Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bible Commentary - Judges 15

In this chapter, Samson kills a bunch of Philistines, then gets captured, then kills a bunch more.

This chapter partly explains how Samson's wife was given to another man.  Apparently he just ran off without her and left her in her father's house, and while he was gone the woman's father gave her to another man instead.  It's kinda crazy, but this entire historical period is pretty crazy.  That's one of the themes in Judges, which I was talk about more later.

At this point, Samson gets into tit-for-tat revenge against the Philistines, first burning up their crops during harvest.  Then they kill his ex-fiance, presumably because they could not harm Samson directly.  He responds by killing a bunch of Philistines.  This is somewhat ironic because Samson was just responding to something that his wife's father did, and when the other Philistines kill him for it, he gets even more angry.

Once again, the Philistines find they cannot harm Samson, so they go to attack Judah unless Judah delivers Samson over to them.  Judah does this, but Samson once again breaks out and kills a bunch more Philistines, this time using a jawbone as a weapon.

This, and many other details from Samson's life, is meant to exemplify how powerful he was, how the LORD "came upon him mightily".  Killing a thousand men with a donkey's jawbone is one such example, juxtaposing the power of his actions with the feebleness of his weapon.  Samson's song reinforces this, alternating between mentioning the "heaps upon heaps" and the jawbone.  In addition, the Hebrew words for "donkey" and "heap" share the same root, so this is also a play upon words.

We know that Samson was powerful, one of the most powerful fighters in the bible.  But we can also see how Samson is misusing his power, since he is fighting to avenge himself personally rather than fighting on behalf of Judah or the LORD.  Indeed, his actions served more to imperil Judah than anything else, because the Philistines nearly attacked Judah in reprisal.  Samson is a story of great power used in misguided and selfish ways.  He could have been a great deliverer to Israel, but he betrayed his own destiny through selfishness.

That a glib, though accurate, summary of Samson's life.  Indeed, that is probably what the author had in mind, pointing out how Samson had a callous disregard for the Law's dietary restrictions (i.e. kashrut).  This entire chapter is a result of Samson's desire to marry a Philistine, which is also contrary to the Law.  So that's the glib summary, the common parable that is drawn by Sunday school teachers worldwide.

What I always wonder though, is what kind of circumstances and decisions brought Samson to this place?  Somewhere between the great promises of Judges 13 and the Samson's disastrous intentions in Judges 14 there must have been something that shaped him in this way.  I asked the same sort of question about Moses, who passed 40 years in the Midianite desert and came out of it a righteous man.  I also wonder about Abraham, who in Genesis 11 lived in idolatry with his father and relatives in Haran, but in Genesis 12 he obeyed the voice of the LORD, left everything he knew and went into the land of Canaan.

I am in awe and wonder at such decisions, both the good (Moses and Abraham) and the bad (Samson).  The stories themselves make for glib pronouncements ("look at the faith of Abraham!", "look at the selfishness of Samson!").  But I marvel at the stories that aren't told, what mysterious forces shape the hearts of man in all those secret years.  All those years that passed with hardly a mention, with a sentence at most, but those are the untold stories that created the greatness of the heroes we know, and the sinfulness of the villains we know.  In some ways I am more interested in Moses's years in Midian than in his days on Sinai.  The 40 days on Sinai were the product of Moses's 40 years in Midian, tending to sheep, caring for his wife and raising his children.  Moses didn't climb Mount Sinai a sinner and come down a saint; he climbed Mount Sinai with humility and love, and he descended with glory.  God honors the humble and meek, but what a mystery is humility!  How is this force produced, and how is it tendered?  Certainly God honors humility, but where does that humility come from?

This is the mystery I've been trying to solve for the past 6 years or so, trying to discover the source of humility, faith and love.  It's not something I can really address in the context of Samson's life.  But I will say that I think Samson's selfishness is just as big a mystery as Moses's humility.  The glib interpretation is to warn us, "do not be selfish!", without bothering to tell us just how to do that.  It can honestly be irritating sometimes.  Even if I know what selfishness is, how can I just "not do it"?  That doesn't even make sense to me, telling you to avoid something without explaining how.  Hopefully this is something that I'll get to explore more as we go through the bible.

I do think there are answers, but my honest opinion is that a large part of becoming humble is the process of learning about humility and seeking it.  Humility isn't like an equation that you can read in a book and suddenly "know it".  It has to becoming part of you, like mixing yeast into a lump of dough.  Desiring humility and trying to find it is how you get it.  But it takes time, and often it seems that is what makes it so hard for people.  Of course, by "people" what I mean is "me".  Maybe others too, but mostly just me.  But this is just my own personal musings and philosophy.  I didn't want to ask a broad question like, "how do you attain humility" without making some sort of effort to answer it, but the truth is that it's a really hard question and I'm still trying to figure it out myself.  If anybody else has a really easy and simple answer, let me know and I'll just do that.  :)

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