We are in The Nation Stream today plowing through the book of Judges. We will meet several more judges today as we continue reading from the New Century Version.
We are now in the second half of the book of Judges. The point we are making in ‘7-Streams’ is that things for a nation without God as their fountain of hope. Nations do not work (only Christ Jesus’ Church is eternal). Judges is turning out to be a butcherously rough book with plenty of hideous incidents entailed. In last weeks reading, Abimelech has just decimated his own family. He was a rascal of a child with a good father but was born of a concubine, so he probably didn’t “feel the love” too much.
Today we trek through seven judges over a period of almost a century – 96 years in case you were wondering. Two rather “small potatoes” judges come and go but there was 45 years of basic peace during their years. Jephthah then is the one who is called to rise up and expel the Ammonites from Israel. This had been a century or two prior. They had grown strong again and were obnoxious and unreasonable. Jephthah has a time with them and tries to negotiate. He gets a gold star for effort but it doesn’t work. Negotiating with nonsensical brutes doesn’t work. Genesis 19:30-38 serves as a reminder of why the Ammonites are like this and to be avoided in general. The story could have ended so well; the victory and all was “in the bag” but Jephthah makes a senseless vow. It leaves musing, “what is the matter with you?” as he foolishly obligates himself to sacrifice his own daughter by default. How many times are we reading Judges and concluding story after story and thinking, “something is really wrong with these people.”
Next we see the Men of Ephraim; ruffians who apparently enjoy picking fights, walk into trouble and end up paying for it – 42,000 of them die. Their speech gives them away as do their tumultuous attitudes. After Jephthah, there were three judges during the next 25 years that are given quick descriptions before they pass on and usher in Samson; the last of the judges.
Samson could be called a salient judge who personified Israel at this time. He is a beloved son who turns out to be just plain odd and mysterious. He has God’s power at his disposal. He was chosen and called before his birth. His birth itself is miraculous. Angels visit and give distinct instruction. This family is so blessed by such miraculous exploits and then the arrival/birth of Samson is a culmination of blessing. The Lord is truly with him. His strength is obvious to his loved ones yet a mystery to all others. His power to do great and beyond is impressive. And against the wistful characterization and comics, Samson is not a burly, huge specimen. His strength was a gift from God that came over him as needed. Physically, he was not much different than other men. It is God with him that is his strength. Yet his penchant for consuming upon his lust hooks him and leaves us assessing his life and mourning “what could have been” had he surrendered and listened to counsel and family and his Lord. (heavy sigh)
It doesn’t take Samson long to get entangled with the wrong woman right off. Something we saw in Ibzan’s family three judges back. Nonetheless God uses this whole scenario for confront the Philistines so that Israel could push them back and let Israel rule itself (under God).
During Samson’s life, the expoits, the victories, the super human strength and displays, the treachery, the cleverness, all this makes for a string of stories that have enchanted listeners and readers for over 3,000 years.
We will read and discuss his ending next week. It is painful indeed, but his final triumph that finishes him is his greatest. Samson is committed to God and filled with His strength as he was. How much better had things gone had Samson been fully surrendered to God and doing things God’s waaaay.
“Lord God, Samson is like so many of your followers who are filled with power to do great, and some do, yet we stray. Do with us like the hymn says, ‘prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love, here’s my heart oh take and seal it, seal it for they courts above. Amen”