Friday, September 4
Psalm 31: The correct sense of Psalm 31 (Greek and Latin 30) is indicated in verse 5: “Into Your hand I commend my spirit.” This verse, according to Luke 23:46, was the final prayer of our Lord from the Cross, and I take it to indicate the proper “voice” of this whole psalm. It is the prayer of “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2), speaking to His Father in the context of His sufferings and death. This psalm is part of His prayer of faith.
In making this psalm our own, we Christians are subsumed into the voice and prayer of Christ. We partake of His own relationship to the Father. No one, after all, knows the Father except the Son and the one “to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). Our only access to God is through Christ and the mediation of His atoning blood. Our incorporation into Christ is the foundation of all our prayer. Only in Christ do we call God our Father. The only prayer that passes beyond the veil, to His very throne, is prayer saturated with the redeeming blood of Christ. This is the prayer that cries out more eloquently than the blood of Abel.
In this psalm, then, the voice of Christ becomes our own voice: “In You, O Lord, I put my trust, let me never be put to shame. Deliver me in Your righteousness. . . . You have redeemed me, Lord God of truth. . . . But I trust in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy. . . . But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say ‘You are my God.’ . . . Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You.” The righteousness of God is our salvation in Christ, “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness” (Rom. 3:25). Likewise, this trust in God is the source of our sanctification, as in the words of the standard Orthodox prayer: “O God . . . who sanctify those who put their trust in You.”
This committing of our souls to God in loving trust is not just one of the various things we do as Christians; it is the essential feature of our life in Christ: “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19).
In this psalm we enter into the sentiments and thoughts of Jesus in His sufferings. We see the Passion “from the inside,” as it were. There is the plot, recorded in the Gospels, to take His life (cf. Mark 3:6; 14:1): “Pull me out of the net that they have secretly laid for me. . . . Fear is on every side; while they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life.” There are the false witnesses rising against Him (cf. Mark 14:55–59): “Let the lying lips be put to silence, which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.” We learn of the flight of His friends and the mockery of His enemies (cf. Mark 14:50; 15:29–32): “I am a reproach among all my enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and am repulsive to my acquaintances; those who see me outside flee from me. I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind.” There is, moreover, that awesome mystery by which God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), “so the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’” (Mark 15:28): “For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.”
The reason that the voice of Christ in His Passion must become our own voice is that His Passion itself provides the pattern for our own lives: “But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues” (Matt. 10:17). “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (24:9). We are to be baptized with His baptism; the bitter cup that He drinks we too are to taste in our own souls. The prayer of His Passion becomes our own, because “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Throughout this psalm there is also an ongoing changing of tenses, back and forth between past and future. We have been redeemed, but we still pray for our final deliverance. Even as we taste the coming enjoyment of God’s eternal presence, hope’s struggle in this world goes on: “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope” (Rom. 8:24).
Saturday, September 5
Psalm 30: This psalm (Greek and Latin 29) bears a curious title that tells us something interesting of this psalm’s use in ancient Judaism: “A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the House of David.”
First, it is ascribed to King David, nor is it difficult to think of him praying this psalm of thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance. After all, David came to the throne of Israel after years of oppression and exile under Saul, and these are the sentiments we would expect on his being delivered from those hard times.
Second, however, besides its individual and personal use in the case of David, this psalm was later sung as part of a communal, liturgical festival celebrated every year—the Dedication (Hanukkah) of the temple. This was a winter feast (cf. John 10:22) dating from 165 B.C., and Jews around the world continue to celebrate it even today, long after their temple has disappeared from history.
This twofold historical use of our psalm already suggests more than one layer of meaning. First, there is the remembrance of David’s years of oppression and exile, followed by a final deliverance: “I will extol you, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my foes rejoice over me.”
But the second half of the title, which tells us of its use at the feast of Hanukkah, indicates its communal use. David’s personal sentiments of gratitude and praise to the redeeming God became incorporated into Israel’s restoration to her temple after years of oppression and strife. This history is narrated in chapters 1—4 of 1 Maccabees. When Antiochus Epiphanes IV came to the throne of Syria in September of 175 B.C., it was the beginning of very hard times for the Chosen People. Their oppression by this ruthless overlord included even the desecration of the temple. At the end of this decade of terror (175–165), when Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the temple at Jerusalem, Israel felt it could now, with unburdened heart, make its own the ancient sentiments of David: “I will extol you, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my foes rejoice over me.”
But both David and the temple were “types” of Him who was to come, and the deeper, truer voice in this psalm is Christ our Lord on the day of the Resurrection: “O Lord, you have brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down into the abyss.” The time of suffering was followed by the morning of the paschal deliverance: “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life.” The dark hour of the Passion (cf. John 13:30) gave way to the dawn of victory.
In the Garden, on the night in which He was betrayed, the Lord had prayed for this deliverance: “You hid Your face, and I was troubled. . . . I cried to You, O Lord; and to the Lord I made supplication: ‘What profit is there in my blood, when I go down into the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me; Lord, be my helper’.”
The New Testament describes that Garden prayer of the Lord “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear” (Heb. 5:7). And on the dawning of the day of Easter victor
y, our psalm refers back to God’s hearing of that vehement prayer of tears: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. . . . You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”
Christ is the true David, the new Israel’s sweet Psalmist, our song-master in the eternal praise of God: “Sing praises to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks to the remembrance of His holy name. . . . To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”
Old Israel’s winter Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) is now the new Israel’s spring feast of Pascha, for Christ is the true Temple, of which St. John wrote: “But I saw no temple in [heaven], for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). When the Lord told His enemies: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” they misunderstood him, not aware that “He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them” (John 2:19–22).
Sunday, September 6
Psalm 98: The latter part of Isaiah, in which the dominant theme is Israel’s return from the Babylonian Captivity, speaks several times of God’s “arm,” a metaphor especially used in conjunction with the noun “salvation” and the adjective “holy” (Is. 40:10; 51:9; 52:10; 53:1; 59:16; 63:5). This robust image of God’s arm, which had first appeared in the Bible in the context of the people’s deliverance from Egypt (cf. Ex. 6:6; 15:16), was thus applied to their return from exile in Babylon. In each case, the redemption of the oppressed was ascribed to the holy flexing of God’s muscle, as it were, on their behalf.
It is significant that the Mother of God summoned this same metaphor to describe God’s definitive historical intervention on behalf of His people: “Holy is His name, / And His mercy is on those who fear Him, / From generation to generation. / He has shown strength with His arm” (Luke 1:49–51). God’s arm in these contexts is an image of His “power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom. 1:4), “the power of God to salvation” (1:16).
The same reference to God’s holy, salvific arm appears several times in Psalms, one example being the opening of Psalm 98 (Greek and Latin 97): “Sing to the Lord a new song, for the Lord has done wondrous things; His right hand and His holy arm have wrought salvation.”
God’s salvation is not simply a thing announced, but a “wrought” reality. In saving us, God truly does certain deeds, “wondrous things,” by which we are redeemed. God saves man by the forceful intrusion of His holiness into man’s history. God’s arm is a metaphor of this irrupting redemptive holiness. In the “wondrous things” of the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, God’s arm invades the processes of human destiny with the outpouring of His own life. Man’s life is thereby given access to the incorruptible life of God.
This, says our psalm, is the substance of the Gospel proclaimed to the nations and peoples of the earth: “The Lord has made known His salvation; unto the nations has He revealed His righteousness. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
The substance of the Gospel, then, is not some theory about God or even some set of norms by which man is to live. At root, the Gospel has absolutely nothing in common with even the highest religious speculations, such as those of the Upanishads, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Lao Tzi, or the Buddha. In the strictest possible sense, beyond all human reckoning or expectation, the Gospel is a “new song,” a radically different voice on the human scene. It is the revelation of God’s holy arm taking charge of man’s history. It is that redemptive, holy activity by which “He has shown strength with His arm.” It is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
Such is the meaning of Theophany, literally “the appearing of God” in man’s history. This appearing of God is not a general and pervasive luminosity to which the human race has a ready and easy access. It is, on the contrary, most particular, very specified with respect to time and place. God has become incarnate only once. Only once has the price of our sins been paid. Only once has He “appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has ordained.” Moreover, “He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Only once has God done all of these “wondrous things.”
Our psalm speaks likewise of this latter judgment of the world by one Man whom He has ordained. “For He comes to judge the earth,” it says, “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with uprightness.” All of human history will, at the last, be summoned before the same Judge whom God has ordained, giving “assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” This single, unique standard of the final judgment is likewise a component of the Gospel itself: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him” (Matt. 25:31, 32).
Particular in the time and place of its appearance, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is nonetheless universal as the canon and measure of man’s destiny, being solely the source of the “knowledge of salvation” (Luke 1:77).
Monday, September 7
Psalm 44: Second Chronicles 20:1–19 describes a special liturgical service at the Jerusalem temple, in which King Jehoshaphat (873–849) led the people in a prayer of lamentation and intercession during a time of great crisis. He also proclaimed a period of fasting, for the plight of the people seemed desperate; their enemies were upon them, and “Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord” (20:4).
There were many such occasions in biblical times, and many more since then, for the enemies of God’s people are both numerous (“My name is Legion; for we are many,” Mark 5:9) and powerful (“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” Eph. 6:12). Indeed, we are continually at war, we children of God, and we sometimes feel simply overwhelmed, almost empty of hope.
Psalm 44 (Hebrew 44) was obviously written for such times: “You have given us as sheep to the slaughter and scattered us among the nations. You have bartered Your people for a pittance and made no profit on the sale.” A useful prayer, this psalm of despondency, because the life of faith is not a sustained, uninterrupted series of triumphs.
The prayer begins, however, with an appeal to Tradition: “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us.” Such an appeal to the lessons of history is, of course, standard in the Bible, for the biblical God is, first and last, “the God of our fathers.” Thus, the message of Genesis has to do with God’s fidelity to Israel’s patriarchs, while Exodus tells of Israel’s redemption by that same patriarchal God. Other historical books of the Bible narrate the continued faithfulness of His promises to an unfaithful people. The prophetic literature, likewise, constantly looks back to God’s redemptive work throughout Israel’s history, as both paradigm and prophecy of what He will do for His people in the future.
A similar note is sounded strongly in the Wisdom literature of the Bible. The Book of Proverbs, for instance, is forever appealing to the moral lessons of history, that complex of disciplines and standards learned by experience, prescribed by the authority of Tradition and handed down through succeeding generations. In this case too, biblical religi
on is essentially an inherited religion, and its Lord is “the God of our fathers.”
Tradition is also the note on which our psalm begins, then, almost its entire first half being taken up with a review of past experience. But God is not only the God of the patriarchs in the past; He is also our own God, one and the same: “You are my king and my God, You who command victories for Jacob.”
Then suddenly the psalm’s tone changes, for the reassuring lessons from the past are now being put sternly to the test: “But You have cast us off and put us to shame. You no longer march forth with our armies; You have turned us back from the foe, and our enemies plunder us at will.”
The situation here may be likened to that of Job. He too had ever endeavored to be pleasing to the God of the fathers, steadfastly following the high moral precepts handed down from authorities of old. If one reads carefully what is said of Job in the first chapter of the book that bears his name, it is clear that he is a perfect embodiment of the traditional prescriptive norms treated in Proverbs and Israel’s other wisdom literature.
Thus, when Job is undeservedly afflicted, his sentiments are very much what we find here in our psalm—shock, surprise, and disappointment. He complains to God, very much as this psalm complains: “You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, a derision and scorn to those about us.” Such is the prayer of those who, like Job, feel overwhelmed by the sense that, in spite of His salvific deeds in the past and His promises for the future, God has simply forgotten. There are days when, if we are believers at all, we can only be described as “men of little faith.”
Psalm 44 is the prayer of an individual, or a people, being sorely tried with respect to faith. Were it not for such experiences of being abandoned by God, there would be no test for the important proposition that the just man lives by faith. Whatever the trial (and its possible forms are manifold), it is finally the voice of faith—albeit, little faith—that prevails in this psalm. We pray to the Lord with those other men that our Lord describes as “of little faith,” the frightened disciples on the stormy lake: “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Rise up, and do not cast us off forever. . . . Arise and come to our help; deliver us for the sake of Your name.”
From Romans 8:35, 36 we know how the Apostle Paul prayed this psalm, seeing in its lament a reflection of the sufferings in his own soul by reason of his fidelity to Christ: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: /‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; / We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’“
Tuesday, September 8
Luke 5:17-26: In all three Synoptic Gospels, the healing of the paralytic (Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26) is followed immediately by the calling of the tax collector and the Lord’s eating with sinners (Matthew 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17; Luke 5:27–32). This common sequence of the two narratives probably reflects an early preaching pattern, explained by the fact that both stories deal with the same theme: Jesus’ relationship to sin and sinners. The paralytic was healed, after all, “that you may know that the Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sins,” and the point of the second story is that “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Thus, the most significant thing about the paralytic is not his paralysis, but his “sins,” so this is what Jesus addresses first. Indeed, even when He heals the paralysis, Jesus does so in order to demonstrate His authority over the man’s sins. In what He does in this scene, then, Jesus inserts Himself between God and the man, speaking to the man with God’s authority. It is not without significance that all three versions of the story also include the detail that Jesus could, like God, read His accusers’ inner thoughts.
In each of the three Synoptic Gospels, moreover, the Lord’s claim to authority over sin here becomes the first occasion on which His enemies accuse Him of blasphemy. This is significant too, because at His judicial process before the Sanhedrin, blasphemy will be the crime of which He is accused. In a sense, then, Jesus’ trial begins with His healing of the paralytic, because even His enemies recognize this scene as the occasion on which He forcefully claims divine authority.
This more dramatic aspect of the account is perhaps clearest in the versions of Mark and Luke, where it is the first of five conflict stories that cast an ominous cloud over Jesus’ activity through the rest of those Gospels (Mark 2:1—3:5; Luke 5:17—6:11). In Mark’s rendering, furthermore, the resolve to “destroy” Jesus is explicitly taken at the end of this sequence (3:5).
In all three Synoptic Gospels, the paralytic becomes the “type” of the sinner. He is helpless, carried by others because he cannot carry himself. He is utterly in need of mercy above all things. Indeed, even his forgiveness and his cure are not credited to his own faith. All three accounts mention that the Lord sees the faith, not of the paralytic, but of the men who support him.
Even functioning as a literary and theological type, however, this paralytic is certainly not reduced to an abstraction. Indeed, because of the detail of the removal of the roof (in Mark and Luke) in order to lower the paralytic down into Jesus’ presence, still dangling between earth and heaven, this is one of the more colorful and unforgettable scenes in the Gospels.
Wednesday, September 9
Judges 12: Jephthe is not the first Judge to have trouble with the Ephraemites (verses 1-7). We recall Gideon’s earlier difficulties with them.
Here they threaten to burn down Jephthe’s house, the very house from which he recently saw exit his now mourned daughter. This is the house that the Ephraemites threaten to burn down. This threat was not a proposition crafted to bring out the gentleman in Jephthe. It showed bad judgment.
It was also bad timing. Not having gone to battle before; the Ephraemites are ready to fight after the fight is over. The Lord had given victory anyway, and the Ephraemites had not been part of the victory. Now they threaten the very man through whom the Lord gave the victory. They are the classical troublemakers, itching for a fight after the fighting is done.
Ever the man of peace, by preference, Jephthe endeavored to reason with these fools, as he had earlier attempted with the Ammonites. The Ephraemites, however, under the impulse of an irrational jealousy, refuse to act moderately or listen to reason.
The Jordan River, which divides the Ephraemites from most of Israel, is also the place of a linguistic divide, which will prove to make it, in the present context, a place of judgment. It is as a place of judgment that the Jordan River will later be the site of the preaching of John the Baptist.
Ephraem never learned its lesson. Never. Having resisted Gideon and Jephthe, it would resist David and rebel against Solomon. The Lord would later use the Assyrian army, under Sargon II, to take care of the problem.
And then Jephthe dies (verses 8-15). Why does Holy Scripture tell us that he died? Obviously it is not something that we doubt, so why mention it? Indeed, of some of the Judges we know precious little more than the fact that they died, so why bother with saying so?
The reason is theological. Each of these men was a deliverer of his people. Yet each of them died. Their deliverance, therefore, was temporary. In each case, death got the last word. That is to say, death still ruled. The mortality brought into the world by Adam’s offense still prevailed. Of not a single one of these men was it said that they rose again. In every instance, death was finally victorious over life. That is the real difference between the New Testam
ent and the Old.
It is also the reason why burial sites are mentioned. Tombs are memorials. Men look upon them and are reminded of that supreme humiliation called death. This is why tombs are prominent in the Bible. They stand in eloquent testimony that something is very wrong in human life. Tombstones are the standing reminders of, the perpetual witnesses to, the fall of Adam. This is why, like the Ten Commandments, they are normally made of stone. They are stone because they testify to a hard fact, a fact you can lean on, and it will not give way.
But tombstones are also witnesses to man’s hope. Besides the past to which they refer, they point to the future and the Resurrection.
Thursday, September 10
Judges 13: We now come to Samson, whose great physical strength made him one of the most memorable characters in Holy Scripture. If (as I have argued elsewhere) Jacob is the Semitic equivalent of the classical Odysseus, we may think of Samson as the Semitic parallel to the classical Hercules. In both cases, their stories form a series of “feats.” Indeed, St. Augustine testifies how easy it was for his contemporaries to confuse the two: “. . . there was also the Judge of the Hebrews, Samson, who, because he was so marvelously strong, has been thought to be Hercules”— erat et Hebraeorum judex Samson, qui cum mirabiliter fortis esset, putatus est Hercules (The City of God, 18:19).
Up till now, whenever the Book of Judges spoke of the political oppression of the Israelites, the text invariably went on to say that Israel repented and turned to the Lord. Not here, however. There is no mention of repenting or turning to the Lord. Israel no longer has the ability even to repent. Israel has hit rock bottom, and all human hope is gone verse 1).
In this chapter we observe that God speaks to the woman first, not Manoah (verses 2-7). Earlier, we recall, God spoke first to Rebekah, not Isaac (Genesis 25).
The message of the angel to Manoah’s wife touches on the biblical theme of the barren woman (cf. Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, et aliae. The introduction of this theme continues the note of despair with which the chapter began.
We bear in mind that all three of the “permanent Nazirites” in the Bible (Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist) were born of seemingly barren women. Each of these mothers is a kind of new Eve, receiving God’s promise in the midst of her own sense of inadequacy.
The second visitation (verses 9-10) reinforces the fact that the message was for the woman. The angel ‘deliberately’ appears when Manoah is absent. When questioned by Manoah (verse 12), the angel responds that he has already said all he has to say—to the woman! (verse 13) Manoah is the nervous questioner, but all the needful information had already been conveyed in the first apparition. There is nothing to add. The angel simply repeats what he had said before, and this time with less detail (verse 14).
The angel is not going to explain himself. He was sent to earth to convey a promise and a command, not to give a news flash. He was proclaiming God’s plan of redemption and man’s place in that plan. The salvific initiative is God’s. The proper response to the message is obedience, not curiosity for more details.
Manoah, that is to say, is like the rest of the Israelites. None of them have been serving God and seeking His will. But now that God proposes a plan for deliverance, Manoah is full of questions and curiosity. He wants a more active role in the plan. There isn’t one. God does not need Manoah. God is not interested in Manoah’s questions and curiosities.
Manoah is a curious combination of audacious, inquisitive, controlling, and superstitious. Only such a man will get out of line with an archangel. (Compare Zachary in Luke 1)
Manoah is also not a quick learner (verses 15-23). Having heard the Lord’s message, he now wants to deal with the Lord’s messenger. Manoah is spiritually insensitive. Indeed, given how dangerous it can be to deal with the biblical God, Manoah is let off pretty easy. He is not struck dead like Uzzah!
But what does Manoah accomplish? At the end of the scene he knows no more than he did at the beginning. God had given as much information as was required. This second apparition of the angel served only to point out Manoah’s limitations more clearly.
Manoah’s attitude was not unique. On the contrary, he was typical of his own culture, which was shallow, audacious, recklessly inquisitive, and deeply superstitious.
In these respects, Manoah’s inherited religious culture was a great deal like our own. Our own culture too knows very little of the biblical God. It is highly subjective, pretentious, and insensitive to the presence of holiness. It craves quick and easy answers to deep and impossibly complex questions. It is a generation disposed to wear its shoes at the Burning Bush. And what does God do with such a generation? He sends someone like Samson to knock some heads together.
The name Samson (verse 24) is a derivative of shemesh, meaning “sun.” Indeed, Samson resembles the sun as described in Psalm 19: “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; he rejoices as a giant to run his course.” The very next chapter will describe Samson as a bridegroom. In fact, after strong man, bridegroom is the description of Samson most easily remembered.
Friday, September 11
Judges 14: It is significant, surely, that all three stories about Samson have to do with women. His addiction to women is Samson’s tragic flaw. It would be easy enough to blame the women, I suppose, but that would be missing the point. The problem is Samson’s.
This first story about Samson (verses 1-4) concerns his projected marriage to a Philistine woman, and we recall that the previous chapter began by describing Israel’s bondage to the Philistines. Samson’s fascination with this Philistine woman, then, symbolizes Israel’s fascination with the surrounding paganism, a fascination that in each case leads to blindness and death.
As a consecrated Nazirite, Samson represents Israel’s higher calling and dedication to the true God in true worship. His failure to live according to that higher calling is symbolic of Israel’s failure.
Samson’s parents mention that Israelites are not supposed to marry pagans, but the inspired author speaks of God’s own plan, even in this deviation from the Law. All of Samson’s career, including his sins, will be under the influence of Divine Providence. Through all of it, God will bring good out of evil.
A strong man, but also a very weak man, Samson is an ironical figure. Ultimately his victory over the Philistines will involve both his weakness and his strength.
The blindness of Samson, however, begins very early in the story. In a sense, indeed, Samson starts out blind, long before the Philistines gouge out his eyes. Through this whole account Samson seems to be walking in the darkness. No matter. God knows where the story is going.
The story of the lion (verses -9) invites a comparison between Samson and David., both of whom fought against Philistines. The latter are symbolized in the lion. David, before he killed the Philistine Goliath, first killed the lion. Samson, before he takes on the Philistines, kills a lion with his bare hands.
This is why the Spirit of the Lord came down on Samson, as the Spirit of the Lord will descend on him in the next chapter. The roaring of the lion will be matched by the shouting of the Philistines. Samson will tear the binding cords apart, just as he tore the lion apart.
The killing of the lion, then, symbolizes Samson’s vocation. Indeed, Samson’s own tribe, Dan, was liked to a lion: “Dan is a lion’s whelp that leaps forth from Bashan” (Deuteronomy 33:22).
Once the lion is dead, the bees build their hive in its carcass. This symbolizes the Holy Land itself, flowing with milk and honey. What is this honey? It is th
e tasting of God’s Law, which the Psalter describes a sweeter than honey. This honey is the fruit of Samson’s victory over the lion. It is the result of his combat with the lion.
Samson will use this incident to stump the Philistines. That is to say, he perceives the incident to involve a riddle, or mystery. There is a mystery in the lion and the honey that lies beyond the comprehension of his enemies.
The honey in the carcass is symbolic also of Samson himself, who will be victorious in his defeat. Sweetness will come from his death.
Samson’s first contest with the Philistines (verses 12-14) will not be a test of muscles but of brains. He will attempt to outwit them, as Moses had done with the Philistines.
Alas, Samson the riddler does something not very bright. He is deceived by the woman, and this is Samson’s first experience of betrayal. The real treachery, on the other hand, comes from Samson’s own emotions. He loses control. He is betrayed by his feelings. Had he maintained control over his emotions, the woman would never have deceived him. The man who cannot control himself can hope to control nothing else.
The wedding feast ends badly.