SAMSON'S FIRST DEALINGS WITH THE PHILISTINES
CRITICAL NOTES.— Jud . Timnath.] This was a town on the frontier which, like many other towns had been at first assigned to Judah to subdue and occupy (Jos 15:57), but as Dan had too small a territory for its people, it and other towns were transferred to Dan. It is referred to in Jos 15:43, also in ch. Jud 15:10. It was only a few miles from Samson's mountain home, and though it should have all along belonged to the Israelites, the tribe whose duty it was to subdue it, failed to do so through unbelief: and now the usual bitter fruits are reaped.
Jud . Get her for me to wife.] Heb. Take ( לָקַח) Exo 21:9. Though Samson may have come of age
(18), it was customary for the parents to transact the arrangements, as they had the duty of paying the wife's dowry to the parents of the bride. What is here recorded is a bad beginning for the public life of a man, who was chosen to be a deliverer of God's Israel from their bondage. It has been suggested that it is only the briefest notices that are here given of his life, and there "may (as in Jacob's case), have been in him many exercises of true piety which, if told, would throw another light on his character." This, indeed, is not only possible but probable. It seems at any rate, that the reason for selecting the incidents here related to be put on record, was because this was the first occasion when he had the opportunity of showing himself as the public opponent of the Philistines. Indeed this is hinted at in Jud .
Jud . That thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines.] His parents remonstrated. They were astonished at the proposal he made, and began to reason. It was unnatural in itself, and it was in express opposition to the Divine law (Exo 34:16; Deu 7:3-4). But Samson being an only son would in all likelihood have been accustomed to carry all points his own way. For we are told that he prevailed on his parents to accompany him (Jud 14:5.)
Jud . His father and mother knew not that it was of the Lord that he sought an occasion against the Philistines.] This applies to Samson. Probably what took him down to Timnath at first was, that now being come of age it was time for him to begin the work he was raised up to do. For he had frequently felt the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord to begin the work. Now, therefore, as soon as he was entitled to go, he went to the camp of the enemy to "find some occasion" for beginning his work. Badly as the story tells for Samson, it would be to put a needlessly harsh construction on his conduct to say that he went simply on an idle stroll, or that he went in sportive mood. There is an important meaning in the statement that "he sought an occasion against the Philistines." He went, not knowing what might turn up, but his object was not merely to enjoy himself or have a little pastime. He wished to find some opportunity of commencing the duties of his high vocation. But he went unguarded against temptation, both as to eyes and ears (Psa 119:37; Job 31:1; Job 31:7).
The Philistines had dominion over Israel.] The crushing character of this dominion and its infinite degradation may be learned from 1Sa ; also 1Sa 13:19-21.
Jud . And his father and mother.] They went against their better judgment, being overcome by his importunity.
A young lion roared against him.] Being near the vineyards, probably in the valley of Sorek (Ch. Jud ), famous for its vines (Jer 2:21; Isa 5:2), for the word Sorek means a choice vine.
Jud . And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him.] Gave him superhuman strength, as a pledge of what he might expect to receive when fighting against men.
And he rent him as he would have rent a kid.] With as much ease, for all power is of God and He can make the human arm stronger than the jaws of the lion. Samson seems to have strayed into the bush, when he may have met the lion perhaps in the pursuit of jackals or foxes, that were often found in vineyards (Son ). His father and mother were not with him there. Hercules was most formidable in his wrestlings, but it was chiefly with beasts. Samson was raised up to be a conqueror of men. This passing encounter with a lion would never have gained him a high name in Israel even if frequently repeated. He had a mission to deliver God's Church. It is to be noticed that the word used here for lion does not mean a whelp, but one that has attained its strength, and is full of the natural fierceness. פְפִיר means a terrible lion, one with a bloodthirsty character, or that has all its natural savageness of nature fully developed. Yet he tore its jaws asunder, as easily as he would have rent in pieces so slender an animal as a kid.
He told not his father and mother.] With all his self-will he seems deeply to have loved his parents, and where there is love there will always be some measure of respect. Hence he would not like to horrify them with the recital of so wild a story as the encounter with the lion. It might fill their minds with troublesome suspicions as to what he might do next, and so he would forfeit their confidence. Many would have boasted of such an exploit, and blazoned it abroad through the world. That was not Samson's weak point. No one seems to have known of it for many months, until the solution of the riddle brought it out. He was not killed with vanity. The exploits of other heroes in their lion encounters were better known. Benaiah was known as the man who slew a lion in a pit in the time of snow. Wicker Von Schwabur, a hero in the time of the Crusades, killed a great lion with the sword near Joppa, and Godfrey, of Bouillon, stood his ground against a bear in like manner. The lion fight of the fabled Hercules, in Nemea, is also well known The Arabian Antar conquers a lion although the hero's feet are fettered. But these two latter are little better than myths. There is one noble exception to the vain glory which accompanies any such heroic deed, in the case of the youthful shepherd of Bethlehem. But, indeed, both Samson and David might well have been afraid to boast of a power which was supernaturally given, and which showed the gracious protection of their covenant God.
Jud . Talked with the woman.] According to usage free conversation between the parties was not allowed till the affiancing took place. With the interview he had with the young woman Samson was pleased, and wished the arrangement to proceed.
Jud . An after a time.] Betrothing means giving one's troth, or faithful promise to marry a a future time. This time was at least six months, oftener a year, or more, after betrothal, but during the interval the woman was considered as the lawful wife of the man to whom she was betrothed (Mat 1:18; Luk 1:26-27). It must then have been either several months, ora whole twelvemonth, after this ceremony, that Samson now went down to take his wife.
He turned aside to see the carcass of the lion.] It could hardly have been a twelvemonth, when the carcass lay there untouched all the time, even though it was not in the beaten path. As the hero passed near the spot the incident came into his mind, and under some pretext he left his parents for a little that he might look again on the scene of his memorable deliverance. This trivial circumstance was the leading of God's providence, for something great came of it. He found all that was most perishable of the beast long since gone, and nothing but the skeleton left, in which, to his no small surprise, was a swarm of bees. Bees as a rule avoid both dead bodies and carrion. Bees are so careful to select clean spots for their place of settlement, that a dead carcass was about the last place where they might be expected to alight. In the present case, however, everything that was noxious about the dead body bad become long since dried up, both through lapse of time and the intense heat. Nothing of an offensive odour remained. There was no putrefaction.
Honey.] Debash, the ordinary word, or Dvash, as some would make it. Deborah using r for s is the word for bee.
Jud . He took thereof in his hands.] There must have been an abundant supply, for he gave some both to his father and mother, as well as partook of it liberally himself. Had his parents known where it was found, they would have rejected it as being unclean.
Jud . His father went down.] He only is mentioned as the head of the party, but the mother and other friends were doubtless there. Samson made a feast.] "There is a time to laugh and a time to dance, as well as a time to mourn and weep" (Ecc 3:4). This feast was on such a scale as to indicate wealth on the part of him who made it. It lasted seven days and embraced a large company. But it was customary, and to observe the custom was reckoned necessary to respectability.
Jud . When they saw him they brought thirty companions to be with him.] These were called the "children of the bride-chamber" (Mat 9:15; Mat 25:1-12). But usually it was young women that went out to meet the bridegroom, while here it is young men that are mentioned. Also they were chosen by the bride's friends, not by those on Samson's side. Hence Josephus supposes they were chosen under pretence of doing him honour, while in reality they were meant to be a guard upon him (Josephus, Bertheau, Trapp, &c., &c.) The great strength of Samson must already have been begun to be talked about, and it must have been known, to some extent, that he was raised up to be a deliverer in Israel. This was quite in keeping with the phrase "they were with him." They seemed to be friends of the bridegroom, yet may have been spies upon him in reality, and a band of men to overpower him, if any hostility should be displayed by him. This would be in keeping with their conduct described in Jud 14:15.
Jud . I will now put forth a riddle unto you.] Biddies were then, as now, much regarded as a means of amusement, or exciting interest on festive occasions. Thirty sheets (shirts) meaning clothes worn next the skin; and thirty changes of garments.] Costly dresses that were frequently changed (Gen 45:22). To propose such riddles at banquets by way of entertainment was customary among the ancient Grecians. Such clothes are referred to in 2Ki 5:5; 2Ki 5:22; Isa 3:6-7; Mat 6:19; Gen 45:22.
Jud . Out of the eater came forth meat, &c.] The spirit of this statement which is antithetical is "Food came from the devourer, and sweetness from that which is bitter."
But care must be taken not to push the antithesis too far. We must be guided by the actual fact, and also by the words of the text. The lion, to which the propounder of the riddle referred is distinguished not by bitterness, nor by sourness, but by strength, so that our English translation after all best corresponds with the fact-"out of the strong, etc." This, too, is confirmed by the answer given in the solution of the riddle—"what is stronger than a lion?" Besides the word in the text ( עַז) does not mean "bitter," or "sour," but "strong."
Jud . On the seventh day.] For three days they tried hard to solve it but without success. They then gave it up till the seventh, when, as a last resort, they began to press hard on Samson's wife, threatening her with a terrible doom if she did not get the solution from her husband. "So doth the devil oftentimes do. Many a man's head he breaketh with his own rib; and this bait he hath found to take so well, that he has never changed it since he crept into Paradise" [Trapp], This showed at once the baseness of their spirit, and the atrocious length in wickedness to which, if baffled, they were disposed to go.
Is it not so?] Meaning: You have called us to the feast, that by means of this riddle you might get from us all that we have. Your object has been to plunder us. Is it not so?
Jud . And she wept before him the seven days.] A Jewish mode of speaking, meaning, unto the seventh day, or as some would make it, the rest of the seven days. It might simply mean, that, more or less with tears she asked him to tell her every one of the seven days, her motives being partly curiosisy, and still more, apprehensions of a disastrous issue to their hilarity should no solution be found. This would be intensely increased when, with loud voices, they threatened, as the time drew near, to burn her and her father's house with fire unless she should find out an explanation—hence on the seventh day particularly, "she lay sore upon him" until lie told her. A woman's tears are her arguments, which oftentimes prove more powerful than all the logic of the other sex. They reach the heart by a more direct route than the understanding. Alexander of Greece replied to one who sent him a long letter complaining of his mother's conduct, "one tear of my mother's will blot out a thousand such letters."
She told it to the children of the people.] In this she proved a traitor to the interests of her husband, both because she was bound to consult his interests first, and also because she ought to have known that he was well able to defend her from all evil. Her affection was manifestly a mere pretence; but she was a true Philistine.
Jud . Before the sun went down.] Sunset was the end of the day, and so they were within the mark. Their statement meant, that the meat came from an animal that was distinguished for devouring meat, not supplying it, and that the meat supplied was honey, the sweetest of all kinds of food.
If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, etc.] Samson in a moment detected the treachery, for no one else knew anything of the story which he kept studiously concealed; and he pointedly told them it was owing to their plotting with his wife that the discovery had been made. In a case of such palpable unfairness, he might have refused to acknowledge himself to be under obligation to stand by the original terms proposed, but rather than incur the suspicion of dishonour, he nobly resolved to pass by the affront, and to pay the forfeit agreed on, more especially as this would give him occasion to fulfil his mission for the smiting of the Philistines. This tends to raise him in our estimation, if we could get over his capital error in wedding a Philistine at all.
Jud . The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.] These impulses came when God had work for him to do, but were not always with him. The prophets had not always the gift of prophecy, nor the apostles always the power of working miracles.—(Trapp). Samson seemed to feel that his vocation was to smite the Philistines on every fit opportunity given. Now he felt he had such an opportunity, and he resolved to punish the enemy that had dared to attack the people of Jehovah, and to pour contempt on His name.
Went down to Ashkelon.] There were many nearer at hand, but these may have been ring-leaders in raids made on the homes of Israel, or, more likely, he did not wish to create too great a sensation about the matter by destroying members of families in the immediate neighbourhood. The persons killed must have been high in social rank, when there were so many changes of raiment. That which Israel's champion flung at the feet of these vile cheaters was the attire of their own countrymen.
His anger was kindled, etc.] The base treachery of his wife on the occasion of their marriage festivity, the fact that her relatives supported her in her infidetity to him, and the apparent conspiracy of the whole Philistine community to give contemptuous treatment to an Israelitish family; all filled him with indignation, so that in place of returning for his wife he left the whole pack behind him, and directed his steps to his father's house, a sadder but a wiser man. How sweet is home after a taste of the bitterness of the world! His home was in Zorah, which but for him would scarcely have been known to the world, just as Arpinum was known from its connection with Cicero, and Hippo was famous through Augustine.
Jud . Samson's wife was given to his companion, etc.] As soon as his back was turned, the unprincipled Philistine gave his daughter to be the wife of another man—the very man who had acted as the friend of the bridegroom! Such was the bitter fruit of an unhallowed alliance (Jer 2:19).
Before proceeding to examine the details of this wonderful history, it may serve a good purpose first to look at it in its leading outlines. The judgment to be formed on the whole character of any man cannot be correct, if founded only on one or two acts of his life, and pre-eminently so in a case like that before us. It will greatly help to a just estimate on this important point, as well as aid us in a correct interpretation of individual particulars, if we first take a general view of the history in so far as it is given, and then take the details in their order.
GENERAL VIEW OF SAMSON'S HISTORY
I. It presents to us a puzzling character.
It is a character where opposite and seemingly contradictory phases are continually appearing. In every page of the account, inconsistencies occur so painfully, that we are perplexed what to make of a personality so unique. From the preliminary statement made in chap. 13 by an "angel of the Lord," we are prepared to expect a man of peculiar sanctity of manner, of strong spiritual life, and one singularly free from worldly defilement, to make his appearance when he comes forth as God's servant to do God's work, under a more than ordinary effusion of the Divine Spirit's influence. But instead of that, the man who actually steps forward is one of a lower type than any name in the whole list of those who are called to be the "saviours" of God's Israel. It would be hard to say whether he did more good or evil when fulfilling his course, though by profession he stood strongly on the side of good. Instead of being a frequent associate of the righteous, we find him almost constantly in the society of the wicked. For those who look on he is more a beacon of warning than an example for guidance and encouragement.
No good man indeed, is entirely free from faults so long as he remains "in this wicked worl." (Ecc ). Here, however, is the case of a good man with great faults, but without correspondingly great excellences. It was not so with the other good men of scripture history. If David sinned once very grievously in the matter of Uriah the Hittite, and not infrequently said and did things inconsistent with a profession of genuine piety, he left behind him an unmistakable expression of heart-sorrow for his great sin, besides a whole volume of compositions that no man could have penned, whose bosom was not daily filled with the very spirit of heaven. If Jacob showed not a little of cunning and deceit in the early portion of his history, the vision of the ladder and the angels, his wrestling with the angel, and the whole of the latter part of his career, bring out strongly redeeming features of character. But with Samson there are no Alpine heights of excellence, such as to prove beyond doubt the heaven-soaring tendency of the general character. There is only a little eminence now and again rising above the plain, to set over against the morasses and marshy ground which shed a pestilential vapour over the surface.
But undoubtedly Samson had his good points of character, though there was much in his conduct to be condemned. If he had a comparatively low place in the kingdom of God, it would be obviously wrong to suppose that he had no place there at all.
1. The good features of his history.
(1.) He was specially raised up by God Himself. His very existence was owing to the fact that God had a special work to do, and he was brought into existence to do it. His mother was barren, so that he could not have been born without a special Divine interposition. His very being thus partook of a sacred character. He was indeed a member of the fallen human race and liable to sin like other men, yet being directly provided by God, being commissioned by Him to do a work which he purposed to do, and being specially qualified by Him for the performance of that work, he must have been in a proper sense approved by God. John the Baptist was thus raised up by God (Joh ). So was Isaac (Gen 17:19; Gen 18:11). So was Samuel (1Sa 1:11; 1Sa 1:20). All these were holy characters. All inspired men were "holy men," whether prophets or apostles (2Pe 1:21). Also all the "judges" of Israel appear to have been men who feared God, and wrought righteousness. It is questionable whether God ever called any wicked man into His service to do a work which had for its object the promotion of His glory. Balaam was indeed a wicked man, but he was not raised up by God, nor sent on a commission by Him. He was allowed to go to meet Balak with a wicked purpose in his heart, which God checked by turning the curse into a blessing. Judas was not honoured with a place among those whom Christ commissioned to set up His kingdom on earth, for he had left his Master's side and had "gone to his own place," before the commission was given. We have not a single instance of a really wicked man being specially raised up by God and sent to bless the people. This alone is a strong presumption, if not a decisive proof, that Samson, whatever his faults may have been, was at heart a man approved of by God.
(2.) The mission on which he was sent was of a holy character. It was to be the Deliverer and Protecter of God's peculiar people. In reality he was sent to be the preserver of God's cause in the earth; for the office of that people was to uphold the honour of God's name, and to set up a standard for His worship among men. Is it likely, or even possible, that an ungodly man could be chosen by God for this purpose?
(3.) He was a Nazarite from the beginning to the end of his life. (Jud ) This implies that he was vowed to the Lord, and that his life itself was a consecration to the service of the Lord (comp. 1Sa 1:11). "This consecration had its roots in living faith, and its outward manifestation negatively, in absence from everything unclean, positively, in wearing the hair uncut." [Keil]. The person of Samson wearing the character of a Nazarite was made use of by God as a picture, to show to His people, that their weakness lay in losing their character as consecrated to Him, and mixing themselves up with unclean persons and things, whereas, by vowing themselves to be His all life through, and jealously avoiding everything that would contaminate them as a holy nation, they would acquire a strength that would make them invincible. Samson was in this sense a parable to Israel. one put into this position by God Himself surely must have had the roots of a genuine religious character.
(4.) He was a child of prayer, and had a pious training. From Jud we conclude, that his father was accustomed to approach his God in prayer, in such a manner that his petitions were heard, for his difficulty he referred to Him, and his desire was granted. His prayer must have been well pleasing to God, and its being so on this occasion is a proof that it must have been so on other occasions. We may feel justified in regarding him as an "Israelite indeed," for the whole account bears out that he was a righteous man. Not less so was his wife (Jud 5:23). The honour conferred on them by the angel's visit, and the special gift bestowed, prove this. Probably the gift of a son was in answer to their prayers, as in the case of Hannah. We may assume then, without being expressly told, that Samson had pious parents who were in the practice of prayer, and that they prayed much for their only son, so specially given.
As to his training, he could see nothing but good in such a household. The fear of God was in that home habitually, and being a mountain home it stood apart from the outside polluting world. The name of the true God alone was worshipped, and His laws were obeyed.
(5.) The Lord specially blessed him. We never hear of God conferring a special blessing on a man who did not bear something of God's image. (see p. 471.)
(6.) The Spirit of God often came upon him. We admit the important distinction between the natural and the gracious operations of the Divine Spirit, the latter being the peculiar privilege of the righteous, while the former, not relating directly to salvation, might be given to those whose hearts are not right with God. Yet in another aspect of the case, nothing is more sacred than God's own character, and when even the natural influences of the Spirit are given to preserve that, they are given for a sacred purpose, and so are fitly conferred only on those who are "chosen vessels" to the Lord.
It is certainly a strong presumption that that man is himself a man of God, on whom the Spirit of the Lord should descend so often as He did on Samson, for purposes which concerned the honour of the Divine name. The cases referred to in 1Sa, and Mat 7:22-23, are exceptional, and do not imply that these persons had a direct commission from God, to vindicate the honourof His holy name as Samson undoubtedly had.
(7.) He lived a life of faith in the God of Israel. This was the whole bearing of his life. Though having so much to do with the worshippers of other gods, it underlies his whole history, that he kept his trust in the one living and true God. He regarded himself as the "servant of the God of Israel," and the Philistines whom he slew in such numbers he looked on as the "uncircumcised," who had put forth unhallowed hands against the people who were under special Divine protection. There was thus a tone of reverence in the doing of his work. It was done to God, and for the honour of His name. Besides, he did not rely on his own arm for victory or deliverance, though that was exceptionally strong, but he looked to God as his buckler and shield, and ascribed to Him all the glory of the victories he gained. "Thou hast given this great deliverance to thy servant" (Jud ). This an ungodly man was not very likely to do. It is a sure proof of faith, as opposed to mere patriotism. The one has respect to God and His glory, while the other is concerned with our own glory, and that of the community with whom we are associated. The latter, though praiseworthy and to be commended, is of a greatly lower mark than the former.
The principle of his life was that of faith in the God of Israel, and hence we find his name put down in the list of those that are to be had in everlasting remembrance in the Church of God (Heb ). As the basis of his conduct, he believed in God in all things, and took direction in life from Him, though frequently his practice was at variance with his profession.
II. The bad features of his history.
(1.) He became the intimate and frequent associate of the wicked. It is indeed a modifying element in the case, that his life-work consisted very much in being a scourge to the enemies of God's Israel, and therefore, that it was his duty to look out for occasions when he might discharge this work, yet it is strange that we never hear of his asking counsel at the mouth of the Lord, for direction in the fulfilment of his duty. In the case of most others who were sent on a special mission by God, we find there was frequent communication between them and their God for direction in the way of duty, before they started on their course. This was the case with Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and Jephthah, not to mention other names. But here there is not a word of intercourse between God and His servant, before the latter embarks on his hazardous course. There is no prayer of any kind, by way of committing his steps into the hands of God, as in the case of Jacob (Genesis 28). Nor do we hear of any precautions taken to avoid the sunken rocks, and dangerous whirlpools of the voyage of human life before him. The instinct of a man whose piety had a healthful tone would have suggested the propriety of doing both these things before he entered on his work.
It was symptomatic of a low state of piety, when Samson, a young man, inexperienced in the ways of the world, went out alone into such a society as that of the Philistines, without special prayer, and without much of the spirit of watchfulness. We might add, he seems to have had no definite plan before him, as to what he should do. The lines are not indeed inapplicable—
"Satan finds some mischief still,
For idle hands to do."
His visit to Timnath seems to have been aimless and censurable. This would make him all the more likely to catch infection from an evil atmosphere. The best supposition we can make is, that he went to see what God would set before him to do among these oppressors when actually on the ground. But he seems to have heard no voice calling to him in serious tones "enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men." (Pro ; Pro 4:13; Pro 13:20; 2Co 6:14-17).
Two things are specially unfavourable in his intercourse with these wicked, of a general kind. one is, that he went among them as one off his guard. This he must have known to be wrong, for no charge was given to parents more impressively, than that they should teach their children to avoid the companionship of the heathen around them. And Samson's parents were least of all likely to forget this in the case of an only son, and one who was a Nazarite from his youth up. The other unfavourable feature is, that he spent the most of his public life among the idol-worshippers. A healthful spirituality of character repels all close intercourse with moral evil. "Gather not my soul with sinners, &c." (Psa ; 2Co 6:14; Psa 26:5; Psa 119:63; Psa 119:158). He had indeed much to do in the way of chastising these people as a matter of duty; and it is to his credit, that, though he stood among them alone, he was never tempted for a moment to renounce the God of Israel, for the sake of joining with them in their idol-worship. Yet it is a matter of sorrow, that we never hear of this champion of God's cause associating with any other class of men but these uncircumcised.
(2.) His intermarriage with a Philistine family. (a.) This was a breach of a solemn law laid down by God. Before the chosen people entered Canaan, they were expressly and repeatedly informed, that the inhabitants of the land were to be destroyed judicially because of their enormous wickedness, that they must not associate with them as friends, or even as neighbours, and much less were they to think of associating with them by marriage relationships. This was said especially of seven nations that are specified by name (Deu ; Jos 23:12-13). See above on Jud 3:6-7. The Philistines are not mentioned by name in this list, yet they belonged to the same class of nations, and were guilty of the same sins. All the reasons for keeping aloof from the Canaanites applied equally to these Philistines. Intermarriage with a Philistine therefore, was an act of disobedience to a Divine command.
(b.) It was an express dishonour done to the name of God. All who were jealous for the honour of God, were bound to make a loud protest against the manner in which that honour was laid in the dust by these profane idol-worshippers. To stand by and look on with unconcern, while the greatest indignity was done to the name of the great Jehovah, was itself to incur the heavy expression of the Divine displeasure. Much more heinous was the conduct of those, who should join hands in the fastest friendship with the blasphemers of that holy and dreadful name. There was no middle course in such a case. "The friendship of the world was held to be enmity with God."
(c.) It was to bring a blight on one's personal religion. It exposed one to strong temptations every hour of the day—to love the creature more than the Creator. The situation was so perilous to one's stability of principle, that not even the strongest built-up religious character could resist the aggressions of evil influence constantly coming in, without the help of the grace of God in keeping the feet from falling. A man's greatest enemy in such a case was one of his own house, and even of his own bosom. True piety to the God of Israel could not possibly flourish, in a circle where a believer was joined in wedlock with an idolater. "No one can serve two masters." And so it turned out, that these unnatural intermarriages always led to apostasy from the living and true God.
(3.) His deeds of blood and revenge. one of these was his visit to Ashkelon, and there putting to death thirty men in cold blood, all of them unknown to him, and who had done him no harm. His only motive was, to find the rich dresses which he required to pay the costs of his wager. Again we see him, in mad anger, burning the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives, over many acres of the best part of the country. On two other occasions he makes a great slaughter among the Philistines, the motives of which are revenge. In these and similar deeds which are recorded, he doubtless fulfilled his vocation so far in punishing that oppressing people for their cruelty to God's Israel; but, in most cases, the immediate reason he had for these steps was his desire for revenge. In so far as that was his prompting motive, it cannot be justified.
(4.) His licentiousness. This has usually been reckoned the great blot in Samson's character, and on looking at all the facts given in the record, we see no other conclusion possible than that, to a certain extent, he is fairly chargeable with it; not that he was a habitual libertine, but being of impulsive character he was liable to fall before temptation. The account given in Judges 14 is not conclusive, for though he loved a woman in the Philistine city of Timnath, he appears to have acted honourably in wishing to be married to her, according to the rules of propriety then generally recognised. His error in this chapter consisted chiefly in wedding a Philistine. But his conduct as detailed in Judges 16 is altogether inexcusable. Impurity between the sexes is a sin condemned alike by the moral instinct of every rightly constituted mind, and by the express denunciations of the word of God.
That this is one of the grosser sins needs no proof. In regard to no sin has God implanted a deeper sense of shame than this, nor has any been surrounded with a stronger natural restraint to prevent its commission. It implies, too, the subjection of the spiritual element in our nature to the animal, or the ascendancy of the bestial over that which we have in common with the angelic nature. No wonder that a deep shadow falls on the name of Samson, from what is here recorded. But yet serious mistakes have been made.
II. How are we to judge this character?
No man's sins should be looked at in the abstract, or apart from the cloud of circumstances, under which they have been committed. There are always considerations which will either deepen or lessen the criminality of the case in hand, though in no case can the criminality of a really sinful act be entirely taken away.
(1.) It is but a specimen of the conduct, not the whole life that is given in Scripture. We have indeed but nine special acts recorded from first to last each of which could not have occupied much time in the transacting. But he had twenty years of public life, and from these nine acts, we are left to judge of the character of the whole life. Doubtless, in so far as such a small number of acts could indicate the spirit of the man's life, we must hold the selection to be well made; yet, we must not forget, that in so long a history many things must have been said and done, which, if all had been told, would have presented a much wider basis of judgment than is actually afforded. The severest brevity is necessary in a book like the Bible, which, touching on so many points, must yet be compact enough to be portable. What is selected for notice, however, is always such as to give a just idea of the real character. There must, however, have been a much larger number both of good deeds and bad deeds in the whole life.
(2.) We must remember the age in which he lived. It is not easy to ply one's boat against the stream, and especially when the stream has become a rapid current. Those times were greatly degenerate, so much so that the moral mainspring of the nation seemed to be broken. Though severely smitten, backsliding Israel knew not how to return to their God. With the exception of a few little arks of preservation here and there, iniquity, as a mighty flood, had overspread the land. The religious light was dim; indeed, in some places, it seemed as if the lamp of God had gone out, and the nation were groping in darkness. Immorality of all kinds was so common that it was little regarded. It is manifest that temptations to sin in such an age were far stronger than when the moral standard stood high, and powerful restraints were raised up on all hands to any transgression of the Divine law.
(3.) His mission led him to associate much with the wicked. We believe he was too often and too long in the atmosphere of evil, and all too little in the companionship of the good. For though the pure circles were few and far between, they did exist as "lights shining in a dark place." Yet if his mission practically, really was to harass the oppressors of Israel, and to be a bulwark against their attacks, it was necessary for him often to meet with them. This exposed him to much danger, and required much prayer and much watching to protect him from the evil influence. His error seems to have been that he placed himself too little under the Divine guidance, and in the Divine keeping. Going down to Timnath for the first time, a perfect stranger, a scene rank with moral malaria, he ought to have "prayed without ceasing," in the spirit of the words, "lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil." In an unguarded moment, through the eye the heart is led captive, and quickly he is ensnared to enter into marriage relationship with the member of a heathen family. one has said, "it is needful to set a strong guard on our outward senses, for these are Satan's landing places, especially the eye and the ear."
(4.) He had certain weak points in his character. Scripture itself speaks of the "sin which easily besets us," it may be on account of our natural temperament or disposition, or on account of training or force of temptation. Some have a special tendency to pride, others to selfishness, some to ambition, others to avarice, some are prone to jealousy others to deceit and double dealing, some are inclined to detraction, others to stealing and circumvention, some are given to prevarication, others to evil speaking, some are addicted to excess of wine, others to impurity. This last appears to have been the fatal weakness of Israel's defender, which though it does not palliate his sin accounts for its commission. When a man has a constitutional tendency to any sin it requires a greater effort for him to resist the downward tendency. "Satan, like a skilful angler, baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish."
(5.) He did not realise the danger of his position. This may have arisen partly, from his youth and unacquaintance with the lures and enticements of the world; partly, from his conscious strength, which led him on no occasion to fear the face of man; partly, from a certain self-willedness, owing to his being an only son, and being accustomed by his parents ever to have his own way; from various causes he seems not to have realised his danger, until he actually fell into the traps which Satan had laid for the unwary bird. How differently it might have fared with him had he daily, and even hourly, come to the Throne of grace, to find grace to help him in the measure of his need. But he seems not to have reflected that he was on an "Enchanted Ground," that the poison of the old serpent hung in sparkling drops on every blade of grass, and that every potion he put to his lips was drugged. May God grant that we all have both eyes and ears wide open while we are still treading so dangerous a territory.
III. The need of caution in judging religious character.
To judge of any man's moral or religious character is to tread on extremely delicate ground. The right to pass any judgment at all is more than questionable, and the range within which it may be allowed is extremely limited. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." But where the right is exercised, in few cases we believe have more shallow, inconsiderate, unjust, and unnecessarily severe judgments been formed of any one's religious character, than in that of the man brought before us in these pages. How many judge him as if he had passed life in the light of modern times, as if he had no, or few disadvantages, and as if there were nothing trying or peculiar in the situation in which he was placed! How many regard him as one of the worst of men, a disgrace to the nation to which he belonged, one who habitually indulged in debasing vices, and altogether unfit to enter into the kingdom of God! Some even go so far as to say, that, because this name stands in the list of the men who became famous through their faith, therefore the whole list must be condemned as not necessarily a list of religious men. In the life of this man they see nothing but dark passions, foul associations, and ungodly practices.
That Samson's character was one, which in many respects is not to be imitated, will be admitted by all; that many of his acts must be severely censured is at once conceded, but that he plunged systematically into all manner of excesses is not on the record. It is overlooked by the censors, that he was commissioned by God Himself to do a great work for His church and people, that, though he was severely punished for his sins, his last cry for help was granted, and that it is a dangerous thing to denounce a man utterly whom God does not cast away. That he had certain bright sides of character is also undoubted.
There is need of caution in this matter, because—
(1.) We ourselves are transgressors. This circumstance alone should make us hesitate. Were we pure and spotless like the native sons of light, there might be some propriety in coming forward to denounce those who have blemishes and imperfections of character. But, as the case stands, with what force may it be said in the case of many, "Wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself." If we stand clear of the grosser sins in the catalogue, are we not all rebels against God's authority, and wanting in love to Him with all the heart, soul, strength and mind? Have we not, all of us, reason to be ashamed to lift up our heads before the holy, because of our spiritual vileness and ungodliness? Who among us has not lost character in the universe of the holy? What presumption is it then to come forward as critics of the character of others, when, in the most essential features we have lost our own!
(2.) It is not our province to judge others. We are not judges but subjects of judgment. This is true of all men. It is a species of impertinence of the worst kind. It is more heinous still, when one goes the length of daring to say what ought to be the treatment which should be measured out to a man by the Judge of all the earth, and whether he should be admitted into the kingdom of the holy or not. We fear that were the issues to be according to the verdicts which men pass on each other's characters before God, the final heaven would be a thinly-peopled home (Jas ). God alone is Lord of the conscience, and it is "by Him that actions are weighed" (Mat 7:1-2).
(3.) It is sinful to judge in a light spirit and without a due sense of responsibility. Many thoughtless people find it so easy, and indeed so congenial an exercise for heartless natures, to sit in the chair of judgment, that it does not occur to them that there is responsibility in the opinions they express. They do not reflect that no more deadly stab can be given to a fellow creature than when they throw out aspersions against his moral or religious character. Those aspersions may be utterly futile in producing any injurious effect, but it is only because of the weakness of the hand that throws them, and not that the weapons used are less deadly in character, or that there is any lack of intention to do evil. Such persons do not reflect that they assume the unenviable office of being the murderers of the characters of others, who are not only unjustly accused by them, but who may be all the while within the kingdom of heaven, while the accusers themselves are standing without. In all cases, great is the responsibility of using an unbridled tongue in speaking of the religious character or conduct of others. What should we think of a man taking liberties with his neighbour by shooting darts into the apple of his eye?
(4.) It is by the whole character that a man is to be judged. In every good man there are faults and also redeeming features. There is the "old man," and also the "new man." "Men are to be estimated by the mass of character. A block of tin has often a grain of silver, but still it is tin, and a block of silver may have an alloy of tin but still it is silver. The mass of David's character was excellence, but with alloy." It is a very great fault in any man himself when he can see nothing in his neighbour but faults, or when, because of the faults he sees, he presumes that there can be no excellences. Those who busy themselves in finding motes in the eyes of others, generally have a beam of no small dimensions in their own. Perfection even in the best of God's people, does not exist in this world. Every good man is here in a transition state, The leaven of holiness has begun to work, and in due time will leaven the whole mass, but not as yet; so that, however much to be deplored, and however great the guilt implied, sin may be expected to break out, more or less, through strong temptation, or when one neglects to pray and be on his guard.
(5.) We have a very partial knowledge of the character of others. We look only "on the outward appearance, the Lord alone looketh on the heart." Our best practical rule is, "by their fruits ye shall know them." Yet that rule applies only for practical purposes in our dealings with men. It does not reveal the motives and aims of action, nor tell the "secret thoughts and intents of the heart." A man's character is often misconstrued by his fellow men. There is an inner life going on which is little indicated by the external manner, until a special time comes round, when particularly testing circumstances occur, and bring to light what was never supposed to exist. The secret springs of a man's character are known only to the all-seeing eye. Hence the great need of caution in forming a judgment, lest while looking only at what appears, we should make a serious mistake as to what exists in reality.
(6.) It is not the greatness of a man's sin that finally decides his character, but his impenitence. Sin is never to be otherwise than severely condemned, and the greater the sin is, the more emphatic must the condemnation be. Yet, great as the distinction is between what might be called the least sin, and the greatest sin, that distinction is small compared with the difference between the least sin and no sin. The former is a difference of degree, the latter is one of principle. So great a matter is it to find an expiation for sin in the principle of it, that when that is found, the difficulty is got over in expiating sin in any degree of it. Let a sin be ever so great, it can be expiated by that which suffices to atone for the principle of sin. Hence the greatness of a man's sins, however much they are to be execrated, will not block his way to receive pardon, provided there is suitable penitence.
But we fear there is less likelihood of penitence in the case of wilful and known sin. It is also more provoking to God, and it puts a deeper stamp of reproach on the character in the eyes of fellow man. Yet it would be highly derogatory to the value of Christ's blood to say that it could not wipe out the stain of the greatest sin, if the sinner takes refuge in that blood, and turns from his sin unto God, with endeavour after new obedience. It is not the greatness of the sin that finally condemns anyone, but the not repenting of sin. Neither is it the greatness of the breach a man makes in God's laws that finally determines what his state is to be, but his obstinate continuance in impenitence.
HOMILETIC REMARKS ON CHAPTER 14
I. The need of watchfulness in the enemy's country.
(1.) Because the enemy himself is ever awake. Saul would not have slept in the trench had he known that David was so near. Sisera would not have laid down to rest had he seen the nail and the hammer in the hand of Jael. "Hannibal is at the gates!" was enough to keep all Rome awake; and so the warning, that "the roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour," may keep us all, and always on our guard (Mat ).
(2.) There is much evil latent in the heart. On that evil within a man Satan plants his temptations. Here was his difficulty with the Saviour—"the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me"—nothing on which to plant his enticements to sin. Were there no traitors in the camp, the danger would be less; but there is gunpowder lying all about in our case, and one spark is enough to create an explosion. "There is a secret disposition in every man's heart to sin. Temptation does not fall on one, as a ball of fire on ice or snow, but as a spark or tinder, or lightning on a thatched roof, which is at once on flame (Jas .) The fowler lays the snare, but the bird's own desire betrays it into the net."
(3.) The beginnings of evil lead to more. A few drops oozing through an embankment may make a passage for the whole lake of waters. Little sins if allowed are the beginnings of great ones. In robbing a house, thieves put in a little boy at the window, whose work is to open the door and let them in; so the tempter, in rifling the soul, employs temptation to some smaller sin, which, little though it be, is sufficient to unlock the bars of conscience, and prepare for the commission of gross crimes. A pore in the body may be a door wide enough to let in a disease.
(4.) The path of duty sometimes leads close to the edges of sin. It was Samson's duty to have to do with Philistines. It required sharp looking round about on all sides, to avoid the darts of the wicked one. "It is not safe to bring gunpowder within the reach even of a spark; nor is it wise, however dexterous your driving, to shave with your wheels the edge of a beetling precipice; nor is it without the greatest danger, in the best-built bark that ever rode the waves, to sail on the outermost rim of a roaring whirlpool." "Many a duty lies between Scylla and Charybdis. Faith cuts its way between the Mountain of Presumption, and the Gulf of Despair. No truth but has some error next door." Examples in Samson, Joseph, Jephthah, David, etc.
(5.) We must watch all round. "The city cannot be safe unless the whole line be kept. It is all one whether the enemy breaks in at the front, flank, or rear of an army; or whether the ship be taken at sea, or sink in the haven when the voyage is over. The honest watchman doth not limit his care to the house or street, but walks the rounds and compasseth the whole town. So the whole man must be watched. A strong guard must be set about the outward sense, for these are Satan's landing places, especially the eye and the ear." Neglect of this was Samson's mistake (Job ; Psa 101:3; Psa 141:3-4). "There is a white devil of spiritual pride, as well as a black devil of fleshly lusts; and if only Satan can ruin us, it is all the same to him by what engines he does it; it is all the same whether we go down to hell as gross carnal sinners, or as elated self-righteous saints."
(6.) We must watch at all times. There are times of special danger, as for instance after great manifestations of the Divine love. There is danger of being lifted up with pride, and so falling into the condemnation of the devil (2Co etc.; Luk 22:31-32). "As a pirate sets on the ship that is heavily laden, so when a soul has been filled with spiritual comforts, the devil, full of envy, will keep shooting at him to rob him of all. After great services, honours and mercies, there are critical times of danger. Noah, Lot, David and Solomon fell in these circumstances. Satan is a footpad who dares not attack a man going to the bank, but when returning with his pockets full of money."
II. Man's sin often overruled by God for His people's good.
It was sinful for Samson to form a family connection with these God-despising heathens. Yet God overruled this sinful step to bring about the deliverance of Israel from their oppressors. "It was of the Lord" to allow Samson to follow his own natural inclinations, that out of the events which naturally followed, occasion might arise for the chastisement of these cruel and ungodly men. Joseph's brethren sold their brother into Egypt as a slave. They "thought evil towards him, but God meant it for good, etc." (Gen ). Pilate and the Jewish rulers took "with wicked hands and crucified" the Lord of glory, to gratify their own malice and sinful purposes, yet God overruled this greatest of sins for the purpose of fulfilling what had been spoken by all the prophets from the beginning of time, that Christ should suffer in men's stead and so open the way for their becoming reconciled to God. All the calamities which befel Israel from time to time, through the invasion of surrounding nations, each a most afflictive scourge while it lasted, though prompted by malice, envy and lust of power, were yet overruled by God to discipline His people, to prevent their falling into apostasy and to preserve them on earth as a God-fearing nation.
III. The difficult battle which some have to fight in fulfilling their duty to their God.
Samson's lot was to fight these Philistines, and with carnal weapons. At that time too the Philistines had the upper hand, while Samson must combat them all alone. Every man has his post assigned him all over the field. Some like David or Jephthah have to occupy for a long time the position of outlaws, and to show their fidelity to their God at the head of bands of lawless men. Others like Jonathan have sometimes to meet a whole army in the field, though all alone. Others like Elijah have to stand up and reprove a whole nation with their king at their head, and require them to engage in immediate repentance. Still others, like Moses, had to conduct a murmuring and stiff-necked people for forty years through a barren wilderness. And the first preachers of the cross had to stand forth and proclaim in the ears of a proud and rebellious world the most humbling and unpalatable of all truths, as the only road to pardon of sin, and hope for the eternal future. Indeed no lot in Christ's service is without a cross. Self denial is the general law (Luk ); but there is a blessed compensation (Luk 18:28-30).
IV. Those who are in Divine keeping receive special strength amid special dangers.
Just as God encouraged Moses when entering on His service, first by turning his rod into a serpent, and then by turning the serpent into a rod; and, as He encouraged David in like manner, by enabling him to slay both a lion and a bear, as a pledge of future victories in God's service, so now is Samson fortified against the dangers of his future career. He was destined to have many encounters with human lions, and now a picture is presented to him of the success which would crown his efforts in the fight. "The beast came bristling up his fearful mane, wafting his raised tail, his eyes sparkling with fury, his mouth roaring out knells of his last passage, and breathing death from his nostrils at the prey before him. But the Spirit of the Lord came on Samson. He that made the lions to stand in awe of Adam, Noah, and Daniel, now subdued this strong animal before Samson, so that he tore him in pieces as he would have rent a slender kid. And if his bones had been brass, and his skin plates of iron, it had been all one before a man who received the strength of Omnipotence for the moment." [Hall.]
"If the roaring lion of hell should find us alone among the vineyards of the Philistines, where is our hope? Not in our heels, he is swifter than we; not in our weapons, we are naturally unarmed; not in our hands, for they are weak and nerveless, but in the Spirit of that God by whom we can do all things, who giveth power to the faint, and, to them that have no might, increaseth strength. There is a stronger lion in the believer than that which roars against him." [Hall.]
God gives assurance of such succour to all His people (Deu ). Thus it was with Paul (2Ti 4:17-18; Php 4:13); with David (1Sa 17:34-35); with Jeremiah (Jer 20:11); with Daniel (Dan 6:22); with the Saviour Himself (Isa 50:6-7); with all Christ's people (Isa 40:29-31).
V. Those who do the mighty deeds of faith are the least disposed to boast of themselves.
The conquest over the lion was gained we believe through faith. When the Spirit of God came mightily on any of those who were specially commissioned to do God's work, it was always accompanied by the exercise of strong faith on the part of the chosen instrument. He looked only to God for the needed strength (Psa ; Psa 18:29-36; Psa 71:16). Samson himself, though conscious of a far greater than the ordinary measure of a man's strength, yet never boasts of that strength as his own, but on one special occasion expressly ascribes the deliverance given to the hand of God (Jud 15:18). That we take as an example of what he always did; for the few particulars recorded respecting him are always to be understood as a specimen of how he did in many other cases which are not recorded. Though it is not expressly mentioned in other cases that he did his exploits through faith, or immediate application to his God for promised strength, the fact that it is expressly mentioned in one case is an indication of what it always was with him. And this is confirmed by the fact that his name is given in the list of those who "obtained a good report through faith." He as well as Daniel may be said to have "stopped the mouths of lions."
Yet he did not tell the world of this great deed. He felt that the glory was not due to him but to his God. Therefore he was silent, not telling even his parents, but keeping the matter locked up in his bosom as a profound secret for many a day. Most men would have blown the trumpet loud and long, and used every means to get their names inserted in the roll of fame. If there were some degrading elements in this character there were also some that were truly ennobling. It was Christ-like to make little of the world's applause. After performing His mighty works, our Lord for the most part withdrew into a desert place, or retired to the mountain side, to spend the night in prayer to God—a beautiful index of the direction in which the needle of the heart pointed. Deep waters make the least noise. Samson probably talked of this matter to his God also, unseen by the world. (Compare Paul's keeping as a secret for fourteen years the greatest honour ever conferred on any man in this life as detailed in 2Co ).
VI. God sometimes stores up comforts for His people where they would least expect to find them.
In that typical age every thing was full of instruction. There was a lesson in the discovery made so unexpectedly of honey in the carcass of the lion. After so hard a struggle, in which the Spirit of God came to his help, the result is a feast of honey! Honey is honey still, though found in the lion's carcass. In God's service "the bitter comes before the sweet," and that, says Bunyan, "makes the sweet the sweeter." Joseph's hard lines in being sold, and in leading a prison life for-years, with all its privations and exhibitions of cold-heartedness from those around him, brought in the end a glorious vindication of character and improvement of circumstances. David's many and great trials furnished him with materials for writing his sweetest psalms, and made him the comforter and counsellor of God's people in every age. After encountering the fiercest opposition from the enemies of the truth at Antioch, the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost. Some severe trials are made to turn men's dispositions into sweetness, and all features of excellence. That is honey out of the lion's carcass. "How precious are thy thoughts"—that is when taking a retrospect of God's way of leading us!
VII. The perils of the wicked's fellowship.
Samson now sat at a Philistine's board. There were suspicious glances all round the table. "When they saw him"—how strong and well-built, how formidable he might become were any dispute to arise, they set spies around him, consisting of thirty strong young men, to be a guard over him in case of any outbreak. That was a poor stockade of defence against a roused Samson; but the wicked's protection is always a mere wall of reeds. In the language of deceit, which might be said to be the vernacular of Philistine social circles, they called these young men "friends of the bridegroom." The company professed to be full of smiles, while their hearts were full of deadly thoughts. It was an easy transition to pass from the friendly query—"Art thou in health, brother?" to give a stab under the fifth rib. It was an atmosphere of treachery. Their farther conduct in stealing the solution of the riddle proposed, in extorting it from the terrified bride by threats, and in actually determining to burn her and her relatives with fire, showed some of the perils of the wicked's fellowship. But it was worse still when she, whom he was to take as the companion of his bosom, actually betrayed her husband behind his back, and did what, to an honourable mind like that of Samson, was the same as giving him a stab in the very heart. So it is with those who have no fear of God before their eyes.
VIII. The ways of deceit end to the injury of those who practise them.
Samson did indeed act the part of honour in paying the forfeit to those who had nominally won it. But he took his own mode of fulfilling the conditions of the riddle. He paid the forfeit with Philistine blood and clothing (Jud ). He virtually said, since you have unrighteously compelled me to pay, I shall do so at the expense of your own countrymen; and so begin the infliction of the heavy blows on your wicked race for their oppression of God's chosen people. Thus the ways of deceit recoil on those who walk in them (Psa 5:6; Psa 10:7-10; Psa 52:1-5).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany