Samson’s childhood is completely passed over. He is born at the end of chapter 13, and at the beginning chapter 14, he is looking for a wife. Samson, though he will be used mightily by God, is a lot like the people around him. He is self-centered and cares little for the things of God. He sees a beautiful Philistine woman, and instead of thinking at all about laws against intermarriage and purity, he insists on marrying her. Instead of marrying a woman who is right in God’s eyes, he finds someone who is “right [in his own] eyes”. And yet, the sovereign Lord used it for the good of his people, since the Philistines ruled over the Israelites at this time. It was “from the LORD.”
Samson is a Nazirite, meaning he is barred from coming in contact with dead animals or humans. However, on his journey to his new wife, he becomes hungry and eats wild honey out of the carcass of a lion. Having a laissez fare attitude toward his vow will be a common theme throughout his life.
The other Philistines do not want one of their women to marry Samson, either, so they try to intimidate him. He poses a riddle to them to show how much smarter he is than them. When they can’t figure it out, they ask Samson’s wife to find out and tell them. She cries and cries until he tells her, and of course, she tells the other men. But because they “plowed with [his] heifer,” he has to give them what he promised. Essentially, he’s so mad that he takes his ball and goes home, leaving his wife behind. She ends up marrying his best man in Samson’s absence. Solomon’s character will be one marked by an inability to control his tongue around the wrong kind of women.
In a kind of act of treachery, some of his fellow Judahites cave to the pressures of the Philistines living in the land. The Philistines want Samuel gone, so some 3000 Jews convince Samson to let them bind him with new ropes and deliver him over to the Philistines. When he arrives to Lehi to meet the Philistines, he rips off the ropes, grabbed the jawbone of a donkey (which was another infraction of his Nazirite vow), and killed 1000 Philistines. To strike them “hip and thigh” likely means to be the stronger of the two parties and to completely take them down. Keep in mind that Samson’s strength comes from keeping the Nazirite vow. Though he has broken the prohibition against touching anything dead, he still refuses to drink alcohol or cut his hair…so far.
Enter Delilah. A beautiful woman has blinded Samson to the dangers around him. And again, she is a Philistine, which the Philistines use against Samson. The root of Samson’s strength remains a mystery to the Philistines. But if they can get to Delilah, they can get to Samson.
The whole time, every instance of deception, the Lord was with Samson. His strength did not leave him. Samsons toys with the Philistines, even offering the idea of using the same ropes as the Jews had tried using. He almost gave up the answer when he told her weave his hair into seven webs. But when another component of his Nazirite vow was broken, his hair being cut, his strength was gone. Delilah uses her feminine wares to entice Samson to spill the beans.
Once his hair was cut and his strength was gone, the Philistines bound him and grouped out his eyes. He was a prisoner now, working in the mill.
When the Philistines gather to make a sacrifice to the local deity, they want Samson to be the night’s entertainment. During his time in prison, his hair began to grow, in fulfillment of his vow. As his strength is returning, he prays to God that he might do in his death what he did not do in his life: save Israel. Or at least, he wants to punish the Philistines. He has one of the men help him find a pillar, he reaches out to touch another one, and in his great strength he pushes the pillars down, collapsing the structure. He may have killed thousands of Philistines during his life, but he killed more at the worship of a false god in his death. All in all, he served as a judge for twenty years.
Chapter 17 begins a new section of the book. The whole idea of the final chapters is just how wretched Israel has become. Basically, all imaginable religious corruption was going on, exemplified in a man named Micah. He tempts a priest to essentially be his chaplain, performing all his normal priestly duties for him and his household.
By way of reminder, the Levites did not have tribal lands of their own, as every other tribe did. They had special cities inside those tribal lands so that priests would be around the people to teach them. However, Bethlehem, where Micah lives, is not one of those Levitical cities. It’s unclear as to why the priest is even there.
Even at this point, not every tribe had taken possession of their tribal land set out by Moses. One of those tribes is Dan. As a group of Danites are getting a sense of their allotment, they run across Micah and the Levite living with him. But instead of correcting the Levite, they ask him for a word from God about their success. Once that small group returns with their report, 600 Danites go up to take the land. They also come back across Micah and the Levite. This time, you think they’re going to rid Micah’s house of the idolatry going on inside. However, now these 600 men want the Levite to be their priest. We’re then told that after they conquer the people, they set up Micah’s idols and worship them “until the day of the captivity of the land” (18:30). A whole tribe of Israelites would be idolaters until God finally removes them from the land.
But don’t worry, things still get worse. Not only was there a priest willing to practice idolatry for one whole tribe, but there was another Levite wondering around with a concubine. He marries her, they get into a little spat, and she leaves him to go stay with her father for a time. The Levite finally goes to his father-in-law’s to get her. After staying for about a week, the Levite and his wife return home. Dusk is drawing nigh, and they settle for the night in the town square of Gibeah because no one will house them for the night.
One kindly old man welcomes them into his house. What follows is almost a shot-for-shot remake of Lot in Sodom. The men of the town want to have sex with the priest, and the old man who owns the house offers his virgin daughter and the priest’s concubine. The men take the concubine and do wicked things to her. She tries to get back in the house, but the priest and the old man don’t let her in. After all that’s been done to her, she dies at the old man’s front door.
The priest takes her body back home, cuts her body into twelve pieces, and sends the various pieces to the tribes of Israel. This sparks a civil war among the tribes, all against Benjamin (where Gibeah, the site of rape and murder, is located). After a few failed attempts, the men of the tribe of Benjamin are nearly wiped out. This kind of thing had only been commanded against people like the Canaanites. It’s unclear if God commanded the annihilation, but it happened nevertheless. However, annihilation was the same fate promised for Sodom and Gomorrah for similar practices.
The Israelites are somewhat regretful that one whole tribe might cease to exist. Their solution is to bring women from Jabesh-gilead to be wives for the remaining Benjaminites. No one from Jabesh-gilead came to fight against Benjamin, so that is there punishment.
Throughout the last sections of Judges, you find this phrase or some version of it over and over again: “There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” You read this from the time of Samson forward. Whenever the people, whether ancient or modern, reject the word of the Lord, we will necessarily do what is right in our own eyes. The people do in fact need a king. God was supposed to fill that role, but the people reject him time and time again. There will come a king who will lead his people into all righteousness, but there be a succession of wicked kings before him.
Ruth 1-4 (the entire book)
Ruth is set during the same period of the book of Judges. That whole time period of a series of difficult circumstances for the people, all because of their unfaithfulness. But whenever they seek God’s wisdom and trust in his providence, they take the land and are successful in all they do.
Some Jewish traditions say that Samuel wrote the book of Ruth. That’s possible, but it’s equally unlikely since the author talks about David becoming king, which took place after Samuel died. However, Samuel did anoint David to be a future king, so it’s also possible that Samuel is simply speaking prophetically. Either way, the book comes to us as anonymous.
The book tries to show how Israel is one nation, but there are divisions already stewing. The books seems to be an attempt at unification. A woman has two sons who marry Moabite women. After Naomi’s husband and two sons die, one of the Moabites leaves, and the other, Ruth, stays.
Ruth refuses to leave her helpless mother-in-law. It’s a great act of kindness, and they have a better chance at survival together than apart. When Ruth is introduced to Boaz, he has no obligation to her since she is a Moabite and because there is another man ahead of him who has rights to her dead father-in-law’s property. But in his kindness, she pursues the legal avenues to help both Ruth and Naomi. He will keep the land in the family, and he will give his brother’s family children (even though they actually come through Ruth, not Naomi).
In contrast to the book of Judges, Ruth ends on a positive, hopeful note. Instead of, “There was no king in Israel,” Ruth ends by giving us the genealogy of the first rightful king of Israel. God made promises to Abraham about that ensured there would be kings in his offspring. Ruth is the first real sense that that promise is about to come true.
Chapter 21 is another retelling of the Olivet discourse, or the teaching concerning the end of the age and Christ’s return. All of the same components are there: foretelling of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, wars and rumors of wars, the coming of the Son of Man, and a call to be spiritually alert. To read more about this, see the posts on Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13.
The plot to kill Jesus thickens. The Passover is close, and the religious leaders know that this is their chance. They have to move quickly and quietly, because the crowds still like Jesus as a teacher.
Judas prepares his betrayal. Luke notes that “Satan entered into Judas” (22:3). Judas had a pattern of disbelief. He resented Jesus’ behavior toward money. He disagreed with Jesus’ methods. So, much in the same way that Pharaoh hardened his own heart before God hardened his heart, Judas has hardened his own heart long before Satan entered his heart.
During the final Passover, there are a couple of differences between Matthew and Mark, both of which are explained by the author’s intent. Luke has arranged much of his gospel by topic instead of on a thorough timeline. The final Passover meal is no different.
Some have said that there are two cups of wine in this telling of the Lord’s Supper (a true Passover Seder had several cups of wine, each with its own significance). At a close reading, however, all Jesus does is have the disciples divide the wine before having them drink it after the bread. He does not tell them to drink it before giving them the bread. The order of the Passover is the same as Matthew and Mark.
The Passover symbolizes the exodus from Egypt, which included a sacrificial lamb whose blood was spread on the doorposts and lintel with a branch of hyssop. By Jesus saying “This is by body” and “This cup…is the new covenant in my blood”, he is looking back at the sacrificial lamb and saying that he is the fulfillment of those sacrifices. And when he tells us to do it to remember him, there is no sense in which the bread and the wine change into anything else. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal. Of course, Christ is spiritually present, which he promises at the Great Commission in Matthew 28.
After their meal, the disciples argue about who will be the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus confronts this misguided idea head on. If you want to be great, run as fast as you can to the nearest place you can serve. Don’t trust anyone who demands titles, exceptions, and recognition. That’s the way the Gentiles run their lives; God’s people are to stand out and in contrast to the world.
Jesus then tells Peter that although Satan wanted Peter in the same way he wanted Judas, Jesus prayed for him. And the Son of God’s prayers never fail to be heard by the Father. With such a glorious truth, Peter responds that he will never fail Jesus, either. It’s a lovely sentiment, but our faith is frail. Jesus will not lose us, but if it were possible, we would lose him. Before morning, Peter will do exactly that three different times.
As they leave the meal and go to the Mount of Olives, Jesus prays. Luke records that an angel came to Jesus and strengthened him. The cup that Jesus mentions is an Old Testament image of God’s wrath. That cup is filled with God’s righteous anger at our unrighteousness and rebellion. But instead of that cup eventually being poured out on us, Jesus is going to have that cup poured out on himself, instead.
Jesus warns the disciples about the temptations coming their way. They will be tempted to reject Jesus as the crowds turn against him. Instead of sleeping, they should be in ardent prayer. In prayer, God gives us strength to overcome trials and temptations. We make our faces like stone, ready to approach anything that comes out way. We all know the temptations we will face; therefore, we should prepare ourselves in prayer beforehand. We do not wait to buy a spare tire when we are broken down on the side of the road. We make sure our spare tire is inflated and in the trunk.
Judas brings his mob with him to arrest Jesus. Jesus says the first words, calling out the betrayal. Jesus has never done any violence to anyone, but here he is being approached and arrested as if he’s a murderer.
Jesus’s word comes true, and Peter runs and denies knowing him. As he is being tried, the crowds mock Jesus. Luke makes it clear that while Jesus will be charged with blasphemy, the blasphemy is coming from the crowd.
The Sanhedrin convenes a couple of time to charge Jesus with blasphemy. That’s a charge worthy of death to the Jews, but Rome has not permitted anyone to carry out a capital punishment except Roman officials. Pilate is their only hope in killing Jesus. Since Jesus is from Galilee, Pilate doesn’t want bothered with him and sends him to Herod, who has Galilee in his jurisdiction. As a joke, Herod dresses Jesus up as a king and sends him back to Herod. Pilate is fed up, and he finally decides to have Jesus get roughed up a little and released.
The only outcome good enough for the people is Jesus’ death. They demand Pilate release another man, Barabbas. Jesus must be crucified, or there will be an even bigger mob. Pilate is still accountable to Rome, and he can’t have a revolution on his hands. In fear, Pilate permits the Roman soldiers to crucify Jesus. Luke even remarks how the crowd was perfectly content to release someone justly imprisoned for murder and insurrection but couldn’t stand the sight of Jesus living another day.
He is led to the site of his crucifixion. There are some women, presumably disciples, who are mourning his death. He tells them that they haven’t seen anything yet. If Rome will kill a sinless man, what will they do to you? He is then crucified with two other men, both criminals. One mocks Jesus as most others have so far. However, only because of divine providence, the second criminal asks Jesus to remember him, recognizing his kingship. And of course, Jesus turns away none who come to him in faith. Jesus will remember this man.
From noon to 3:00pm, the sky went dark. The curtain of the temple was torn in two. There were two curtains in the temple, but the most likely candidate was the temple blocking access to the Holy of Holies. After the curtain was torn, Jesus yelled, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, quoting Psalm 31:5. While Luke only records a couple of the sayings of Jesus while on the cross, when combing all of the other gospels, we find that Jesus quoted many Psalms during his crucifixion.
At his death, the people realize what they have done. Regret and repentance are two different things. Only the centurion praised God. The crowd considered his death a “spectacle”, and they regretted what they had done. Regret does not repentance make.
Joseph of Arimathea was noted to be a good, wealthy man who did not vote to send Jesus to Pilate. He asked Pilate if he could bury Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. His tomb was freshly cut. This fulfills Isaiah 53:9, which says that the suffering servant would be buried with or by a rich man. When the women found out where the tomb was, they went home and prepared the burial spices. They would now have to wait until the end of the Sabbath to do their final act of adoration. Or so they think.
Psalm 86: There is no one like our gracious, merciful God.
Psalm 87: One day, every nation will recognize your greatness, God.
Psalm 88: People may reject me, but the Lord never leaves me.
Psalm 89: Creation will sing of your greatness forever.
Psalm 90: God has always been our help in ages past.