As I’m working through the Bible writing a kind of running commentary on it as I go, I continually encounter depths of the material I hadn’t encountered before. One such place is the Samson narrative–one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. The following is an extended version of one of the notes I put in my running commentary:
In Judges 15:3, having discovered his wife was given to someone else, Samson notes that “this time” he has the right to take vengeance. What does this mean? Is Samson saying that he has a right ‘this time’ as opposed to last (when he took vengeance because of the Philistines getting the answer to his riddle through his wife)? Or does he mean that he has a right ‘this time’ in addition to the last time?
Added dimension: In 14:19 when he strikes down 30 Philistines he does so in the power of the Spirit of the LORD. Further dimension: 14:4 speaks of how the LORD was seeking to confront the Philistines.
It seems to me this must imply that God, in sovereignty, is guiding the events towards an end God desires. Given this, we may be tempted to say Samson’s right is indeed a right to vengeance–a divinely given one. But it is possible God is also using this (clearly) sinful man in spite of the sinfulness of his behavior, including his desire for vengeance (which belongs to God alone).
Which interpretation do you think is correct? Why?
Hi, J.W.! I have concluded (and may have commented here before) that God worked God’s will in spite of Samson, every time. If Samson hadn’t known he was set apart before birth to be a nazirite, he’d have some grounds to justify himself (maybe) – but as we’ll see in chapter 16, he knows his God-given identity and just spurns it every chance he gets. So I wouldn’t take any comments Samson makes about a right to vengenace as gospel (so to speak). If the narrator were telling us “Samson had a right to vengeance, and it was good in the Lord’s sight” or some thing, that would be more of an exegetical thorn. But, as it is, we just have Samson’s claim to a right that may or may not exist (and I think the latter).
Also, of course, we have to read the OT in light of the NT, where — as you point out — God reveals that God’s people are to leave room for the wrath of God (Romans 12), “turn the other cheek” (Matthew), etc. While I try not to be too quick to “read away” what one portion of Scripture says with another, in this case, it seems that a right to vengeance is at odds with God’s revealed will. There may be divinely countenanced vendettas in Scripture (none are springing to mind – but probably in all the conquest materials, etc), but this wouldn’t be one of them. Still, God can and does use anything humans can do, even when we royally foul things up!
The second interpretation is correct, in my opinion, because Samson is an awful man and it’s a terrible story anyway. 🙂
I currently hold to the second interpretation