By Chuck Alley
Reading from Judges, 14:20-15:20
20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.
1 After a while, at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife, bringing along a kid. He said, “I want to go into my wife’s room.” But her father would not allow him to go in. 2Her father said, “I was sure that you had rejected her; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister prettier than she? Why not take her instead?” 3Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.” 4So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took some torches; and he turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5When he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves. 6Then the Philistines asked, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken Samson’s wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up, and burned her and her father. 7Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you.” 8He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
9 Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah, and made a raid on Lehi. 10The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” 11Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and they said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then have you done to us?” He replied, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” 12They said to him, “We have come down to bind you, so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” Samson answered them, “Swear to me that you yourselves will not attack me.” 13They said to him, “No, we will only bind you and give you into their hands; we will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock.
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men. 16And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
I have slain a thousand men.”
17When he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and that place was called Ramath-lehi.
18 By then he was very thirsty, and he called on the Lord, saying, “You have granted this great victory by the hand of your servant. Am I now to die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19So God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came from it. When he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore it was named En-hakkore, which is at Lehi to this day. 20And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years.
The condition of Israel has now reached a low point in the time of the judges. The people of God are so accommodated to the worldly powers that they do not even seem to see themselves as the people of God. They are willing to sacrifice their would-be savior to the ruling powers in order to keep their desired form of peace. We should learn from their attitude when we consider the attitude of the Church in the face of today’s powers-that-be in the world. We can also draw parallels between this savior and another, later Messiah, sacrificed by the people he would save in order to avoid retribution from worldly powers and maintain a prefered form of worldly peace.
But rather than focusing all our thoughts about this passage on the human situation, let us contemplate the divine activity in this story.
As we saw yesterday, God is at work fulfilling his good will for his creation, using the people and circumstances available, regardless of the level of brokenness among his human creatures. The God who can take the undisciplined desires and unbridled anger of Samson, mix them with the God-denying complacency of his chosen people, and still continue to work out his plan of salvation, is more than capable of handling any of the circumstances we might be confronted with — in the world and in the Church. Whether we know it, acknowledge it, or even desire it, our true hope, under all circumstances, is found only in God. And he is faithful — regardless.
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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