Inspired Action

One of the struggles we have to face as disciples of Jesus is that Who we worship refuses to conform to our imaginations.  Jesus, Yahweh, God refuses to be Who we expect or imagine Him to be.  This is why Bible study is so important.  In Scripture, our Creator has recorded His interactions with His human creatures.  Our relationship with Him is defined therein.  If you want to know the “rules” of the relationship, then that’s where you find them, in Scripture.  Part of that knowledge is learning about the One we worship.  And He is often really unexpectedly weird.

Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. (Judges 14:5-6 NASB)

What is translated here in the New American Standard as “mightily” is the Hebrew word, tsalach (Strong’s 6743).  In the Septuagint, there are two versions, one has the Greek word, hallomai (Strong’s 242), and the other has kateuthuno (Strong’s 2720).  So what? Well, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Yahweh, and so, displays the character and will of God in this event, the tearing of a lion.

The Hebrew word, if you followed the link, you’ll see refers to prospering, or being successful.  The Spirit of God worked in Samson to give him success against the lion.  This doesn’t surprise us because God was keeping Samson safe.  Regardless of Samson violating his Nazarite state by touching the body later, the Spirit of God worked in him then to keep him safe.  It wasn’t a statement about Samson’s righteousness, but his usefulness to God.

Flash forward to after his “companions” extort the answer to the riddle out of Samson’s wife:

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. (Judges 14:19 NASB)

You’ll never guess which words are behind “mightily” here?  Maybe you would.  The Hebrew is the same, and the two versions of the Septuagint both have the same word choices.  Consider this: what happened in the first instance to save Samson from the lion happened again as he goes to essentially murder 30 unwitting unsuspecting Philistines.  Do you realize that, today, we would brand Samson as a serial killer, and he’d have his own episode of Criminal Minds?  But this is Scripture, so we say that God inspired him to act in this way.  But, today, what do we say about the character of the One we worship?

You may be very uncomfortable with this line of thinking, but we need to go here.  It’s necessary because we must confront what God says about Himself.  We cannot allow ourselves to make up who we think He should be.  We must allow Him to define Himself.  You can’t make your spouse who you want them to be, that never works.  So, why would we turn around and do that with God, our Creator?  Why, because who He is makes us uncomfortable.

The thing is, defining our Master from this one passage is impossible.  That’s not the expectation.  Jesus died for our sins.  “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NASB)  The One we worship is still this One.  But He is also the one inspiring Samson to murder the enemies of God’s people, by our modern definition.  The challenge is to hold both things as true at the same time.

Perhaps accepting the difference in societies and cultures between then and now will suffice in explaining why God worked the way He did then.  And that’s fine, as long as both characteristics are true simultaneously.  We must let God be who He is, as He describes Himself.  Keep very close to the surface of your mind as you study Scripture that this is what He wants us to know about Himself.  He wants us to know that He inspired Samson to kill those 30 Philistines as he did.  It wasn’t war, those thirty men didn’t attack Samson (that we know of, at least that detail wasn’t important to record), there was no record of provocation from those who died.

How you deal with that challenge is on you.  The consequences of Samson’s actions were felt by Samson.  The Philistines didn’t excuse him because he was inspired.  Jesus clearly instructs us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us.  Yet, in this passage, that same Person inspired Samson to murder some of the enemies of God’s people.

This isn’t saying we should be violent.  But perhaps it is saying we need to be aware that our Master sometimes is violent.  This is another lesson that sin is defined by our relationship with our Master, not by a list of unapproved actions.  The same actions by different people may result in sin for one and righteousness for the other.  It all depends on the relationship.  This is only “situational ethics” as long as the “situation” is always our relationship with our Master.

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


The Riddler Judge

Characters in Scripture continually surprise me.  They bring out my prejudices revealing areas of pride in my heart. For some reason, I am constantly surprised at the sophistication of Bronze Age II people, including the Israelis.  What’s wrong with me?  How often does that need to happen before I simply accept that it doesn’t take a smart phone to make one brilliant?

Samson throws a party, because that was the custom of the time when one gets married.  He wasn’t from there, so thirty “friends” were found for him with whom to “party”.  So, Samson decides to have some fun and offers to challenge them with a riddle…

Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.  But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.”  So he said to them, “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” But they could not tell the riddle in three days. (Judges 14:12-14 NASB)

Look at verse 14 in several translations.  This riddle which Samson “propounds” is a poetic oddity.  Normally Hebrew poetry doesn’t render into English well at all.  English poetry prefers rhyme (words end the same), and Hebrew prefers “euphony” (words begin the same).  This riddle begins the same in Hebrew, and rhymes in English.  Only the King James Version misses the rhyme because of an “eth” that just has to be in there.  That doesn’t happen.

And consider that the references also work well in both languages, “eater” with “something to eat” (actually “food”), and “strong” and “sweet”.  These same references are clear in Hebrew.  Normally, such ideas or references take a lot more words in English than they do in Hebrew poetic lines.  This riddle is a poetic anomaly, in that it works both in Hebrew and English.  It doesn’t work so well in Greek.  Ironic, that.

Anyway, if he wins, Samson gets 30 sets of clothes.  If they win, Samson buys 30 sets of clothes.  He’s definitely the bigger winner and the bigger loser in this wager.  They risk and stand to gain much less.  Sounds like a good deal, and they take him up on it.  As the readers/audience, we know to what the riddle refers.  But, since nobody seems to work in, or around, the vineyards of Timnah, nobody else does.

Now we run into the second set of weird literary pieces.  It seems our author/editor isn’t a mathematician.  How many days was that feast?

Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?”  Samson’s wife wept before him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?”  However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. (Judges 14:15-17 NASB)

So, the 30 “buddies” can’t tell him he riddle in 3 days, so, on the fourth, they go extort Samson’s “wife”.  Think through what they say to her, “Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is that not so?”  Wouldn’t it make more sense that Samson offered to impoverish himself?  They’re only out a set of clothes apiece, he’s on the hook for 30.  But such they claim, and threaten to kill her and her family.

In order to follow up on the previous entry, notice the wife doesn’t look at Samson and figure he can protect her and her family.  Another reason I think he doesn’t look like a superhero.  Instead she employs the female default weapon…tears.  And, let me just ask this, since all guys are thinking it, but I’m going to verbalize it, “Why do women claim men aren’t emotional, and yet know they can sway us with tears?”  If we weren’t emotional, that wouldn’t work.  So, women, stop trying to have it both ways.  You don’t come out well in the bargain.

Now, they can’t answer Samson in 3 days.  They go to the wife on the fourth.  And, she pesters Samson with tears for how many days?  Seven?  In the Hebrew (which is not the oldest text) they go to her on the seventh day.  How, exactly, does that work?  How can she weep before Samson seven days, regardless of which day the 30 “buddies” went to her?  Unless she was already weeping before him when they went to her, maybe that’s why they went to her.  But, no, that doesn’t really make sense.  We’re left with the literary conundrum, probably caused by the writer having too many fragmentary versions of the story from which to choose.

Eventually Samson gives into the tears, and she, then, promptly betrays him to her people.  I laugh at the next passage, even though it’s actually tragic, it’s just so crazy:

So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” And he said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have found out my riddle.”  Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house.  But Samson’s wife was given to his companion who had been his friend. (Judges 14:18-20 NASB)

The thirty “friends” win the wager telling Samson the answer to the riddle.  Does Samson actually refer to his new wife as a “heifer”?  So, does this guy simply not get women in general?  That could not endear her to him.  But, again, we see the Spirit of Yahweh cause him to succeed, and he goes down to another city, a major Philistine city, and murder 30 men for their clothes.  Was there blood still on them when he delivers them?  The deception and greed of the 30 “friends” was actually more costly for them.

Samson, in anger, returns to his father’s house instead of to his wife, and she’s given to another.  She’s given to someone referred to as one of his companions, who had been his friend.  Perhaps not all 30 were selfish jerks?  But being Samson’s friend, or wife, does not make one safe in this story.

Did you notice that God used this circumstance to incite Samson to kill Philistines?  Samson seems inclined to join them, at least to an extent.  But, their refusal to accept him is used by God to incite Samson to kill 30; something God considers “a good start”.  It’s kind of ruthless of God, is it not?  But consider that friendship with the ruling pagans would be enmity toward God.  Yet God thwarts the extension of friendship, closing off that avenue for Samson, and directs him to damage them instead.  The superhero has a divine purpose, one he may fight against, but one which he cannot escape.

What divine purpose do you have?  I’m no superhero, but I believe I have a divine purpose, and I believe you do as well.  I pray that I won’t miss mine, but, is that even an option?  Won’t my Master drive me away from missing it?  Do I truly have so much power that I can escape the divine will of my Master?  He’s given me a choice, but does He also give up His power over His purposes and designs?  Samson would have been a much less tragic character had he gone along with the purpose of his Master.  So, I guess my (our) choice is whether to be a tragic or triumphant hero.  Let’s fight the right enemy.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

Surprising Quality

Why do “superheroes” have an “alter ego”?  According to the Incredibles it’s to provide some measure of privacy or semblance of a normal life to balance the superhero life.  But what if some normal person suddenly realizes they have “super human abilities”?  Well, that might be what happened to Samson…

Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. (Judges 14:5-6 NASB)

So, the setting is a family walk to Timnah.  The major event is a lion roaring toward him.  But it wasn’t that big of a problem, obviously, because his parents didn’t even notice…and, he didn’t tell them about it.  Samson has a “spiritual epiphany”, and simply tears the lion, like one might tear a goat…happens every day, right? Tearing a young goat, doesn’t everyone do that to young goats?  How do you like your goat? Torn in two please…

This is the first piece of weirdness in this chapter which is full of literary weirdness.  It’s as if the literary skill and flare shown so far in this book was simply dropped.  It’s possible that there are several conflicting accounts of Samson the author has to work with, and he’s doing the best he can with what he has.  If that’s true, and this is the same author with such literary skill and flare, he can’t be happy with how it turned out.

Two details here are worth noting for later.  First, Samson’s parents are right there, and miss the entire event.  Second, they’re at the “Vineyards of Timnah”, a place prominent enough to be mentioned as a reference point.  Perhaps the lion rushed out of a row of vines, Samson ducks into the row, tears the lion, and then jumps back out into the road before his parents notice anything amiss…sure, why not?  Would make a funny scene in a movie perhaps.  Also notice that Samson leaves the body of the lion there in the vineyard.  That will also be helpful later.

It seems the purpose of the trip was so his parent could meet the Philistine Timnite girl.  And it was a short “day-trip”.  Samson returns several days later…

When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion.  So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion. (Judges 14:8-9 NASB)

“Turned aside” is sort of a Hebrew literary marker.  As is what the NASB translates as “behold”.  The point to an important literary element, so, “behold a young lion roaring at him” and “behold a swarm of bees and honey in the body of the lion”, are important details.  The bees and honey in the carcass is certainly weird.  It seems a very unlikely place for bees to make a hive.  Wouldn’t the decomposition of the body spoil the honey?  But it didn’t.  Something this unusual would draw attention, especially as it would be found by anyone working the vineyard, wouldn’t it?

It’s possible that the dead lion is just outside the vineyard, and, since bees and honey were found in it, it may be so dry there, the body didn’t decompose, but actually dehydrated.  So, maybe no one smelled the corpse, or noticed it.  That’s admittedly as thin as a torn young lion, but it’s still possible.  Either way, we find out that no one knows of the honey-filled lion corpse except Samson.

Samson shares his honey with his parents, but doesn’t tell them where he got it.  Who would?  I’m sure “Dead Lion Honey” isn’t the best label to use for marketing purposes.  So, no shock there.  What is odd here is the secrecy of Samson.  Why doesn’t he tell anyone what he does?  Why not brag about it?  Why not become known as the “lion terror” (see what I did there?)?  I suspect that what he did took him by surprise, and he was struggling to get a handle on it.

If Samson was surprised, then perhaps he didn’t look like the pictures (like the one above).  Maybe he looked like anyone else, just with longer hair and beard.  It’s possible that Samson didn’t appear to be someone who could tear a lion, and that he did shocked him.  The Spirit of Yahweh made him successful (which is literally what the word means, normally translated “came upon him mightily”).  I suspect Samson knew it wasn’t him, and so remained silent.  What if it never happened again?  This “alter ego” was discovering he was actually a superhero.

What are we afraid to tackle because we think it’s too big or wild for us?  Perhaps the lesson we can learn from Samson is to tear the lion roaring toward us.  Take on the fearsome deadly thing, and let the Spirit of our Master provide the success we can’t provide ourselves.  Would our families be stronger?  Would our communities be safer? Would our churches be more vibrant?  Have we been listening to the lions from indoors, afraid to get out there to tear it up?  What if the Spirit of Yahweh doesn’t give us success? Then we go home early!  Win-win!

What’s your view of God through your knothole this morning?

Spoiled Brat Judge

Have you ever seen other people’s kids whom you want to slap, just because of how they treat their parents?  It goes without saying, if you have kids, you’ve wanted to slap them at some point.  But other people’s kids acting badly sometimes help you feel better about your own.  Until they cross that line, and you want to slap them.  Yeah, that’s Samson…

Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines.  So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.”  Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” (Judges 14:1-3 NASB)

Up to this point in the account, I want to slap Samson for being overly mouthy.  Children in Israel did not give their parents commands, and here, each of these statements from Samson are commands.  A picture emerges of a spoiled boy.  He’s their only son, and promised by God.  He’s special even if they didn’t treat him that way.  And yet, while the Spirit of Yahweh stirs in him (see 13:25), it seems the Spirit doesn’t really influence him to be a better person.

Samson goes to Timnah, an Israelite city controlled by the Philistines (now ruling over Israel for 40 years, see 13:1).  There, he sees a Philistine woman, and wants her…she “looks good” to him, or “she pleases his eyes”.  He’s very deep at this point of his life.  This judge, who has such an auspicious introduction, like Jesus’, is behaving like a spoiled brat.  He’s not likeable at this point in the story, yet, we have a caveat included by the author:   However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. (Judges 14:4a NASB) 

Samson wants what he wants when he wants it, but this is from Yahweh?  Have any of you parents wanted to hear that your kid’s “issues” were from our Master, and not your fault?  There have been days, let me just say that.  So, this behavior of Samson, his driven desire for a Philistine woman, is from Yahweh.  It sounds strange, but, so far in Judges, what has sounded normal?

The lesson from this introduction, at least as I read it, is that God will even use those we assume have no regard for Him.  Samson is a spoiled brat, or at least he talks like one.  Yet this is from Yahweh.  Our Master uses a spoiled brat to begin to take down the Philistines, or show His people that they can be taken down.  So, simply because someone is irritating to me, that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to my Master.  Jesus’ command to love everyone, even our enemies, is partly so that we will allow our Master to use anyone He chooses.

Think about that.  We assume, way too often, that God will only use the “good people”.  Even though we “speak” grace, we assume God will judge and select only the people of the best behavior.  This plays out in our lives in the way we treat those who misbehave with disdain.  Jesus would never use these “doers of iniquity”!  Um, yes, yes He does.  In fact, He kind of likes using them because His power is more obvious.  When He uses us “goody two-shoes” believers, we assume it was because we’re so good.  How does that glorify Him?  It glorifies us!

See, our Creator wants us to love Him, because that is the only sure way to adjust our attitude, which then changes our behavior.  But we want to work the system backwards.  We want to change our behavior, thereby changing our attitude (becoming self-centered since we changed ourselves), and now our Creator loves us.  That’s not going to work with our Savior.  It’s not that He’s not going to use someone like that, He uses busted examples of believers all the time.  But that’s not what He wants for us.  There’s no relationship involved, and, therefore, no real benefit for the believer.

When worked backward, the process becomes sin, specifically, iniquity: the twisting of the relationship rules.  God uses sinful people, but the relationship is fractured.  And to our Creator, the relationship is the whole point.  We can still be useful, just not within His kingdom.

So, let us see ourselves as a “Samson”, and align our minds and hearts with our Creator’s mind and heart.  Let us look at others with the compassion of our Savior, and the love of our Creator, and surrender to the Hand of our Master.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?