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?