Friday, February 4, 2011

Bible Notes: Judges 16

Samson was to be a Nazirite from the womb (13:5). “Nazirite” means “one separated/consecrated.” When a person took on the vow of the Nazirite, they were setting themselves apart to the Lord for a period of time. It was not typically lifelong, though the Bible shows us at least two lifelong Nazirites, Samson and Samuel. Numbers 6 lays out the stipulations of the Nazirite vow:
--no alcohol--drinking or eating the fruit of the vine, no wine or strong drink or vinegar (1-4);
--no haircuts (5);
--no corpses--proximity to dead bodies (6-12).
Instructions to Samson’s parents included the prohibitions of wine or strong drink and haircuts (13:4-5,7,13-14). Also prohibited was the eating of anything unclean (13:4,7,14).

Samson is not the man of God we expect him to be. Such promise surrounds him in ch. 13. But he begins to play the part of a carnal, earthy man in ch. 14.

This carnality is seen in the neglect of his Nazirite vow. He kills a lion early on (14:5-6), and some days later he scoops honey out of its corpse … and eats it (14:8-9)! There goes the “no corpse” stipulation … and the “no unclean food” stipulation (honey normally clean, but taken from the corpse of a lion? Yeah, it’s unclean).

And what was Samson doing in a vineyard (14:5)? While it’s never specified, one suspects that Samson violated the “no alcohol” stipulation of his Nazirite vow, given his profligate lifestyle and the facts that he 1) could occasionally be found near a vineyard and 2) would throw the occasional 7-day feast (14:10-18).

What’s that leave of his Nazirite vows? The haircut. We know what happened there. The big surprise for me this time as I read through Samson’s story had to do with his hair.

From age 5 or so on up I’ve always known that Samson’s strength was connected with his hair. What I didn’t realize until now is that the reader isn’t told that until near the end of the Samson story when he divulges that to Delilah. Did you know that?

Let me re-frame the story a bit.

Up until this time (the Delilah incident), we (properly) attribute Samson's feats of strength to the Lord (14:6,19;15:14), for we know nothing of the hair connection. In fact, in our minds we might forget about the flowing hair. After all, the Bible isn’t a picture book, and apart from the mention of “no razor shall touch his head” at his birth announcement, there’s no mention of Samson’s long flowing hair.

Now we come to Delilah. Money being more tempting than having Mr. Israel as a boyfriend, Delilah wheedles Samson for the secret of his strength. “Seven fresh bowstrings.” Then, “new ropes that have not been used.” These are proven to be lies.

Is the first-time reader worried at this point? No. We know his strength has nothing to do with him; rather, it’s the Spirit of the Lord upon him.

The third answer Samson gives is weaving his hair in to a loom. Again, a lie. The reader is still not worried, but what we don’t realize with this third answer is that Samson’s defenses are weakening. While he has not divulged the secret, he’s ceded some ground to the enemy by associating his strength with his hair.

Then comes the continual wheedling and nagging (16:15-16). Samson finally gives her another answer: shave my head, and I’ll be as other men.

At this point, the first-time reader gets a little nervous and wonders, “Is this right? Surely not, for it is the Lord who has given him his strength. But the text here says, ‘he told her all his heart,’ and it says that Delilah saw that ‘he had told her all his heart.’ Is this right? Does his hair have something to do with his strength?”

You know the rest of the story. His head was shaved, he lost his strength, and he became prisoner and jester to the Philistines.

So we don’t know until the end that the strength lay in the hair. Better: we don’t know until the end that the Lord had decided to connect the strength with his hair. It wasn’t magic hair. It was still the Lord’s strength, for we come to understand that when his head was shaved, the Lord (and the Lord’s power) left Samson (16:20).

Lesson #1: While God’s patience is long in many directions, there is an end to it.

Lesson #2: The further you get from God, the closer you get to insanity. Why in the world would Samson divulge the secret of his strength to a woman who had three times recently awakened him with “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Lesson #3 (for young men): No matter how strong you are, a nagging woman will wear you down. So choose a wife wisely.

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