The Honor of Family

When we started this crazy ride of Samson’s life, his parents were childless. The Angel of Yahweh visits them, and bingo, no longer childless. But we’re never told there are more kids following, at least not until now. Up to this point Samson has even acted like an only child, as if the world revolved around him. Only now do we discover that wasn’t it.

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 16:30 — 31 NASB)

Samson’s claim to fame lay in his great strength. And this strength was not in his muscles, but in Yahweh. The key to unlocking his strength was in his choice of Delilah over Yahweh. Sure, she had his hair cut, but it was his choice to tell her that brought him down. And, it’s in his death, in finally choosing Yahweh, he becomes the quintessential weapon of Yahweh against the Philistines. 

But, it’s also in his death we learn more of his family. We learn he had brothers. We learn of the family grave. And we learn of their honor of Samson. He is “gathered to his fathers”, which, in that culture, is acceptance highly prized. It means that, in his death, probably more so than during his life, he was accepted as one of the people of God. 

He went from “terrifying freak” to “Samson son of Manoah”, from weapon to champion. It’s not so subtle a change in their culture. In a way, his burial with his father, Manoah, brings this one so-holy-as-to-be-avoided, into the circle of a holy people. He was a Nazarite from birth who tears lions, kills a thousand men with a donkey jawbone, and carries the city gates of Gaza up a prominent hill. He probably gives people the creeps, especially when they look into his eyes and see the a man trapped in there. It’s haunting.

Now he’s home, finally. He’s at peace, finally. He’s among his people to stay, finally. And he’s welcomed, finally. There aren’t 3,000 of his own people showing up with new ropes to bind him and hand him over to his enemies. Samson is a tragic character. His tragedy is partly due to his lousy choices, but also due, maybe mostly due, to Yahweh’s choices of how to use him. 

We can’t blame others for our bad choices, not even our Master, Jesus. When our Master calls us to a purpose that we find uncomfortable or detestable, what choices will we make? Not the missionary type? Too invested in your secular job to consider vocational ministry? Does a jail or prison chaplain ministry scare you too much to consider?  Perhaps you’re too busy to be a hospital chaplain. 

The callings of our Master, from local soup kitchens to foreign missions, force us to choose. The Spirit of Jesus, living in us, empowers us for His use. And that empowerment can have detrimental effects in other areas of our lives when we resist that call to service. Often, people cling to the master of our warped culture’s pantheon, and resist the Master living within us. 

There’s time to relent, to cease resisting, to acquiesce to our Master’s intentions for us. I have, sort of. And in the struggle to be what He wants rather than what I want, I move in and out of bad choices along the way. I medicate fears and frustrations with choices that gratify my desires, not His. In a sense, it’s like I’m being passively aggressive with my Master, I’ll do what He wants, but refuse to be happy with it. 

And my culture says that it can’t be His call if I’m not happy. Not according to Samson. Not if we read of Jephthah. Not anyone familiar, really familiar, with Jeremiah. Scripture teaches me about my Master, and that He’s less interested in my happiness than in my usefulness to His Kingdom. My happiness saves no one. But His Kingdom redeems the whole cosmos.

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


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?

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?

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?

The Barefoot Exodus

And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. (2 Samuel 15:30 NASB)

In contrast to a chariot and fifty men running before him, this king walks barefoot, head covered, and weeping.  Absalom sought to steal the hearts of people at the gate, but these people who knew the king best wept as he left the city of his name.  There is a very evident contrast between the two ‘royal’ figures.  And yet, there are similarities as well.

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