Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Judges 14-15) transports me to another wedding feast, this one riddled with troublesome twists of fate and faith, with more sex and violence than your typical movie for guys who like movies. The groom is none other than Sampson, the Incredible Hippie Hulk who has come down with a bad dose of jungle fever and is dead set on sleeping with the enemy. His mother has the most memorable line of the whole drama, responding to his news of forbidden love with the classic family affair question: Couldn’t you have found a suitable woman from among your kin folk? She couldn’t dissuade him, though, and the family agrees to cross the border to go meet the prospective in-laws. In the meantime, tough man Sam engages in a feat of strength by killing a lion with his bare hands, and later finds the carcass of that lion filled with swarming bees and a hive of honey. As he enjoys some of the sweetness, the bright idea enters his mind that he could really get the Philistine folks’ goat with a good old-fashioned riddle: Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet. What is it?
As good as this riddle is, the prime puzzle of the plot is how in the world Sampson becomes God’s judge to rule over the people of faith. Good judgment is hardly one of the strong man’s strong suits. He is rash, impetuous, violent, womanizing, hot-headed, and places the entire community in jeopardy because of his foolish flaunting of raw power and brute force. When the Philistine companions solve his riddle with the help of his new bride, Sampson has the second most memorable line of the drama, one of those lines you don’t expect the groom to say about his bride at the end of the honeymoon wedding feast: If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle. Lesson one, guys: this is not a good way to refer to your wife, even if she has coaxed the answer to a riddle from you and given the answer away.
So the wedding feast becomes occasion for mass murder, wife swapping (actually, he only gave her to the best man, he didn’t get a spouse in return), arson, more murder, amazing feats of strength, and more murder (if this were the game of Clue, you might want to suggest that Colonel Sam did it in the field with the jawbone of an ass). And then the anti-climactic climax to the whole gory wedding gone sour story: Sampson is made judge over Israel and rules them for 20 years. It is a riddle indeed, the riddle of God’s choosing the foolish to shame the wise, God’s choosing the weak-minded strong man to shame the strong-willed weak-faith folks. And it is a riddle of how the human heart can carry such contradictory capacities – for judgment and folly, love and hate, construction and destruction. And all this happens before we ever get to the Sampson and Delilah story. As the good folks back in my old church at Stoneville used to say, ’tis a puzzlement. Until that puzzle is solved, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for concealed donkey jawbones.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.