God has been quiet for 40 years. his people have turned away from him and to their eyes he has abandoned them
The israelites are occupied people, terrorised and controlled by the philistines that surround them
The main problem they face is the problem of the underdog, they are weak and can’t amass armies while being occupied.
However, this is not a totally volatile time, Samsons choice of a wife from the Philistines is frowned upon but accepted on both sides.
Samson’s story is a mirror to the story of Jesus in many ways, but Samson was the warrior the Jews expected not the humble saviour they received.
Samson was in many ways weak, and his actions are truly appalling, he is not a hero to imitate.
Names you need to know
Manoah – Father, questioner, needs reassurance but wants to do right.
Manoah’s wife – name-less yet initial revelation
Samson – nazarite, headstrong, at times unwittingly manipulated by God
Delilah – name means worshipper, probably a high end prostitute.
Israel has fallen away from God, and in response God has gone quiet. Before there were Judges, people who literally held court and judged, judged the arguments, judged the ideas, judged the religion. While some were noteworthy the last few before Samson are pretty unremarkable, or at least the bible remarks very little about them.
During the time of silence the Israelites have been on the receiving end of neighbouring nations wishes. The Philistines have come and pillaged, subdued, and basically run amok. The parallels to the Roman empire at the time of Jesus are blazingly obvious.
There are often sections to a story and Samsons has 5.
1. The conception,
2. The riddle,
3. The consequences,
4. The betrayal and
5. The redemption.
While sections 2,4 and 5 lend themselves best to storytelling, section 1 is crucial. Without first examining the place and purpose of Samson’s life the falling of the temple looks like a desperate act made by a man who has nothing left to lose. The whole thing about the riddle and the burning foxes is, to some extent, Samson having a temper tantrum and is actually much harder to teach an applicable lesson around. What it does do is show the neighbouring nations that these Israelites are no longer a pushover and gives a platform for Samson to be a judge, which he does for 20 years before meeting Delilah.
The bible is a wonderful book, full of drama and battles, full of sorrow, struggles, and consequences for foolishness. It’s a real time tale of a struggling people and their developing relationship with a deity. At many times it’s downright bloody and never more so than when you take a single story out of the whole narrative.
The story of Samson has its fair share of rather grisly solutions. For some groups this is a selling point, a little bit of nasty wrapped up in a story where the good guys win, a familiar and often popular format.
If I could have changed one thing about my own church education as a child, it would have been to learn more acceptance and less judgement. In many Old Testament stories God’s people resort to violence, and while not all fights can be resolved with words, it’s not actions we want our kids to imitate. We need to mix that message with the acceptance of Jesus, the willingness to welcome all, the gentiles meeting the pureness of the Jews and sharing communion.
Our challenge with stories such as these is to get past the drama, gore, good guy verses bad guy and paint a wider picture. Ask “Why did God allow this to happen?”, we know God can do these things, his power is boundless, but the real crux is the why. Samson’s life was a message to the Philistines, a message that God is powerful and will protect his people, even if Samson was less of a polite letter and more a sledgehammer through the front door.