The death of Samson is recorded in Judges 16:23-31. The previous passage described how Samson had been arrested, blinded, and imprisoned by the Philistines. The Lord allowed all of this to happen because of Samson’s sin (the violation of his Nazirite vow). But even though Samson suffered the temporal consequences of his sin, the Lord did not abandon him completely. In the final moments of his life, when it appeared that the Philistines were on the verge of offering Samson as a sacrifice to their god, Dagon, Samson prayed to the Lord, and the Lord gave him one final burst of supernatural strength. Samson leaned against the two load-bearing columns that supported the temple, and it came crashing down, killing 3000 Philistines, along with Samson himself. And so, even in death, Samson provides deliverance for the people of Israel. And yet, like all the other judges, Samson is an imperfect deliverer. He points to Israel’s need for lasting, permanent redemption. That redemption is found only by faith in the perfect Son of God, the perfect sacrifice, and perfect deliverer, Jesus Christ.
Following the story of Samson’s miraculous birth in Judges 13, the narrator describes the life of Samson in chapters 14-16. The picture is not altogether flattering. In fact, these chapters portray Samson quite negatively. For most of his life, Samson seems to have been guided primarily by the desires of his eyes and the lusts of his flesh. Although he was consecrated as a Nazirite from birth, we see in these chapters that Samson proves to be a very poor Nazirite. He eventually breaks all three parts of the Nazirite vow, which leads to the severe discipline of the Lord. And yet, even in the midst of severe discipline, the text indicates that Samson still has reason to hope. Despite his rebellion and disobedience, God can still use Samson to advance the kingdom.
Samson is the final judge whose life is profiled in the Book of Judges. His miraculous birth is described in Judges 13. An angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s would-be parents (who were unable to bear children on their own) and announces that Samson’s mother would bear a son and that he would be a Nazirite from birth. A Nazirite was an Israelite under a special vow of consecration to the Lord. Samson’s amazed parents then offer a sacrifice to the Lord while the angel looks on. To their astonishment, the angel “went up in the flame of the altar!” Samson’s parents fall to the ground in fear, but Samson’s mother gains her courage and tells her husband that they have nothing to fear, because the angel has promised that they will be parents of a special child. Samson indeed would be special, but as the narrative unfolds in chapters 14-16, we discover that he was a deeply flawed person, just like the other judges. As mighty as Samson would prove to be, he ended up falling short of being the kind of deliverer that God would one day send when he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to redeem the world.
The story of Jephthah is one of the most tragic, gut-wrenching stories in the Bible. It’s the story of a man who was rejected by his family as a young man, but who later re-emerged as Israel’s deliverer. But along the way, Jephthah makes a terrible mistake. In his zeal for military victory, he vows to the Lord that he will offer as a sacrifice whatever (or whoever) is first to greet him out of his house when he returns from battle. Little did Jephthah know that the one who would greet him would be his only child, his beloved daughter. And so the story of Jephthah illustrates the tragic consequences of rash vows. But it also demonstrates that even even people of great faith sometimes make terrible blunders, and that despite our sins and failures, God still uses flawed, fallible people like us to advance the kingdom.
The story of Gideon’s defeat of the Midianite army in Judges 7 is one of the most absurd stories in the entire Bible. The narrator intends for the story to be absurd, to illustrate the fact that it was God, not Gideon, who was responsible for defeating the Midianites. Gideon has an absurdly small army which is absurdly ill-equipped. Even the means by which the battle is fought and the victory won are absurd. Left on their own, the paltry Israelite army would have had no chance against the Midianites. But with the Lord, all things are possible. No foe is too great, no obstacle is too large, for the Lord!
The story of Gideon is one of the most memorable stories in the Old Testament. His call is recorded in Judges 6. An angel of the Lord appears and tells Gideon he is God’s chosen instrument to go to battle against the forces of the Midianites. Gideon, however, is unconvinced and fearful. He needs reassurance, which the Lord graciously provides time and again. In this way, the call of Gideon reminds us that even though we are sometimes slow to believe, God is always prepared to condescend and provide us the reassurance we need to carry out whatever he has called us to do.
Judges 4 tells the story of another unlikely deliverer of Israel. This time, the deliverer is a woman, Deborah, who was a judge and prophet in Israel. Deborah leads the Israelite army into battle against Sisera, the commander-in-chief of the army of Jabin, King of Hazor. Deborah is accompanied by the Israelite general, Barak. In the end, however, Barak does not get the glory for defeating Sisera’s army. Another woman, Jael, kills Sisera by driving a tent peg through his temple while he slept, thereby bringing about a great victory over the enemies of Israel. The story of Deborah (and Jael) is another demonstration of the principle that God sometimes uses unexpected people and unexpected means to fulfill his divine purposes.
The story of Judge Ehud is one of the most violent episodes in the Book of Judges. It's the account of a political assassination and Israel's subsequent victory over the nation of Moab. Some commentators have wondered why the inspired writer would include such a violent story in the pages of sacred scripture. But this story, and others like it in the Book of Judges, demonstrates that salvation history is sometimes messy, and that God is able to use even events like this to advance His kingdom and bring glory to Himself.
This week, we begin a 9-week study of some of the key judges in the Book of Judges. The period of the judges is a low point in the history of God’s people. Israel has entered the land of Canaan. But instead of faithfully serving the Lord in their new homeland, the Israelites repeatedly turn from Him to serve the pagan gods of their neighbors. God hands Israel over to its enemies again and again. Each time, Israel cries out to God, and God sends a deliverer to rescue them from their foes. The story of the first judge, Othniel, which is told in Judges 3:7-11, exemplifies this pattern. His story, like the stories of all the judges, demonstrates that no matter how faithless God’s people are, God is always faithful, and he never leaves or forsakes the people whom he has called to Himself.