders, and especially their Great Deliverer, the Messiah. In every case, these leaders in Israel were so flawed by their own desires and needs that they could not adequately deliver or judge Israel. God’s Deliverer must be, and do, far better than they if he was to deliver men from the penalty and power of their sins.
One of the great contrasts between Israel’s leaders and the Messiah is that they all had needs (legitimate or not), needs which they sought to meet independently of God; Jesus was the perfect God/man, free from any and all defects, and free from any need other than to fulfill His mission and thus glorify His Father.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone” (Acts 17:24-25, emphasis mine).
The false gods of this world are very needy beings (speaking momentarily as if they really exist at all). They “need” someone to fashion them out of wood or metal. They need to be carried about. They “need” people’s offerings to keep them going. But the God of the Bible is the One who has created everything, and who continues to sustain it:
18 To whom can you compare God?
To what image can you liken him?
19 A craftsman casts an idol;
a metalsmith overlays it with gold
and forges silver chains for it.
20 To make a contribution one selects wood that will not rot;
he then seeks a skilled craftsman
to make an idol that will not fall over.
21 Do you not know?
Do you not hear?
Has it not been told to you since the very beginning?
Have you not understood from the time the earth’s foundations were made?
22 He is the one who sits on the earth’s horizon;
its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before him.
He is the one who stretches out the sky like a thin curtain,
and spreads it out like a pitched tent.
23 He is the one who reduces rulers to nothing;
he makes the earth’s leaders insignificant.
24 Indeed, they are barely planted;
yes, they are barely sown;
yes, they barely take root in the earth,
and then he blows on them, causing them to dry up,
and the wind carries them away like straw.
25 “To whom can you compare me? Whom do I resemble?”
says the Holy One.
26 Look up at the sky!
Who created all these heavenly lights?
He is the one who leads out their ranks;
he calls them all by name.
Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,
not one of them is missing (Isaiah 40:18-26).
When Jesus came to this earth, it was not to gain something that He needed, to fulfill some unmet need that made Him less than He should be. It was quite the opposite. The Bible speaks of what our Lord laid aside to come to this earth, not what He needed to gain. He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the payment for our sins.20
At His temptation, Satan tried his time-proven tactic of creating some felt need that could only be met by disobeying God. Satan sought to convince our Lord that His interests would best be served by acting independently of the Father. Our Lord’s answers to Satan came from the Book of Deuteronomy. In essence, Jesus responded that He had but one need, the need to trust and obey the Father by keeping His Word. Satan’s offers had no attraction because Jesus was the only person on earth that had no unmet needs.
We do not have a needy God, or a needy Savior. Unfortunately, some represent Him as being in need. They portray God as lonely, and needing our fellowship, or our worship. As Paul made clear in Acts 17:24-25, our Lord does not need anything. We desperately need Him; He does not desperately need us. And being free of need, our Lord is free to act in such a way as to achieve every one of His purposes. How I love to trust, to serve, and yes, to need, a God who has no needs.
But there’s more (as the television commercials say); the God who has no needs has all power. He does not lack anything, including absolute power and absolute control of His creation.
16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:16-20).
Now, let’s call to mind how all this fits with our text in Judges 14 and 15. The Lord raised up Samson as a judge who would begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines. He did that, in spite of his flaws and failures – his sins. Samson failed to live up to his calling because he was more intent on fulfilling his felt needs than he was on fulfilling his calling as a Nazirite. Indeed, Samson was willing to sacrifice his calling as a Nazirite in order to fulfill his fleshly needs and desires.
The men of Judah should have stood with Samson when he fought the Philistines. They had become so comfortable dwelling with the Canaanites and Philistines that they did not want to risk losing the peace and safety of being under Philistine control. Somehow their real need, the need to worship God alone and to obey Him, was something they were willing to sacrifice for the momentary benefits of the time. They believed they needed the Philistines and what they provided more than they needed God and all of what He promised to provide.
Samson and the men of Judah sought satisfaction in something other than God, and this always leads to disaster. Israel did need a king, but it would not be a king like Saul, or even David. God’s provision for our needs came in the person of Jesus Christ. He alone can deliver us from the power and the penalty of sin. He alone can meet our true and deepest needs. Trusting in anyone or anything else will never satisfy. Trusting in Him alone brings the forgiveness of sins, the assurance of eternal life, and fullness of joy.
13 “Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
they have rejected me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns which cannot even hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).
37 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
1 Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 14 in the series, The Dark Days of Israel’s Judges, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 15, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 Actually, we are not told that Samson loved any woman until Delilah (16:4).
4 In verse 1, we are told that Samson “saw” this woman; in verse 7, we are told that he “talked” with her. Even if there were words spoken on their first encounter, the emphasis seems to be on what Samson saw.
5 The ESV renders verse 7: “Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson's eyes.” Once again the translator’s note in the NET Bible indicates the literal words, but chooses to paraphrase them, losing the connection to a main theme in Judges.
6 We see this also in 14:8-9.
7 This seems significant, given the fact that a Nazirite was to have nothing to do with grapes.
8 From Numbers 6:6-12, we know that a Nazirite is not to be defiled by contact with a dead body. It is not altogether clear in this text whether or not a dead animal carcass would be viewed as defiling, but I assume so. Otherwise, why would Samson avoid telling his parents that the honey came from within the carcass of the dead lion?
9 There is a certain irony here for this is exactly what the 30 wedding guests threatened to do the Samson’s wife if she did not learn the answer to the riddle and tell them (Judges 14:15).
10 This being “fresh” and the donkey obviously being dead, Samson would once again be defiled by contact with the dead – not to mention those he would kill.
11 See Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation: Expositions of the Book of Judges (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 183-184.
12 Marginal note in the ESV.
13 Note in the NIV.
14 I’m not sure why the translators of the NET Bible paraphrased “the uncircumcised” to read “the Philistines.” Granted, they tell the reader what they have done in a marginal note, but referring to the Philistines as “the uncircumcised” is much more powerful. Earlier (14:3), it was Samson’s parents who challenged his choice of a wife from the “uncircumcised Philistines,” rather than from one of the tribes of Israel.
15 Judges 13:5.
16 1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4.
17 I should hasten to say that Christians should be agonizing about those things which are contrary to God’s Word. The slaughter of innocent lives in the womb, for example, is cause for distress. But let us never forget that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
18 Adam and Eve reached the same decision – to eat of the forbidden fruit – but for different reasons. Eve was deceived, but Adam was not. See 1 Timothy 2:14; 2 Corinthians 11:3. Both were equally wrong.
19 I have cited only a small portion of each of these two chapters in Deuteronomy. I would strongly recommend reading the entire chapters.
20 See Mark 10:45.