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F. The sixth apostasy chs. 13-16
"From chapters 13 to 18, the author concentrates on the tribe of Dan, which had been one of the largest and most prominent tribes during the wilderness march (Numbers 2:25-31). In the period of the judges, however, Dan seemed helpless against the Amorites (Judges 1:34) and moved northward to find new territory (chs. 17-18). Contrasted with these failures are the exploits of Samson, whose personal achievements are detailed in four chapters. Yet his own life was a strange mixture of the strength and weakness that epitomized the tragic conditions within the tribe itself." [Note: Wolf, p. 460.]
1. Samson’s birth ch. 13
The purpose of this chapter is to show how the Lord provided the Israelites with a deliverer from their Philistine oppressors.
The Philistine oppression 13:1
The translation "again did" in Judges 13:1 implies that the Philistine oppression followed the Ammonite oppression chronologically. However, the Hebrew idiom these words translate does not necessarily mean that. It can also mean, and in view of Judges 10:6-7 must mean, the Israelites "continued to do" evil. The Philistines and the Ammonites began oppressing Israel at approximately the same time (ca. 1124-1123 B.C.). [Note: See Robert G. Boling, Judges, p. 85.]
"More than any previous agent of deliverance . . . Samson demonstrates that the divinely chosen leaders were part of Israel’s problem rather than a lasting solution." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 392.]
The present 40-year oppression by the Philistines did not end until Samuel, also a judge (1 Samuel 7:6), defeated them at Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7; ca. 1084 B.C.). Samson only began to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). At the end of his life and story, things in Israel were worse than at the beginning. The Philistines continued their oppression of the Israelites into King David’s reign.
I have already referred to the antagonism of the Philistines on Israel’s southwestern flank (Judges 3:31; Judges 10:7). This nation continued to increase in power during the period of the judges and became Israel’s major enemy by the end of the amphictyony and the beginning of the monarchy.
The Philistines were, ". . . a powerful sea people that settled in the coastal strip in S.W. Palestine, extending along the Mediterranean from Joppa to S. of Gaza . . . about 50 miles long and 15 miles wide. . . .
"The Philistines are said to have come from Caphtor [Crete] (Amos 9:7; Jeremiah 47:4; cf. Deuteronomy 2:23). . . .
"The Philistines were a non-Semitic people. . . . They appear as a tall, Hellenic-looking people. . . .
"Their power and threat to Israel were due to a large extent to their political organization. It consisted of a league of five great cities [Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gath]. . . .
"Besides their warlike nature, effective political organization and economic power, as the result of the fertile farming section they inhabited, Philistine militarism, which was a continual threat to Israel, was explainable by their early control of the iron monopoly. Iron came into widespread use in Palestine around 1200 B.C. Philistines knew the secret of smelting it, which they evidently got from the Hittites. They were able to import, smelt, and forge iron and made use of various iron military weapons. By enforcing a rigid monopoly over Israel, the Philistines were able to make great strides in military encroachments upon Israelite territory [cf. 1 Samuel 13:19-22]. . . .
"The Philistines were intensely religious. They celebrated their victories in the ’house of their idols’ (1 Samuel 31:9) [cf. Judges 16:23-27]. . . . Dagon . . . ’fish’ was represented with the hands and face of a man and the tail of a fish. . . . To . . . him they offered thanksgiving when they had taken Samson (Judges 16:23-24)." [Note: Unger’s Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Philistines," by Merrill F. Unger, pp. 859-61.]
The Philistines (Caphtorim) evidently lived in Canaan in small numbers as early as the patriarchal period (Genesis 21:32; Genesis 26:1; cf. Deuteronomy 2:23). However, their major migration into Canaan took place in the first quarter of the twelfth century B.C. (1200-1175 B.C.). [Note: John Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History: Joshua, Judges, p. 287. See also Trude Dothan, "What We Know about the Philistines," Biblical Archaeology Review 8:4 (July-August 1982):20-44.] This would have made them more recent settlers in Canaan than the Israelites. Samson evidently began his judgeship about 1105 B.C. One writer argued that Samson was roughly contemporary with Jephthah and Gideon, which would place the beginning of his judgeship earlier. [Note: Washburn, p. 424.] He based his view on the fact that the writer recorded no rest period that preceded the beginning of Samson’s judgeship (Judges 13:1). He saw a continuation of the conflict with the Philistines mentioned in Judges 10:7. These arguments seem weak to me.
The Philistines continued to frustrate the Israelites until David subjugated them early in his reign (ca. 1004 B.C.; 2 Samuel 5:17-25). However, the Philistines continued to oppose the Israelites until the Babylonian Captivity removed both people groups from the land (cf. Isaiah 14:29-32; Jeremiah 47; Ezekiel 25:15-17; Amos 1:6-8). The land of the Philistines became known as Philistia. "Palestine" is a Greek word that comes from Philistia. The Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) gave Canaan the name Palestine.
The writer recorded no Israelite cry for help from the Philistine oppressors. Later we shall see that the Israelites did not cooperate with Samson in opposing this enemy. The Philistines appear to have been attractive neighbors. The Israelites cooperated with them readily instead of opposing them and driving them from the Promised Land.
The announcement of Samson’s birth 13:2-7
The Angel of the Lord again appeared (cf. Judges 6:11). This time He announced to a barren Danite woman that she would bear a son (cf. Genesis 16:11; Luke 1:26-38). Samson’s birth by a barren woman indicated God’s supernatural provision of him for a special purpose. The meaning of Samson’s name may derive from shemesh ("sun") and the diminutive ending on, meaning "little sun" or "sunny boy." Samson’s mother may have named him "little sun" in honor of a Canaanite god. [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 419.] Another view is that Samson’s name connects with Beth-Shemesh, a nearby town. [Note: Lewis, p. 76.] Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth were all barren too. Mary the mother of Jesus also experienced a supernatural conception and birth. Each of these mothers produced a remarkable son.
"What does he [God] do when he has a people who refuse to forsake Baal and have no desire to forsake Philistia? A people grown so used to bondage they don’t even have sense to call out for relief? At least here the very God who judges them (Judges 13:1 b) begins to work their deliverance-anyway (Judges 13:2-5). That is grace-grace greater than all our sin, than all our stupidity, than all our density." [Note: Davis, p. 160.]
The appearance of the Angel of the Lord always marked a very significant event in Israel’s history. The only other birth He announced was Isaac’s (Genesis 18:1; Genesis 18:10). Samson would have an unusual opportunity to serve God.
Samson’s parents were to rear him as a Nazirite from his birth. Normally Israelites assumed the Nazirite vow voluntarily and temporarily. Three laws governed the person under a Nazirite vow in addition to the other Mosaic laws. He was to eat nothing that the grapevine produced, he was to let his hair grow without ever cutting it, and he was to refrain from contact with a dead body (cf. Numbers 6:1-21). This vow placed the Nazirite in a position of separation to God in a special sense (Numbers 6:2). Abstinence from wine would have freed Samson from bondage to that drink so he could operate under the control of God’s Spirit consistently (cf. Ephesians 5:18). Long hair was important because it was a public testimony to the Nazirite’s separation to God. Contact with a corpse precluded worship at Israel’s central sanctuary temporarily, but no contact with dead bodies would enable the Nazirite to have unbroken fellowship with God.
Samson’s mother was to observe certain precautions during her pregnancy to safeguard her special child (cf. Hebrews 11:23 NIV). "Wine" came from grapes, but "strong drink" (Heb. shakar) was the product of other fermented fruits and grains. We know that the physical condition of a pregnant woman can affect her unborn child. For example, heroin addicts bear babies that need that drug. God did not want Samson under any other influence except Himself, even from his conception.
Samson was to live as a Nazirite because God would "begin" to deliver Israel from the Philistines through him (Judges 13:5). Samuel and David would complete this task (1 Samuel 7:10-14; 2 Samuel 5:17-25). Samson proved unfaithful in his separation to God. John the Baptist, who was apparently another Nazirite from birth, was faithful. He shows us what Samson could have become if he had valued his opportunity to serve God and had preserved his dedication to God. Evidently Manoah’s wife assumed that the Angel was a prophet (Judges 13:6).
The revelations of the Angel 13:8-23
God sent His Angel to revisit Manoah and his wife because they voiced questions in prayer about how they should rear Samson (Judges 13:8), his way of life (Judges 13:12), and his vocation (Judges 13:12). Their desire to bring their son up according to God’s will was commendable. Samson’s parents were similar to Samuel’s in this respect (cf. 1 Samuel 1:27-28; 1 Samuel 2:19).
Evidently Manoah also assumed that the Angel of the Lord was a prophet (Judges 13:17). The Angel told Manoah that His name was "wonderful" (Heb. pil’i, Judges 13:18, "beyond understanding," NIV).
"The word . . . is not the proper name of the angel of the Lord, but expresses the character of the name; and as the name simply denotes the nature, it expresses the peculiarity of his nature also. It is to be understood in an absolute sense-’absolutely and supremely wonderful’ (Seb. Schmidt) . . ." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 407.]
The same Hebrew word translated "wonderful" appears in Isaiah 9:6 as a title of Messiah. The idea here is that the Angel said Manoah and his wife could not fully comprehend the significance of who He was (cf. Exodus 3:13-14; Isaiah 9:6; Psalms 139:6). Though we can apprehend God to some extent, we cannot fully comprehend Him. Sinful mortals cannot fully appreciate all there is to know about God, even with the aid of the revelation He has given us.
As Gideon had done, Manoah prepared a sacrifice to God in appreciation for this special revelation (cf. Judges 6:19-24). Block provided a table showing 11 comparisons between Gideon’s sacrifice in Judges 6:17-24 and Samson’s in Judges 13:15-23. [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 411.] The similarities suggest that the writer wanted the reader to interpret Samson’s sacrifice in the light of Gideon’s. Manoah and his wife finally realized that they had been talking with the Angel of the Lord when He arose heavenward in the flame from the blazing sacrifice on the altar (Judges 13:20). He did something "wonderful" for them. They fell on their faces in worship and out of fear of the Lord.
"Manoah was the first to speak but the last to recover his composure, reflecting the widely-held belief that if a man saw God he would die (Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:22-23)." [Note: Cundall and Morris, p. 160.]
Interestingly, Manoah reacted hysterically, but his wife was more logical and objective (cf. Elkanah and Hannah). Several writers have noted that this unnamed woman is the real hero of the Samson narrative, besides God. She is the one character in it who exemplifies faithfulness to God’s word and His ways. [Note: E.g., Robert Alter, "Samson without Folklore," in Text and Tradition, p. 51; Adele Reinhartz, "Samson’s Mother: An Unnamed Protagonist," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 55 (1992):29; and McCann, pp. 94-97.]
Samson’s earliest years 13:24-25
Finally Samson, the savior, was born. Samson’s name also means the strong (daring) one. The Old Testament records more instances of mothers naming their children, as here, than fathers doing so. The Spirit of God came on Samson equipping him for his ministry. This is the only birth narrative in Judges and one of the few that appears in the Bible. It is significant because it shows the unique and gracious opportunity that God gave Samson to deliver his nation. God raised up the other judges, but He grew Samson. Samson could have been a hero such as Elijah, who began to turn the Israelites back to the Lord in a day of dark apostasy. However, as we shall see, Samson failed to appreciate his privilege and so lost his opportunity.
"Contrasted with Jephthah, Samson had every advantage as a boy. His birth was predicted by an angel; he had godly parents who loved him greatly; he was uniquely dedicated to God as a Nazirite; and he experienced the power of God’s Spirit as a young man. Despite all these favorable factors, Samson’s life as it unfolds in the next three chapters is marked by tragedy." [Note: Wolf, p. 465.]
By recording the stories of Jephthah and Samson, the writer made clear that initial home environment is not absolutely determinative. One’s life unfolds from his or her personal choices more than because of family heritage. [Note: For an interesting study of the family in the Samson narrative, see Michael J. Smith, "The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 2: Samson," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:648 (October-December 2005):424-36.]
"The pressures which Samson faced make him a contemporary figure. Twentieth-century Christians face the danger of assimilation, of being slowly and imperceptibly squeezed into the mold of the world around us. Therefore, what God did with and through Samson has a special meaning for our times." [Note: Inrig, p. 207.]
Samson’s life and ministry constitute one of the strangest enigmas in Bible history.
"The life and acts of Samson . . . are described . . . with an elaborate fulness [sic] which seems quite out of proportion to the help and deliverance which he brought to his people. . . . And whilst the small results that followed from the acts of this hero of God do not answer the expectations that might naturally be formed from the miraculous announcements of his birth, the nature of the acts which he performed appears still less to be such as we should expect from a hero impelled by the Spirit of God. His actions not only bear the stamp of adventure, foolhardiness, and willfulness, when looked at outwardly, but they are almost all associated with love affairs; so that it looks as if Samson had dishonored and fooled away the gift entrusted to him, by making it subservient to his sensual lusts, and thus had prepared the way for his own ruin, without bringing any essential help to his people. . . . In the case of Samson this consecration of the life to God [which was undertaken with the Nazirite vow] was not an act of his own free will, or a vow voluntarily taken; but it was imposed upon him by divine command from his conception and birth. . . . Samson was to exhibit to his age generally a picture on the one hand of the strength which the people of God might acquire to overcome their strongest foes through faithful submission to the Lord their God, and on the other hand of the weakness into which they had sunk through unfaithfulness to the covenant and intercourse with the heathen. And it is in this typical character of Samson and his deeds that we find the head and flower of the institution of judge in Israel. . . .
"But just as his strength depended upon the faithful observance of his vow, so his weakness became apparent in his natural character, particularly in his intrigues with the daughters of the Philistines; and in this weakness there was reflected the natural character of the nation generally, and of its constant disposition to fraternize with the heathen. . . . The power of the Spirit of God, bestowed upon the judges for the deliverance of their people, was overpowered by the might of the flesh lusting against the spirit.
"This special call received from God will explain the peculiarities observable in the acts which he performed,-not only the smallness of the outward results of his heroic acts, but the character of adventurous boldness by which they were distinguished." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 399-402.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany