A fall from grace. Maybe you’ve experienced it. Or maybe another’s fall has affected you. There have been a number of high profile such failures, and countless more lower profile examples that don’t get reported in the news. No matter the situation, they impact people deeply, leaving us wonder, “How did that happen?” Parents split up. A pastor commits an atrocity. A friend betrays you. Sometimes we fail ourselves, when we don’t live up to our own expectations. How does this happen? And where is God in this? As we continue the story of our third character, Samson, in our current series, we find the answers are sometimes far from easy.
In the first post in this series on Samson, everything surrounding his birth and early years is amazing. God has intervened, even before Samson is born, setting him up to be a powerful, godly leader. Perhaps most significantly, we learned that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, a very rare occurrence for ancient Israelites, and a clear indication that God had high hopes for Samson.
Then we come to Judges 14. Look at verses 1-2.
Huh? Samson goes to get a wife from the Philistines? That’s the enemy, remember. Worse, Samson isn’t just making a bad decision in fraternizing with the enemy, he is breaking God’s law. Both Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:3 forbid the Israelites from marrying outside of their own people. What is going on here? Has something happened in Samson’s life between chapters 13 and 14? After setting us up for Samson to be a godly deliverer, the writer now has us scratching our heads. Unless, Samson isn’t going to be the hero we thought.
As we continue reading in chapter 14, Samson’s parents are disappointed, and they push back, trying to get him to obey God’s law. Samson is having nothing of it, basically demanding that they get the Philistine woman for him to marry.
Then the writer curiously tells us in verse 4 that, “this was from the Lord.” Again, we readers could really be confused by this. Is God condoning sin? Or is there another way to look at this? At this point in the story, there are no answers to these questions. As Samson’s story unfolds, however, the writer will lead us to some answers. For now, suffice it to say that even though Samson is a flawed character, God is still at work. Let’s continue the story, and what we discover is that the Spirit of Lord comes upon him twice in this chapter, showing God’s presence in his life.
The first occurrence is in verse 6, when the Spirit of Lord comes on Samson to protect him, as Samson kills a lion that attacked him. That alone is astounding. He kills a lion. With his bare hands. It is okay to think, “That’s not normal.” Lions kill people. Not the other way around. Something is going on with Samson. We know what is going on: the Spirit of the Lord is on him. Essentially Samson has a superpower.
Days or weeks later he passes by the dead lion, and he notices that it has honey in its carcass. Samson not only eats it, but he also gives some to his parents to eat. This might seem like a random detail, but it is important at this stage in the story. In the first post, we learned that God wanted Samson to have what was called a Nazarite vow for life. There were three main rules a Nazarite would follow, as they were specially dedicated to God: no alcohol, no touching dead things, and no cutting their hair. Also God’s law forbade any Israelite from touching a dead carcass, let alone eating from it. So Samson not only broke his vow to God, he also brings his parents, though unwittingly on their part, into breaking a law. What does this tell us? Just as he was flippant with God’s law by marrying a foreign woman, here again he shows disregard for God. Take a pause with me and let’s consider what we are learning about Samson thus far. We have a guy with super strength, but he seems to disregard the source of that power, God’s Spirit, as he is repeatedly trampling on God’s law. This is not a good pattern; it’s called biting that hand that feeds you.
Then we come to the wedding feast, which was a typical seven-day-long drinking party. Again we need to remember his Nazarite vow: no alcohol. The text doesn’t tell us that he drank, but at a seven-day long party that would normally feature alcohol, and knowing Samson’s proclivity for disregarding his vow, it seems highly likely to me that he drank.
I think this is especially likely when we consider the ridiculous drama he gets into with his new bride and her people. 30 Philistine men were given to Samson as companions, and some scholars speculate that these men were there to protect the proceedings from Samson. Perhaps they were a kind of security detail, making sure Samson stays in line.
So Samson proposes a riddle to them. If they could solve his riddle by the end of the feast, he would give the men 30 sets of clothing and 30 linen garments or capes, but if they can’t figure it out, they would have to give Samson that much clothing. Here’s the riddle:
Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.Judges 14:14
Do you know what Samson is talking about? Samson clearly thought no one would figure it out. And it seemed for a while like he was right. Actually, he was right. There was no way anyone was figuring it out, because it was about the honey in lion that he had previously killed. It’s cool that the translators made his riddle rhyme in English, but is it even a riddle? It is more like an impossible guess. How could the Philistine men ever know what he is talking about? They can’t know and they are frustrated about that, so these men start going behind Samson’s back, trying to get his new bride to help them. She is one of them, a Philistine. Will she be loyal to them or to her new husband who is an Israelite, enemy of the Philistines?
His new bride cries the whole seven days of the wedding feast because Samson won’t tell her the answer to a riddle. Finally, after she begs him repeatedly, he divulges the meaning of the riddle. With little time left before the feast is over, she gives the answer to her people. They in turn tell Samson the answer, and he is angry, because now he owes them 30 sets of clothing.
At this moment, Samson’s story shifts into darkness. It is also at this moment we learn of the second time the Spirit of the Lord comes on Samson in this chapter, but this time it is not for protection like it was with the lion. This time he travels to a Philistine city, Ashkelon, where he kills 30 Philistine men and strips them of their clothes to pay up.
Samson’s war with the Philistines has begun. While it might seem like God has given Samson a victory over Israel’s enemies, we’ve also watched Samson begin a fall from grace. Yes, he struck a blow to the enemy who had been ruling over Israel for 40 years. Yes, God empowered him. But Samson actions were dark, betraying his vow, acting in anger and disregard for God. These are warning signs.
Perhaps you’ve seen that pattern in yourself or in others around you. The slow fade into darkness. The lack of concern for what might seem like small things, little lies, selfish purchases, and the like. These actions often reveal a direction of life, and that a larger fall could be coming.
As God is gracious with Samson, not abandoning him even when he disregard’s God’s law, God is gracious with us. Merciful. Patient. Return to him before the fall. Confess and repent. Will Samson? Will you?