Sunday, May 06, 2007

On Samson

I'm reading through Judges, and have most recently come to the story of Samson's life. I don't think I'm the only one who finds it to be rather fascinating. There is something compelling about the story. Samson was one of the judges of Israel covered in the book of Judges. Besides being a Herculean figure, he is known for being a "bad boy" and a riddle-maker. At least a few of his expressions are set in a very poetic form. It is likely that Samson was NOT a big muscular guy. His strength was supernatural, and we can also conjecture that if he was big and muscular, Delilah would be less inclined to look for the "secret" of his strength.

Essentially, Samson was raised as a crucial individual in the Israelites war with the Philistines. Along the way, the Bible records many noteworthy incidents, exploits, and sins of Samson. One really great thing about the Bible is that it doesn't give a plastic/fake/sanitized version of the characters it speaks of, it shows them with all their flaws!

While the events in this story (single-handed military exploits, killing of beasts, etc.) and the characteristics of Samson (a weakness for women, jealousy anger, etc.) are found in other stories and other characters, in its totality the story of Samson is rather unique. We may not be inclined to see many parallels between Samson and Christ, but an interesting one is this: For both of them, the focus is on events pertaining to their birth, and then there is a major fast-forward to the events of their adult life.

Understanding The Story Better

To better understand the story, I recommend you read a bit on The Philistines. You should also read up a bit on the Nazirite vow. Also, it wouldn't hurt to look at some archeological info as well.

For an outline of this story, you may wish to check out An Argument of the Book of Judges by David Malick or this outline of Judges.

Samson's Name

Besides Judges 13-16 and Hebrews 11 (where Samson is mentioned in passing with other heroes of faith), we find Samson's name absent from the rest of the Bible. The name apparently means "of the sun".

Delilah's name means "weak". This is ironic since she was able to so dominate such a strong man.

Samson In Art and Music and Literature

As one could imagine, Samson was a pretty popular subject for various artists, authors, and musicians.
  • Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck portrays Samson beside Delilah while he is wrestled by several men.

  • The French painter Gustave Moreau made a watercolour of Samson relaxing in the arms of Delilah.

  • Rembrant portrayed The Blinding of Samson

  • A 15th century Icelandic manuscript portrays a dreadlocked Samson fighting a lion

  • Flavius Josephus told the story in " Antiquities of the Jews"

  • English Poet Geoffrey Chaucer rewrote the tale in the 14th century

  • Gary Davis sang a song named Samson and Delilah. This song originated before Davis used it, at which time it was known by titles such as "Samson Tore The Building Down", etc.. The first known recording of it was by Blind Willie Johnson. For more info on its history, check out this. This song was popularized when The Grateful Dead began singing it in the 1970s. While the song does speak quite a bit about the Biblical story, it does have some inaccuracies. For example, it says Samson killed 10,000 with a jawbone, but the correct number was really 1,000.

  • Samson has also been mentioned to in songs by Donovan, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Cotello

  • Handel made an oratio called Samson

  • John Milton made Samson the hero of his tragedy "Samson Agonistes"

  • Camille Saint-Saens wrote an opera titled Samson et Delila

  • A number of movies about Samson or knock-offs have been made. In fact, films with the title "Samson and Delilah" were released in 1922, 1949, 1984, and 1996.

BBC Article on Samson

In February 2001, the BBC published an article reporting on Dr Eric Altschuler of UC San Diego, who claims that Samson was "mentally ill" and the earliest case of "anti-social personality disorder".

Some Lessons To Learn From Samson

Here are some things we can learn. I know some of these are sort of moralistic, but they are still meaningful:
  • God has an overarching plan. All of Biblical history has meaning, and is a flow in God's plan of redemption. Here we have a wonderful example of how God uses a barren couple to bring forth a great deliverer, a theme which finds later correspondence in the case of John the Baptist. God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

  • God is serious about what He prescribes, and it is to be followed exactly. Also, God does not want us to play "fast and loose" with His commandments and other serious matters in the way that Samson appears to have.

  • God doesn't always use "good" people to accomplish His purposes. In fact, many rogue characters exhibited faith and did great things for God. In fact, some of the most key people in the history of the plan of redemption, were people who had at least one or two "strikes" against them. God uses even Samson's rebellion for good purposes.

  • In matters that greatly impact our life, we should not act rashly

  • A powerful lesson about the power a woman can have over a man. Samson was a strong man. But his strength was nothing when a woman could seduce him. Samson's enemies knew this and used it. God, who created men and women to be attracted to each other, didn't make any mistakes in creating things that way. However, we need to be careful that we conduct ourself in a way that is honoring to Him. God created human sexuality, but he wants humans to use it in ways that is for their own good and ultimately glorifies Him. Bad relationships are the downfall of many a fine man.

  • All sin has consequences, many times in the here and now. And not learning from our mistakes is dangerous.

  • While in most ways, Samson's life is not a good pattern for us, there are some ways where he may be seen as a type (as in typology) of Chris). For example: He conquers to roaring lion. He touches the unclean. He has an often unfaithful bride. etc. Christ is in the entirety of the Bible, even perhaps in some places where we do not expect.

  • In at least one way, Samson is worth emulating. He is a real man. In that we can, to some degree, strive to emulate him. Unlike the tribe of Judah, he is not enticed by false peace with the Philistines. He is not a spineless coward. He's unafraid to raise a ruckus if he needs to.

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