Last time we looked at the conquest of Jericho. We saw that when Joshua encountered the the LORD Jesus Himself outside Jericho that he responded first in worship, and then sought the LORD’s guidance, and followed through in obedience. In response to this demonstration of faith, the LORD miraculously brought about the fall of the city. We also looked at the story of Jericho resident Rahab the harlot. She first proclaimed her faith by recounting the stories of the miracles God had performed among the Israelites at the parting of the Red Sea, and in their previous battles on the far side of the Jordan. We saw that Rahab demonstrated her faith by hiding the spies Joshua had sent to the city, and aiding them in their escape back to the Israelite camp. Briefly we looked at the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1, pointing out that a woman named Rahab is also listed as the great-great grandmother of King David, and considered whether or not this might be the same Rahab encountered during the conquest of Jericho, concluding that due to the length of time the Judges ruled over Israel it is unlikely that the two Rahabs are the the same person.
Hebrews 11:32a – The Great Hall of Faith – Part 9
The Hebrews writer now continues his Great Hall of Faith chapter with some examples of faith taken from the book of Judges – Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. The book of Judges is by any reckoning a dismal read. It contains the uplifting and encouraging story of Jael – the woman who killed a man she had offered to protect from his enemies by pounding a tent peg through his temple and pinning his skull to the ground while he slept. There’s also sweet tale of Samson taking revenge on those who wounded his pride, by tying lit torches to the tails of foxes, and then turning them loose in his enemies’ grain field to destroy their harvest and cause a famine during the upcoming winter. And who could forget the heartwarming story of Jephthah sacrificing his own virgin daughter as a burnt offering to the LORD in honor of his victory in battle. By the time one finishes reading the stories of violence, vengeance, perversion, and idolotry we find in the book of Judges, the simple, beautiful love story of Boaz and Ruth we find in the next book comes as a blessed relief indeed. Perhaps the book of Judges is best summarized by its own final verse.
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.Judges 21:25 – NKJV
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah,…Hebrews 11:32a – NKJV
In truth, I would have to say it’s a good thing that time failed the Hebrews writer in telling of the faith of some of these characters. Samson in particular was a violent and vengeful man primarily driven by his bodily lusts. Sometimes, I think God put the stories of Samson into the book of Judges for their “Jerry Springer effect,” so when we read about Samson’s misadventures we can reason to ourselves, “I may be a wretched sinner, but at least I’m not as messed up as this clown.” Seriously though, we know that God’s Word is perfect, and given for our edification, as Paul wrote to his protege Timothy.
16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NKJV
So knowing and trusting in that, let’s delve into the stories of these men to see if we can discern what God has to teach us by their examples. Before we begin, it will help us to remember as we go through these stories that Judges has a cyclical narrative pattern. In Judges, we find that the nation repetitively fell into rebellion against God and even into idolatry, whereupon God allowed them to be oppressed and often subjugated by the enemy peoples who dwelt among the Israelites in the Land of Promise. After suffering under this oppression and subjugation, the people cried out to God for help, and in response He raised up a judge who defeated the oppressors. Afterward, the Hebrew people lived in peace and security for a while faithfully serving God and obeying Him until they fell back again into rebellion and idolatry. Thus the cycle repeated.
This pattern is an encouragement for us, because although the Hebrew people were frequently unfaithful to God, He was always faithful to them – His chosen people through whom He brought Jesus the Messiah into the world to bless all the nations of the earth as God had promised Abraham He would (Genesis 26:4). Just as God remained faithful to the Israelites even through their repeated rebellions in the book of Judges, so will God remain faithful to us when we fail Him.
Gideon – Judges 6-8
Gideon received his calling from the LORD when Israel was suffering under oppression by the Midianites. Gideon’s story is similar to Moses’. Like Moses, Gideon had a miraculous encounter with God who called him out of obscurity into leadership. Like Moses, Gideon initially balked at his calling, but God later empowered him to become a great leader.
- Judges 6:1-10 – Israel’s oppression under the Midianites, their cry to God, and God’s response through the words of an unnamed prophet.
- Judges 6:11-14 – The Angel of the LORD (preincarnate Jesus) appeared to Gideon, and called him to save Israel from the Midianite oppression.
12And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!”
14Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?”Judges 6:12 & 14 – NKJV
- Judges 6:15-23 – Gideon protested his weakness. God reassured him and performed a miracle to show him that He was indeed the Angel of the LORD.
15So he said to Him, “O my Lord,[Adonai] how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”Judges 6:15-24- NKJV
16And the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.”
17Then he said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me.18Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You.”
And He said, “I will wait until you come back.”
19So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. 20The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so.
21Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
22Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face.”
23Then the LORD said to him, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.” 24So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it The-LORD-Is-Peace.[יְהֹוָה שָׁלוֹם Yĕhavah shalowm] To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Notice that the LORD’s response to Gideon’s protest of his own inadequacy was the same as the one He gave to Moses – “…I will be with you…”. Indeed it is that same reassurance Jesus gave to His disciples (including present-day saints) before He ascended to the Father.
18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.Matthew 28:18-20 – NKJV
- Judges 6:25-31 – God commanded Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, and replace it with an altar to the LORD. Gideon received a new name.
30Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it.”Judges 6:30-32 – NKJV
31But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” 32Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal,[יְרֻבַּעַל Yĕrubba`al – let Baal contend] saying, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.”
This story is reminiscent of the story of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18.
Aside – The name Baal is used throughout the Word of God to refer to some of the many false gods worshiped among the Canaanite peoples. The name appears over one hundred times in God’s Word. The fact that the Israelites repeatedly fell into idolatry worshiping the Baals is a reminder of what God had told the Israelites at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 23:24-33)
31And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”Exodus 23:31-33 – NKJV
Moses also reiterated this warning before his death.
“Also you shall destroy all the peoples whom the LORDDeuteronomy 7:16 -NKJV
your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them; nor shall you serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.
Nevertheless, the Israelites did make covenants with some of the peoples of the Land of Promise, and their idolatry did indeed become a snare to them, as we find throughout the Old Testament. In fact the repercussions of the Israelites’ failure to utterly destroy the Canaanite peoples whom God had given over to them resound in the unrest we find in the Land today.
- Judges 6:36-40 – Gideon asked for and received God’s reassurance with two fleeces.
36So Gideon said to God, “If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said— 37look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.” 38And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. 39Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.” 40And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.Judges 6:36-40 – NKJV
What an amazing testimony to God’s patience with His children. God had already shown Gideon the miracle of the fire which consumed Gideon’s offering. He had already protected Gideon from the vengeance of the men in his village when he obeyed God’s command to tear down his father’s altar to Baal. Now here again we see that Gideon was uncertain of God’s guidance – this same Gideon whom the Hebrews writer touts as an example of great faith. Nevertheless, as we shall see, once Gideon had been assured of God’s direction, he did rise to the challenge in obedience, and by God’s strength defeated the Midianites.
I have always seen this story of Gideon’s fleeces as a mixed message of sorts. Recall Jesus’ reaction when satan tried to tempt Him into putting one of the Father’s promises to the test.
9And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written,Luke 4:9-12 – ESV
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
12And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
First off, the evil one is misquoting here from Psalm 91:11-12, but we’ll ignore that. Jesus response is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:16. In his final admonishment to the people of Israel prior to his death, Moses reminded the Israelites of the commandments from God he had delivered to them at the base of Mt. Sinai forty years before. One of those commandments was
“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.Deuteronomy 6:16 – ESV
Moses was reminding them of an incident (one of many during the wilderness wandering) in which the people had aroused the LORD’s anger by complaining against Him and Moses because they had no water to drink when they encamped at Rephidim ( רְפִידִים Rĕphiydiym – resting places). God commanded Moses to strike a rock at Horeb (Mt. Sinai) with his staff, and water flowed from it. Thereafter, the place was called Massah (מַסָּה Maccah – testing).
Aside – Regular followers of these teachings will notice that the two previous quotes came from the English Standard Version rather than the New King James Version I usually quote in these lessons. That’s because the Hebrew word נָסָה nacah translated in the ESV as “put to the test” in this quotation more closely captures the meaning of the Hebrew word which can mean to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test. The same applies to Jesus’ reference to Moses’ admonishment in Luke 4:12 using the Greek word ἐκπειράζω ekpeirazō which means to prove, test thoroughly, or to put to proof God’s character and power. In both the original admonishment by Moses, and Jesus response to satan’s final temptation, the King James and New King James Versions translate these Hebrew and Greek words as “tempt” which I believe misses the point God is trying to make in these passages.
With all that said, though, the question remains, why did God not rebuke Gideon for putting Him to the test with the fleeces while Jesus frequently rebuked those who tried to test Him in various ways during His earthly ministry? I think the answer lies in the testers’ expected outcomes. God sees into the depths of our hearts. He knows our every thought. There is nothing whatsoever hidden from Him. Therefore, He knew that when Gideon laid out his fleeces, he fully expected the outcome of his test to be exactly as it was – vindicating God’s promises and prophecies. On the other hand, when the Jewish leadership put Jesus to their silly legal tests, they did so seeking to disprove that He is who He said He was – God Himself come to Earth in the flesh of the man Jesus of Nazareth. The expectation of our hearts makes all the difference when we seek confirmation from the LORD as Gideon did in this story.
- Judges 7 – Gideon defeated the Midianites with a force of only 300.
Judges 7 is the best known story pertaining to Gideon by far. When Gideon went out to do battle with the Midianites, he initially had a force of about 32,000 soldiers. But God knew that if this force defeated the Midianites as He had already determined, then the Israelites would believe that it was their own might and skill in battle that won the victory, not the power of the LORD God Almighty.
The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many troops for me to hand the Midianites over to them, or else Israel might elevate themselves over me and say, ‘My own strength saved me.’Judges 7:2 – NKJV
How well our God knows us. After all, as our Creator, He knows everything about us altogether. When God shows Himself strong in our midst, don’t we usually seek a “rational” explanation for any miraculous occurrence? Only after these alternative explanations have been ruled out without any doubt do we finally, grudgingly admit that the only possible explanation is the supernatural intercession of the God of the Universe. Consequently, God pared down Gideon’s force from 32,000 to just 300. This puny army couldn’t possibly have defeated the Midianite hosts unless God Himself fought for them and with them. Of course that is precisely why this story is in God’s Word. It reminds me of the story of the apostle Thomas’ first encounter with the risen Jesus. After proving to Thomas beyond the shadow of a doubt that He had risen from death, Jesus admonished him.
27Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”John 20-:27-29 – NKJV
28And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
- Judges 8:1-21 – Gideon routed the Midianites and their allies and took vengeance upon those who refused to aid him in his pursuit of the remaining Midianites.
Gideon with his force of 300 routed the armies of the Midianites and their allies – some 135,000 strong (Judges 8:10). Clearly the battle and the victory were the LORD’s alone. The story of the revenge he took upon those of his own countrymen who refused to help him in this effort is a miserable one, and we’ll not delve into it at all.
- Judges 8:22-35 – Gideon refused the Israelites’ request for him to be king over them, but requested a tribute of gold from them. Consequently, Gideon himself fell into idolatry.
22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.”Judges 8:22-23 – NKJV
23But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”
Of course, we know that in the time of Samuel the judge, Israel again demanded a king for themselves, and Samuel gave them the same answer Gideon had. Nevertheless, God allowed them to crown a king (Saul) for themselves, who was later followed by the nation’s two greatest kings – David and Solomon – under whom the nation rose to the apex of its political strength, while simultaneously slipping away from their true source of strength – God – into the idolatry and rebellion that led to the division of the kingdom, the destruction of the temple and walls of Jerusalem, and seventy years of captivity in Babylon!
As clearly as God had called Gideon, and as mightily as God had used him, after his great victory over the Midianites, Gideon took for himself some of the spoils of gold from the Midianites, and made it into an ephod (אֵפוֹד ‘ephowd – a priestly garment). Gideon’s ephod must have been very ornate woven with gold and jewels. We are told that Gideon collected 1,700 shekels of gold from the Midianite spoils. If this was all woven into his ephod, it would have been much too heavy for daily wear, or even for special occasions – 45-50 pounds. Instead, Gideon hung it up in his home town as a memorial of his victory over the Midianites. Sadly, this memorial was itself eventually worshiped as an idol by the Israelites and by Gideon himself in place of their God who had empowered their victory.
Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.Judges 8:27 – NKJV
Thus Gideon, the mighty man of God fell into the trap which continues to ensnare us today – the accumulation of and devotion to our worldly possessions to the point that we make them into objects of worship. Make no mistake. Accumulation of worldly wealth isn’t wrong in itself. But it is very dangerous. A pastor I once heard used to say, “What you feed leads.” If we place the gathering of wealth ahead of the worship of God, and the service of His kingdom, then we have made our possessions into idols in violation of God’s first commandment.
6Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.1 Timothy 6:6-10 – NKJV
The Israelites too, who willingly offered up their portion of the spoils to Gideon, fell into sin through the worship of the ephod. Theirs was not the sin of avarice, but of hero worship. Initially, the ephod was a memorial to the mighty work that God had done through Gideon, and not inherently a bad thing, but over time the ephod’s reminder of God’s power faded, and the ephod itself became the object of worship – a symbol of the hero worship of the man Gideon who could in reality never have accomplished his victory over the Midianites except for the supernatural work of God Almighty.
Barak – Judges 4
The story of Barak is unique in God’s Word, Barak was not himself a judge of Israel. Nor did Barak receive his calling directly from God, but rather from Deborah the prophetess who judged Israel before Gideon. Barak’s story is straightforward. We won’t delve too deeply into it. Deborah called Barak to take 10,000 fighters from Naphtali and Zebulun to Mt. Tabor – a solitary mountain rising up from the Jezreel Valley near Nazareth. At Mt. Tabor, Deborah told Barak to engage the army of the Canaanite king Jabin which was under the command of Sisera there. Deborah assured Barak that the LORD would deliver the force of Sisera into his hand. Barak agreed to go, but only if Deborah herself went with him, which she agreed to do. Barak’s force entirely destroyed the army of Jabin, killing every one of them except Sisera himself who ran away from the battle on foot.
As Barak’s force chased after him, Sisera hid in the tent of Jael – the wife of Heber the Kenite – who promised to hide him from Barak’s army, but instead killed him while he slept by driving a tent peg through his temple.
This is a particularly gruesome story indeed, with the like of which the book of Judges is rife. What lesson can we take from it? Surely the obvious point is the one that the Hebrews writer states simply throughout this Great Hall of Faith chapter – Hebrews 11. The point the Hebrews writer repeatedly emphasizes throughout this chapter is people exhibiting faith in God through their actions and receiving the righteousness of God as reward. By faith, Deborah received the prophcy of the defeat of Sisera by Barak’s force of 10,000. She acted in faith by calling Barak to go. Barak then demonstrated his faith by his obedience to the call from Deborah to engage Sisera’s force at Mt. Tabor. God in turn was faithful as always by delivering Sisera’s force into Barak’s hand just at He had spoken in the prophecy He gave to Deborah.
Aside – Mt.Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration of Jesus reported by Matthew and Mark (Matthew 17 & Mark 9). Mt. Hermon – Israel’s highest mountain located in the northeast along Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria – is another possible location for the transfiguration. In both of the gospel accounts, the transfiguration took place six days after the famous encounter between Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi.
13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”Matthew 16:13-17 – NKJV
14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Caesarea Philippi was located at the site of one of the sources of the Jordan River in northern Galilee near the Lebanese border. It is about 43 miles from Mt. Tabor but only about 14 miles from Mt. Hermon. Following the transfiguration, both Matthew and Mark report that Jesus continued his Galilean ministry, and that He and His followers eventually arrived in Capernaum on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee just west of the Jordan’s inflow into the lake. Neither Mt. Tabor nor Mt. Hermon lies along a direct path from Caesarea Philippi to Caperaum. It certainly wouldn’t have taken Jesus and His disciples six days to reach Mt. Hermon from Caesarea Philippi, but it could have taken that long to reach Mt. Tabor, which is considerably closer to Capernaum than Mt. Hermon.
Samson – Judges 13-16
Of all the faithful men and women of the Old Testament, from whom the Hebrews writer could have chosen, why would he regard Samson as a good example of faith? Samson’s history is a particularly dismal one. Here was a man primarily driven by bodily lust, and full of a perverse spirit of vengeance and murderous violence. He began his adult life by coercing his parents into obtaining a woman of the Philistines – Israel’s greatest enemy in Samson’s day – as wife. This was clearly a violation of God’s command given through Moses…
1“When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, 2and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. 3Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. 4For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.Deuteronomy 7:1-4 – NKJV
Nevertheless, the LORD allowed Samson to take a wife from among the Philistines so that He might show Himself mighty among them and among His chosen people – Israel – by the hand of Samson (Judges 14:4). Even so, when Samson perceived that his new Philistine wife had betrayed a silly secret of his, he abandoned her, and took vengeance upon her people by killing thirty of them (Judges 14:5-20). Later on when he wished to take her again as wife, and found that she had been given to another, he again took vengeance upon the Philistines for his injured pride in a most perverse manner.
1After a while, in the time of wheat harvest, it happened that Samson visited his wife with a young goat. And he said, “Let me go in to my wife, into her room.” But her father would not permit him to go in.Judges 15:1-5 – NKJV
2Her father said, “I really thought that you thoroughly hated her; therefore I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister better than she? Please, take her instead.”
3And Samson said to them, “This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!” 4Then Samson went and caught three hundred foxes; and he took torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5When he had set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.
Samson was of course most famous for his physical strength which he most often exhibited through killing of man and beast. Perhaps the most famous example of Samson’s strength in violence was his killing of a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone – a feat of which Samson himself proudly boasted (Judges 15:15-16). Indeed, Samson spent his entire life in killing and vengeance for which he garnered many enemies. In the end, Samson allowed sexual lust to rule over him once more with a Philistine woman – Delilah, who betrayed the secret of his great strength to his enemies. Samson was finally captured and blinded by the Philistines who then bound him to the pillars of the temple of their god – Dagon. Samson’s final act of vengeful murder was also an act of suicide as he brought down the roof of the temple upon himself and his enemies (Judges 16:4-31).
Samson is the last of Israel’s judges listed in the book of Judges. He judged Israel for twenty years. Significantly, the story of Samson makes no mention of peace in Israel or freeing from the oppression of the Philistines during the time of Samson, only of violence, murder, and vengeance. I have searched the narrative of Samson’s life over and over again, seeking some positive lesson from it that might justify the Hebrews writer’s inclusion of Samson in his Great Hall of Faith – Hebrews 11. I can find none. Samson seems to me to have been as far from faithful service to God as any of the uncircumcised Philistines. God did not use Samson to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Philistines – quite the contrary. Samson’s legacy to Israel was only increased animosity between them and the Philistines. Israel continued to struggle with the Philistines for years afterward, throughout the judgeships of Eli and Samuel, and the reign of Saul – Israel’s first king. It would be Saul’s successor – David – who finally subdued the Philistines, but even then, the Philistines remained within the Land as enemies of Israel where they continue to be a thorn in the nation’s side even to the current day.
Aside – The Nazirite Vow – God’s Word makes provision for people to make a vow of devotion to God for a specified period.
1Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite[נָזִיר naziyr – consecrated or devoted one], to separate himself to the LORD, 3he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 4All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.Numbers 6:1-8 – NKJV
5‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. 7He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. 8All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the LORD.
Only Samson – among all the people in God’s Word – is identified as being a Nazirite. Apparently, there were other Nazirites over the years of Israel’s history. We know this, because James and the other apostles in Jerusalem advised Paul to join with a group of four men who had …” taken a vow”… as proof that Paul was not teaching Jews to abandon the teachings of the Law of Moses as had been rumored (Acts 21:22-24). But no other names are mentioned in association with the Nazirite vow apart from Samson. Indeed, Samson’s Nazirite vow wasn’t taken by Samson himself, or even by his parents, but was directed by God Himself. Nor was Samson’s Nazirite vow for a specified time period, but for his entire life.
2Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. 3And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. 5For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”Judges 13:2-5 – NKJV
Indeed, we know that Samson did honor this Nazirite vow. In the end, he admitted to Delilah that the source of his strength was God Almighty who blessed him as a powerful warrior because no wine or strong drink had ever passed his lips, and he had never cut off his hair (Judges 16:16-17). This, then is perhaps the lesson of faith that we can take from the story of Samson – that he honored his Nazirite vow.
Jephthah – Judges 11:1 – 12:7
Jephthah was the eighth judge of Israel listed in the book of Judges – the third judge listed after Gideon. He was from the clan of Gilead of the tribe of Manasseh. Jephthah’s story revolves around the fact that he was the son of a harlot whom his father impregnated. Because of that he was an outcast who was disinherited and disowned by his own family. Nevertheless, because Jephthah was a mighty warrior God used him to lead Israel to victory over the Ammonites who had blocked Isreal’s entry into Canaan after their forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and continued to oppress Israel during Jephthah’s time. Jephthah did not utterly defeat the Ammonites. Nor did King Saul and Samuel some two hundred years later.
Aside – The people of Ammon (modern day Syria), Moab, and Edom (modern day Jordan) continued to be Israel’s enemies throughout the Old Testament, and indeed continue to threaten the State of Israel even today. Nevertheless, God promises to eventually hand them over to “the men of the East” (Ezekiel 25:1-14). Could this possibly be a reference to the insurgences into these countries from Iraq, and the proxy war in Syria being waged between the west and Iran’s proxy – Hezbollah?
But the most infamous aspect of Jephthah’s story is the foolish pledge he made to the LORD prior to his victory over the Ammonites.
30And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
34When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.Judges 11:30-31 & 34 – NKJV
What did this bozo expect to find coming out to meet him when he returned home – his pet cat? Then to top it off, when he saw her, he blamed her, not himself, for making him sad. What lesson can be taken from this dismal episode? Perhaps Jesus was thinking of Jephthah when he taught during His sermon on the mount…
33“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.Matthew 5:33-37 – NKJV
Next time, God willing, we will finish up the named examples of faith we find in Hebrews 11 with the stories of David and Samuel.