The Inglorious End?

Betrayed by his love for a woman. His eyes gouged out by his enemies. Forced to grind grain like an animal. Yahweh, the God of his people, had abandoned him, leaving him powerless for the first time in his adult life. This is the end of his life. There’s no way out, he’s blind, he’s weak, Yahweh is through with him…or is He?

Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said,
“Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.”
When the people saw him, they praised their god, for they said,
“Our god has given our enemy into our hands,
Even the destroyer of our country,
Who has slain many of us.”
It so happened when they were in high spirits, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may amuse us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he entertained them. And they made him stand between the pillars.  Then Samson said to the boy who was holding his hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.”  Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And about 3,000 men and women were on the roof looking on while Samson was amusing them. (Judges 16:23 — 27 NASB)

The Philistines thought Dagon had defeated Yahweh, giving them the powerful weapon of Yahweh into their hands. From their belief about the cosmos, the spiritual conflict had finally been won by their god. It was time to party! It was time to gloat over the destroyer of their people, the one humiliating their god, Dagon. Now Dagon was the superior, had usurped the divine chief among the gods, and thrown down the pretender to El’s seat, Yahweh! Now Dagon is Elohim! Or so they thought.

Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”  Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.  And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.  Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:28 — 31 NASB)

Samson is placed in a temple supported by two pillars. The geniuses who brought us the least effective ambush ever, now party in the worst archetecural achievement of man. And, of course, when partying in an unstable structure, always party on the roof…with 3,000 of your closest friends. In way, this is a tremendous statement of faith. We only call it foolishness because they all died, crushed in the temple of their false god.

Notice a few things here. Notice , first, that Samson calls out to Yahweh again. He may have done so before, or he may not have. We’re not told. But he does now. He continues to seek Yahweh, his God. He hasn’t given into the belief that Dagon won, he knows where the failure comes from, he knows who truly failed. That’s the first lesson, keep seeking our Master, regardless of the circumstances.

Secondly, notice Samson acts on what he’s asked for. In fact, technically, he started to act before he even asked. He asked the boy leading him by the hand to let him rest against the two pillars on which the whole temple rested (is “village idiot” too strong a term for this kid?). After he rested against the pillars, then he seeks Yahweh. Samson demonstrates faith in risking action before he has confirmation. Or, is that presumption, assuming Yahweh wants what Samson wants? It’s probably faith. The second lesson is to act on what we ask before God answers. Samson didn’t have to ask whether destroying the temple of Dagon was in Yahweh’s will. That was a no brainer, he simply asked to be the one Yahweh used to do it.

Finally, notice that, in his death, Samson is a more deadly divine weapon. He gave his final breath in service to the purpose of Yahweh for him. He had been the weapon of Yahweh, like it or not. Now, at the end, he is the effective weapon of Yahweh, because he gives himself into the calling. Our final lesson is to surrender to the purpose of our Master for our life. We want to direct our own paths, do what makes sense to us, have what we want or desire, go where we want to go. This is choosing from the wrong tree, when we want the knowledge of good and evil for ourselves. Instead, let’s chose life, and let our Master direct our paths.

That’s my view this morning through this knowhole. What do you see of our Master through yours?

Suicide By Lover

Three times Samson told Delilah a fib about how to take away his strength, and three times she has tried it. Samson knows what she’s doing, and who for. Delilah knows he knows. Basically, she’s trying to get him killed. And finally, Samson goes along with it.

And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.”  And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.  And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” (Judges 16:15 — 17 ESV)

She wore Samson down. After three times failing her benefactors, three times failing to get the silver, she plays the “you don’t love me” card. And she kept at until “his soul was shortened to death”. Samson would rather die than hear her say that again. As far as he knew he did love her. Clearly, that love was not returned.
What does a woman do when a man who loves her reveals whole heart? She betrays him, of course. If the question had been, “what does a woman do when the man she loves reveals his whole heart”, that would have received a different answer. But that’s not what happened. 

Delilah didn’t love Samson. Although, there is the story-element that the Philistines don’t kill Samson. We’re not told that this part of the deal Delilah makes, but what if it were? The thing is, Samson is safer being strong, so it’s doubtful Delilah was interested in his safety. It’s more likely the Philistines wanted him alive to torture, than dead as some sort of inspiring hero of Israel.

Either way, having now seen his whole heart, she promptly betrays him.

When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands.  She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.  And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.  And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison.  But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (Judges 16:18 — 22 ESV)

This time the princes of the Philistines brought payment. This was sure to succeed. The ambush set, Delilah has Samson sleep in her lap. How tender and sweet, she does love him…and then calls for a man to shave the seven braids of his hair. Okay, maybe she doesn’t. In fact, she “torments” him after his hair is shaved. That statement doesn’t fit here. Literally, she “profanes him to humiliate him”, but that word, “profane” can also mean “begin”, hence the common translation. Since what she does causes him to lose the Nazarite status, I think “profane” actually makes more sense.  Samson sleeps, how does she “torment” a sleeping man? She probably put his hand in warm water.

Whatever it is she does, Samson’s strength leaves him. It’s not blatant, but the writer has personified Samson’s strength. Once Samson wakes, the writer notes, “But he did not know Yahweh had left Him.” In a rather literal sense, Yahweh was Samson’s strength. Samson was now separated from his true Master. Instead he is bound to new masters, they put out his eyes, and force him to grind grain in the mill, like an ox. Samson may not have enjoyed being the weapon of Yahweh, but it had to be better than this.

Have you ever wondered if serving God was worth it? Your friends seem to be having so much fun…without you. They do what you can’t, go where you shouldn’t, and talk about things unholy, with smiles and laughter. Does your Master seem a heavy burden? Let’s be honest, in many tangible ways, He is. Our enemy makes sin stuff easy, popular, and sensible. The lie is that “it’s all about us”, and we like that. 

Don’t deny it, you know it’s true. We’re not referring to bars, singles scenes or “clubbing”. We’re referring to other things to do on Sunday, no time to read Scripture, pray, no time for our Master. I did it in my late teens, in the Army. It became “inconvenient” to go to chapel. So, I didn’t do church at all. Eventually, I didn’t recognize the place I was in my life, not at all. It happens, once we choose “easy”, which is to not to follow our Master. And that choice is death, it’s suicide-by-<enter your personal desire here>. You know its true. So, lets chose life instead.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning. What do you see through yours?

The Dangerous Game of Love

Delilah seeks to betray Samson, and he plays a game with her around it. It’s a similar game he played with his first wife regarding his riddle. Once again, someone is “plowing with Samson’s heifer.” Clearly, Samson needs to give up cattle altogether.  

Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”  Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she bound him with them.  Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.

Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound.”  And he said to her, “If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”  So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And the men lying in ambush were in an inner chamber. But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread. 

Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me how you might be bound.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”  So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web. And she made them tight with the pin and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web. (Judges 16:7 — 14 ESV)

Back and forth, query, lie, frustration, query, lie, on and on. Use cords; no, use ropes; no, weave my hair in a loom. From silly to ridiculous, the game proceeds through attempts that must have been embarrassing for Delilah. Each time, the silver seems farther and farther away. Her benefactors are losing their interest in her information. In fact, by the third attempt. There are no more “ambushes” hiding in her bedroom.

Why play the game at all? Why trust a woman who attempts everything you claim saps your strength? Clearly that’s her goal: to sap your strength. It doesn’t actually say the ambushes actually sprung out from her bedroom, but whether they did or didn’t, Delilah is obviously persistently seeking to sap Samson’s strength. 

Now, look closely at Samson’s responses. “If they bind me…”, “If they bind me…”, then, “If you weave my hair…”. Samson knows! This guy’s knows she’s working for his enemies, his answers plainly reveal that, and, therefore Delilah knows he knows, and the game progresses. What is he doing? His whole security lies in his great strength, of which his enemies are terrified (and, rightly so). Yet he dances around that line, that cliff edge, foolishly.

But, don’t we do that? Don’t we flirt with sin so often because we’ve gotten away with it? Haven’t you danced around a secret sin because you’ve escaped the consequences so long, they have stopped scaring you? Consequences are one of the ways our Master sets boundaries. We can’t escape them for long. And that inescapable quality is part of our Master’s grace to us. It’s a painful blessing.

The game for silver, played alongside the game for love, ends without winners. No one is loved, the riches become meaningless. Yet, there are no shortage of players. We continue to choose the fruit of the wrong tree. Fortunately, the love of our Master succeeds where our foolish selfishness fails. All we have to do is agree that loving Him is more important than the love of anything else.

That’s my view through my knothole this morning. What do you see through yours?

Woman Trouble…Again

The character quality of Samson, to this point, hasn’t been awesome. The writer has been directed to this part of Samson’s story, setting Samson up along the way, helping explain why he seems to be so easily duped by Delilah. Notice the detail.

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.  And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”  So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.” (Judges 16:4 — 6 ESV)

Notice that Delilah is the first woman given a name so far. Not even Samson’s mother was named. Think about how deeply ingrained in our culture she’s become, nearly as famous as Samson himself. We may, but probably won’t, remember the lion, sometimes the jawbone, doubtful the Gaza gates, but always Delilah. We don’t forget her.

This also the first time Samson is said to love a woman. Before you simply dismiss that as just another common romance, remember that such a reference is actually rare in Scripture. Isaac loves Rebecah, Jacob loves Rachel, Shechem loves Dinah (after raping her), Elkanah loves Hannah, Michal loves David, and Amnon,loves Tamar (until he rapes her).  That’s about it. All of 66 books, those are the only ones we have, and obviously not all were “healthy”.

The author is making a point that Samson loves Delilah. He was invested enough that he loves her, but doesn’t marry her. There’s no explanation given, it’s simply left out completely. That could be a cultural assumption, that they were married, no need to mention it. But, the author mentions it before, seems an odd assumption to make, not that this saga has made sense so far.

Notice how easily she’s enticed to betray Samson. That’s a lot of silver, but even so, that’s all it took. Samson’s love does not seem to be returned. She doesn’t even hesitate, but begins to wear him down seeking his secret. What we seem to find here is that love, the emotional bond anyway, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’ll see later, it seems to blind him, much like the cliche.

Think how different Samson’s life would have been had he loved Yahweh as strongly as Delilah. Yahweh can be a difficult Master, driving Samson to do terrifying things, but He’s faithful to His people. Among the other options of worship, He is the only option of the Sons of Israel. And, while Samson doesn’t choose other deities, he does seem to worship Delilah.

For what have you or I sold, or traded, our devotion to our Master, Jesus? Its not difficult to do, we have plenty of excuses why it makes sense, or why it isn’t necessarily a trade. But, we still find things more important than our Savior. We still discover we love something that consumes us more than our Creator, our Savior, our Master. We still find ourselves standing on unholy ground. 

Don’t panic, just step back, look around for Jesus’ light, and make for it. He’ll find you, He’ll bring us back to Himself. What He wants is our repentance, our continued desire for His attention, giving Him our attention in the process. Never doubt, just go home. He’ll meet us on the way, and we’ll walk with Him, and talk with Him in the garden, in the cool of the day; just like it was supposed to be.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning. What do you see of our Master through yours?

Did You Hear Something?

Every once in a while, I read something in Scripture that really makes me wonder, “Really? He did that?” This is one of them. I even wonder why the author even included it. I was going back and forth trying to decide whether Samson was strong all the time, or only when the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him. At least this passage answers that.

Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.  When it was told to the Gazites, saying, “Samson has come here,” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. And they kept silent all night, saying, “Let us wait until the morning light, then we will kill him.”  Now Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron. (Judges 16:1 — 3 NASB)

The whole account is just off. Samson goes looking in Gaza for a prostitute? Are they famous for those, or something?  This isn’t the “temple prostitute” either. This your garden variety, pay for it in the alley, working girl. Why? Why is Samson in Gaza, why the prostitute? And before you say, “he’s a weak male” or something else stereotypical, remember that he’s now a judge of Israel. Things have changed for Samson. Sometimes people grow into a position. Samson seems to have regressed out of it. He was there, and lost it.

In any case, Samson is in Gaza, and with a prostitute. Next, his enemies try and ambush him. But this has to be the most inept attempt to ambush on record. These Gazites surround him, then wait for him in the gate. What does that even mean? And that is what it says in Hebrew. Now, the grammar is disjointed, but that’s not unusual Hebrew construction. These Keystone Cops, they have him surrounded, but then wait quietly in the city gate. I suppose they figured he was trapped in Gaza until dawn and the gates opened, so why worry. But why not at least keep a lookout for trouble?

There was no lookout, and they missed one amazing spectacle. In one of the most detailed descriptions of action in the entire account of Samson, the writer has him lifting out the city gates in their entirety. Nothing left, no doors, no posts, no bars, nothing. The most heavily defended part of a city defence, and Samson picks it up, and walks away with it. He doesn’t drag it, he carries it up the highest hill, one from where you can see the lights of Hebron. He doesn’t do a mic drop, he drops the gates. Done.

I’m pretty sure the point is the embarrassment of the Philistines. I’m pretty sure that’s the writer’s whole point. Samson cannot be touched by them, they’re powerless over him. Surround him, ambush him, it doesn’t matter. He can’t be trapped, he can’t be tied, or bound. Gates can’t contain him. The most powerful people in that part of the world are powerless against one man.

God uses Samson regardless of his obedience. Yahweh’s power is made obvious to these Philistines. Their God, Dagon, can’t help them against one man. Yet, they can’t be wrong, and continue to resist, not just Samson, but Yahweh. Not a great plan, and one that doesn’t work well for them in the end.

That’s all I have this morning. What’s your view through your knot hole this morning?

Poetry and Complaint

“Samson, you’ve just defeated the army of Philistines who came to destroy you!  What are you going to do now?”  “Compose poetry and get a drink, I’m going to die of thirst…”  Not exactly, but the shock and exertion of killing 1,000 with a jawbone seems to have taken its toll on Samson.

Then Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.”
When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi. (Judges 15:16-17 NASB)

He named the place, Jawbone Hill.  By the time the writer puts pen to parchment, it had been shortened to Jawbone.  But the memory of that place and its significance remained.  A man had been infused with power from the Spirit of Yahweh, and defeated the iron-armed army coming for him.  And he did so with a jawbone, not a bronze sword.  The odds were ridiculously against him, only to turn out to be skewed the other way by the Spirit of Yahweh.

Right away, holding the jawbone, dripping with the blood of his enemies, Samson composes a poem.  A short, pithy, Hebrew version of a limerick, he composed about what he had just done.  “With the jawbone of the ass…”, that much we all get right.  But the second half of the first line is odd.  Male donkey in Hebrew is chamor, and the Hebrew word used for “heap” here is… chamor.  This word for “heap” is only used here.  To state the obvious, perhaps it means “donkey donkeys”.  The problem is the plural is constructed differently, adding a consonant from which translators infer the root is different.  But, just because Samson composes a poem on the spot, just because people remembered it for hundreds of years, that doesn’t mean it was a particularly good poem.

I think Samson is calling his fallen foes, donkeys.  I think that, he’s basically blaming them for their demise, because he’s overwhelmed by what he just did.  He can’t take it in as something he has done; it has to be their fault.  But that’s a lot of meaning to derive from a problematic poem.  When most translators have it as “heap”, and I alone seem to opt for “donkey”, it’s probably safe to go with heap.  Although, the NIV does translate the second half of the first line, “…I have made donkeys of them.”  I guess I’m not completely alone.

So, the poem turns out to be clever, either as a pun, or as a metaphor.  I choose the metaphor option, as did the NIV translators.  But either way, the poem, composed over the corpses of Philistine warriors, was clever.

But then Samson realizes he has another problem…

Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”  But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day. (Judges 15:18-19 NASB)

At first glance, I thought Samson was a drama king.  But, since Yahweh answers him in such a dramatic fashion, I’ve changed my mind.  I think Jawbone Hill wasn’t a village, it was a high place.  So, there would be no water there, and he just exerted himself in the killing of 1,000 men.  He probably is thirsty, and, perhaps, at a dangerous level of dehydration.  But I think there’s something else missed by a casual reading.  I think the strength of Samson, about which we make so much, really isn’t that strong.  I think the power of the Spirit of Yahweh makes a normal guy extraordinary in action, but leaves him ordinary in need, at least here.

Samson thirsts, to the point of death, he thirsts.  He’s still this guy from the Tribe of Dan, son of Manoah, raised in Mahaneh of Dan.  He’s still amazed at what Yahweh does with him.  Now, he thinks Yahweh might be done with him.  I wonder if he hopes Yahweh is done with him.  He’s not, though, and in a natural “bowl” a notch is made by Yahweh, and water comes out.  Yahweh made a natural “drinking fountain” for His chosen weapon.

After killing 1,000 Philistines, Samson seems to think he will now die of thirst and be delivered into their hands.  He differentiates between himself and them (uncircumcised), which hadn’t slowed his association with them before.  He’s changing.  He’s beginning to see himself as an Israeli, not a Canaani.  He’s now ready for step 2, now that he has accepted Yahweh’s use of him.  Now Samson can judge rightly.

“So he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.” (Judges 15:20 NASB)

Samson isn’t finished making mistakes, and he’s not through with Philistines.  Yahweh retains him as his divine weapon, so, the story continues.  But, for now, Samson renders the decisions of Yahweh for His chosen people.  What a change from the skirt-chasing Philistine-loving, spoiled brat.  It seems our Master really can use anyone.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  How’s your view of God this morning?

Samson: The Original IED

He was fine, content to hide alone in Etam, but no, he couldn’t be left alone.  Have you ever prodded a problem, which, in retrospect, probably should have just been left alone? I’m pretty sure the Philistines thought they understood the problem they faced.  It seemed clear that some rogue Hebrew had gone off rails, and killed a bunch of people in Timnah.  They probably saw it as a potential “uprising”.  They had iron, technologically advanced weaponry.  It was time to reassert.  But, that was a very bad idea.

Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi.  The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” And they said, “We have come up to bind Samson in order to do to him as he did to us.”  Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.”  They said to him, “We have come down to bind you so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me.”  So they said to him, “No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you.” Then they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock. (Judges 15:9-13 NASB)

The Philistines came to “Jawbone”, a hill in the territory of the Tribe of Judah.  The spread out into raiding parties, and the people asked them why they’d come.  The intent was to show that no one pushes around the Philistines.  They had come for the rebel, Samson.  They intended to inflict retribution upon him, which is, ironically, what he had done.  And then he stopped.  The people of Israel agree to bring him to the Philistines.  Of course, they didn’t know what would happen either.

When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.  He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. (Judges 15:14-15 NASB)

Once more, the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon Samson, and he become the weapon of God. Notice that he doesn’t break his bonds, but they turn to ash and fall from him.  God, the One inspiring the slaughter, frees His weapon to do His work.  I’m sure the 3,000 men of Judah scatter, the shout of the Philistines dies in their throats, and a vulture lands in a nearby tree with a cry.  All eyes on Samson, the impossible divine weapon is about to be unleashed.

He grabs one of the least lethal objects, a jawbone (Lehi is named for them), but a “fresh” one.  He doesn’t pick up a stick, which might have broken.  He avoids the old bones, which were probably very brittle.  He picks up a jawbone of a donkey, maybe still with a little meat on it.  It’s a sturdy choice, an improvised weapon in the hands of a man about to explode.  The cry begins again, the Philistines rush, and the death begins.

At what point did the Philistines realize their mistake and try to retreat?  When did the retreat become a rout?  No one pursues fleeing Philistines, and only those remaining on the hill die at the hands of the inspired object of wrath.  Heaps of bodies, all that’s left are mounds of the dead and dying.  Samson stands alone.  Once more having become the terror of Yahweh, inspired bringer of death, he stands alone, the last one alive.

The point isn’t the fight.  It’s not described, only stated.  It happened.  Samson killed 1,000 men with the fresh jawbone.  It’s not even it’s own sentence, it’s a phrase within one.  The point lies elsewhere.  It lies in the man standing among the dead, once again.  The focus of this chapter is the man who has killed a third time.  The point of the author is this man upon whom comes the Spirit of Yahweh, but to destroy, to take life.  He is a tool, a weapon, in the hand of Yahweh to begin to deliver His people from the Philistines.  It is a terrible thing to be Samson, a burden for which he never asked.

I’m not even sure Samson had a choice to disobey.  Did he?  Could he have opted not to engage?  Maybe he could have hid somewhere less accessible.  But he didn’t, and he doesn’t turn from the task at hand.  Whether his choice or not, he engaged the problem before him with the power of the Maker of the universe flowing through him.

What about us?  What if we were to be used by our Master as such an object of wrath?  It seems so foreign to us, our cultures so different.  Yet there still exist cultures in our world in which this wouldn’t be inappropriate.  Warlords still torture the land and people of Africa.  There are other places, nearly lawless ones, where a divine weapon may make sense.  The current nation of Israel stands surrounded by a sea of hostile nations.  Perhaps they have need of another divine weapon.  But would we accept this from our Master?  The question is really, can we accept this as part of the character of our Savior?

Well, that’s my troubling view through my knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Samson’s Choices

Samson has had some very violent experiences when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him.  It seems that Yahweh’s purpose is to begin to break the hold of the Philistines from on His people.  But Samson isn’t necessarily a willing participant.  Samson, when left to his own choices, seems to first choose a prank, before choosing killing people.

Samson then said to them, “This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm.”  Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.  When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves.  Then the Philistines said, “Who did this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he took his wife and gave her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire. (Judges 15:3-6 NASB)

It’s possible that Samson’s prank went further than he intended, yet, with 300 foxes, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome.  That he was able to catch 300 foxes is impressive, and the results are what we might expect; the entire harvest, plus the groves and vines.  Essentially, Samson impoverished Timnah.

The response of the Philistines is interesting.  They don’t preserve their own, but seem to take Samson’s side.  It’s the Philistine family punished, not Samson for going overboard.  And yet, Samson views this as punishment on him, they’ve killed his…almost wife.  It wasn’t like he was likely to gain her back, not after she was given to another.  He still takes this punishment very personally.

Samson said to them, “Since you act like this, I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit.”  He struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam. (Judges 15:7-8 NASB)

This is a difficult passage to translate, and, therefore, understand.  Partly because of an idiom, and partly because of the grammar.  But Samson’s self-exile to a cave seems to help choose among options.

The grammar has to do with “if” statements and what he means by “after I will stop”.  The idiom is that Samson struck them “leg on thigh a great stroke”.  The idiom is typically translated interpreting the idiom to mean “ruthlessly” or something like that.

The grammatical interpretations show less interpretation, and more literal choices.  The “if” statements are translated as “since”, which is normal for Semitic language useage.  But, what did Samson mean, “…and after I will stop”?  Some translations render it, “…I won’t stop until…” but the most literal translation option is to put it at the end.  I think it reveals something of the reluctance of Samson to kill.  I don’t think he wants to kill, but between the Spirit of Yahweh and the Philistine behavior, he feels compelled to kill.

Samson’s choices are destruction of property first, and then vengeance only after his ex-wife is killed.  After his vengeance, he self-exiles to a cave.  This is the action of one showing remorse for his actions, not someone proud to be killing the “lords and oppressors of his people”.  But it seems it is not the plan of Yahweh that Samson hide.  The human weapon of Yahweh isn’t finished yet.

One of the lessons I learn when I think through Samson this way, is that my Master may have plans for me very different than I imagine for myself.  And these plans may even run contrary to my personality and desires.  I’m not wild about that idea, but what if my Master chooses that option for me?  To what extent will I limit my obedience?  Will I only do what I consider beneficial for myself, or to be more in line with my character and desires?  Will I only obey when it works for me?

I’m not sure to what extent Samson had a choice in some of his actions.  In both the foxes and the revenge, he seems to work without divine inspiration.  But that’s coming in this chapter.  So, what if the weapon of Yahweh is Samson’s character?  If so, Samson doesn’t seem to like that part of himself.  He’s proud of his cleverness, but not his ability to take lives.  I don’t think that, if killing is part of his character, it’s the part he wants to be known for.  But, thousands of years later, it’s often the only thing we remember about him, that and his weakness for women.

So, what design could my Master have for me that might run contrary to how I want to see myself?  What will I do when I see Him use me for things I’d rather not do?  What will He do with me that will change how others see me, and how will I view that?  I suspect we will see that Samson isn’t particularly happy with how Yahweh uses him.

That’s my view through the knothole today.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

 

Blooming Where Planted: Joseph IV

If I can’t judge the love of my Master for me when I’m in the crusher, then can I do so when things are going really good?  Nope.  Paul claims that he learned the secret of being content in plenty and in poverty (Philippians 4:11-13).  A change happens for Joseph, but his behavior remains consistently focused on his Master, Yahweh.

Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.  Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. (Genesis 41:8-9 NASB)

The cup bearer has an opportunity to remember Joseph, and what he did for him while in the jail.  Joseph is brought out, cleaned up, and given an opportunity to come before Pharaoh.  When he does, what does Joseph say? He points to God.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”  Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”  (Genesis 41:15-16 NASB)

And God does give Pharaoh a favorable answer, but there’s more than just the answer God gives to understand the dream.  Joseph also gives Pharaoh guidance in how to respond to the meaning.  There’s an important element to how Joseph does that.

“Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.  Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.  Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.  Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it.  Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.”  Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. (Genesis 41:32-37 NASB)

Whether Joseph did this with the hope that he would be “the man discerning and wise”, or whether he simply saw the answer and gave it without hope to be that man, is debated.  It’s not easy to know.  In every previous circumstance we’re not given the initial response of Joseph to his masters, merely that he succeed under each master.

So, it’s possible that he uses this suggestion as a way to get in good with Pharaoh, who has already demonstrated a lack of wise magicians.  But it’s also possible that Joseph is simply without guile by this time, and makes the suggestion knowing that this will be the best response for whoever Pharaoh appoints.

Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?”  So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.”  Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:38-41 NASB)

But it works out that Pharaoh has no qualms about who Joseph has been, only for what he has said to Pharaoh now.  There’s no “class” problem with Joseph having been a slave, or a felon, or even a Hebrew.  Pharaoh makes Joseph the second in the Kingdom of Egypt because it’s clear he has a plan.  Joseph has arrived.

Right away, Joseph gets busy implementing his plan for surviving the seven years of famine.  And he collects so much grain in the seven years of plenty that they stop counting it.  But Joseph also is fruitful personally…

Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him.  Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”  He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:50-52 NASB)

The names of Joseph’s sons is an important view into Joseph, and how he sees what God is doing with him.  Think about why he names his sons as he does.  “God has made me forget all my troubles, and all my father’s household.”  He’s done with where he has come from, and is totally invested in his present.  His past wiped away his dreams.  He has forgotten his father’s house, their dysfunction, their treatment of him, his loss, and his pain.

To Joseph, this is what God is doing in him, this is his “payback” for all he has suffered.
“God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  He is finally being blessed for his faithfulness to God.  So, the lesson for Joseph is that, if we hold fast to our faith in God, then, eventually, we’ll be blessed wherever we are!  God is good, see?  Look what He did for Joseph, rewarding his faithfulness.

So, decisions we make, decisions to remain faithful to God, these eventually work in our favor.  The question is timing.  The problem with pragmatism is that, way too often, time is too heavy of a factor.  Understanding and wisdom comes over long periods of time, but we’re impatient.  Often it’s the spectrum of experience, bad and good, that helps us better understand where we are, and what our Master is doing around and through us.  But keep in mind, the goal isn’t the achievement of power God granted to Joseph, but the serenity Paul learned.  We, too, can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

What’s your view through the knothole?