September 11, 2014

Samson the Womanizer?

Category: Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

Samson, commentaries on Judges 14 tell me, was a womanizer. That’s probably because in Judges 16, twenty years later, Samson visits a prostitute and then gets involved with Delilah … and the commentators then read those events back into Judges 14, twenty years earlier.

But what does Samson do in Judges 14? Is he driven here by sheer lust? Well, he sees a woman, judges that she’s the right one for him, sends his father to negotiate for her, goes and visits her himself and talks to her and still concludes that she is the right one for him, and then proceeds to marry her. Wow! What a lust-driven womanizer, huh?

Commentaries puzzle me sometimes….

Posted by John Barach @ 1:01 pm | Discuss (0)

The “Pagan Origins” Fallacy

Category: Church Year,Ethics,Theology :: Permalink

“Christmas trees have pagan origins, so they’re bad. For that matter, Christmas and Easter have pagan origins, and so they’re bad. The theater has pagan origins, so it’s bad (and so are any other forms of acting).” And so on and so on.

Heard anything like this? Godly people should have nothing to do with anything that (allegedly) has pagan origins.

How about this one: Musical instruments have pagan origins, and so they’re bad. Truly godly people would stay away from them.

Here’s something we’re told explicitly in the Bible: It was in the line of Cain, among the ungodly, that we first find musicians with instruments. Cain’s murderous descendant Lamech has three sons, one of whom, Jubal, is described as “the father of all those who play the harp and flute” (Gen 4:21). So there you have it: According to the Bible, expertise in musical instruments springs from the family of the ungodly.

But does that mean that the godly must never use musical instruments? Certainly not. David plays an instrument. David, under the inspiration of God, designs and commissions instruments for the Temple that Solomon will build. The Levites play instruments from that time on. The Psalms commend the use of instruments, even in the worship of God.

In fact, notice that it’s not just music that the ungodly develop in Genesis 4. It’s also metallurgy and agribusiness. Lamech’s son Jabal “was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” (Gen 4:20). And Lamech’s other son Tubal-Cain was, literally, “the sharpener of every craftsman in bronze and iron” (Gen 4:22).  As Jubal was the “father” of musicians–that is, the one who taught and trained and developed them–so Jabal and Tubal-Cain trained and taught all those who excelled in their fields.  If “pagan origins” mean that we have to stay away from something, then we ought to stay away, not only from music, but from agribusiness and blacksmithery, too.  But, of course, that’s not what Scripture teaches.

And therefore this argument — “If it has pagan origins it’s bad and godly people should abstain from it” — fails on biblical grounds. It adds to Scripture, setting a standard higher than the one God sets, and therefore ought to be rejected and condemned.   (For more, see James B. Jordan’s “The Menace of Chinese Food.”)

It certainly is true that these skills were developed first among the wicked, and that’s worth thinking about.  One of the patterns we see in Scripture, not least in Genesis 4, is what Jim Jordan calls “the Enoch factor,” which is this: The wicked get there first. It’s in the city of Enoch, Cain’s city, that we first find a lot of wonderful things. That poses a temptation to the righteous, the temptation to intermingle with the wicked and to forsake bearing faithful witness in order to enjoy those good things. But we fight that temptation by remembering what Jordan (somewhere) calls “the Jerusalem factor”: the righteous get there in the end.

So musical instruments and agribusiness and metallurgy may start in Cain’s city, among the wicked.  They may have “pagan origins.”  But they end up in David’s city, even being employed in God’s Temple. As the Proverb says, “The wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (13:22).

Posted by John Barach @ 12:50 pm | Discuss (0)

Riddlemasters (Judges 14)

Category: Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

In Judges 14 and again in Judges 15, we’re told that the Philistines were “ruling” over Israel.

Given the riddle contest in Judges 14, it’s interesting that the root of the word for “ruling” here (MShL) has a homophone — the exact same spelling, the exact same sound — that appears in other places and means “riddle, parable.”

Is there, perhaps, a play on words here? As Jeremy Schipper (“Narrative Obscurity of Samson’s [HiYDaH] in Judges 14.14 and 18,” JSOT 27.3 [2003] 339-353) points out, you could even render the lines in Judges 14 and 15 as “the Philistines were posing riddles over Israel.” But in Judges 14, it’s Samson who proves to be the true riddlemaster, with dominion over the Philistines.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:26 pm | Discuss (0)

The Nazirite Fetus (Judges 13)

Category: Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

Samson’s mother is under the dietary prohibitions associated with a Nazirite vow only because her son in her womb is a Nazirite. Samson was a Nazirite, not from birth on but from conception on. And therefore, according to Judges 13, life begins at conception.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:20 pm | Discuss (0)
September 1, 2014

Chronology of the Samson Narrative

Category: Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

How does the story of Samson’s conception and birth fit into the forty-year Philistine oppression?

The Angel of Yahweh tells Samson’s mother that Samson will begin to deliver Israel.  When she reports to her husband, she interprets the Angel’s message as meaning that Samson will die without completing the task of delivering Israel: he will be a Nazirite, she says, until his death.  So the forty-year Philistine oppression ends sometime after Samson’s death.

But it cannot end “well beyond” it, as Barry Webb (350) mysteriously says.  After all, Samson’s death comes after twenty years of judging Israel, and Samson begins judging Israel at a time when he is ready to get married.  Those twenty years as judge didn’t begin when he was a child, but rather when he was a man.  He was probably twenty years old, the age of manhood in the book of Numbers, though my point here still stands even if he was a year or two younger.

Putting twenty years of judgeship together with twenty years of growing up prior to judging Israel gives us a total lifespan for Samson of (about) forty years, which roughly coincides with the entire length of the Philistine oppression.  Samson begins to deliver Israel and accomplishes the greatest part of his work at his death, and then the full deliverance comes.

But not in the time of David, as K. Lawson Younger suggests (287n11: “Samson will only begin the process of deliverance.  The delivering activities of Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, and David are yet future”).  There is simply no way to fit Samson’s youth, Samson’s judgeship, Saul’s reign, and David’s rule until his victory over the Philistines into the space of forty years.  Instead, the most obvious answer is that this particular Philistine oppression ended at the battle of Mizpah (1 Sam 7), when Samuel led Israel to victory.  That, in turn, means that Samuel and Samson were contemporaries and that the battle of Mizpah took place only shortly after Samson’s death.

The battle of Mizpah itself comes twenty years after the fateful battle of Aphek, when the Ark was captured by the Philistines and the high priest, Eli, died (1 Sam 4).  The removal and capture of the Ark is the tearing apart of the Tabernacle of Moses, and the Tabernacle was never put together again.  When the Philistines removed the Ark, it was not returned to the Tabernacle but was kept in Kiriath Jearim for those twenty years (1 Sam 7:2).   As James Jordan points out, this chronology suggests that Samson’s actions in Judges 14-15 may take place just after Aphek, perhaps even during the time when the Ark was in captivity in Philistia.

These calculations are significant also for the beginning of the Samson narrative.  Barry Webb writes about Judges 13: “By the time Samson is born the Philistine domination over Israel is so complete, and the morale of Israel so low, that even the hope that Yahweh might save them has been extinguished. There is no strength even to cry out” (350).  And certainly Israel doesn’t cry out in Judges 13, and by Judges 15 Judah is even willing to hand over its savior to the Philistines.

But if we count backwards from the end of Samson’s life to the beginning, those forty years, we discover God’s grace.  Normally, in Judges, Israel cries out to Yahweh after several years of oppression, and only then does Yahweh raise up a judge.  But Judges 13 doesn’t take place (as Webb may imply) after a long time of Philistine oppression.  It takes place at the beginning of it.  At the very time the Philistine oppression starts and without any mention of Israel crying out for help, Yahweh is already preparing the judge, sending his Angel to announce to a barren woman the conception of the one who will begin to deliver Israel.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:46 pm | Discuss (1)

Samson the Prankster?

Category: Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

As with Jephthah, so with Samson. Commentators seem to vie with one another in finding terms with which to vilify him. Robert O’Connell (The Rhetoric of the Book of Judges), for instance, calls Samson a “self-gratifying brute” and “a prankish womanizer,” and says that his “acts of deliverance are rarely better than by-products of his spiteful nature.”

Contrast these descriptions with that of Hebrews 11, where Samson is one of the great examples of a faithful man, one of those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

These two approaches have implications for what we do with the details of the Samson narrative.  If you view Samson’s actions in Judges 14-15 as “pranks,” then you are spared the trouble of having to interpret them, of trying to see what meaning they might have.  Instead, they’re just a bunch of dumb, destructive, pointless things that a “self-gratifying brute” driven by his “spiteful nature” did instead of actually saving Israel.

But if Samson was, as Judges 13 tells us, “impelled” by the Spirit of God, then his actions are worth thinking about.  In fact, we discover in Judges 14 that Samson tells riddles, which leads us to consider his actions also as riddles, puzzling parables full of wisdom.  Judges 14-15, then, invites us to wrack our brains to figure out what the Spirit — and Samson! — had in mind so that we can grow in wisdom ourselves.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:03 pm | Discuss (0)