Chapter 13, with its theophany and miraculous birth, seems like a huge fanfare of trumpets announcing the arrival of someone very special. No other judge has such extraordinary gifts and advantages or can match his potential. The chapters that follow seem a disappointment. His victories are all personal victories, and he achieves less on behalf of his people than any other judge. His flaws are as great as his strength. Like Israel, he had great privileges and a high calling, but acts like a self-centred, rebellious child. And yet it is clear God is at work.
Samson was meant to be defeating Philistines, not marrying them; his choice of this young woman for his wife can scarcely be in keeping with the Nazirite vow (a vow of consecration to the LORD) and is against the wishes of his parents, but he shows himself through these chapters to be impulsive and utterly ruled by his passions. He does what seems right in his own eyes, with no thought to the eyes of the LORD. His manner is rude and disrespectful.
And yet these verses are framed by two verses which clearly indicate that God’s hand is at work. He seems stirred by little other than lust, but the Spirit is stirring him (13:25); and though Samson seems always to be acting out of self-interest, God is at work to accomplish his purposes (14:4). The fact that God needs to provoke a confrontation with the Philistines is indicative of just how happily assimilated the Israelites had become to Philistine rule – a fact which threatened their distinctive identity.
At the beginning and end of this section the “Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power” (vv.6,19) – the first occasion presumably being preparatory for the second, revealing his supernatural gift. Again we are reminded God is at work, though his chosen instrument is careless of his Nazirite vow (taking honey from the lion’s corpse and likely drinking alcohol at the feast), and is pretty unpleasant.
The conflict provoked by this marriage continues in a series of further incidents. First Samson turns up some time later at his wife’s house with a young goat (we might have advised flowers, but having not seen her since the wedding a gift was surely in order!), only to discover her father has given her to one of the best men. His response, driven it seems simply by self-centred pique and brutishness, serves to draw the rest of the Philistines into the argument. They fight fire with fire, and a war of sorts is started (albeit one the Israelites want no part of).
The little scene in the aftermath of the battle of Jawbone Hill, is striking. He cries out to the LORD, acknowledging the LORD’s help, but he seems still essentially ruled by his own appetites. And yet how gracious God is! The last verse too is significant: he leads Israel, like the other judges, but without actually delivering them from their oppressor – those were “the days of the Philistines”.
One lesson is that God can work through flawed instruments, and can even use the very flaws to fulfil his purpose. And his purpose here is to provoke conflict – his people are not to live happily and easily under “Philistine” rule. Michael Wilcock writes in his BST commentary –
“There is no such thing as harmonious co-existence between the church and the world, for where there is no conflict it is because the world has taken over.”
Perhaps we should view the sense of conflict we increasingly feel in the UK as something helpful and needed?