[b-hebrew] Samson at Gaza - Judges 16:1

JBarach at aol.com JBarach at aol.com
Tue Aug 14 18:07:49 EDT 2007

B-Haverim --
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.
Bruce wrote:
> 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
_http://barach.us_ (http://barach.us/) 
_http://rccso.com_ (http://rccso.com/) 

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