AN ANGRY GIANT
By Steve Zeisler
Today we're going to continue our study of the life of Samson in the book
of Judges. I'd like to read you a paragraph that I clipped out of this week's
newspaper as an introduction to Samson's life.
Say goodbye to John Wayne. American men today say they do not want women
to think of them as rugged and masculine, because they are really sensitive
and caring fellows, according to a newly released national poll on men and
male attitudes. According to a Roper poll made public this week, the man
of the '90s sees himself as being friendly, trustworthy, and kind. He still
loves sports and sex, but he also thinks that he needs to be more attuned
to the needs of women and family.
An obvious description of our friend Samson.... (I would expect my kids
to yell, "Not!" at this point if they were here.) This poll asked
men what their impressions of themselves were, and they are giving us their
opinions, telling us their world view, if you will. But it's interesting
to me that at the same time that men are describing themselves as more sensitive
and caring, attuned to the needs of women and children; the incidence of
rape is going up dramatically in this culture, abuse of children is rampant
and growing, the streets aren't safe, relationships are dissolving at a
terrible rate, and in the real practice of ordinary people relating to each
other, we see deterioration rather than improvement. Samson, who is the
antithesis of everything the men of the '90s say they want to be, can instruct
us as we look at why people do what they do and what makes us act contrary
to our values.
We began considering the life of Samson last week in chapters 13 and 14,
which talked about his birth and ended with the story of a marriage feast.
In his young manhood, Samson saw a beautiful Philistine girl and said to
his father, "She looks good to me. Get her for me as my wife."
He thought of her the way a man might think about the swimsuit issue of
Sports Illustrated; he was physically attracted to this woman. His father
tried to talk him out of it to no avail. During the wedding feast he made
a bet with the Philistine men there that they couldn't guess a riddle. They
pressured her to get the answer out of Samson. He ended up losing the bet,
killed thirty Philistines in Ashkelon to pay off the bet, and stomped off
in a rage. That's where we ended the story last week. Now verse 1 of chapter
But after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, it came about that Samson
visited his wife with a young goat, and said, "I will go in to my wife
in her room." But her father did not let him enter. And her father
said, "I really thought that you hated her intensely; so I gave her
to your companion. Is not her younger sister more beautiful than she? Please
let her be yours instead."
After the Wedding
This young woman was shamed horribly in being abandoned by Samson at their
wedding feast. Her father hastily arranged another wedding for her so she
wasn't left without a husband. So now the father said to Samson, "I
thought you hated her---You've been gone!"
Samson then said to them, "This time I shall be blameless
in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm." And Samson went
and caught three hundred foxes [jackals is a better translation] and took
torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail, and put one torch in the middle
between two tails. When he had set fire to the torches, he released the
foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the
shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves. Then
the Philistines said, "Who did this?" And they said, "Samson,
the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he took his wife and gave her to
his companion." So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father
Presumably, they burned their house to the ground while father and daughter
were in it. They had threatened to do so at the wedding feast (Judges 14:15)
if she didn't find out the secret of Samson's riddle. Now in revenge they
carried out their threat. Verse 7:
And Samson said to them, "Since you act like this, I will
surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit." And he struck
them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the
cleft of the rock of Etam.
This account reminds us that insisting on one's rights and demanding revenge,
bring about troubles that can't be contained. It's significant to me that
Samson started a fire. He set these poor animals ablaze to start the standing
grain on fire, and the fire leaped to the vineyards and the olive groves,
destroying everything in sight. It's a metaphor of what was taking place
between Samson and his Philistine enemies. A fire was being stoked; it was
getting worse, and things were raging out of control.
It's also worth noting that Samson's acts of revenge were not just the passionate
outburst of the moment. If he'd been furious at losing his wife, you might
have expected him to flatten the father with one punch. That would have
been an act of passionate anger. But he did something much more calculating
than that. He was furious, but he also determined to perform the very difficult
task of catching 300 jackals and setting them loose to destroy the economic
base of his enemies. He was taking his revenge on the people who had originally
"plowed with his heifer," to use the phrase at the end of the
We can joke about Samson not being a '90s kind of guy who is sensitive to
the needs of women and children, thoughtful, friendly, and kind. (About
the only way Samson would fit into the '90s is that he would probably look
good in the gym working out with the other guys!) He did not in any sense
have the cultural values of today. But he didn't even live by the values
of his own culture. First his father and then his father-in-law tried to
stop him; they both tried to tell Samson that his activities went against
every convention of their age. Yet he did what he wanted anyway concerned
only with satisfying his own desires.
The simple point I want to make here is that widely held cultural values
by themselves do not predict how people will act. Perhaps the women's movement
and the subsequent men's movement in our culture have changed the standard
of what is considered correct behavior between men and women. But we know
by looking around us that many men will assent to some idea of what they
ought to be like, yet treat the women in their home badly, threaten their
children, and treat one another in personal relationships with the same
attitude of selfishness as Samson, if not with the same ability to endanger
one another. It's interesting to me to note that some of the public figures
who hold the most liberal, cutting-edge, progressive political attitudes
about women's rights in theory treat the actual women in their lives terribly.
Rights and Revenge
What insight into these matters can we gain by looking closely at Samson's
story? The story began with the simple physical longing he had for a particular
woman. "She looks good to me." Then the fact that she looked good
to him meant that everybody else had to get in line with his desires. His
father's objections didn't matter, and neither did anybody else's. He wanted
what he wanted. Next, it eventually became his right to have what he wanted.
She became his wife, then at the marriage feast Samson stomped off in a
rage, acting on a whim. Again his whim became his right which led to a conviction
that revenge equaled justice. Do you recall how he argued later on when
he came back to see his wife, after he'd gotten over his anger? She had
been given to another, and so, defending his actions beforehand, he said,
"This time in what I do to the Philistines I will be held blameless.
I have the right to do what I'm about to do."
That same psychology is at work in us as it is in every age. We identify
something we want, and eventually we translate our desire into our right-we
have a right to have what we want. When our rights are transgressed, we
turn to revenge, but it's not revenge, it's justice because our rights were
violated, after all. When we strike back, we're only doing what anyone would
do, what ought to be done.
At the end of this story, Samson was trying to stop the fire from spreading.
After he destroyed the crops of his enemies, his enemies struck back by
killing his wife and her father. Then he struck back with a great slaughter
of Philistines. And he said, "This time it will stop. This will be
the last act of vengeance." But the problem is that they, too, had
their rights, which Samson had violated, and they believed they were establishing
justice. Samson was now to be dealt with by them on the same basis. You
can't unilaterally declare an end to the battle when you're ahead. That's
what Samson was trying to do, but the battle wouldn't end until either Samson
died or all the Philistines died. The cycle of demanding that we have what
we want can't be stopped by merely succeeding in getting what we want or
by wreaking revenge on those who oppose us.
This has been sort of a hard week at our house. Our youngest son is seeing
a medical specialist for some difficult issues in his life, and the process
of getting him the kind of medical help he needs has been very frustrating.
In the midst of that he got very sick, perhaps as a result of some of the
treatments he was getting. The sickness was treated by medicine that made
him even worse. So he was horribly sick and miserable, and we were miserable
ourselves, frustrated, and a bit frightened for awhile. His sickness ran
the life of our house for a good bit of the week.
On top of that, the hard disk in my computer crashed. A lot of information
evaporated into thin air. One night I was working fairly late trying to
restore all this information in a hard disk, and I woke up the next morning
tired and irritable. I thought, "I not only feel rude and irritable
today, but I have the right to treat people with rudeness and irritability
because all these terrible things have happened to me. Yet the people that
I treated rudely and irritably didn't see it that way. They assumed that
I now owed them something because I had detracted from their lives by being
rude and irritable. You can see how the process escalates.
I was listening to a car radio driving somewhere, and the old Jim Croce
song came on, Leroy Brown:
Bad, bad Leroy Brown,
That's Samson. He had nothing but his own interests, his own anger in mind;
and he assumed that he could end the process by slaughtering a host of Philistines
and saying, "Okay, we're even." But let's see what happened in
Baddest man in the whole darn town,
Badder than old King Kong,
Meaner than a junk-yard dog.
The Frightened Men of Judah
Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread
out in Lehi.
This was near the area where he was hiding in the cleft of Etam, and it
was inhabited mostly by men of Judah. An army of at least a thousand Philistines,
probably many more, came looking for Samson.
And the men of Judah said, "Why have you come up against
us?" And they said, "We have come up to bind Samson in order to
do to him as he did to us." Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the
cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, "Do you not know that
the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done
to us?" And he said to them, "As they did to me, so I have done
to them." And they said to him, "We have come down to bind you
so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines." And Samson
said to them, "Swear to me that you will not kill me." So they
said to him, "No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their
hands; yet surely we will not kill you." Then they bound him with two
new ropes and brought him up from the rock.
Samson was brought forward by the men of Judah. They were frightened because
of the Philistine presence among them, and they urged Samson to come down
and face the consequences, whatever they might be. He met the force of Philistines
and single-handedly destroyed a thousand men, presumably sending the rest,
if there were others, to flight.
When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit
of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms
were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.
And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it
and killed a thousand men with it.
I'd like to comment on the role of the men of Judah in this story, because
their behavior was the wrongful opposite of Samson's. Samson was somebody
who insisted on having his rights at all costs. We've already described
the process that takes place with this kind of thinking. The men of Judah,
on the other hand, just folded their hands and timidly went along with the
presence of the Philistines, acquiescing to the pressure. We can imagine
them appealing to Samson in squeaky little voices saying, "The Philistines
are rulers over us, Samson. We don't want to antagonize them." They
lived their lives without any sense of their own worth in relation to the
Philistines. They just went along with whatever oppression that the Philistines
visited on them. Samson fought every inch of the way, but these men quit
at every point on the way.
When we're faced with conflict or circumstances that are hard to live with,
neither an angry insistence on our rights nor a doormat-like acquiescence
is what God intends for us. But think of all the kinds of conflict in which
one or the other of these solutions suggests itself: In marriage, husband
and wife may be relating to each other in deep pain, and one or the other
can be very dominant. Some men bluster, stomp, yell, and insist, usually
behind closed doors where no one outside can see, miniature tyrants in their
homes. Conversely, other men have given up the last shred of their self-respect
and are unable to contribute anything at all to their marriages. Sometimes
women are dominant, manipulative, angry, vocal, and insistent. Others are
doormats, having lost any sense of their own value. The conflict in these
situations is never resolved because neither approach brings health or life.
The Forgiveness Cycle
What ought to happen? What is the Christian alternative to what we see in
this story? The Christian alternative is to invite the power of the One
who is greater than we are to change the situation. The power of God, available
to us in Christ, can issue in forgiveness. Forgiveness is the one element
that is nowhere in Samson's story. When a person of tremendous value, who
has had the love of God fill his soul, is wronged, he can turn to his tormentors
and forgive them. The cycle of one set of rights clashing with another set
of rights and one act of revenge being followed by another is broken. That's
the option that we who know the Lord must choose; to look outside ourselves
to the Lord for help, to realize how much he cares for us and that we don't
need to insist on our rights and protect ourselves at every point, because
the Lord is greater than we are and is protecting us.
It's interesting to note that later on in the biblical drama of the Old
Testament, the roles are reversed; the angry giant in the later story is
the Philistine Goliath. Goliath is the strong and terrorizing individual,
and the one who defeats Goliath is not someone who meets him strength for
strength or who fights like Goliath fights. He is the shepherd boy with
the slingshot, having no armor and no background in warfare. He understands
that the power of God is the only hope for him and his people, and when
he strides forth and meets the enemy, the Lord's purposes are accomplished.
But even greater than defeating an enemy is seeing the power of the love
of God change foes to friends. Forgiveness can lead to reconciliation and
reconciliation to new life. The capacity to forgive our enemies, supremely
demonstrated in Christ, is the greatest power of all.
Then Samson said,
With the jawbone of a donkey,
Heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey
I have killed a thousand men."
And it came about when he had finished speaking, that he threw the jawbone
from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi. [Roughly translated,
that means Jawbone Heights.] Then he became very thirsty, and he called
to the LORD and said, "Thou hast given this great deliverance by the
hand of Thy servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands
of the uncircumcised?" But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi
so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he
revived. Therefore, he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day.
So he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.
We are seeing Samson for the first time recognize that he was not capable
of doing everything he wanted. The battle was over, everyone else was gone,
and finally awareness of his own depletion descended on him. You can imagine
how much emotional and physical energy it took to fight as he's fought,
single-handedly, against incredible odds. Finally it drained him, so that
for the first time he had to speak to God in the context of weakness.
Samson prayed, "Thou hast given this great deliverance by the hand
of thy servant." On a positive note, God got the credit to begin with:
"You've done it---but let's not forget the important role of the hand
of your servant...and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands
of the uncircumcised?" Samson's prayer was at bottom more of an accusation
than anything else, wasn't it? He was saying, "God, you're not treating
me fairly!" Again, Samson was back to asserting what he deserved, even
to God. Faith was not entirely absent from the prayer, but Samson himself
was still the major subject of it. It is important to note that the prayer
came after he sang a song in his own praise. "With the jawbone of a
donkey I have killed a thousand men."
It was an act of God's mercy both to make Samson thirsty and then to slake
his thirst. The Lord gave him a glimpse of himself that is going to become
very important before the end of his story. Samson will not be a great man
of faith until he has suffered indignity, loss of strength, and failure.
He was getting a hint of it here, the first glimmering of insight.
Achieving God's Righteousness
What can we learn from observing Samson take vengeance on his enemies? It
might be worth noting that his story is one of a man who was always alone.
We find no record of any real friendships in his life. He was a widower
at this point and would never marry again. His relationships with women
were with prostitutes, as we'll see in the next chapter; that was the only
kind of relationship he was able to sustain with a woman. He had no children
of his own. The people of his own community, his fellow Israelites, didn't
know what to make of him. His enemies were terrified of him. He judged Israel,
we're told, but he judged them not with wisdom or articulation of the things
of God, but only with his raw power. He was so frightening to the Philistines
that they backed off for twenty years, but that was the only contribution
he made as a judge.
Samson was a man, as we said last week, who had very little on the inside
and very little personal success in either knowing God or changing the world
he lived in. He won every battle, but he accomplished almost nothing. He
was someone who was gripped by the cycle, to review again, of having desires
that became rights, which in turn allowed for revenge to become justice
in his thinking. Over and over again he had to strike the last blow, and
as a result, he was isolated, a man having very little to offer anyone except
the terror of his strength.
Let's read James 1:16-18 to close:
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing bestowed
and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. In the exercise of
His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be,
as it were, the first fruits among His creatures.
Our heavenly Father is a gift-giver. He has given us new life in Christ
and has showered every good and perfect gift upon us from heaven. We are
the recipients of incalculable mercy, and blessing. We've been given everything
that is worth having, and every day is filled with new ways to see and rejoice
in his goodness to us. It is precisely for that reason that we don't need
to defend ourselves. It is because the Father of heavenly lights cares so
deeply for us that we can let go of the need to assert what's best for us,
let go of all the language of rights, of entitlement, of what I deserve,
the sense that justice is getting what seems to benefit me. That whole way
of looking at life can be set aside in favor of looking at life as someone
who is infinitely cared for by a heavenly Father. Because that is true,
the directive of verse 19 follows:
This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick
to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not
achieve the righteousness of God.
We are quick to listen, quick to understand. We easily put ourselves in
the shoes of another and see life from their perspective. We are not so
overwhelmed by our appetites that we insist on everything going our way.
We become quick to care and to walk alongside someone; that becomes our
enthusiasm. We're much slower to contribute our two cents' worth to everything,
and we're even slower to become angry. The righteousness of God is our concern
because he loves us so, and man's anger doesn't achieve the righteousness
Catalog No. 4316
March 15, 1992
Copyright © 1992 Discovery
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