After Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon serve as judges for the people of Israel, the people yet again return to doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord. This is the same refrain we have seen in Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, and 10:6. Note that evil is what God defines, not what we decide to be evil in our own eyes. Therefore God gives the people of Israel over to be oppressed by the Philistines for 40 years. This is a weighty declaration and I want us to consider 40 years of oppression. In our language it would be as if our nation was being attacked and oppressed since 1975. This is a staggering length of time to suffer and be oppressed.
Miracle Child Announced (13:1-24)
We are told about a man named Manoah and his wife. His wife is unable to bear a child. But an angel of the Lord appears to her and tells her that she will bear a son. But there are rules that must be followed. In verse 4 we are told that she is stay away from wine and not eat anything unclean because this child she will bear will be a Nazirite to God from the moment he is born. Now a Nazirite vow was usually a voluntary vow that a person made to dedicate himself to the Lord. But this is different because the angel says that this child will be a Nazirite. This dedication to the Lord was seen a few outward practices. Numbers 6 records these distinctions that would be seen: (1) cannot drink any juice from grapes, wine, nor eat grapes; (2) no razor shall touch his head (so his hair must grow long); (3) cannot go near a dead body, even if one of his parents dies, he cannot go near any dead body. Please keep these rules in mind as we read the narrative concerning this child whose name is Samson. He cannot have wine or grapes, must not cut his hair, and cannot go near the dead.
Verse 5 records another important part of God’s plan. This child “shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Now we must note something even more amazing. This child is going to be the one who will begin to save Israel. But has Israel asked for deliverance? Consider that we have a break in the normal cycle of the judges. The people would sin, God would allow the people to be oppressed, the people would cry out to the Lord, and then God would send a savior/deliverer. Now the people have been oppressed for 40 years. But are they crying out to the Lord for salvation? The text does not reveal that they are, even though the people have for every oppression we have read about so far. The people have become so like the world that they do not care about being overrun by the Philistines (which the text will reveal later). The people are not looking for relief. But God is going to save before the people ask for it.
This birth announcement makes Samson very unique. He is now in the line of other miracle children like Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptizer, and Jesus. The rest of the chapter 13 is similar to the angel of the Lord coming to Gideon. Manoah’s wife tells her husband about what the angel said. Once they realize they are talking to an angel, Manoah fears for his life because he has seen God (cf. Judges 6:22-23). The end of chapter 13 ends with a declaration that prepares the people to be very hopeful. The son was born and the Lord blessed him. The Spirit of the Lord was with him and begin to stir him. God is with this one who will save the people from their oppression.
Samson’s Folly (14:1-20)
Samson sees one of the Philistine women and demands that his family get her for his wife. This, of course, is a violation of the Law of Moses, for the people of Israel were not to marry foreigners. When his parents bring this up, Samson does not care. Samson says, “She is right in my eyes.” Some translations explain this as that she looked good to him and that is all Samson cared about. This is correct and I believe the intention of the text. However, there is another intention. The book of Judges is telling about what happens when people do what is right in their own eyes (21:25). Samson does not care what is right in the Lord’s eyes. All he cares about is what is right in his own eyes! What a mistake it is to live by sight and not by faith! What a sin it is to not listen to the ways of the Lord and consider what is right to our God. Yet so often we do what Samson does, choosing what is right to us rather than what is right before our God.
Thankfully we read glorious words in verse 4. God is going to use the very weakness of Samson to save Israel. How great it is that God repeatedly is at work through our sinfulness! It is a good thing God does this otherwise we would always be ruining God’s plans. Rather, God knows our sinful ways and uses our actions to accomplish his plans. The irony is that God is going to use Samson to save the people from the Philistines through Samson’s desire to marry a Philistine.
But the account is not done concerning the folly of Samson. Verse 5 records that they came to the vineyards of Timnah. Remember that Samson is not to eat or drink anything from grapes. Yet here he is at these vineyards. A young lion approaches and the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon Samson so that without anything in his hands he tears the lion into pieces. But he does not tell his parents. Then he talks with this Philistine woman who he wants to marry and the text again emphasizes that she “was right in Samson’s eyes” (14:7). When he was returning to take this woman, he passes by the animal carcass and sees a swarm of bees in the body of the dead lion. So he scrapes the honey out of the dead lion’s body with his hands and eats it on the way to get this Philistine woman. The text again notes that Samson did not tell his parents about this (14:9). I submit to you that there is an obvious reason that he did not tell his parents: he was not to be touching any dead bodies because this was a violation of the Nazirite vow. Yet Samson continues to put his physical appetites ahead of his vow to the Lord.
Verse 10 tells us that he arrives at his wedding feast which is just as young men do. Here again we are given the implication that he is breaking his Nazirite vow since a feast in those days would most certainly have wine, grapes, and grape juice. During this feast Samson makes a wager with the Philistine people of the city. If they can answer his riddle, he will give them 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothes. But if they cannot answer the riddle, then he will receive the same amount of clothing from them. The riddle is recorded in verse 14: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” For three days they are unable to answer the riddle. We can understand why. Without the account of what Samson had done with the lion we would not know the answer to this riddle. So the people of the city press Samson’s new bride to get the answer or they will burn her and her father’s house with fire. So she cries and presses Samson to tell her the answer to the riddle (14:16). Samson finally gives in to her pressing and crying and tells her the answer to riddle. She tells the men of the city and the men of the city are able to answer the riddle. Listen to Samson’s response:
“If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle” (14:18). Friends, this is just as derogatory and as disparaging in the Hebrew as it is to us in English. We are getting a clear view of the type of man Samson is. Verse 19 gives us a picture of what is happening. The Spirit of the Lord rushes upon Samson so that he struck down 30 men of the town. What is God doing? God is starting to deliver his people from the Philistines. What is Samson doing? The text is clear, “In his hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” Samson does this for his own selfish anger and vengeance for “plowing with his heifer.” God wants to deliver Israel from the Philistines.
Samson’s Revenge (15:1-20)
Samson goes home in a rage. In the meantime, Samson did not finish his wedding week. In our language, Samson left her at the altar to go get his own vengeance for knowing the riddle by pressure his would-be bride. After many days Samson decides to go back and get his wife. Verse 1 tells us that Samson thinks having relations with her will be what he needs. Her father will not allow this because she was left at the altar by Samson and thought that he hated his daughter. So he gave his daughter to another man. The father offers to give another one of his daughters to him who is more beautiful, but Samson refuses. Notice verse 3. Samson says, “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm.” I cannot help but chuckle at this because Samson is suffering because of his own foolish decisions. Rather than marrying this woman, he goes off in a hot anger and now he has lost his wife. So now Samson thinks he will be justified in retaliation against the Philistines.
So Samson catches 300 foxes, turned them tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. Once he set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the grains of the Philistines and set fire to all of their grains and orchards. When the Philistines find out that Samson did this, they burn his wife that he could not have and her father in fire. This angers Samson further and swears that he will be avenged (15:7). So he tears them limb from limb in a great slaughter. So the Philistines are going to retaliate and muster their armies against Judah (15:9). The men of Judah want to know why the Philistines are attacking them. The Philistines say that they want Samson, to do to him as he did to them. So the men of Judah, rather than protecting and supporting their deliverer, hand Samson over to the Philistines. Samson tells them to just bind him when they hand him over and not attack him. When the Philistines come to take Samson who was bound by two new ropes, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon Samson and the ropes melt off of him. He takes a fresh jawbone from a donkey (remember he is not supposed to touch dead bodies) and strikes 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
Now listen to text after this great victory that God gives him.
And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the LORD and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (Judges 15:18 ESV)
Yet again, Samson only shows concern for his physical needs. Rather than striking Samson dead for such insolent words, God opens a hollow place and water came from it, refreshing Samson. Thus Samson judged Israel for 20 years. Notice that this is called the days of the Philistines. Samson has not set Israel free or saved them from oppression. But he is their judge during these 20 years of the days of the Philistines.
These three chapters are filled with the amazing, unexpected grace of God. The people do not ask for deliverance yet God is going to send a deliverer to save them. Further, God uses the wickedness of the people to accomplish his plan of deliverance. The foreshadowing that we see in Samson is very strong. Samson has a miraculous birth like Jesus. Samson’s miracle is announced by an angel just like Jesus. Samson was to dedicated to the Lord just like Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord was on Samson and the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus. God sent Samson to save from the Philistines even though Israel did not ask for a savior. God sends Jesus to save the people from their sins, even though the people do not ask for him. When Samson comes to his people, then hand him over to the enemies. The men of Judah do not see Samson as their deliverer. When Jesus comes to save the people from their sins, his own people hand him over to be crucified. The people do not see Jesus as their deliverer and savior.
This is the amazing grace of God. God gives grace even when we do not ask for it. God gives grace every day. God shows grace every day by delaying the punishment and wrath that we deserve for our sins. Of course the ultimate display of God’s grace is giving Jesus even when people did not desire him. Who asked God for a savior before God planned it? The salvation of the world was planned before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:4).
Yet even with all of these things, we are taught that Samson cannot save us. He is wicked and unrighteous like the rest of us. He cannot be our Savior from sins. We needed another who would come and remain dedicated to the Lord, fulfill the Lord’s plan, live a perfect life so that he could be offered as the Lamb who takes away our sins. Peter preached his first sermon with this very message. Later, after Peter and John are arrested and released, listen to what they say:
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:23–28 ESV)
All of these people gathered against the Lord and his Anointed, Jesus. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Israel all plotted against the Lord and his Anointed “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” How amazing is our God to use our sins to save us from our sins! What unexpected grace from our amazing, gracious God. God’s grace to sinners: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).