Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Samson (part 1 of 2)

The story of Samson, interestingly enough, shares a fair number of similarities with that of Jesus, beginning with the fact that His birth was announced by an “angelic messenger” (Judges 13:3).  That announcement included the fact that “the child will be dedicated to God from birth,” and that “He will begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines” (13:5b).  In the Gospel of Luke, the announcement received by Mary is “You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus” (1:31).  The very name “Jesus,” of course means “Jehovah (YHWH) saves,” carrying with it the implication of deliverance, which would have been especially significant in Mary’s day because of the highly anticipated arrival of God’s Messiah that was expected to deliver Israel from the iron grip of Roman subjugation and domination.  This is the first thing that links Samson’s birth announcement very closely with that of Jesus. 

The second link comes at the close of the angelic revelation to Mary, when we hear that the “child to be born will be holy” (1:35b).  “Holy” is the English translation of the Greek word “hagios.”  One of the very best and most simple definitions for “holy” is “laid out on the altar for the exclusive use of God.”  This, of course, speaks of dedication.  Samson was dedicated to God for the deliverance of God’s people, drawing them out of exile through the power of exodus, just as Jesus would be dedicated to the deliverance of God’s people, from the same thing, and by the same power. 

The Samson-and-Jesus-linking birth announcement that we find in Matthew is similar and different.  There, the angelic messenger comes to Joseph.  Rounding out his words to Joseph, the messenger says, “He will save His people from their sins” (1:21b).  Rather than let this fall into the category of personal salvation and personal piety and personal forgiveness, we need to understand that this would have been a well-comprehended statement by Joseph, that it had a corporate reference, and that it was communal first and foremost, an individualistic only secondarily.  The mention of the need for “forgiveness of sins,” quite simply, was a reminder that the people of Israel were, in fact, in exile.  This had been the prevailing condition since Judah’s Babylonian captivity.  There had never been a time, from that time until the time of Joseph, that Israel was not in subjection to a foreign power, and therefore in exile, according to God’s promises in Deuteronomy.  This was also the case at the time of Samson, with that exile, which was a demonstration of God’s controlling power and faithfulness, coming at the hands of the Philistines. 

We can hearken to Solomon’s words from the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 7:14) and rightly conclude that the forgiveness of sins is linked with the healing of the land.  Healing of the land was return from exile, regardless of the form the exile took (whether in subjugation inside the land or outside the land).  While the oft-mentioned and oft-referenced Chronicles statement is quite straightforward, its counterpart in the first book of the Kings is even more clear about the connection between forgiveness of sins, the end of exile, land, and rescue from foreign subjugation.  There, Solomon prays, “The time will come when Your people Israel are defeated by an enemy because they sinned against You.  If they come back to You, renew their allegiance to You, and pray for Your help in this temple, then listen from heaven, forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land You gave to their ancestors” (8:33-34). 

So these angelically delivered words to Matthew are very much in the mold of what was spoken to the mother of Samson, when she heard that her son “will begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines.”  She, along with Mary and Joseph, heard God speaking through the angel, of exile and exodus, pointing to that which represented sin and its forgiveness, as their God was once again, faithfully entering in to history to deliver His people so as to accomplish His purposes and to extend His much wider mission of rescuing from foreign subjugation, and bringing about once and for all, the end of the very notion of exile, ultimately doing so through the exodus of Resurrection power.   

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