Today we are returning to our series on the Book of Judges by reflecting on Judges 15 Samson – The Angry Warrior. Samson is treated unfairly by his wife’s father and he takes vengeance on the area. When the Philistine leaders come to Israel, they demand the Israelites give them Samson so they can punish him. The Israelites comply. The Israelites are seeing themselves as slaves again instead of as God’s people. The Spirit of the Lord once again comes upon Samson and he destroys 1,000 Philistine men. Even though Samson has been given the Spirit of the Lord many times, his character is not changing. We also can have the gifts of the Spirit without growing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Samson—The Angry Warrior
Two weeks ago, we looked at Samson’s wedding and the riddle about the lion he had killed which he had given his companions. They had turned his riddle back on him in their answer, “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” The answer to their riddle of course is love, but that answer is never given, yet there is a feeling in the story that Samson does love his Philistine wife. This proves to be the case now as Samson, after his anger has cooled down, goes back to his father-in –law’s house to claim his wife. Imagine Samson’s surprise to find out his wife is now married to another man, one of his companions at his wedding! Samson’s father-in-law then makes things worse by offering his younger daughter as a replacement wife for her sister. God, through Samson, now takes the next step in delivering his people from the influence and power of foreign gods.
Samson reacts in anger. “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; admitting here that his killing thirsty men before wasn’t right, but now he feels justified in promising, I will really harm them”. Samson wants revenge and he decides to harm the Philistines by destroying their fields and harvests. This will hurt the Philistine community all winter long. He catches three hundred foxes, ties them together in pairs and ties flaming torches to their tails, terrifying them and setting them loose in the fields, vineyards and olive groves, creating chaos and huge losses to his Philistine overlords. This has religious overtones because the main god of the Philistines is Dagon, god of the harvest and prosperity and now an Israelite defies Dagon. The battle between Israel’s God and the Philistine’s gods is on.
Samson’s difficult to punish, but his father-in-law and Samson’s wife are easy targets for their vengeance. Since Samson had burned their fields and bounty, they burn Samson’s in-laws, including his wife. Samson reacts viciously, attacking and slaughtering many of them. The Philistines can’t ignore Samson anymore, so God’s plan to confront the Philistines now begins in earnest. The Philistines gather 3,000 men and march into Judah where Samson has gone to take Samson captive and punish him.
But we see how Israel has given up and accepted their bondage to the Philistines. The men of Judah grovel before the Philistines, “Why have you come to fight us?” they ask. The answer likely doesn’t make the Israelites feel any better, “We want Samson so we can do to him what he’s done to us”. The men from Judah swallow their fear; gather the remnants of their courage and three thousand of them go to Samson. They go to the Nazirite, the man dedicated to God, to chastise him for stirring up their masters and not respecting them. The Israelites who are bound in slavery bind Samson to hand him over to those who have control over their slave chains. God’s presence and hope is pretty well gone in Israel.
It’s sad that Samson even has to ask his fellow Israelites not to kill him, but just to bind him. While they bind Samson in ropes, they don’t even realise that they’re bound in even stronger bonds of slavery, hopelessness, and idolatry. They take Samson, bound in strong new ropes, to the Philistines. The Philistines come shouting, intimidating the men of Judah, but Samson isn’t intimidated, instead the Spirit of the Lord comes on him as the Spirit did when the lion attacked him. The ropes, while strong, when compared to the strength of Samson because of God become as feeble as charred flax and fall from his body as if they aren’t even there. Samson stands before the Philistines as God’s man as God’s Spirit gives him the strength to show the Philistines that Israel belongs to God and their gods are nothing compared to Yahweh.
With nothing more that the jawbone of an ass which Samson picks up from the ground, again breaking his Nazirite vows, he strikes down one thousand Philistines. The Lord shows his power and his protection of his people through Samson. Israel may be hurt and enslaved, yet God doesn’t sit back and do nothing, he continues to show his people that his faithfulness to his covenant with them remains, even though they are again unfaithful to him.
Samson boasts after his victory over the Philistines, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys out of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” It’s all about Samson, no mention of God anywhere. Samson’s a picture of Israel. Time and again, Israel is seduced by the gods of the nations around them, and time and again, Yahweh shows Israel that he is the God of gods, the King of Kings and Lord of lords. After this battle, Samson cries out for water, and God provides water and refreshes him, even as his cry to the Lord sounds much like Israel’s complaining attitude in the wilderness, coupled with a sense of entitlement.
What has struck me in reading through Samson’s story is how often the Spirit of the Lord comes on him and God gives him what he needs to defeat the Philistines in the moment. We see Samson as a powerful hero, someone we dream of becoming, at least if you’re a boy. Some of us might see Samson as a broken hero, yet in Samson’s stories, we when we look closely at Samson, we see a sinner that God remains faithful to, a reminder of how God remains faithful to us in our own sin. We’re able to see other people’s sins much more clearly than our own; the problem is that we see some people’s sins as more acceptable than others because we admire them. Because we want to see Samson as a hero, we accept his sins while rejecting other peoples’ sins because we see their sins as being much worst for many reasons.
Al Wolters, one of my professors at Redeemer, wrote a book called Creation Regained where he lays out how sin taints every aspect and part of our lives and souls, making us all equally distasteful to God. When we look at someone else’s sin and fail to see how we are equal to them as sinners, often, subconsciously, we use their sin to make ourselves feel better about our own sin, feeling that we’re not as bad as they are. We fail to realize that even the best and most godly areas of our lives are still infected by sin, it’s just that sin has a deeper hold in some parts of our lives than others, but it has a hold in every part. This is why Jesus comes and takes all our sin to the cross. This is why we’re given the Holy Spirit, to guide, encourage, and even push us into becoming more Christlike as we work with the Spirit to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. What does that look like? Paul writes in Galatians 5, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
The Lord remains faithful to his commitment to Samson and Israel all while Samson and Israel consistently reject the Lord. The question that kept popping up to me is, “If the Spirit of the Lord is coming on Samson so often, shouldn’t we see some evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in his life?” Jesus told his disciples that he’s going to send them the “spirit of truth, who will guide us into all truth”. God’s given us his Spirit to guide us. The Spirit guides us, but we’re called to follow the Spirit’s leading, to listen and obey. It takes trust in God, a trust that Israel had lost because they’ve become so much like the nations around them.
These gifts of the Spirit are for the common good, in Samson’s case, the gift of the Spirit is to lead Israel into freedom, but we never see evidence that Israel finds freedom from the Philistines under Samson, though the book of Ruth, set near the end of the judges, seems to show that they are free again. When Jesus appears among his disciples after his death on the cross for our sin and his resurrection from the grave, John tells us, “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Here the disciples are given the gift of the Spirit to equip them for the work of establishing the church and sharing the good news of Jesus. In order to do this, we also need to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives because our lives are part of the gospel story, a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.