A New Man for the Times
1 JOHN 1:5-10
In Judges 13 we have the seventh cycle of Israel’s downward spiral into anarchy and apostasy. Samson is the final judge in the book of Judges and, along with Gideon, is one of the most significant figures in the book.
- A NEW SITUATION > THE TIMES FOR THE MAN
1. The Philistines
The Philistines had great military strength because they had learned to smelt iron. With their iron weapons they could have overrun Israel or any other nation by direct attack. But rather than marching as an obvious enemy the Philistines used two main weapons:
First of all, they used trade: “all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share…” [1Sam.13:19-21].
§ Allies: “David dwelt wit Achish at Gath…If now I have found grace in thine eyes…” [1Sam.27:3-5].
Secondly, they allowed intermarriage:
§ This is evident from Samson’s life: “I have seen a woman in Timnath…get her for me to wife” [14:2].
2. Israelite Apathy
The seventh cycle of apostasy: “the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord” [13:1].
§ [r;h - “the evil” [13:1], ‘serving the Baals and abandoning Yahweh’ [2:10-13].
a. God’s Judgement
God’s judgement: “the Lord delivered them into…” [13:1].
§ ~nET.YIw - “delivered” [13:1], ‘to give as gift’; “anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines” [10:17].
In the past experiences of God’s judgement the people reached a point: “the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned…” [10:10; see also 4:3; 6:7].
§ Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to Israel crying out: “cried unto the Lord…” [10:10].
Coexistence with the Philistines has become the norm. The Judahites resist any actions that might upset the status quo: “do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What is this that you have done unto us…” [15:11].
§ “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and…the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him” [10:16].
There is not national cry to the Lord! Will the Lord let the nation die?
- A NEW MAN > UNIQUE BIRTH
In the story of Samson the writer individualises the answer to Israel’s need in Samson’s call. God’s refusal to let this nation die: “Behold now, thou art barren…but thou shalt conceive and bear a son” [13:3]. The role of God is highlighted in different ways:
1. Divine Choice
It is highlighted in the divine choice: “the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman…” [13:3].
§ “Zorah” [13:2] was a small Israelite town on the north side of the fertile Sorek Valley, a few miles north of Beth Shemesh.
§ ar'Y - “appeared” [13:3], niphal imperfect, ‘to see, inspect’; the angel appears to have come to her at random, reinforcing the fact that the raising up of this deliverer is a gracious work of God.
a. The Problem
The problem: “you are barren…” [13:3].
§ hr'q'[ - “barren” [13:3], ‘to be sterile’; ‘in the ancient world barrenness was reckoned as punishment for an offence against the ‘god’s whose special domain was that of reproduction.
§ In Israel, children were a mark of the blessing of God: “the Lord blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply…” [Gen.1:28].
§ At the same time, barrenness was the sign of divine reproach, displeasure, and curse: “cursed shall be the fruit of your body…” [Deu.28:18].
§ Other noted mothers in the Old Testament were found in this same condition: “But Sarai was barren; she had no child” [Gen.11:30].
b. The Reversal
The reversal of her problem: “you shall conceive and bear a son” [13:3].
§ tyrIh - “conceive” [13:3], ‘to become pregnant’; God grants the gift of conception: “fruit of the womb is the Lord’s reward” [Psa.127:3].
§ T.d>l;y - “bear” [13:3], ‘to bring forth’;
§ The barren woman is the special object of God’s grace: “he makes the barren woman to keep house…” [Psa.113:9].
2. Divine Initiative
a. Israel’s Failure
One special feature of the Samson narrative is that Israel has not: “cried out to the Lord for deliverance” [10:10] for deliverance.
b. Divine Initiative
But the role of God is highlighted in the divine initiative: “he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” [13:5].
§ aWh - “he” [13:5], third person masculine singular, emphatic ‘but he himself’;;
§ lxey - “begin” [13:5], hiphil imperfect,
§ [;yviAhl - “deliver” [13:5], ‘to preserve, deliver’;
3. The Name
The Angel’s word was fulfilled: “the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson…” [13:24].
§ !Avm.v - “Samson” [13:24], consists of the word for “sun”, vm.v, with the diminutive ending “on”, !A, hence Simson, ‘little sun’.
§ It is tempting to give the name a positive spin as a celebration of the ray of light the birth of this boy represented in the dark days of the judges: ‘sun-like strength’.
i. Solar Myth
§ A more common view links the name with the solar cult, which provides the background for the Samson narratives. Strong support for this interpretation is found in the fact that Samson’s name incorporates the same element as Beth-Shemesh (literally ‘house of Shemesh’), the name of an important town just a few miles from Zorah and Eshtaol down the Sorek Valley, once the focal point of sun worship.
§ This interpretation may be forced, but it still seems best to find in the name a memory of the sun God, Shemesh.
The source of the deliverance;
- A NEW WAY OF LIFE
In the story of Samson the writer individualises the answer to Israel’s need in Samson’s call to a new way of life. The role of God is highlighted in Yahweh’s prescription of the lifestyle and conduct of both Manoah’s wife and her son. With the privilege and joy of bearing a child for Yahweh will come special obligations.
1. Divine Warning
The seriousness of these obligations is signalled by a divine warning: “now therefore beware, I pray thee…” [13:4].
§ yrIm.V'h – “beware” [13:4], niphal imperative, ‘to guard’; ‘to observe’; in the niphal an alert for one’s own good because of the possible consequences of failing to do so - ‘to watch oneself, to be careful’;
§ an - “I pray” [13:4], literally ‘please’;
a. Mother’s Lifestyle
Manoah’s wife was to live in a particular way during the pregnancy: “drink not strong wine…” [13:4].
2. Samson’s Lifestyle
Samson’s lifestyle was to be different: “child shall be a Nazirite unto God from the womb” [13:5].
§ ryzIn - “Nazirite” [13:5], derived from a root meaning ‘to dedicate, consecrate’; literally ‘to be separate’: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed…on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” [Gen.49:26].
a. The Biblical Prescription [Num.6:1-6]
The prescription was according to Israelite law: “when either man or woman shall separate themselves…” [Num.6:2].
§ alip.y: - “separate” [6:2], hiphil imperfect, ‘to be marvellous, wonderful’;
§ Signifies ‘something that, measured by the standards of what people are accustomed to or what they normally expect, appears to be extraordinary and wonderful’;
§ In the hiphil it means ‘to do something in an extraordinary way’;
The concept speaks of actions that are symbolic of dedication and an act of unusual devotion to God: “to separate themselves unto the Lord” [6:2].
§ ryZIh;l - “to separate” [6:2], hiphil infinitive construct, ‘to separate, consecrate’; from nzr, ‘to dedicate’, and is thus a symbol of dedication;
§ hw"hyl - “unto the Lord” [6:2], ‘in reference to’;
§ !mi - “from” [6:3], ‘out of, more than’;
iii. Terms of the Vow
Two conditions of the vow are noteworthy in the context:
§ The action was voluntary: “when either man or woman shall separate themselves…” [Num.6:2].
§ The vow was temporary: “all the days of his separation…” [Num.6:4, 5, 6, 8].
There is a clear distinction in the terms of the Nazirite vow:
§ The vow is not voluntary but ‘divinely imposed’: “the child shall be…” [13:5].
§ The vow is not temporary but permanent: “from the womb to the day of his death” [13:7].
b. The Abstentions
The Nazirite committed himself to three abstentions:
i. Distinct Lifestyle / Discernment
First: “he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink…” [6:3-4].
§ !yIY - “wine” [6:3],
§ rk'v - “strong drink” [6:3], ‘to be drunk, intoxicated’;
§ “Wine” was part of the Israelite’s regular diet but its use was reserved for special occasions, but there were obvious dangers in its use, and to be drunk was a sin: “thou shalt be drunken and make thyself naked” [Lam.4:21].
§ The prohibition is found in Leviticus with regard to restrictions for the priesthood: “do not drink wine nor strong drink…lest you die…” [Lev.10:9]. Given the immediate context of these words, it seems that Nadab and Abihu were “intoxicated” when they went into the presence of the Lord: “there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them…” [Lev.10:2].
§ This will ensure the discernment of the priest: “that he may put a difference between holy and unholy…” [Lev.10:10] and so “that you may teach the children of Israel…” [Lev.10:12].
ii. External Sign
Secondly: “there shall no razor come upon his head…” [6:5].
§ This was to be the public sign of the vow. The unexpectedly long hair of a Nazirite man was a physical mark of his vow of special "separation" (nezer from the same root as the term Nazirite) to the Lord.
§ Possible link to the concept of holy war: “Praise ye the Lord for the leaders of Israel when the people willingly offered themselves” [Jdg.5:2].
iii. Separation from Idolatry
Thirdly: “he shall go near no dead body…” [6:6].
§ aM'J;y - “unclean” [6:7], ‘to become ceremoniously unclean by coming into contact with an unclean animal or person’: “Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty” [Lev.5:2].
§ This is a mark of ‘staying in constant fellowship with God’;
To the three standard prohibitions this vow adds the proscription on any unclean food for the child’s mother during pregnancy: “eat not anything unclean…” [13:4].
§ All Israel were subject to this law: “speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which you shall eat…” [Lev.11:2-41].
v. Food Laws
The interpretation of the ‘food laws’ is based on the structure of animal and human world. For the Israelites the animal world was structured in the same way as the human world.
§ The “clean” and “unclean” animals parallel clean and unclean people (i.e. Israelites and non-Israelites). By restricting their diet to clean animals the Israelites were reminded of their obligation to be a clean people, distinct from others. Thus, they not only symbolised that Israel were a clean nation in contrast to other nations.
§ Consequently, each meal at which meat was served had religious implications for the Israelites; it spoke of their divine calling to be a holy nation.
§ Social isolation: the food regulations made it difficult for an Israelite to participate in meals provided by non-Israelites. They also had a practical effect of limiting contact with other people which might compromise Israel’s special status: “and you shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that you should be mine” [Lev.20:26].
§ The interpretation based upon the structure of the animal and human world finds its logical conclusion in Acts10.
3. The Blessing of God
This lifestyle was the recipe for the blessing of God: “the child grew and the Lord blessed him” [13:24].
§ lD;g>Y - “grew” [13:24], ‘to grow up’; ‘to become great’;
§ Whker>b'y - “blessed” [13:24], the mark of God’s favour and ‘covenant blessing’;
a. Parents’ Influence
The influence of his parents is symbolic of influence of leadership and instruction: “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him” [13:12].
§ jP;v.m - “order” [13:12], ‘to judge’; ‘justice/judgement’; ‘oracle pronouncement’: “children of Israel came unto her for judgement” [4:5].
§ Whfem – “do” [13:12], ‘to fashion’; ‘to accomplish’; ‘what is the divine assignment/work for the boy’?;
The prohibitions were the means of achieving the sense of separation. The question is, Will he succeed? Will the promise represented by his birth find fulfilment?
§ The people of Israel were assimilated, compromised and integrated with the Philistines and so could not lift a finger against them.
§ The separation was the key to success: “with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men” [15:16].