Monday, March 19, 2018

Samson: arch-hooligan par excellence

Reubens' interpretation of Samson killing the lion

There is only one Samson in the Bible. He was the only son of the Danite Manoah of Zorah, whose miraculous conception was foretold by an angel who appeared to her (Judges 13:3). The angel told her that her son would be a Nazirite who would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5).

Samson grew up in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol, but we know nothing of that time or when he began to display his proverbial powers. We also don't know what drove him to travel down to Philistine country (although the author states that YHWH enticed him to look for trouble — Judges 14:4), but there, in Timnah, he saw a woman he asked his parents to get for him (Judges 14:1). He and his parents travelled back to Timnah, and while on the road, he famously killed an attacking lion (Judges 14:6), and its carcass would later home a swarm of honey-producing bees (see for a surprising connection between Samson's bees and the Christmas story our Introduction to Scripture Theory).

The woman slipped through Samson's fingers due to trickery of her people, and Samson embarked on a series of wildly violent campaigns against the Philistines (which also resulted in the lynching of the woman and her father — Judges 15:6). As he took up residence in the cleft of the Rock of Etam, the Philistines retaliated by invading Judah. The men of Judah decided to hand Samson over to their enemies at Lehi, and Samson responded to that endeavor by picking up a donkey's jawbone and pummeling a thousand Philistines to death with it (Judges 15:15). To commemorate this event, he named the place Ramath-lehi and an adjacent spring he named En-hakkore.

At the end of his twenty year career as judge of Israel and Philistine-slayer, Samson took interest in a woman he saw in the Philistine stronghold of Gaza. The towns-folk of Gaza fixed to kill Samson, but in stead saw their town's gates getting hoisted up a mountain opposite Hebron (Judges 16:3). Still craving a woman, Samson went to the valley of Sorek and met Delilah.

Delilah was exceptionally gifted in the art of whining, and she drove Samson to the point of death (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that his Nazirite blessing might be compromised if his hair would be cut, which she promptly did (Judges 16:17). Powerless, Samson was delivered over to the Philistines, who blinded him and transported him to the prison in Gaza (Judges 16:21). When the Philistines brought Samson to the temple of their deity Dagon, the fallen judge prayed to the Lord, regained his strength and destroyed the temple, killing 3,000 Philistines and himself in the process (Judges 16:30).

The apostle Paul demonstrates that faith in the Lord does not always go hand in hand with elegance and subtlety when he lists Samson among the heroes of the faith (Samson in Greek is spelled Σαμψων, Sampson; Hebrews 11:32).

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