Judges 14 - “Samson’s Goin’ Down”
Judges 14 picks up the story exactly where Judges 13 left off. We are still continuing the storyline, still waiting for deliverance. The Spirit of the LORD was moving in Samson, which is a promising note. However, do not let your hopes get up too high, because the last time the Spirit of the LORD was at work in someone (Jephthah), it did not stop him from ending up a daughter-killing failure. So let us see what Samson, now a young man, gets into in chapter 14.
In verse 1, we find that Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman, a daughter of the Philistines. Now geographically, Timnah was down from Samson’s home, but the phrase “going down” is telling of Samson’s behavior in this whole chapter. He was going down spiritually. Often in the Old Testament, geographical direction is linked with spiritual and theological direction. As you read this chapter, notice how many times “going down” is repeated. While in Timnah, he saw a Philistine woman and instantly fell in lust with her. Judges has kept repeating the phrase “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” and now it seems that Samson was a child of his times, letting his eyes get him into trouble (this was a problem with Samson throughout his whole life. In fact, the only time he did the right thing was when his eyes were gouged out!). What Samson sees, Samson wants; and what Samson wants, Samson gets, even if it is a Philistine woman. Israel was supposed to drive the Philistines out. Samson, as a deliverer set aside at birth, should have gone out and killed them all. Instead, he wanted to marry one of their daughters.
In verses 2–3, Samson told his parents to go get this girl for him. He wanted to marry her, because she was “right in his eyes.” Even though the LORD had declared that she was not right since she was a Philistine, Samson decided that she was right. And notice that his choice of women is based solely on his eyes, solely on looks. It was not that “she might be a Philistine, but she has a great personality.” No, his decision was made by his eyes. That was how Samson made his decisions, with no thought to the LORD. He looked at her, saw she was a looker, and decided to move in.
Manoah and his wife, Samson’s parents, were properly horrified. They encouraged Samson to go look for a woman from among the Israelites. The NIV translates verse 3 “Is there not an acceptable woman among all our people?” But the ESV is a better representation of the Hebrew when it says “Is there not a woman among all our people?” Dr. Duguid points out that the NIV’s insertion of “acceptable” makes Samson’s choice subjective. It seems to make his parents say, “is there not a woman among our people who is right in your eyes?” But the ESV implies that the only ground that Samson’s parents could see for Samson to marry out of the covenant community was if there were no women at all anywhere within the covenant community. Manoah and his wife understood God’s requirements.
They understood that God had commanded the Israelites to keep themselves pure, to not yoke themselves with unbelievers.
So often Christians fall into the same temptation as Samson did. Often, the women of this world can be a lot more enticing than the women within our churches. They can promise a lot more sexually (they do not hold to that “silly” idea of saving sex for marriage) and are often much more willing to flaunt their bodies with no thoughts for modesty. Obviously, this can create a huge temptation for young Christian men. But we should learn from Samson’s negative example — hooking up with non-Christians does not turn out pretty.
“Missionary dating” seldom goes according to plan. In fact, it almost always has the opposite effect. Keep in mind Paul’s advice about unequal yoking. But this can be applied more generally, too. Oftentimes, the things of this world certainly are “lookers.” They entice us, inviting us to enjoy the pleasures that the world offers. Like the song, “Oh, Jesus, I Have Promised” (number 480 in the blue Psalter Hymnal) says, “The world is ever near; we see the sights that dazzle; the tempting sounds we hear.” But we must stand firm, keeping in mind the next verse of that song:
Oh, let me hear Thee speaking, in accents clear and still, above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will. Oh, speak to reassure me, to hasten or control, Oh speak and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul
This song points to a great truth: we cannot resist temptation on our own. In fact, on our own, we would readily and happily give in to the desires of our flesh and the enticements of the world. We so often fail. It is only through the Spirit of Christ that we are given grace and forgiveness for the times we do fail and the ability to resist in His name. So look to Christ. Meditate on His grace, and the world will not be so tempting anymore. Keep your eyes focused on Him and “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” If we come to a full understanding of how great His grace and love really are, we will not only be able to forgive ourselves and others when we fail, but also we cannot help but live a life of thanksgiving and gratitude to Him.
Verse 4 gives us a little side note, a little commentary within the passage about the LORD’s motives in all of this, a bird’s eye view of God’s plan. The “He” referred to in verse 4 must almost certainly be the LORD. Samson would never show this level of insight or spiritual motivation. From what we know about Samson’s life, we can be pretty sure that his motivation was lust driven. It is the LORD who is using this situation as part of His plan. The only way to get Samson riled up enough to destroy the Philistines is to get him involved with them. God was able to use the sinful motivation of Samson and the lack of parental control (Manaoh and his wife should have forbade Samson to marry her) for His good. The LORD is using all of this to accomplish His purpose. Of course, that does not make Samson’s lust and desire right. This does not make Manoah’s inability to control his son right. But God is able to use even our sins, even the worst of things to accomplish His purpose. God used all of Samson’s poor choices of sin for the benefit of Israel. He can also use our sinful circumstances for His purposes. This passage shows us explicitly that God is able to accomplish His purposes through even utterly committed sinners like Samson and like you and me.
In verse 5 Samson went down to Timnah with his mother and father to introduce them to his girlfriend. On the way, they passed through some vineyards. Wait! Samson was a Nazirite. He was not supposed to have anything to do with grapes! The passage does not say that he ate any, but this does not bode well. Suddenly, Samson was attacked by a lion (we are told in verse 6 that this happened when his parents were not with him, so this is apparently a flashback). The Spirit of the LORD descended on Samson and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands.
Samson had finally delivered. But this was only personal deliverance. This seems to be paradigmatic for Samson’s entire career. He only delivered when it was personal, when there is some self-centered motive involved. Keep that in mind as we continue to study Samson. Samson did not tell his parents about this episode. It just seems to be an ordinary day for Samson; the events did not seem to affect him in any way. He did not think, “Hmm, maybe this implies I should not be going down to Timnah.” He did not think, “Maybe I should be following the LORD, who sent me His Spirit in my time of need instead of my eyes.” No. Samson still went to the Philistines. God saved his life, but Samson carried right on in his sinful path.
Of course, none of us would ever do something like that, would we now? When God blesses us, we would never use His blessings for our own sinful desires, would we? That is just an obscene idea! Do I even need to say that we are far more like Samson than we care to admit? Clueless, arrogant, self-centered, and ungrateful to God describes Samson and all of us. We should pay attention to God’s leading. If He is setting up clear roadblocks (either dramatic ones like a vicious lion or not-so-dramatic ones like your parents’ advice or advice from your elders), obey them.
After that little adventure, Samson made it to Timnah in verse 7. He finally talked to the girl instead of just looking at her, and decided that the relationship was right in his eyes. Just a hint to all you young men out there: Samson is not a good role model for relationships. For most men, the eyes do most of the work in the relationship, that is to say, the relationship is based solely on physical things (even in relationships within the covenant community of the church). As it was for Samson, communication is only an afterthought for most men. He talked to her, but really, it was still all about the eyes. It is not a good idea to follow Samson’s example. Girls do not like this, so you might risk rejection if you let your lust drive you. God does not like it either. Relationships should be based on a mutual love for the LORD, common interests, etc. Yes, physical attraction is important, but should not be the only reason for a relationship.
After some days, Samson returned to Timnah to take her (we presume that this means to take her as his wife, but with Samson, you never know). On his way, Samson turned aside to see the carcass of that lion he had killed. Samson, as an Israelite and especially as a Nazirite, was not supposed to be around dead things — they were unclean. But with Samson, it was always about the eyes. He wanted to see it, so he went. His desire to see always led him to sin. And what did he see? Bees. A whole swarm of them in the corpse of the lion. Samson took some of the honey, scraping it into his hands (which would surely have involved touching the unclean corpse). He then gave some of it to his parents, but did not tell them where he had gotten it. All Israelites would have seen this honey as unclean, since it came from a carcass. That did not stop Samson. He defiled himself and others by eating it and sharing it.
In verse 10, Samson prepared a feast for his wedding. “Feast” makes you think about food, but the Hebrew implies an alcohol-filled orgy, a night of debauchery. Knowing Samson, he does not seem the designated driver type, even though drinking alcohol was not permitted for Nazirites. At the party, Samson’s future father-in-law brought him thirty companions. He probably brought them because he thought Samson was trouble, and wanted thirty men to keep an eye on him. These “friends” were there to make sure Samson did not break the furniture or tear things apart in a drunken frenzy. Samson decided to enter into a riddle challenge with his father-in-law and the thirty men. If they figured out the riddle, he would give them each a new outfit. If they could not figure it out, they had to each give him a new outfit. Samson’s riddle concerned his dead lion and the bees in it. Unless you were Samson, you could not figure out this riddle. Unless you have seen what Samson had seen, you cannot solve it. Samson was figuring on a completely free new wardrobe of thirty lovely suits.
The men were given seven days to figure out the riddle. On the fourth day, they asked Samson’s wife to tell them the answer or they would burn her alive. They ask her, “have you invited us here to impoverish us?” Dr. Duguid pointed out this question could also be translated “have you invited us here to dispossess us?” That is interesting because that is exactly what Israel was supposed to do—except they were not doing it. Samson’s wife gave in to their threats and went to Samson. She tried one of the oldest feminine tricks in the book, used by almost every female in melodramatic soap operas: “You hate me; you don’t really love me, otherwise, you would tell me the answer to your riddle!”
Samson answered, “I have not even told my father and mother, so I will not tell you.” This is a horrible reason. There are all sorts of things that a husband should share with his wife that he would not share with his parents. And notice how many times his wife calls the Philistines “my people.” She was still loyal to the Philistines even and Samson implied that his loyalties were still to his mother and father, not his wife. What a horrible situation for a marriage. Once more, Samson provides a negative example for relationships. Take note, young couples. Do not be like Samson.
Eventually, Samson gave in and told her the answer to the riddle, which she promptly shared with her countrymen. They answered Samson’s riddle, which meant he had to give them each a new suit. Understandably, Samson was furious. He answered them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.” What he meant was, “if you had not gotten my wife on your side, you would never have figured out my riddle.” Samson got mad. And when Samson got mad, he broke things. Like people. He went down (again going down) to Ashkelon, a Philistine city, stole some clothes from people that he killed, and gave them to the thirty men as the promised reward. Then Samson sulked home, fuming. The marriage was off, so his wife was given to his best man.
Many times in this lesson, we have noted that Samson gave us some examples of what not to do. Let us continue in that vein. To begin, let me give you one piece of solid advice: DO NOT BE LIKE SAMSON. How can we avoid the pitfalls that he fell into?
First, we should stay out of vineyards. Samson went straight into that vineyard, even though he was not even supposed to drink wine, not supposed to eat a grape. Do not deliberately place yourself in a place where you know that you will be brought head-to-head with temptations. If you struggle with alcoholism, do not go into that bar, even if it is just to hang out with your friends over a Coke. If you struggle with pornography, do not go near that aisle in Barnes and Noble, even if that means you have to go the long way around the store to get to the music section. If you struggle with thinking lustfully about women, try not to sit directly behind cheerleader’s corner at the basketball game. If you struggle with a dirty mouth, try to avoid that coworker who has a gutter mouth. You get the idea. Do not put yourself in temptation’s way. We are called to be holy, as God is holy. We are called to consecrate ourselves to the LORD; we are called to be Nazirites. Now, we are not called to be actual Nazirites. We can cut our hair, eat all the grapes we want, and have some alcohol in moderation. All that is fine and biblical. But we are to consecrate ourselves just as strictly, spiritually. We are not merely to limit our consecration to outward actions, but also to consecrate our hearts and our minds, our motivations and deepest desires. We are called to holy living.
Secondly, Samson is a perfect example of how our eyes lead to sin. Remember that Sunday School song, “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.” That is a great reminder, because we all struggle with eye-driven sin. Pornography is a struggle for every male and many females. Girls’ and women’s magazines give women a bad idea of what women should be, telling them that they need to be supermodels in order to be happy, focusing on the exterior instead of the interior. Ladies, dress modestly. Serve your Christian brothers by taking some of their temptations to lust from before their eyes. This also can be applied to jealousy. We see what others have and we want it. Our eyes lead to sin in so many ways, so be careful, little eyes, what you see.
Like Samson, we so often make an idol of ourselves. We are self-centered. And if God does not give us what we want, we get mad at Him and throw a temper tantrum. Maybe we do not go out and kill thirty Philistines, but we do get very put out if we do not get our way.
Maybe some of you are reading this thinking to yourself, “Oh, I know a Samson in my school and I am thankful that God, in His grace, has kept me from being like him.” Good for you. Let me pat you on the back for missing the point of this entire lesson. We are all just as bad as Samson; we are all just as guilty, just as headstrong, just as self-centered as he was. Maybe we do not go out and pursue every non-Christian woman; maybe we do not lie or blatantly disobey God’s laws. But we are all still totally depraved sinners. In our hearts, our motives, and our thoughts, we are just as sinful as was Samson. Maybe you do stay out of “vineyards;” maybe you go to church every week and give generously to the work of the Kingdom. But that can be done for wrong reasons, too. Self-righteousness and pride are just as dangerous, just as sinful as lust and deceit. We are all guilty of being Samsons. Utterly and totally Samsons.
Samson failed, as all of us do. He had a mission to enjoy as much carnal pleasure as was possible. Christ came with a mission to be holy, the mission we all fail at. When He chose a bride, He did not choose with His eyes as Samson did. But He did choose a sinful bride, an unholy bride, an unclean bride. He chose us, His elect church. He chose an unholy bride with the promise of sanctifying her. He did this at the cross. All of God’s holy will is done through strange means, the strangest one being the cross of Calvary. God’s purpose of saving Samsons, of making a bride for Himself came through taking the judgment that Samson deserved, the judgment that we deserved, the judgment that would tear us apart, and laying it on Christ. He clothes us not with stolen clothes, but with the garments of righteousness. Samson pervasively and wholeheartedly pursued sin. So do we. Christ pervasively and wholeheartedly pursued righteousness and then gave His righteousness to us in His grace.
Lesson 14: Points to Ponder
- How do the very first words spoken by Samson give us an indication that he will not live up to expectations?
- The Bible points out that sin often enters the body through the eyes. How was that true for Samson? How is it true in our own culture? How is it true for you? Contrast this with James 1:25.
- How does Proverbs 16:32 apply to the life of Samson? How can we apply it to our own lives?
- Can you recall other places in Scripture where God permitted the sinful actions of men to bring about His purposes? In history? In your life?
- What should the role of modesty be within the Christian life? Does this apply more to one sex than the other? Does this apply only to the outward appearance?
- Think of examples in the Bible where God set up roadblocks to keep someone from sin. Has God ever set up roadblocks in your life to keep you from sinning?
- In what ways do people deliberately place themselves in temptation’s way? How can this be avoided?
- How are Christians called to be Nazirites (Cf. James 3:15, James 4:4)?