[b-hebrew] Samson at Gaza - Judges 16:1
JBarach at aol.com
JBarach at aol.com
Tue Aug 14 18:07:49 EDT 2007
I originally responded to Bruce's question offlist, since I didn't think
most of my response had to do with Hebrew. But then I realized that most of the
other responses didn't either, and I remembered that B-Hebrew has very
different standards than B-Greek.
So, here's what I wrote to Bruce offlist.
> Generally, Christendom paints Samson as a bad man,
> but I'm not convinced. Even whilst staying in Gaza,
> the power of the Lord was upon him as he heaved
> those massive gates out of their foundation and up the
> hill. God's purpose for Samson was to rile the
> Philistines - a task he seemed particularly adapted to.
I think you're right: Samson wasn't a bad man. At least, I'd say, not for
the first part of his story. I think that the Bible portrays Samson as a wise
and good and Spirit-filled judge. We are told explicitly that it was the
Spirit of Yahweh who moved Samson, resulting in him seeing the Philistine woman
in Timnah (13:25-14:1: the chapter break doesn't help us here!), and that
his marriage was from Yahweh -- and if Samson's parents had known that, we're
told, they wouldn't have objected (14:4).
We're told, too, that the Spirit of Yahweh came upon Samson when he was
attacked by the lion. I take the lion here to be a sign from Yahweh to Samson.
The vineyard represents the blessings of the Promised Land (think of the
grapes of Eshcol in Joshua), but the lion represents the Philistines (note the
parallel: the lion comes roaring at Samson in 14:5 and the Philistines come
roaring at him in 15:14: same Hebrew word). The Philistines are keeping Israel
from enjoying the blessings of the Promised Land. But the one who is
anointed with the Spirit comes and tears apart the lion, and the result is access to
the vineyards again and even honey (another blessing of the "land flowing
with milk and honey") in the lion's carcass. That's a symbolic picture of what
will happen through Samson's work.
Samson then comes to the Philistines as the true Sphinx. The Philistines in
the Bible are descended from Egypt (Mizraim: Gen. 10), though they're also
Greek influenced before they arrive on the west coast of Palestine. Sphinxes
show up in Egyptian and Greek literature as riddle-telling lions. Samson has
slain the lion and now he tells riddles. He is the true and greater sphinx,
out-sphinxing the Philistines at their own riddle contest.
Then, when the Philistines intimidate Samson's bride into revealing the
meaning of the riddle (and she chooses to side with Philistines who threaten her
with fire instead of with the man who tears apart lions with his bare hands),
the Spirit comes on Samson again (14:19). When the result of the
Philistines' meddling is that Samson loses his wife (and his chance of offspring), he
responds in kind.
In fact, he says that everything he did was eye for eye, tooth for tooth
(15:11), which means that we have to wrestle to see how Samson's responses are
strict justice, how they are exactly in keeping with what the Philistines did
to him. They rob him of the chance of fruitfulness (a child); he robs them of
their harvest. (I'm not sure about why he used the 150 pairs of foxes, but
I note that there were thirty men who "stole" his "heifer" and that the
Torah requires theft of a cow to be repaid five-fold, and five times thirty is
150. Maybe something there....)
Again and again, all through Judges 15, Yahweh is clearly on Samson's side
and the Spirit keeps coming on him. This is not the picture of a wicked,
self-centered judge, let alone a man who is given over to his lusts, as some
people want to say. (Incidentally, even if the marriage with a Philistine were a
sin, and Samson slept with the Gaza prostitute and with Delilah (which the
text doesn't tell us), that's still only three women, two at the end of his
life and one he didn't sleep with when he was twenty. That's hardly a man
given over to sexual immorality!)
I believe, therefore, that Samson was a righteous judge for twenty years.
On the other hand, I do think that what happened with the harlot in 16:1 was
a sin. I note that it doesn't simply say that Samson went "into her house"
(i.e., just to stay there overnight, and not for the purpose of sexual
intercourse) but that is says that he "went in to her." The phrase "go in to her"
is often used in the Bible for entering someone's house (or tent) for the
purpose of sexual intercourse (Gen. 16:4; 29:23, 30; 30:4; Ruth 4:13; but Judges
4:22 would be an exception).
There are similarities and differences between what Samson does here and
what Joshua's spies do in Joshua 2. There, the spies come "to the house of a
harlot named Rahab" and they "lodge there." There's nothing there to indicate
that the men had (or intended to have) sexual intercourse with Rahab. But
the wording is different with Samson and the Gaza prostitute.
Nevertheless, there are similarities. In both cases, the rulers of the city
come to the prostitute's house to try to trap the Israelite. In both cases,
the ultimate result is that the city is left defenseless. In Joshua, the
end result is that the walls of the city fall down. In Judges, the end result
is that Samson carries off the gates, so that the city is vulnerable.
Yet, there's another difference, too. In Joshua, the Israelites, seeing the
walls of Jericho fallen, go and attack. In Judges, Samson sets up the gates
so that the Israelites in the city of Hebron can see them ... but they do
nothing. Nor does Samson.
Another thing I notice in the story is that, in all the previous stories
about Samson, the Spirit comes rushing upon Samson. But there's no reference to
the Spirit here. Yahweh has not departed from him yet. That happens in
16:19-20. But the absence of a reference to the Spirit here is disturbing.
So I'm inclined to say that we ought to regard Samson's early life as
Spirit-driven but that Samson, after twenty years of faithful judging, has fallen
into sin here, is rescued by Yahweh's power, but then falls again into sin
with Delilah. I think that his three answers to Delilah are intended to be
riddles. I suspect that there's a parallel between the loom holding Samson's
hair and the gates of Gaza (both are pulled up), between Delilah's new ropes and
the new ropes of the men of Israel in Judges 15, and between the never used
bowstrings and the virgin Philistine bride on Judges 14.
But Samson, it seems to me, is playing with his calling and eventually
allows his dedicated hair to be shorn and Yahweh departs from him. That isn't the
end of the story. A Nazirite is still under his vow even if he shaves his
head and so when the hair starts growing again, that's a sign that the vow
still continues. Samson is restored to faithfulness at the end of the story and
wins the victory. (I take it that Samuel is an exact contemporary of
Samson, born in the same year, and finishes the victory that Samson only "began"
[Jud. 13:5] by the victory in 1 Samuel 7.)
That's not a definitive answer to your question, nor is it a matter of
Hebrew grammar or vocabulary (which is why I didn't originally reply on the list),
but I hope it helps a bit.
John Barach (541) 531-2906
Pastor, Reformation Covenant Church (CREC)
706 Beekman Avenue
Medford, OR 97501
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