Judges 12-16

Good morning! We have five (!) chapters to cover today so I’ll try to keep my comments relatively brief. Today’s passage (Judges 12-16) tells the story of perhaps the most famous judge, Samson. His strength is legendary, but not enough to save him from those more cunning than he, including his last wife Delilah.

Chapters 12 and 13 make the transition from Jephthah’s story to that of Samson. Ephraim objects to being left out of the battle (as they did with Gideon) and the conflict between Ephraim and Jephthah leads to civil war. Several other judges follow Jephthah, but then the Philistines are in control for forty years. Chapter 13 describes the divinely ordained arrival of Samson. Manoah’s barren wife has an angelic visitation prophesying a child born who would deliver Israel. The visitor comes a second time to both Manoah as well as his wife, emphasizing the importance of their child following a Nazirite course of life.

The adult Samson in Judges 14 marries a Philistine woman against his parents’ wishes, but we’re told that this was the will of God, who wanted to pick a fight with the Philistines. Samson’s first feat of strength is killing a lion with his bare hands. This becomes the basis for a riddle by which Samson befuddles his new wife’s people at their wedding. She eventually gets the answer to the riddle from him, and gives it to her kin. This is just the first time when marriage to a Philistine will lead to trouble for this judge.

In chapter 15, Samson defeats the Philistines, first by setting their fields, vineyards and groves on fire. His success “needling the giant” of the Philistines elicits the resistance of of his fellow Israelites. When they try to tie him up and give him to the enemy occupiers, Samson uses it to his advantage and ambushes the Philistines, killing a thousand men with a donkey jawbone.

Judges 16 narrates the end of Samson—who continues as a man of raw power all the way to the end. Foreign or forbidden women seem to be Samson’s weakness. After dallying with a prostitute, he marries the woman Delilah, who is the ultimate bad news for Samson. At the urging of Philistine lords, Delilah tries three times to find out the source of his strength, but all three times he misleads her. Finally, on the fourth time, he says that the Nazirite practice of not shaving his head is the reason for his strength. When Delilah tells this to the Philistines, they conspire with her to cut off his hair, and so arrest him. Now blinded and in chains, he is subject to slave’s labors. But as his hair grows back, Samson is able to accomplish one more feat of strength and revenge. At a great party he pushes over the support beams of the house and destroys a great many people, including himself.

The Samson story portrays the dangers of “fraternizing” with foreign women, and gives a basically amoral account of supreme strength (but not much willpower against pleading women!). The episodes of his life make for great storytelling, and it’s easy to see why these memorable chapters are among those best known from Judges. Happy reading!

Read Judges 12-16.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Judges 17-19. Thanks for reading!

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