Monthly Archives: July 2022

Judges 18 A World Where Might Makes Right

Micah and the Danites. Woodcut by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1695

Judges 18

In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking for itself a territory to live in; for until then no territory among the tribes of Israel had been allotted to them. 2 So the Danites sent five valiant men from the whole number of their clan, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it; and they said to them, “Go, explore the land.” When they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, they stayed there. 3 While they were at Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 He said to them, “Micah did such and such for me, and he hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 Then they said to him, “Inquire of God that we may know whether the mission we are undertaking will succeed.” 6 The priest replied, “Go in peace. The mission you are on is under the eye of the LORD.”

7 The five men went on, and when they came to Laish, they observed the people who were there living securely, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth, and possessing wealth. Furthermore, they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with Aram. 8 When they came to their kinsfolk at Zorah and Eshtaol, they said to them, “What do you report?” 9 They said, “Come, let us go up against them; for we have seen the land, and it is very good. Will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, but enter in and possess the land. 10 When you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is broad — God has indeed given it into your hands — a place where there is no lack of anything on earth.”

11 Six hundred men of the Danite clan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 From there they passed on to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to spy out the land (that is, Laish) said to their comrades, “Do you know that in these buildings there are an ephod, teraphim, and an idol of cast metal? Now therefore consider what you will do.” 15 So they turned in that direction and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and greeted him. 16 While the six hundred men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate, 17 the five men who had gone to spy out the land proceeded to enter and take the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim. The priest was standing by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war. 18 When the men went into Micah’s house and took the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 They said to him, “Keep quiet! Put your hand over your mouth, and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one person, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” 20 Then the priest accepted the offer. He took the ephod, the teraphim, and the idol, and went along with the people.

21 So they resumed their journey, putting the little ones, the livestock, and the goods in front of them. 22 When they were some distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the Danites. 23 They shouted to the Danites, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter that you come with such a company?” 24 He replied, “You take my gods that I made, and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then can you ask me, ‘What is the matter?'” 25 And the Danites said to him, “You had better not let your voice be heard among us or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you, and you will lose your life and the lives of your household.” 26 Then the Danites went their way. When Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

27 The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, put them to the sword, and burned down the city. 28 There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. They rebuilt the city, and lived in it. 29 They named the city Dan, after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was formerly Laish. 30 Then the Danites set up the idol for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity. 31 So they maintained as their own Micah’s idol that he had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Israel is in a precarious state. They have had judges who were able to rally individual tribes or groups of tribes to confront the crisis of the moment but there has not been a political leader who could unify the tribes since Joshua. The individual tribes have had very different experiences of this time, and the current story unfolds with Dan being a weak tribe without a territory. The religious landscape has also devolved to the point where the worship of the LORD is indistinguishable from the practices of the nations that the people of Israel live among. Israel is a group of unconnected tribes that may share some common stories of their path and may remember some aspects of the covenant faith of their God, but increasingly they have lost their identity as a people of the LORD.

The book of Judges begins with an overview of each tribe’s success in occupying the land promised to them. While several tribes are not completely successful in claiming their new homes, only the Danites are completely driven away by the Amorites in the area and forces to live in the hill country. The book of Joshua also points to the claiming of the city they will rename Dan in Joshua 19:47 and the two stories share a common background.[1] The sending of the spies also is similar to the sending of spies into the land of Canaan in Numbers 13, although the reaction to the spies’ report is different in this story. The five men take shelter in the house of Micah and recognize the young Levite. It is possible that they merely recognize the way he speaks as different from the native Ephraimites of the region but the identity of the Levite later in the narrative probably indicates that this Levite may have been well known and recognizable. The Levite’s explanation of his presence in Micah’s household as, “he hired me,” may indicate a different understanding than the “consecration” that Micah did for the priest in the previous chapter, but it also may reflect the reality that this wandering Levite had looked for work and Micah provided work that was fitting with his family and gifts. The shrine with its idol, ephod, and teraphim and, as we shall soon learn, a priest with a famous ancestor probably made the house of Micah a place of local prominence to seek the will of God (or the gods). The request for an oracle of God’s intention and the seeking of a divine blessing on their mission is sought and received as this priest sends the spies on their way.

The spies discover a city which is both prosperous and unprotected which becomes the target for this weak clan. The city may have some affiliation with Sidon, but they are geographically isolated from them and have no other alliances with groups like the Arameans who could provide them protection. There is no indication, other than the Levite’s blessing, that God has ordained this city for the Danites, but the spies present this as an appealing option for immediate action to their clan. Six hundred armed men,[2] along with the families that will resettle the land, depart the hill country in route to Laish.

This cluster of armed men stops at the house of Micah and seizes the idol, ephod, and teraphim and convinces the priest to come and minister to their group rather than remaining with Micah. There is no intertribal loyalty. In a time without a king, might seems to make right. The priest accepts the offer and departs with the group. It is possible that the Levite viewed the ministry to the Danites as an upgrade, but it is also possible that he viewed this as the way to survive the threat of violence. Regardless of motive the priest participates in the removal of the objects of worship from the house of Micah and sets off with the Danites. When Micah pursues the Danites with the men he can gather to try to reclaim his gods and his priest he is met with the threat of violence and retreats before a larger and more violent force. The corrupted religious practices and the employment of a Levite as priest have not led to Micah’s prosperity in the long term but instead to his humiliation.

The Danites conquer and raze the peaceful city of Laish and rebuild it as Dan. There is no indication of God’s activity on their behalf and the text remains neutral about the implications of this conquest. Yet, the text leaves space for one final bombshell. We learn that the Levite is a grandson of Moses and that they maintain a shrine in Dan until the exile under the Assyrians (734 BCE) even though the idol of Micah may have been removed after the house of God (tabernacle) at Shiloh fell in the eleventh century BCE. (Webb, 2012, p. 449) The shrine starts as a place of worship practices that seem very distant from the ideal laid forth in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and continues to reflect the decentralized and disparate practices that future kings will struggle with (or embrace).

The identity of Israel as a people is in question. As Berry Webb can state, “In such a confused environment religion becomes merely a means of self-advancement, and provides fertile soil for a host of other evils to take root and flourish.” (Webb, 2012, p. 452) The lack of any type of moral center or covenant identity among the people lays the groundwork for the near dissolution of Israel that will occur in the final narrative of Judges. In a world where ‘might makes right’ the tribes of Israel are indistinguishable from any other group. They are violent and ‘hot-tempered’ men (and women) who are attempting to force their will on a violent world without the guidance or protection of their God. A world where ‘everyone does what is right in their own eyes’ and where the way of the LORD has been forgotten is a dangerous place for women and the vulnerable. Israel may have lost sight of their identity and may have forgotten its God, but in the view of Judges it is only by the steadfast love of God that Israel has any chance at a future beyond the violent present which they are creating.

[1] In Joshua 19:47 the town they fight against is Leshem instead of Laish but it is clear that this narrative in Judges is an expanded telling of the same beginnings of the territory the Danites occupy. As mentioned in the previous chapter the narrative of Micah, the Levite, and the Danites probably does not come chronologically after all the Judges but is placed thematically at the end to show the desperate situation of Israel prior to the time when the people ask for a king.

[2] Although the men are ‘armed for war’ it is important to differentiate that these are not professional warriors. There may be men who have experience as bandits and raiders but there is no organized military force in Israel at this time.

Review of Herzog by Saul Bellow

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 43: Herzog by Saul Bellow

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

Herzog is named for the main character Moses Herzog a Jewish former professor whose mind seems to be unraveling in the aftermath of his second divorce. The story is told from a first-person perspective and the reader is invited into the rambling reflections of an intelligent but cluttered mind. Moses Herzog begins by stating, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me.” We encounter in Moses’ thinking, speaking, and especially in his incessant drive to write notes to a diverse group of recipients from former friends and relations to President Dwight Eisenhower a mind balancing on the precipice of sanity. There are times when the erratic and non-chronological reflections full of non-sequiturs do feel like a descent into some type of madness of this man driven by compulsions he doesn’t understand.

The mind of Moses Herzog is the entirety of the novel and entering into that mind is to encounter the contradictions and confusions of a person who struggles to comprehend the world around him and the feelings and motivations of other individuals. His divorce caused, in his view, by the manipulation by his wife and best friend shatter him. A combination of the situation and the makeup of Moses as an individual leave him caught in an egocentric loop where the world revolves around his experience of it. He is not a rational actor at this point in his life and he often sabotages himself by making impulsive decisions on a whim which cause him trouble. For the majority of the book, he is not in his right mind. At the end his intelligent mind finally comes to rest and appears to let go of its compulsions.

Herzog is a strange book. I can understand why it is considered a masterwork and the comparison to James Joyce’s Ulysses is apt since both share a stream of consciousness manner of narration. Due to the erratic nature of Herzog’s mind the story is often slow moving and then it can jump suddenly when his mind seizes on another compulsion. I struggled to find Herzog a likeable character since he is so enmeshed in his own ego and madness. Reading a novel in first person forces the reader to see the character through their own eyes and Herzog seemed to have an inflated opinion of his abilities while still not liking the person he had become. Perhaps the genius of the work is seeing through the eyes of madness. I can appreciate it as an experiment in literature but as a novel it is not one that I will probably return to. All experiences of fiction are subjective and there are many readers throughout the last sixty years who have made this a classic.


Judges 17 The Idol of Micah

The altar of Micah. Located in the village of Givat Harel in Samaria.

Judges 17

There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2 He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and even spoke it in my hearing, — that silver is in my possession; I took it; but now I will return it to you.” And his mother said, “May my son be blessed by the LORD!” 3 Then he returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother; and his mother said, “I consecrate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make an idol of cast metal.” 4 So when he returned the money to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into an idol of cast metal; and it was in the house of Micah. 5 This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

7 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the clan of Judah. He was a Levite residing there. 8 This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah, to live wherever he could find a place. He came to the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim to carry on his work. 9 Micah said to him, “From where do you come?” He replied, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to live wherever I can find a place.” 10 Then Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a set of clothes, and your living.” 11 The Levite agreed to stay with the man; and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 So Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”

This begins a “collection of unhappy stories” (Mobley, 2005, p. 225) which illustrate the precarious position of the tribes and families of Israel during the ending of the narrative of Judges. The final two stories which make up the final five chapters of Judges demonstrate how far Israel has strayed from its identity as the people of God and how confused and chaotic this lawless time had become. In a time when, “They did it their way.” (Webb, 2012, p. 421) we see all of the Ten Commandments systematically broken (NIB II: 864) in these unhappy stories as Israel stands in danger of dissolving into the surrounding Canaanite and Philistine community. While it is possible that both stories happen chronologically after the death of Samson it is likely that the editor of Judges placed these two stories as a conclusion of the book to prepare the reader for the people’s desire for a king to unite this scattered people and to unite them in their identity.

The initial story shows how the worship of the LORD the God of Israel has been corrupted to where it becomes patterned after the worship of the Canaanites and other nations. Names are often important in Hebrew stories and the name Micah means “Who is like God?” It is a name that implies that no god or idol is a substitute for the LORD, and yet this man named Micah will capture God in a cast image and use the image as a focus of worship. He has taken an exceptionally large sum of money, eleven hundred pieces of silver-the same amount each Philistine lord promised to Delilah to betray Samson, from his mother but when his mother utters a curse he confesses his guilt and returns it. Micah’s mother attempts to turn the curse into a blessing and to consecrate the silver to the LORD but then we immediately see the corruption of this by consecrating it for an idol. Worship of the LORD has lost one of its essential elements, that they are not to create an image of God. The story becomes even more confounding when two hundred of the eleven hundred pieces are turned over to a silversmith and the remaining nine hundred are held back. In a shrine Micah places this idol alongside an ephod and teraphim (household gods). The idol is placed as one image among multiple images and his son is set up to preside over this corrupted version of worship of the LORD the God of Israel. In a time and place where everyone does what is right in their own eyes and the laws and the covenant seem to have been forgotten we end up with a parody of what the devotion to the LORD was intended to be.

When a Levite looking for a new place to reside comes to the house of Micah he is offered the position of being a priest in this shrine. Micah’s son recedes to the background as this Levite becomes priest and becomes like a father to Micah. The annual pay of the Levite, ten silver a year plus home and clothing, illustrates how rich Micah’s household is where eleven hundred pieces of silver can be ‘consecrated to the LORD.’ The creation of a shrine presided over by a Levite gave Micah’s household a great deal of status in the hill country of Ephraim and yet his desire that it will make him prosper is contrasted by the confused combination of the practices the LORD commanded with the Canaanite and other religious practices the LORD forbade the people to follow. This strange story of a household in Israel is reflective of the loss of distinctive practices and identity that we have seen throughout Judges. The religious practices of the people have been corrupted and despite Micah’s confidence that in his own eyes he is doing the right thing, it will not lead to his future prosperity.

Judges 16 Samson, Delilah and a Crashing End

Samson and Delilah (1887) by Jose Etxenagusia

Judges 16

Once Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute and went in to her. 2 The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” So they circled around and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They kept quiet all night, thinking, “Let us wait until the light of the morning; then we will kill him.” 3 But Samson lay only until midnight. Then at midnight he rose up, took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.

4 After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.5 The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, “Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes your strength so great, and how you could be bound, so that one could subdue you.” 7 Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not dried out, and she bound him with them. 9 While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a strand of fiber snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.

10 Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have mocked me and told me lies; please tell me how you could be bound.” 11 He said to her, “If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 12 So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” (The men lying in wait were in an inner chamber.) But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.

13 Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies; tell me how you could be bound.” He said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and make it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 14 So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web, and made them tight with the pin. Then she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web.

15 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great.” 16 Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. 17 So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”

18 When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19 She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. 20 Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. 21 So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. 22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice; for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” 25 And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, and let him entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. They made him stand between the pillars; 26 and Samson said to the attendant who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson performed.

28 Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “Lord GOD, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. 31 Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel twenty years.

Samson’s narrative is a tragicomedy. There is a humorous element, and I can picture these stories being shared around a campfire by people who have imbibed heavily or to entertain children. Samson’s story is the most famous from the book of Judges and many people encountered the story of this incredibly strong but wild and strange man who does everything possible to turn away from his calling as a nazirite and yet still is revered as an agent God acted through to begin the deliverance of the people. Yet, even with its humorous elements, the story is a tragedy. As Rabbi Michael Hattin can state:

Of all the judges, Samson is the most heartbreaking; of all the leaders, the most terribly alone. No other judge in the book labors in such isolation, with none of his own people at his side to face down the enemy. Essentially, Samson’s life is a splendid study in alienation, a profound glimpse into the process that unfolds when a man withdraws from his community, people, and himself. Bereft of tribal ties, estranged from parents and family, Samson is alone. (Hattin, 2020, p. 171)

This child born of angelic announcement ends up dying in the temple of the oppressors of the people blinded and weakened and pleading to God for one last chance to revenge himself. Samson is both in constant conflict with the Philistines and continually drawn to Philistine women. He can acknowledge his calling as a nazirite dedicated to the LORD which is the source of his strength as he continually takes actions which violate the nazirite vows. Samson’s incredible strength and seeming invincibility is matched by his captivity to his passions and his foolish trust of relationships that demonstrate themselves to be untrustworthy.

Samson’s story passes through three different views of sexual relationships: in the previous two chapters Samson obsession revolves around a Philistine woman he wants for his wife and in this concluding chapter Samson passes through an isolated night with a prostitute and a longer relationship with Delilah. The sexual encounter with the prostitute in Gaza takes up far less ink than the other two tales, but it still demonstrates how this man driven by passion and instinct continues to confound the desires of the Philistines to bind and kill him. The careful movement of the Philistine residents of Gaza to guard the city gates and to prepare to capture Samson in the morning are upended by Samson’s midnight departure and mammoth uprooting and transportation of the gates of Gaza thirty-nine miles inland and uphill to the hill near Hebron. The Philistines awake gateless in Gaza as Samson again passes through the midst of their preparations. The remainder of Israel seems resigned to submit to the reign of the Philistines, but Samson’s incredible strength and unpredictable behavior makes him public enemy number one to the Philistine lords.

For the first time since Deborah, we have a woman who is named in the book of Judges, but this time she is in league with the lords of the Philistines. Delilah may be a Philistine, a Canaanite, or a Hebrew but she is amenable to the lavish offer of these leaders among the Philistine people and attempts to learn Samson’s secret. Samson was already worn down by the questioning and weeping of the woman he married in Timnah, and now he finds himself hounded by his new lover. Three times he provides a false answer and destroys the Philistines who emerge from the inner chamber to attempt to bind him. Perhaps this is a game between Samson and Delilah and perhaps this dangerous game provides some additional enticement to the relationship for the passionate Samson. Yet a recurring element in the narration is Samson’s continued rejection of his identity pulling away from the commitments and the markers which marked him as set aside to God so that he might be like ‘any other man.’ As Barry Webb can state:

The fact is that Samson has always been in rebellion against his separation to God. He has never wanted to fight the Philistines as he was destined to do. He has wanted to mix with them, intermarry with them, and party with the. He has especially wanted to have this woman, Delilah, because he loved her. But his separateness has always caught up with him. (Webb, 2012, p. 405)

Each falsehood moves closer and closer to the truth, and in the third lie linguistically foreshadows Samson’s impending death. In the story of Deborah and Barak the fleeing general Sisera enters the tent of Jael and while he is sleeping Jael thrust a peg/pin[1] into his head (4:17-21) and now as Samson sleeps Delilah thrusts a pin/peg into his hair to form a web. Samson is tired to death from nagging, perhaps from his separation from every other man, and he surrenders his secret and his identity as a nazirite of God. Previously Samson has violated the other two nazirite vows about touching corpses and drinking wine and now he sets the conditions for his head to be shaved. Samson has turned away from his calling from birth but instead of finding freedom he only finds bondage. He may have longed to intermarry and party with the Philistines, but he cannot escape who he is as an Israelite. He is bound, blinded, and forced to work in a mill as a prisoner. The once feared Samson is now an object of mockery. The only ray of hope is that his hair begins to grow again.

The Blinded Samson (1912) by Lovis Corvinth

Samson only calls to the LORD in moments of desperation. Previously he called on the LORD after his victory when he feared dying of dehydration (15: 18-20). Now he calls on the LORD for a final time to enact his revenge upon the Philistines. We never get any sense of remorse from Samson, only a desire to pay back his captors for his lost eyes. He may have little right to expect anything from God based on the way he has treated his calling, but God has answered him in the past. Samson, who wanted to live among the Philistines now dies among them. He is an agent of death throughout his life and his final action proves to be his deadliest. Finally in his death his family returns to claim him and lay him in the father’s tomb. Samson, like Israel, no matter how hard he tries cannot escape his identity as a chosen one of God.

The story of Samson is one of many strange stories that make up the book of Judges and the bible in general. Samson is a trickster, and the bible is full of stories of tricksters. The Bible rarely tells morality tales, and the ‘heroes of faith’ are often deeply flawed people. Samson is a strange agent who God is able to work through to bring some relief from the people’s oppression under the Philistines. Yet in a narrative where the people have lost their connection with the LORD their God and have turned away from their identity as a chosen people it is appropriate that the final judge also attempts to turn away from his identity and calling. Israel stands at a dark and vulnerable point but as the coming chapters will demonstrate the greatest threat is not the Philistines but the lawless place that Israel has become.


[1] Same word in Hebrew.