Like Samson, it's easy to be blinded by poor choices, bad habits, and neglect of the vocation to which the Lord calls us. And like Samson's story, the Lord's strength is revealed despite our unfaithfulness. Samson's sacred vocation is finally realized in bringing down the entire structure of disloyalty and idolatry, crashing down even upon his own head.
Samson and Delilah's story, like many others in the Bible, provide a clear warning and an opportunity to reflect, repent, and realign priorities to the Lord's priorities. Fr. Dustin Lyon shares the Lord's hope for the next generation through the telling of this sacred vocation.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And Fr. Timothy Lowe, former director of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, joins me as co host. Fr. Timothy, hello! Christ is risen!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:29
Christ is risen, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 0:30
We are pleased to welcome Fr. Dustin Lyon from the Twelve Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Duluth, Minnesota. Fr. Dustin is the host and producer of The Way podcast on the Ephesus School Network. So welcome, Fr. Dustin, and thank you so much for joining us.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 0:46
Thank you for having me. As always, it's a pleasure.
Hollie Benton 0:48
So, to get us started - with every Sunday liturgy, every liturgical service throughout the week, Matins or Vespers, every time we open Scripture, it provides a time to intentionally consider our life's priorities, and realign to the Lord's priorities through repentance. Anyone who serves and leads in any capacity, must regularly go through exercises of reassessing priorities. Yet, as we will hear in the story of Samson, it is so easy to be blinded by one's own poor choices and bad habits and inattentiveness to what the Lord requires us to do. Thankfully, the Lord offers a way to wake up and to see the reality of our own poor choices, by hearing and reflecting on the biblical stories that we hear. And as with many stories in Scripture, we can learn from them to try to avoid the same failures, or to recognize our own need for repentance. Fr. Dustin, could you please set the scene or the context of Judges, in particular for the story of Samson?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 1:53
Of course, I know when you and I did a podcast, oh maybe two months ago, we had talked about the Judges. Samson is one of the Judges. This is a time when the Israelites had been freed from Egypt. They've now come into the promised land, and they don't yet have a king. God is their king. But of course, as we know, things happen, and you need leadership. And so the idea of the judges is that God would raise up a judge that would then do the work of God to continue to save the people, if you will. And Samson is one of these people. The historical context, or the narrative that's happening at this point, is that the Israelites are in the land. But we have these strange folks that have come in called the Philistines who are invasive, they're invading the land, they're threatening the Israelites. And historically, it's a question of who these Philistines are, are they part of the sea peoples, which are these mysterious conquerors that cause the fall and disruption of all of society, from Egypt, all the way up north, and the Israelites are again in need of a hero or a judge to help them out. In the earlier part of Judges, you hear about the birth of Samson, and what readers or hearers need to know about the birth of Samson is after he is born, he is one of those born to a barren mother sort of image that we see throughout Scripture. Of course, the most famous one is probably the Virgin Mary, right? She's a virgin, and then bears Christ. Or then you also have Elizabeth or even Mary's mother is a barren image. Sarah, the wife of Abraham is a barren image. Anyway, you have this barren image. And after the child is born, he is dedicated to God as these things usually happen.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 3:33
Let's think of the context of the longer story starting in Joshua, then the period of the Judges and so on. And Samson as the last Judge, the 12th Judge, what was the function of the Judge in terms of God calling up, raising up a specific Judge to deal with usually the people's apostasy, their cry for help, and then comes the Judge and the Judge delivers them again. And then the story repeats itself. Second Judge, Israel fails again, blah, blah, blah, they cry for God's help. God shows mercy. He raises up another Judge, deals with it, and so this cycle of never getting the message, never learning and repeating again, and again, again, the same problems in the same disaster. So in that sense, the idea of the final Judge, the Judge, who's given a birth story that you already enumerated, that is unique, okay, it is unique. So it sets him apart from all the other Judges from the womb. He's consecrated to God. So you have more expectations of this Judge, and he is systematically the worst Judge.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 4:36
What's interesting is he is a Nazirite. Now, don't confuse that with a Nazarene. That means person who is born in Nazareth. This is a Nazirite, someone who is dedicated specifically to Yahweh, to God, and there are three things that a Nazirite cannot do. They can't cut their hair. They can't touch or eat anything unclean, and they can't drink wine. So if you keep those three things in in mind, as the story progresses, Samson will systematically check off each of those boxes in the way that he destroys or does the sorts of things that he shouldn't be doing. So the first one he checks off is not touching anything unclean. He finds this beautiful woman that he wants to marry. The problem right away is that she is a Philistine. She is one of the people that Samson has been ordained to help the Israelites get rid of the Philistines. He falls in love with one of them. So right away, you have a problem. On the way to the marriage feast, he comes across a lion carcass that bees have made honey inside. So first off, you have a carcass, which means it's unclean. But then you have honey, which is produced by bees, these are insects that swarm. If you go back to Leviticus 11, you would see that this is a no no for Samson, he should run away and stay away. But instead, he collects the honey, eats it, and then goes to the wedding party, and at this point makes a big riddle of it. Well, the Philistines get his wife to ask him what the answer to this riddle is. He ends up telling her, she tells the Philistines, it ends in disaster in the end, I won't go through all the details, but in the end, his new wife is burned along with her father, so there's a bad ending there. We can also assume that during the feasting, because it says they feasted for a number of days, that Samson was probably drinking wine. Wine and feasting kind of go together. So Samson has at this point by the beginning of the passage we're about to read, checked off two of the things he shouldn't have done as a Nazirite. And right before this passage, and this is also very interesting, is that Samson is kind of wandering around, and it ends up saying that he sleeps with a prostitute. Now that seems like a little historical detail. Why do we need to know that? What's the importance of Samson sleeping with a prostitute? Well, we have to remember in Scripture, the idea of loyalty, or in Greek, pistis, that is faith, faithfulness. The idea of loyalty to God or faith to God is usually talked about in a metaphor is being loyal or faithful to God. And so if you prostitute yourself, you've become unfaithful to God, is either talking about the past deeds of Samson being unfaithful to his vow to God as a Nazirite, or foreshadowing what's going to happen in the passage, we read about the cutting of his hair, that he again is being unfaithful to God. And so I understand this idea of him sleeping with a prostitute as metaphorical or a narrative way of saying, here's this guy who's been dedicated to God, yet, he's not upholding his side of the promise. He's being unfaithful to God. And this is going to end in disaster for him. After this, he ends up marrying a second time. And this is the first time a woman associated with Samson has been named. So his mother is not named, his first wife is not named. But now we have this woman named Delilah, who's going to marry Samson. She's going to be tricked, if we will, or peer pressure's going to come upon her to get Samson to tell her why he's so strong, and why the Philistines, time and time again, can't seem to get the upper hand over him, despite him not being faithful to God. So I think that's a good setup. It's a long one, I know. But I think that's a good background for getting into the passage.
Hollie Benton 8:19
So I encourage our listeners to read the entire intriguing story of Samson that you can find in the book of Judges. Here's just a small part near the end of Samson's story before he brings the whole Philistine house down, and with it, his own destruction. "And she said to him, how can you say, I love you when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me wherein your great strength lies. And when she pressed him hard with her words, day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his mind 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 I be shaved, then my strength will leave me and I shall become weak and be like any other man. When Delilah saw that he had told her all his mind, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines saying, Come up this once for he has told me all his mind. Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep upon her knees, and she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him and she said, The Philistines are upon you, Samson. And he awoke from asleep and said, I will go out as at other times and shake myself free. And he did not know that the Lord had left him. And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze fetters and he ground at the mill in the prison." So it seems here that the character of Samson embodies the struggle of Israel as a nation. Before the birth of Samson. We hear, "And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. And the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years." So in many ways, Samson himself was in the hand of the Philistines his entire life, he sought a Philistine wife, even when his parents warned him against such a fatal attraction. And when his wife was not faithful to him, he saw other Philistine harlots and others Philistine women who are constantly trying to gain his trust and allegiance and loyalty, but only to betray him. So in this final scene here with Delilah, Samson is literally blinded by his own attraction, and poor choices towards the Philistine women in whom he trusts. It's as though the Lord is showing Israel, through the character of Samson, their own problem and seeking the security and alliances with their Philistine neighbors, who do not have Israel's best interests in mind. And perhaps the only way to regain strength and to set priorities aright is to bring down the whole sham, just crashing down, even crashing down upon your own head, unto your own judgment and destruction, so that the next generation might have some hope. Fr. Dustin, what else is going on here in the story?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 11:25
So we should mention right before this passage, the Philistines had tried to get Delilah to have Samson tell her why he was so strong. And he gave them three false things. The first one was, if you tie me with new bow strings, think bow and arrow here, then I won't have my strength. And so they try that and of course, it doesn't work. Then he says, well try new rope. And so they try that and it doesn't work. And he basically says, well braid my hair into a web, just think of braided hair. And so they try that and it doesn't work. And then finally he says, Well, it's actually, if you shave my hair, then I'll lose my strength. As you can see, the final vow of a Nazirite that he betrays. And it's interesting that his wife, who is supposed to be loyal to him, right, just as Samson has been disloyal to God, now his own wife is disloyal to him. She betrays him in the same way that Samson has betrayed God himself. As we know, the Philistines blind Samson which I think is symbolic. It's almost as if Samson himself has been blind to God's law, or God's instruction, or the vow that he has made with God. And so Samsung himself is blinded, and I think here physically now to show the way he's been acting, and he's made to tread grain, which is usually women's work, the men would harvest it, the women would tread it. So now you have this very strong, powerful man. So you've got him kind of taken down a notch. But in the end, when they take him into the Philistine temple, to make sacrifices for their victory over Samson, he asked God to give his strength back. And in the end, he knocks the pillars of the temple over, which causes the whole thing to come crashing down. He had killed more Philistines than he's ever killed before. And he also dies himself. You have this contrast on one hand of Samson betraying God, and then his own wife, betraying him. But then, in the end, when he has that prayer and realizes his sin, where he's gone astray, God doesn't abandon him, God gives His strength back to him. We can't say that Samson himself was strong. It's God's strength, so you have this constant idea of betrayal, and who's being faithful to whom, but in the end, God is faithful to what God said he would do. In this case, God's upholding his end of the vow even when humanity doesn't. And this is a theme you see throughout the rest of the Old Testament, even in the end of the redemption of Israel. God redeems Israel. In the New Testament, God does that not because of anything we do, but because God's being faithful to what God said he would do, despite our own failure. And despite the way that we ended up in exile, if I had to take a theme, especially in terms of leadership, the story is about how we betray our own vocations. And in the way that we also are victims of cultural expectations. So here Samson had a vocation. Yet there was these cultural expectations coming against him through his wives, through Delilah, to betray that vocation of being loyal to God, casting out the Philistines out of the land. And he betrays that because of cultural expectations, and it's the same with us. We as Christians are called to follow the path that God has set before us. Or as I say, in my podcasts, we're called to follow the way yet, the way or God's instruction, isn't always the same as what the world wants us to do, or the world's expectations. We have to make a choice. Are we going to be loyal and continue to walk that narrow path or that narrow way? Are we going to go the way the world? And we see when Samson does that, things end up in disaster for him. We also have to remember that if Samson is dedicated to God, he represents Yahweh to the people. When Samson is humiliated, Yahweh Himself is humiliated. That's probably something we don't think about as modern people. Samson, as a Judge in the world represents Yahweh in the world, or Yahweh's power, Yahweh's strength. So when he gets humiliated, he's humiliating God. And so in the end, when God gives His strength back, it's not to redeem Samson, it's to redeem God's honor or God's glory. At the same time, only in Samson's death, does he end up filling his vocation and doing what he's supposed to do. And he makes a sacrifice, if you will. And sacrifice in English means to make sacred. And so he's finally made this vocation sacred through his own death. It's like a Greek tragedy in the end, because Samson himself has to die. Yet within that he's fulfilled his vocation, like Christ, He has given his life for the instruction of God or for the people, he has now undone that betrayal of his vocation. What is our vocation? And how are we following that or not following that?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:14
As you pointed out from the beginning, he's a complete and total disaster, making a mockery of his dedication and all the other elements of his life that he just tosses aside. And his frivolity, whether it's symbolic and metaphoric, as you say, his unfaithfulness, prostitutes, and my question is, what is the writer doing here? And how do you come upon this person who's the ultimate disaster? Not fulfilling his vocation, his call? Not even apparently understanding it very deeply, because it's all trivial. It's all personal. It's all little vendettas. When I hear this, I'm just sort of bewildered. I'm watching a caricature, a satire, okay, I'm watching The Simpsons all over again, making fun of someone. And how does that fit in again, with the whole larger message of the judges, because there's never any progress, okay? There's never any progress. We feel like we are today. I look at the world today and it's just stuck repeating. And it's getting worse, the social political anarchy in our own country, the enormous amounts of just meaningless, vindictive killings, and it just doesn't seem, no one moves. No one learns, no one looks at the past and remembers. The people did not cry out. They don't see their desperation. They don't feel it. But it's as if the Samson story lives it through him that disaster and whatnot. And the tragic end is judgment, you see judgment for everyone, Philistine and Israelites. And so we're left again saying, Hmm, what now? Which means we have to continue reading. This obviously didn't work in this generation, like the wilderness generation. It's a disaster. So as you say, the hope for the future generation, well, maybe then we'll do something different. I know the Bible always gives us hope, okay, for the next generation. But my cynicism just sometimes overwhelms me. My children are gonna be just like me, oh, will it ever end. And let us not lose hope, though, because it's ultimately about God's power.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 18:17
I really liked that wash, rinse and repeat cycle, the circuit keeps repeating itself just in different ways. In case you didn't get it the first time, let me tell it to you again, in a slightly different way to show you your own failure so that it becomes a lesson for you, hopefully, or for, as you say, your children or your grandchildren, not to repeat these mistakes. But there's always hope. There's always hope at the end.
Hollie Benton 18:38
Learn from the destruction, from the hopelessness, from the judgment, not assuming that we'll do any better, but hopefully passing the story along to the next generation so that they might do better than we have demonstrated.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 18:48
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:49
Yeah, even in the New Testament, this technique of exaggerating something to its absurdity. So we cannot pretend we didn't understand it, because even if some first grade kid can see the absurdity and just go crazy about it, because it's absurd, which means if they can see it, we see it, making the point so that we understand. And then be responsible.
Hollie Benton 19:09
Yes, always a chance with these stories to just get our priorities straight. Samson is always an exciting, absurd story.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 19:17
And that's the fun of it, too. Sometimes we get too focused on the New Testament. But some of these Old Testament stories are a lot of fun to read just because of how absurd they become. Yet at the same time, they become a teaching for us that we can keep moving forward.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:30
And his name, the function of his name. It comes from the root word for sun, right? S-U-N.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 19:36
I think it's a joke. Here's this bright shining star. He's supposed to be the big hero that finally solves the problem. He's the last charge, as you pointed out, yet human strength, I guess can't do it. It depends on whose sun is shining, whether it's our own humanity or whether it's God.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:51
Right, right. And I like the Delilah's name. It means delicate.
Hollie Benton 19:56
The nagging delicate flower. Alright, thank you so much, Fr .Dustin.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 20:02
Christ is risen!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 20:04
indeed He is risen
Transcribed by https://otter.ai