Today we start the story of Samson! This is one of those stories that tends to show up (in parts) in children's Bibles and so is more familiar than many of the stories in Judges. What strikes me as I read this story is the similarity it bears to so many of the other stories we read. Certain structures are used to pull up associations quickly and easily.
The Israelites oppressed by the Philistines for forty years. During that time, an angel of God told a barren couple that they would have a child. This harks back to the stories of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel and forward to the story of Elizabeth. Manoah's wife is never named, yet she is the one who talks to the angel the first time and to whom the angel appears the second time. This differs from the other stories of barren women where, if an angel was involved at all, the angel told the man of the birth. It is, however, similar to Mary's pregnancy.
When the couple meets with the angel on his second visit, they offer to cook him food. He suggests instead that they provide it as a sacrifice. They do so and,
Then Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered it on a rock as a sacrifice to the Lord. And as Manoah and his wife watched, the Lord did an amazing thing. As the flames from the altar shot up toward the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended in the fire. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell with their faces to the ground.This is similar to the beginning of Gideon's story which we read a few days ago:
The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought. And the angel of the Lord disappeared.The wife of Manoah gives birth to Samson, and he grew up blessed by the Lord. When he reached an age where such things would be proper, he took a fancy toward a Philistine girl. His parents protested, but he insisted,
But Samson told his father, “Get her for me! She looks good to me.” His father and mother didn’t realize the Lord was at work in this, creating an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time.Now, I have to say, Samson's way of demanding that he father get him a woman because "she looks good" to him rather makes me dislike him. It makes him sound like something of a demanding jerk. The rest of today's reading only enforces that impression. Yet, supposedly, all this is God acting through Samson. In any case, he gets what he wants.
Samson kills a lion with his bare hands. Bees later make a nest in the carcass, and Samson finds the honey. (Is honey from the carcass of a wild animal kosher?) As the wedding celebrations approached, Samson asks 30 young men a riddle,
Samson said to them, “Let me tell you a riddle. If you solve my riddle during these seven days of the celebration, I will give you thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing. But if you can’t solve it, then you must give me thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing.”
“All right,” they agreed, “let’s hear your riddle.”
So he said: “Out of the one who eats came something to eat; out of the strong came something sweet.”I personally think this is a rather stupid riddle, and not particularly fair into the bargain. All the riddled men get annoyed and finally persuade Samson's wife to wheedle the secret out of him. He told her the answer, and the men answered his riddle. This rather pissed Samson off:
Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to the town of Ashkelon, killed thirty men, took their belongings, and gave their clothing to the men who had solved his riddle. But Samson was furious about what had happened, and he went back home to live with his father and mother. So his wife was given in marriage to the man who had been Samson’s best man at the wedding.Yup, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and had him kill thirty men so that he could fulfill his side of what was rather an unfair bet in the first place. He then abandoned his wife. Tomorrow: Samson gets annoyed because his wife's family married her to someone else after he abandoned her.
Lovely guy, isn't he?
The Gospel of John is not subtle about the role attributed to Jesus,
Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!The rest of the reading tells of Jesus gathering his disciples. It shows that even he is surprised at how credulous they can be:
As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”Nathanael would, I believe, be fooled by any halfway competent fortune teller.
“How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”
Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.
Psalms and Proverbs
The first of today's psalms is interesting in light of today's New Testament reading:
Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!