Here, I. Samson, under the extraordinary guidance of Providence, seeks an occasion of quarrelling with the Philistines, by joining in affinity with them—a strange method, but the truth is Samson was himself a riddle, a paradox of a man, did that which was really great and good, by that which was seemingly weak and evil, because he was designed not to be a pattern to us (who must walk by rule, not by example), but a type of him who, though he knew no sin, was made sin for us, and appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh, that he might condemn and destroy sin in the flesh, Rom. 8:3.
1. As the negotiation of Samson’s marriage was a common case, we may observe, (1.) That is was weakly and foolishly done of him to set his affections upon a daughter of the Philistines; the thing appeared very improper. Shall one that is not only an Israelite, but a Nazarite, devoted to the Lord, covet to become one with a worshipper of Dagon? Shall one marked for a patriot of his country match among those that are its sworn enemies? He saw this woman (Jdg. 13:1), and she pleased him well, Jdg. 13:3. It does not appear that he had any reason to think her wise or virtuous, or in any way likely to be a help-meet for him; but he saw something in her face that was very agreeable to his fancy, and therefore nothing will serve but she must be his wife. He that in the choice of a wife is guided only by his eye, and governed by his fancy, must afterwards thank himself if he find a Philistine in his arms. (2.) Yet it was wisely and well done not to proceed so much as to make his addresses to her till he had first made his parents acquainted with the matter. He told them, and desired them to get her for him to wife, Jdg. 13:2. Herein he is an example to all children. Conformably to the law of the fifth commandment, children ought not to marry, nor to move towards marrying, without the advice and consent of their parents; those that do (as bishop Hall here expresses it) wilfully unchild themselves, and exchange natural affections for violent. parents have a property in their children as parts of themselves. In marriage this property is transferred; for such is the law of the relation that a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife. It is therefore not only unkind and ungrateful, but very unjust, to alienate this property without their concurrence; whoso thus robbeth his father or mother, stealing himself from them, who is nearer and dearer to them than their goods, and yet saith, It is no transgression, the same is the companion of a destroyer, Prov. 28:24. (3.) His parents did well to dissuade him from yoking himself thus unequally with unbelievers. Let those who profess religion, but are courting an affinity with the profane and irreligious, matching into families where they have reason to think the fear of God is not, nor the worship of God, let them hear their reasoning, and apply it to themselves: “Isa. there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or, if none of our tribe, never a one among all thy people, never an Israelite, that pleases thee, or that thou canst think worthy of thy affection, that thou shouldest marry a Philistine?” In the old world the sons of God corrupted and ruined themselves, their families, and that truly primitive church, by marrying with the daughters of men, Gen. 6:2. God had forbidden the people of Israel to marry with the devoted nations, one of which the Philistines were, Deut. 7:3. (4.) If there had not been a special reason for it, it certainly would have been improper in him to insist upon his choice, and in them to agree to it at last. Yet their tender compliance with his affections may be observed as an example to parents not to be unreasonable in crossing their children’s choices, nor to deny their consent, especially to those that have seasonably and dutifully asked it, without some very good cause. As children must obey their parents in the Lord, so parents must not provoke their children to wrath, lest they be discouraged. This Nazarite, in his subjection to his parents, asking their consent, and not proceeding till he had it, was not only an example to all children, but a type of the holy child Jesus, who went down with his parents to Nazareth (thence called a Nazarene) and was subject to them, Luke 2:51.
2. But this treaty of marriage is expressly said to be of the Lord, Jdg. 13:4. Not only that God afterwards overruled it to serve his designs against the Philistines, but that he put it into Samson’s heart to make this choice, that he might have occasion against the Philistine. It was not a thing evil in itself for him to marry a Philistine. It was forbidden because of the danger of receiving hurt by idolaters; where there was not only no danger of that kind, but an opportunity hoped for of doing that hurt to them which would be good service to Israel, the law might well be dispense with. It was said (Jdg. 13:25) that the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times, and we have reason to think he himself perceived that Spirit to move him at this time, when he made this choice, and that otherwise he would have yielded to his parents’ dissuasives, nor would they have consented at last if he had not satisfied them it was of the Lord. This would bring him into acquaintance and converse with the Philistines, by which he might have such opportunities of galling them as otherwise he could not have. It should seem, the way in which the Philistines oppressed Israel was, not by great armies, but by the clandestine incursions of their giants and small parties of their plunderers. In the same way therefore Samson must deal with them; let him but by this marriage get among them, and he would be a thorn in their sides. Jesus Christ, having to deliver us from this present evil world, and to cast out the prince of it, did himself visit it, though full of pollution and enmity, and, by assuming a body, did in some sense join in affinity with it, that he might destroy our spiritual enemies, and his own arm might work the salvation.
II. Samson, by a special providence, is animated and encouraged to attack the Philistines. That being the service for which he was designed, God, when he called him to it, prepared him for it by two occurrences:—
1. By enabling him, in one journey to Timnath, to kill a lion, Jdg. 13:5, 6. Many decline doing the service they might do because they know not their own strength. God let Samson know what he could do in the strength of the Spirit of the Lord, that he might never be afraid to look the greatest difficulties in the face. David, who was to complete the destruction of the Philistines, must try his hand first upon a lion and a bear, that thence he might infer, as we may suppose Samson did, that the uncircumcised Philistine should be as one of them, 1 Sam. 17:36. (1.) Samson’s encounter with the lion was hazardous. It was a young lion, one of the fiercest sort, that set upon him, roaring for his prey, and setting his eye particularly upon him; he roared in meeting him, so the word is. He was all alone in the vineyards, whither he had rambled from his father and mother (who kept the high road), probably to eat grapes. Children consider not how they expose themselves to the roaring lion that seeks to devour when, out of a foolish fondness for liberty, they wander from under the eye and wing of their prudent pious parents. Nor do young people consider what lions lurk in the vineyards, the vineyards of red wines, as dangerous as snakes under the green grass. Had Samson met with this lion in the way, he might have had more reason to expect help both from God and man than here in the solitary vineyards, out of his road. But there was a special providence in it, and the more hazardous the encounter was, (2.) The victory was so much the more illustrious. It was obtained without any difficulty: he strangled the lion, and tore his throat as easily as he would have strangled a kid, yet without any instrument, not only no sword nor bow, but not so much as a staff or knife; he had nothing in his hand. Christ engaged the roaring lion, and conquered him in the beginning of his public work (Matt. 4:1-11), and afterwards spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them in himself, as some read it, not by any instrument. He was exalted in his own strength. That which added much to the glory of Samson’s triumph over the lion was that when he had done this great exploit he did not boast of it, did not so much as tell his father nor mother that which many a one would soon have published through the whole country. Modesty and humility make up the brightest crown of great performances.
2. By providing him, the next journey, with honey in the carcase of this lion, Jdg. 13:8, 9. When he came down the next time to solemnize his nuptials, and his parents with him, he had the curiosity to turn aside into the vineyard where he had killed the lion, perhaps that with the sight of the place he might affect himself with the mercy of that great deliverance, and might there solemnly give thanks to God for it. It is good thus to remind ourselves of God’s former favours to us. There he found the carcase of the lion; the birds or beasts of prey, it is likely, had eaten the flesh, and in the skeleton a swarm of bees had knit, and made a hive of it, and had not been idle, but had there laid up a good stock of honey, which was one of the staple commodities of Canaan; such plenty there was of it that the land is said to flow with milk and honey. Samson, having a better title than any man to the hive, seizes the honey with his hands. This supposes an encounter with the bees; but he that dreaded not lion’s paws had no reason to fear their stings. As by his victory over the lion he was emboldened to encounter the Philistine-giants, if there should be occasion, notwithstanding their strength and fierceness, so by dislodging the bees he was taught not to fear the multitude of the Philistines; though they compassed him about like bees, yet in the name of the Lord he should destroy them, Ps. 118:12. Of the honey he here found, (1.) He ate himself, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for the dead bones of an unclean beast had not that ceremonial pollution in them that the bones of a man had. John Baptist, that Nazarite of the New Testament, lived upon wild honey. (2.) He gave to his parents, and they did eat; he did not eat all himself. Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, and no more, Prov. 25:16. He let his parents share with him. Children should be grateful to their parents with the fruits of their own industry, and so show piety at home, 1 Tim. 5:4. Let those that by the grace of God have found sweetness in religion themselves communicate their experience to their friends and relations, and invite them to come and share with them. He told not his parents whence he had it, lest they should scruple eating it. Bishop Hall observes here that those are less wise and more scrupulous than Samson that decline the use of God’s gifts because they find them in ill vessels. Honey is hone still, though in a dead lion. Our Lord Jesus having conquered Satan, that roaring lion, believers find honey in the carcase, abundant strength and satisfaction, enough for themselves and for all their friends, from that victory.
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