Today’s readings are Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23. This devotional is about Judges 15.
In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:
- Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
- Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
- Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
- Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
- Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).
Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2).
Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman meant to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hated” his wife, then, he broke the covenant and divorced* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” were secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”
But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their culture. It didn’t take lawyers and judges and paperwork and months of time.
But the husband had to initiate the divorce. A woman was not legally allowed to divorce her husband–at least, not in Israel.
And, in Israel at least, the divorce had to be put in writing (see Deut 24:1-4). So, Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give his bride away.
Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of. So, he did his best to appease Samson here by offering a younger daughter to be his wife instead (v. 2).
Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right to be angry in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).
The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so, instead of attack him personally, they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with.
Their murders made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.
Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:
- Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had a relationship with the Philistines that was way too cozy. Samson went outside of the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
- Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; they attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
- Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But he never became Israel’s leader at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God.
- He also acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have, despite the unusual gifts God had given him and God’s promises to him and to Israel.
Three lessons emerge here for us to apply:
1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when someone does the right thing out of selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.
Before you read this devotional, you might have thought that you have nothing in common with Samson. Do you think that now? Or, do you see yourself leading out of selfishness and trying to do everything yourself instead of engaging other people and leading them?
How could you change your leadership to be less Samsonian?
This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).