Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Judge...Justice...Samson...Really?

The title "Judges" given to the people in the book of Judges can be rather misleading.  Naturally, when we think of the title "Judges," we assume a corresponding sense of justice.  It doesn't take long when reading the book of Judges to question the type of justice meted out.  Frankly, a far more accurate depiction of the judges in the book of Judges would be "warlord."  The judges in Judges are generals, warriors...Genghas Khans.  There isn't much discussion or deliberation over wrongs done in the book of Judges; there is simply war.

Samson is the perfect example of how a judge in Judges is anything but just.  One only has to look at his view of women to see that justice is not high on his priority list.  His first wife was a Philistine woman from the town of Timnah.  Her name is never given, which is just as well considering how tragic her life would become after meeting Samson.  Knowing her name would only make her loss all the more real and human.  Why did Samson want to marry her?  Was it her personality?  Was it her intelligence?  Was it even for prestige or money?  Nope, he found her sexually appealing.

Moving ahead to their wedding, Samson sees an opportunity to make a little wealth on the side by challenging the Philistines to solve an unsolvable riddle.  They agree, after all, there were a bunch of them, and when people put their heads together how hard can a little riddle be?  It doesn't take them long to realize that Samson's riddle isn't a riddle, but rather gibberish, the answer to which only Samson could know.  Cutting out some details, the young men of Timnah finally learn the answer to the riddle by blackmailing Samson's wife.  His response is not to find out what's going on, but rather to accuse his wife of being a whore, saying, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you wold not have found out my riddle."  I'm sure that's what every newly wed bride wants to hear.  He abandons his wife, whose father then gives her to be the wife of the best man.  That's what I'd call a rough day.

But then...harvest season comes around.  I don't know if this was weeks or months later.  It doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that Samson shows up with a baby goat.  "Why a baby goat?" you might ask.  Well, in the ancient world that's how you pay a prostitute for sex.  Now, if we were to read ahead we'd discover that Samson has a thing for prostitutes, so there is a chance that Timnah was, in fact, a prostitute.  But still, showing up out of the blue to consummate a marriage you abandoned with price in hand is rather tacky.

When he approaches the family of his ex-wife does he say, "Hey, dad"?  Does he say, "I'm sorry"?  Does he say, "I've been an idiot"?  No, what he says is, "I want to go into my wife's room."  See, I brought a goat!  The father understandably tells him no, and that, by the way, your wife is now the wife of your best man because you abandoned her you moron.  Samson then throws a temper tantrum and burns all the fields, vineyards, and olive groves around Timnah.  (This also fits with Samson's idea of "justice."  When he lost his bet over the riddle, he murdered 30 people to get what he needed to pay up.)

By the end of the story of Samson and his first wife, the people of Timnah burn his wife and her father alive because of what Samson had done.  Way to go Samson.  As far as loosening the death grip the Philistines had on the surrounding Jews, he was instrumental in breaking their hold, but as far as personal justice or moral fortitude, Samson is a failure.  He wasn't a judge in any modern sense of the word.  He was a warlord, and in his case, an army of one.

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