somehow related to his victory over the Midianites. It dedicates two chapters to Jephthah, but all of it has some relationship with his victory over the Ammonites.
With these judges, the victory serves as an anchor to narrate all the rest of their lives. But we don’t have an outstanding historical anchor in Samson… unless it is his
And that’s how we will approach Samson, as an exception to the other judges in that his greatest event of liberation came with his death. We will understand the
verse: “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30) as a sign that Yahweh’s purpose in his life was fulfilled in this event. He never directed an army like other judges. He did not enjoy years of peace after his act of liberation. But through Samson’s death, Yahweh fulfilled His foreordained purpose that: “He shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).
No other judge was announced as a savior before his birth like Samson was.
No other to this point in our reading was a Nazirite, nor was a lifelong Nazirite vow imposed by God on any other than Samson (reread Numbers 6:1-21 to remember the Nazirite vow). Yahweh’s Spirit empowers him more often than any other judge (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14). Therefore, we suppose that Samson should be a more glorious judge than any other, that maybe he not only liberates the Israelites from Philistine oppression but also convinces the Israelites to return to Yahweh’s commands in a way that this downward spiral of spiritual degeneration is reversed.
Therefore, we may feel disappointed as we look at Samson’s life: apparently he didn’t fulfill his potential for glorifying Yahweh and saving Israel.
We can make a long list of Samson’s failures: he insists on marrying a pagan instead of an Israelite, and he does it against his parents’ wishes (Judges 14:1-3).
He violates his Nazirite vow by approaching the body of a dead lion and touching it, by the feast he prepares for his wedding (Judges 14:10; where it is supposed that he would drink wine along with his guests) and by revealing that if he cut his hair, he would lose his strength. His is directed by his sexual desires, not by Yahweh’s holiness. His violence against the Philistines is motivated by personal vengeance, not by Yahweh’s holiness, even in his last request: “Please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28). Examining Samson’s life, we can find many things to criticize.
At the same time, the Israelites are not without blame. Instead of supporting Samson against Philistine oppression, 3000 men from Judah arrest him and surrender him to the Philistines (Judges 15:11-13). Can you imagine the Israelites arresting Gideon and handing him over to the Midianites? That’s how the men of Judah have grown accustomed to 40 years of Philistine oppression: they look at it as normal; they are bothered by Samson’s disturbance of Philistine rule, and instead of recognizing their savior chosen by Yahweh, they hand him over to the oppressors.
But we cannot allow our disappointment with Samson and our criticism of the Israelites to supersede or obscure Yahweh’s glory. Samson is responsible for his disobedient preference of a Philistine as a wife, but we cannot overlook: “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4). When Samson had to provide thirty changes of clothes, it is Yahweh’s Spirit who rushes upon him so that he goes
down to Ashkelon, kills and strips 30 men (Judges 14:19). The Spirit rushes upon him to kill 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:14-15), and Yahweh does a miracle in response to his request for water (Judges 15:18-19).
But even more of Yahweh’s glory is evident in Samson’s death. In the middle of the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, who holds authority and dominion? Even though there are thousands of Philistines present, enjoying their false god, singing his praises for Samson’s capture, and even though all of the Philistine leaders laugh at the mockery of Samson and praise the power of their god, who really holds all power? Samson knows, and he cries out to Him in the middle of the show: “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God” (Judges 16:28). And all the shouts of praise in the temple of Dagon suddenly are silenced when Yahweh manifests His power.
If we recognize Yahweh’s glory in the destruction of Dagon’s temple (wasn’t this one of the reasons why Yahweh sent the Israelites into the Promised Land?) we can once again perceive an aspect of His devastating holiness. It does not depend on the obedience of His people to show itself. Yahweh will glorify Himself together with or against His people. He can glorify Himself in the life or the death of His judge; He can glorify Himself in a judge’s obedience or disobedience. His holiness accepts no restraint: it will manifest itself on the battlefield or in the middle of a
pagan temple. Yahweh’s devastating holiness is exalted: it exists independently of His creation, and no one and nothing can stop it.
And if we can understand that Yahweh’s holiness and glory are exalted, then we can understand why Gideon, Samson and Jephthah are identified as heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11:32 in the New Testament. These defective judges, of whom we can criticize many things in their lives, responded to Yahweh’s glory by faith. They did not trust in the gods of the Midianites, the Ammonites or the Philistines but in Yahweh. And He even used their defects and their sins to glorify Himself in the midst of Israel and their neighbors.
And this observation challenges us today, too. Yahweh’s devastating holiness will manifest itself either with or against us. What do we prefer, then: that it manifest itself in concert with our submission and obedience, or that it manifest itself against and in spite of our rebellion?