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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Testament Tales - Samson and Delilah and Co

1. What tribe did Samson belong to?
2. Why was Samson a Nazirite?
3. How did Samson lose his wife?
4. Why were the Israelites and the Philistines at war?
5. What has the jawbone of an ass got to do with Samson?
6. What have lions and honey got to do with Samson?
7. Who was Delilah?
8. Why was Samson a prisoner?
9. How did Samson bring down the house?
10. What’s the connection between the tribe of Benjamin and Sodom and Gomorrah?

The earliest judges were called by God when God’s people turned to Him for aid. Later judges were more like tribal dynasties, living and dying by the sword. But Samson, the Danite, was called before his birth when God sent an angel to tell his barren mother that she would bear a child (Judges 13). The woman’s husband is unconvinced, but the angel reappears and the woman brings her husband to see him. Samson’s mother follows the rules of a Nazirite (no grapes, no wine, no strong drink, and presumably no cutting her hair) during her pregnancy because the child is going to be a Nazirite.

At this time the western tribes lived under Philistine rule. Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman, Timnah, over his parents’ opposition. Samson doesn’t appear to be too good a judge of character. He deserts Timnah when she tricks him into answering his own riddle (“out of the eater came food and out of the strong came sweetness” Judges 14), and later his beloved Delilah deceives him by making him break his Nazirite vow (by cutting his hair). Timnah’s trickery sends Samson into a rage, precipitating war with the Philistines. According to the Bible, this was in accordance with God’s plan, the Israelites having become far too comfortable in their mixed community.

The Philistines demand that the tribes hand over Samson to pay for his crimes, but Samson escapes his bonds and kills a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, afterwards finding water in the bone to ease his thirst (Judges 15). He then appears to wander the land, sleeping with harlots and causing havoc, till he meets Delilah (Judges 16). She tries to tempt him into revealing the secret of his strength, and when she cuts his hair, breaking his Nazirite vow, Samson feels himself deserted by God and is taken prisoner. Blinded by the Philistines (and perhaps also by God), Samson is paraded in the temple of Dagon where he calls upon God’s help and pulls the whole building down by breaking its pillars.

Troubles continue amongst the tribes of Israel. A travelling Levite on his way from Bethlehemjudah is lured into serving a rich man’s gods for pay instead of serving God (Judges 17). Danites, seeking to increase their land, steal the Levite and the household gods away, setting up a temple in Shiloh (Judges 18). Then another Levite takes a concubine from Bethlehemjudah, spends the night in Gibeah among the tribe of Benjamin (because he’s afraid of the Jebusites who control nearby Jerusalem) only to find himself forced to “share” his concubine with the mob—a very similar mob to that which descended on the angels at Lot’s house in Sodom (Judges 19). When the concubine’s found dead, the Levite cuts her body into twelve pieces, one for each tribe, as a symbol of how God’s people are fallen. The tribes decide to cut off Benjamin (Judges 20). More battles ensue, but the tribes reunite eventually, handing over the female orphans of Jabesh-Gilead to Benjamin after that town’s apostasy, and giving the Benjaminites their pick of the ritual dancers at Shiloh (Judges 21).

The phrase “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” repeats like a solemn refrain throughout the book of Judges—these aren’t the stories of what happens when people obey God, but rather, an account what goes wrong when they don’t.

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