Out of the Strong

I haven’t finished the little series on surrender yet. This is mainly because it is still a revelation in process – as we journey through it, we are being shown new aspects of God and His great love for us. Part of that journey, this week, has involved a little detour into the book of Judges. You will have gathered from previous posts that I love the books of the Old Testament. Not only do you constantly see the person of Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) foreshadowed in the characters of God’s chosen people, but we find important lessons, often hidden in the stories and accounts of the heroes of old.

Quite often, I will come across a section of scripture and fail to understand its meaning whatsoever. There are some texts that appear, at first reckoning, to be so obscure so as to make us believe that they have no relevance to us whatsoever. Some even appear to be completely juxtaposition to the very nature of God Himself. One such dichotomy can be found in the person of Samson.

During the period of time between the Hebrews crossing the Jordan under the command of Yehoshua (Joshua’s Hebrew name – there is no J in the Hebrew alphabet) and the anointing of Saul as their first king, the Hebrews found themselves in a cycle of never-ending trouble. Because they had failed to drive out certain nations from the Promised Land, God allowed these nations, at various times, to come against Isra’el and to test their resolve to God (see Judges 3). The cycle usually went like this: Isra’el turned from God and started to follow the pagan gods or intermarried with pagan women. As a result of their disobedience, God would allow one of the nations whom they failed to drive out of the land to come up against them. Frequently this led to the Hebrews being oppressed by one method or another until they cried out to God. They would repent and promise to follow God wholeheartedly (good word that – have a think about what it might really mean!). God would then raise up a ‘judge’ who would act on God’s behalf and free the Hebrews from their oppression. Then there would be a time of peace and the whole thing would start over. The book of Judges contains the accounts of each time this occurred. It provides us with some very useful lessons, even if we don’t totally understand all of them.

I mentioned that Samson was something of a dichotomy. On the whole, most of the judges mentioned in the book of Judges were raised up as adults and chosen for a particular set of tasks in order to free Isra’el. With Samson, God called him before he was born. In fact, his birth was heralded by an angel. At the start of chapter 13 we see the reason why it was so.

“Again the children of Isra’el did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into hand of the Philistines for forty years.” [Judges 13:1 NKJV]

This means that God decided that their punishment should be for a set period of time. It means during that time, He wasn’t prepared to listen to their pleas, because He had ordained it to be for forty years. As you start to read the story of Samson, you will see that his story is one of the many that foreshadow, that is point forward to, the coming of Y’shua as saviour. Take a read through chapters 13, 14, 15, & 16 of Judges and you will see that he mirrors the Christ in many ways.

Samson’s parents were told by the angel that their son was to be raised as a Nazirite – that is one who is set apart for the work of God by way of an oath. Some of the requirements of the Nazirite life included not allowing their hair to be cut and not consuming wine. Add to that the instructions of Moses in the form of Torah, and it is a life of devotion and dedication. Samson’s parents were clearly Torah observant (we would all be if an angel visited us, believe me!), so when we see in chapter 14 that Samson intends to take a wife from amongst the Philistines and not from amongst God’s chosen people, you can understand the alarm that his parents displayed. But, here’s the thing. Verse 4 tells us that God wanted him to take a Philistine wife because He (God) was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. In other words, the forty years were almost up and God simply couldn’t bear these Philistines any longer – they were an abomination to Him in all they did. He only allowed them to exist in order to test Isra’el. Now He purposed to punish them. And He chose Samson as His sharpened spear. The story of what happened to the Philistines is clear enough but in the build up to the main event we see a section of text that appears to be obscured. I happen to believe that just as the truth of Y’shua being their Messiah remains obscured to the Hebrews today, God also obscures from us certain passages. I have learnt that if you are prepared to ask and wait for an answer, He will often reveal the true meaning. But this one has baffled me every time I have read it. To be fair, it wasn’t until this week that I actually stopped and asked God what it meant. Here’s the text:

” So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now, to his suprise, a young lion came roaring against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.” [Judges 14:5-6 NKJV]

Right, let’s break this down a little. The word Timnah, in Hebrew, means restraint. So, we have Samson, God’s chosen weapon, taking his parents to this place of restraint to find a bride for him from a people from whom it was unlawful to take a wife. Notice that they arrive in a vineyard. I suspect that Samson wandered off to glean grapes and was away from his parents when he encountered, what we assume to be a fully grown, but still young, lion. And, perhaps as a precursor of what was to come, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon Samson in a mighty way, giving him supernatural strength. Samson is often portrayed in movies as a giant and therefore strong, but there is nothing in the text to suggest he was anything other than an ordinary man. The thing that separated him from other ordinary men, was the Spirit of God.

Samson, armed with the supernatural the dispatches the lion with the same ease as if he were killing a young goat. He duly returns to his parents and decides not to tell them. Perhaps he thought that they wouldn’t believe, or, as seems more likely from what happens next, perhaps he didn’t believe it himself. I have not experienced the Spirit of God upon me to give me supernatural strength, but when I have spoken before people about God, I have been aware of His Spirit, and afterwards I can never remember what I said. Perhaps Samson experienced a similar sensation. It would explain what followed:

“After sometime, when he returned to get her (his wife to be), he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion.” [Verse 8a]

I suspect that he decided to take a look to make sure that he had actually killed a lion and that he wasn’t imagining it. We don’t know exactly how long the ‘sometime’ was, but it must have been fairly long, because the carcass had become the home of something else.

“And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion.” [Verses 8b-9]

Now, at this point, I confess I was as bewildered as ever about this section. In my limited understanding, I only saw the problem with what he did. Torah tells all that touching a dead animal made a man unclean. Just on the letter of the law, Samson had not only made himself unclean, but also his parents by giving them some of the honey. Even in their ignorance of its source, the Law ruled they would also be unclean.

Can you see what I did there? I went all legalistic. We can’t help it. If we spot when someone has done something wrong, we are very quick to rise up in judgement against them. However, I should have already been aware from verse 4 that God wasn’t holding Samson to the Law, because He wanted him to marry a Philistine in order to pick a fight with them. Now, this is important in how we deal with others, especially other followers of God. I know that I am likely to rush to judgement when I see behaviour which I might view as ‘unchristian’. But, the reality is, who am I to say that what I perceived to be wrong before God, isn’t God’s will for that person, at that time, in order to fulfil His will and good purpose? Who am I indeed? Just read John 21 and the exchange between Peter and Y’shua regarding John. We must mind our own business!

That was enough to explain what I shouldn’t have done when reading the account of the bees in the lion’s carcass. But, what was I meant to take from it, if not judgement? All modern commentaries and teaching on this section generally focus upon the unlawful behaviour of Samson. They all fail to see the real purpose of the story.

I have to tell you that, of late, I have been persuaded not to read commentaries or footnotes in study bibles. Instead, God has challenged me to seek Him for answers. So I did. Oddly enough, whilst in prayer, I found myself reminded of a very large commentary book on my shelf entitled Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. This book was written around 250 years ago and benefits from not having any of the modern day claptrap we get. He is thoughtful in most scriptures because he took his time to seek God in order to expound the truths of God for others. At one time I turned to this massive volume as a matter of course, but lately it has remained unloved on the shelf. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to read what Henry had to say about the bees and the honey from the dead lion.

And, as I read the commentary, the obscurity of this passage was removed and my spiritual eyes were opened. The issue with unlawfulness dissolved and the heart of God was revealed. I will confess that, as of yet, I am none the wiser to what God is actually saying to me on a personal level about the revelation, but I share this now because it reveals more about God than you might think. And, my purpose is that more people would know more of God’s nature. The more I know of His nature, the more I feel better equipped for the rest of life.

Here’s my paraphrase of Matthew Henry’s exquisite observations on the subject of honey from the carcass:

We should look at the lion as a hazard; a test for Samson before the main event of defeating the Philistines. Ordinarily, in the battle of man versus lion, lion wins. Likewise many of the troubles we face in day to day life on our own journeys, will get the better of us. Unless, of course, we allow the Spirit of God to settle upon us. When we do; when we choose to live a life led by the Spirit of God, then we are empowered, and able to overcome whatever obstacle appears before us.

When Samson returned to the lion, he found that another hazard had moved in. Another test. But Samson had learned not to fear such hazards – after all, what were the stings of bees compared to the sharp teeth of a lion? And, behind the hazard lay the prize – the honey. Remember, if you will, that part of the original covenant for the Promised Land was the land which flowed with milk and honey. Samson would have seen the honey of confirmation that God was with him. The legalism that would have confronted him in the form of the dead lion was brushed aside at the knowledge that the Spirit of God had brought him thus far. We must remember that the Spirit gives life whereas the Law brings death.

Most importantly, Samson shared the honey with his family without letting them know the circumstances. This is important. When we learn from God’s lessons, especially those we face in adversities, then what we learn is as sweet as honey. To share that sweetness with others, without letting them know whatever it may have cost us or however difficult the trial was that produced such sweetness, is the key to becoming more Christ-like. Christ brings us the sweetness of His trials without letting us know what it cost.

Now I understand what I didn’t before. Even in the writing of this, I see more than I did yesterday. God’s revelations come in a way in which we can handle them – a little at a time. The personal aspect, which I didn’t see as I started typing, I now see. If I can share with others the sweetness of personal revelation without sharing with them the trouble which produced it, then it will always remain sweet to them.

I will leave you with Samson’s riddle which he set to the Philistines:

“Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” [Verse 14]

Shalom

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