A Bent Sword

By Chuck Alley

Reading from Judges, 14:1-19

1 Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. 2Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.” 4His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. 8After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.

10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do. 11When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. 13But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” So they said to him, “Ask your riddle; let us hear it.” 14He said to them,
“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”
But for three days they could not explain the riddle.

15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16So Samson’s wife wept before him, saying, “You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.” He said to her, “Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?” 17She wept before him for the seven days that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her. Then she explained the riddle to her people. 18The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,
“If you had not ploughed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

19 Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.  


How bad must a culture be that a suitable champion for good is impossible to find? The answer is: as bad as Israel in the time of Samson. In fact, Samson as we see him in chapter 14 appears to be representative of all Israel. He has been called by God into God’s service, but he lives in complete disregard of his call to be set apart as a Nazirite. He is a man of action without reflection who is driven primarily by his appetites. This culminates in his marriage to a forbidden Philistine woman. Samson appears to be more an icon of all that is bad about Israel than an appropriate judge to deliver the nation from her oppression by the power and grace of God.

But twice we read that “the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him” (NIV). The first time is when he comes upon the lion, which he impulsively kills through his God-given strength. The second time is when he strikes down thirty Philistines in order to settle his bet. It appears that God intends to use this unworthy tool to pry loose the iron grip of the Philistines on Israel. Unobserved by the human participants, Samson’s escapades among the Philistines are already being used by God, “who was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines.”

God’s will cannot ultimately be thwarted by the unworthiness of his chosen instruments. In God’s providence, even a bent sword can cut. On the other hand, as we will see when the full story is told, until God’s chosen servants recognize his sovereignty and turn to him in obedient faith, individually they will not know or experience the blessing of his saving work.

Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.

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