Thursday, June 19, 2008

And great was the fall of it (Judges 16)

Ah Judges 16, and the story of Samson finally defeated. Here we see him fall to what must be his greatest weakness, his lust for women, and apparent unfailing trust of them despite all evidence against doing so. Yes, Samson goes to visit a prostitute in Gaza, but this is not his downfall yet, although one might wonder if the whole thing was a set-up for a trap. The Philistines fully expect to catch him in the morning and kill him, but in the middle of the night (I assume while the soldiers are asleep) he gets up and rips the city gate out of the wall and carries it to a nearby hill. There may have been an actual purpose to this act, such as the possibility that's easily suggested by the text that they were trying to trap him in the city by barring the city gate. The SAB marks the act as absurd, and asks, "Did God make him do it or was he just showing off?" I'd lean towards showing off, as practically, all he really needed to escape was to knock the door down. It's possible that the practical purpose was to leave the city unprotected, as fixing a city gate that is knocked over is easier than fixing one that's been carried off. All of the angry, showy things that Samson does in his life end up being to the general detriment to the Philistines in the end.

Into the story comes Delilah, a Philistine woman that Samson has a crush on. The Philistines continue their campaign to take advantage of Samson's weakness for women, and offer Delilah a reward if she can help them take Samson down. She proceeds to question Samson as to the source of his strength, to which Samson makes up several answers. Seriously, this has got to be the stupidest guy in the Bible; every time he tells her what can be done to defeat him, she proceeds to immediately do it. To tell this woman the true source of his power has got to be the biggest bonehead move ever. (Actually, for the first time I find myself wondering if, in fact, Samson didn't even mean it when he said his hair was the source of his power. In truth, the Bible never says it's the case that his hair is giving him power; I've always thought the possibility existed that this was all psychological on Samson's part.) Whatever Samson expected to happen, I truly marvel that he didn't know Delilah was out to get him. Despite what Hollywood has portrayed, there's also no evidence in the story here that Delilah was in it for anything but the money.

The SAB says of his hair being the source of his strength, "And I thought his strength was from God." Well, everything comes from God, particularly Samson's strength, which seems to be supernatural, but his hair seems to have been a part of it for whatever reason. The fact that his eyes were gouged out probably didn't help Samson much either (an act which the SAB does not mention as being cruel or violent, and I'm curious as to why).

Samson ends up killing more than 3,000 people (Wells, you may want to update your tally, as 3,000 is the number of people upstairs alone, while many others were downstairs, no doubt) in his death, taking down the building on top of them all. The SAB does not miss the chance to mark this as violent, cruel, unjust and intolerant, but I must question some of those. Sure, Samson was an awful guy, but does that make it alright to gouge his eyes out and bring him out to publicly humiliate him? Are the Philistines right in oppressing the Israelites? (Unlike many of the nations the Israelites had to contend with in Canaan, the Philistines were not locals, but invaders.) Violent? Yes, but as for the other things Samson is accused of here, this final thing is really the closest he comes to a noble act in his spotty life. This one time especially, the Philistines really have it coming.

So, what is the final lesson of the life of Samson? What is the answer to the question I put off answering a few chapters back? Why does God take one of the worst moral examples in the Bible and continue to give him power and blessing time after time? Actually, I already answered this question in the beginning of the book. The book of Judges and the life of Samson in particular should be an inspiration for anyone who is hoping to find favor with God. Why? Because if God wants to use your life to make a great thing happen, He's not going to allow your failings, even if they are catastrophic ones like Samson's, to stand in the way of that. No doubt God could have taken Samson, had he been an upright and moral man, and made him a brilliant military leader and inspiration to his people who would than have rallied around him like a king and rose up to drive out their oppressors. Instead, God used Samson's very weaknesses to maneuver him into a place where he would end up destroying the leadership of the Philistines in a surprise attack from within. Samson was chosen from before birth for this purpose and, despite his own free will subverting the best opportunity for resolving the conflict, the purpose of God was served. I'll say it again: the Bible is a book full of massively screwed-up people that God used to do great things despite themselves. It gives hope to billions around the world and throughout history. If I don't have the moral fiber to be a Daniel, maybe I have just enough faith in God that he'll make me a Samson? Something to think about, anyway.

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