Incomprehensible strength

Sanctification was a central characteristic of the Israelites’ relationship with God. When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they were told, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) means sacred. “It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony…This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9)…God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918). Qadowsh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means, “to be (causative, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally)…The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they became holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)…The word is used most often in the intensive stem, meaning to pronounce or to make holy, to consecrate” (H6942). Exodus 19:8 tells us, “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’” And then, “When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Exodus 19:9-11). The Israelites’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai was a unique experience in that they could hear what God was saying to Moses. When they heard God speak the words of the Ten Commandments, “the people were afraid, and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

“God made a conditional promise to the Israelites that if they would obey him and keep his covenant, he would regard and treat them in a special way. The people chose instead to make a golden calf and forsake the God who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 32:1-24). That event, as well as persistent infidelity throughout most of their history, greatly limited the extent to which the Israelites could realize these promises. The designations ‘royal priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ are also applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:9, 10” (note on Exodus 19:5, 6). Peter addressed his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling in his blood and said:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Peter’s mention of the sprinkling in Jesus Christ’s blood is related to the Old Testament process of sanctification. During their ordination, the blood of a bull and two rams were used to consecrate Aaron and his sons so that they could serve God as priests (Exodus 29:1). Exodus 29:19-21 states, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and their garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” The placement of blood on the tip of the right ear symbolized sensitivity to God and his word. The placement of blood on the right thumb and great toe of the right foot symbolized a life of service to others on God’s behalf (note on Exodus 29:20, KJSB). Peter wanted his readers to understand that as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the elect exiles of the Dispersion were set apart to serve God and were expected to accomplish what the Old Testament priesthood failed to do, to be sensitive to God’s word and to serve others on God’s behalf.

Peter emphasized the importance of abstaining from the passions of the flesh and indicated that they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The flesh represents the unregenerate part of man that is associated with human nature. The soul is regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life. The soul as an essence differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (G5590). “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the afterlife [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). Peter’s determination that the passions of the flesh war against your soul was reinforced by James’ warning against worldliness. James said:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

The war between the flesh and the soul of a man is a spiritual conflict that James associated with submission to God. James admonished believers to resist the devil and said, “He will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

On an individual basis, the Israelites were able to consecrate themselves to God by making a special vow, “the vow of a Nazirite” (Numbers 6:2). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God. The Nazarite vow included abstinence from strong drink or the cutting of his hair, and no contact with dead bodies” (H5139) because of his separation to God (Numbers 6:7). If the vow of a Nazarite was broken, it was considered a sin (H5088). The person would have to go through a process of purification which included making atonement for his sin (Numbers 6:11). “The word ‘Nazarite’ (not to be confused with ‘Nazarene’) means ‘separated,’ and in this context refers to one who was specifically ‘holy to the LORD’ (Numbers 6:8). By the terms of the vow, men or women could voluntarily separate themselves unto the LORD for a specific period of time, even for life” (note on Numbers 6:2-21). Samson is one of the two Nazarites mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. The circumstances of Samson’s birth are recorded in Judges 13:1-5. It states:

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Samson’s designation as a Nazarite was a life-long commitment that began even before his conception. His mother was told to “drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4) in order to keep Samson from being defiled while he was in her womb. When Samson’s mother told her husband about what had happened, she said, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6). The Hebrew word that is translated awesome, yareʾ (yaw-rayˊ) means “to fear…This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God” (H3372).

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD had the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:20-23). When the angel of the LORD appeared a second time, Samson’s father, Manoah said to him, “’What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’” (Judges 13:17-18). The Hebrew word that is translated wonderful, pilʾiy (pil-eeˊ) means “incomprehensible” (H6383) and is derived from the word pala (paw-lawˊ) which means “to separate, i.e. distinguish” (H6381). “While nothing is too extraordinary for God, various things are said to be beyond the abilities of some individuals to do or comprehend.” The angel of the LORD’s appearance to Samson’s parents was likely intended to prepare them for the incomprehensible things that God intended to do through their son Samson. “Samson was a Danite, living adjacent to the Philistines. He was selected before birth as the one who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). God gave him superhuman strength to achieve this, but Samson’s life was filled with compromise in his repeated refusal to control his sensual desires and whims. His physical blinding by the Philistines (Judges 16:21) seems to have brought about the opening of his spiritual eyes; he gave his life for his people and is commended for his faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32)” (note on Judges 13:24).

It says of Samson in Judges 13:24-25, “The young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” The Hebrew word that is translated stir, paʿam (paw-amˊ) means “to tap, i.e. beat regularly; hence, (generally) to impel or agitate” (H6470). It was as if God was continually tapping Samson on the shoulder and asking him, when are you going to do something about this? Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was used by God to begin the process of change. Judges 14 tells the story of Samson’s embarrassing disappointment from the vantage point of a young man in love for the first time. It states:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes.

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” And he said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

And in three days they could not solve the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

“Mixed marriages of Israelites with other races were forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4). Samson’s parents were right to oppose his marriage to a heathen woman from the Philistines, who constantly oppressed the Israelites” (note on Judges 14:3). “God did not force Samson into the marriage; Samson made his own decision. God used Samson’s marriage to accomplish his will in spite of the lack of wisdom on Samson’s part. It proved to be a crucial step in the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 15:1-8)” (note on Judges 14:4). It says in Judges 14:19, “In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” Samson’s passion for the woman that he wanted to marry was turned into zeal for the LORD because of his personal experience which revealed to him how the Philistines were taking advantage of the Israelites. Samson’s slaughter of thirty men so that he could pay his debt to the men who solved his riddle also demonstrated to the people of Ashkelon the incomprehensible strength that he was capable of exerting in order to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

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