Samson Vs. Ruth

During the period of the judges of Israel, one will certainly find a time when the people of Israel did what was right in their own eyes and thus what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. While each judge seemed to have their flaws, hang-ups, and sins, Samson takes the cake. He is not so much a leader as he is a product of his times. Around this same time, though we aren’t sure of the actual time frame, another man from Judah lived with his wife and two sons. Due to a famine, the family went to live in Moab, where it would seem the Moabite women were right in the eyes of his sons, and each son took a wife from the people of Moab. Surprisingly however, Ruth the Moabite was much closer to being a true Israelite than Samson.

The lives of Samson and Ruth could not be more different. Samson was born to a family of the tribe of Dan. His birth was prophesied by the Angel of the Lord, not once but twice. He was to be a Nazarite from birth, thus he was not to cut his hair, eat or drink anything that had grapes, not touch the dead or even be in the presence of that which has died. It was clear that Samson was to be someone special to the people of Israel. Ruth on the other hand was born in Moab. While no one knows anything about her childhood, one can look to her country and see that they were not friendly towards the Israelites. It was Balak, prince of Moab, who called on Balaam to curse the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. It was Eglon, King of Moab, who oppressed the Israelites and was outwitted and assassinated by Ehud, the left-handed Benjaminite. Moab was birthed from the loins of Lot and his daughter, thus making it a land forever known for its incestuous beginnings. The people worshiped Chemosh, a god whose name meant “conqueror” but was said to be an abomination of Moab (1 Kings 11:7). This was the life of Ruth–born into a land hostile toward Israel and worshiping false gods. One would not expect her to be of any import in the story of Israel.

Samson grew up, surely having heard of his prophecy and knowing that God had personally set him aside. Being young and hearing such news would have most likely left him puffed up. As Paul would later say about pastors/leaders: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil,” (1 Tim 3:6, ESV). This certainly would be the case with Samson. Though a Nazarite from birth–one that is set aside for God–he had no time to take God into account. His only desire was for his own pleasures. He did not delight in God, but delighted in himself.  Yet Ruth was attracted to this God that she did not know. Though she was free to go back to her home after the death of her husband, Ruth stayed with Naomi, her mother-in-law. Orpah, her sister-in-law, had no problem going back home to get remarried. Yet Ruth did not simply ask to stay, but begged to stay with Naomi. “But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you,'” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV). Not only did she claim Naomi’s God to be her own, but called upon Him using His covenantal name as witness, in essence giving her own vow before the YHWH. She intended to keep covenant with God and with Naomi, while Samson only kept covenant with his whims and lusts.

One sees this as he reads about Samson’s marriage. He finds a Philistine woman–the people who were at the moment oppressing his own people–whom he finds attractive and so wants her for a wife. He also begs, but his begging’s motivation is fueled by lust. Even when his father and mother tried to talk him out of marrying their enemy, he would not listen to them, but instead he responded with “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes,” (Judges 14:3, ESV). It is not difficult to see that he was not in love with her, but in lust for her, for when she betrayed him by telling the answer to his riddle, he left her only to return when he was feeling amorous (14:19-15:1).  To take a step back, before the wedding he was on his way to see her when a mountain lion jumped out at him and in his strength he killed it. According to the Nazarite law, he was to present himself washed, shaven, and begin his vow again having been in the presence of death. He did not do these things, but continued on his way. Later on his way to the wedding, he saw the carcass with a beehive containing honey. He took of the honey and ate it, thus once again becoming unclean, and also having shared it with his parents, making them unclean. Thus not only dishonoring his Nazarite vow, but dishonoring his parents.

Ruth however sought to show love and compassion to her grieving mother-in-law. She allowed Naomi to rest and mourn, as she worked to get food on the table. Unlike Samson, Ruth was actually doing what was right. When she went out, she did just as Naomi told her to do. Rather than do what was right in her own eyes, she did what was right in God’s eyes (Lev 23:22). Boaz, upon hearing about her life, gave an incredible witness and blessing to her in saying, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, whose wings you have come to take refuge,” (Ruth 2:11-12, ESV). While Samson disregards his vow, Ruth not only kept her vow, but actually was consistently following, whether intentional or unintentional, the commands of the LORD.

Samson understood his strength was unlike anyone else’s and desired to show it off. To do so he would put himself in dangerous situations being extremely outnumbered, walking through enemy territory at midnight, and continuously going to Delilah for sexual liaisons knowing that she had men waiting for him to ultimately give away the secret of his strength. He killed thousands of Philistines, which would have made him unclean and needing to restart his vows, but he did not.  All of these actions were done out of pride and done in ways that made a spectacle of himself. He was not so much interested in being God’s leader and deliverer, and yet certainly was interested in the gifting that came with the job.

Ruth was a woman of humility. She was not only of humble means but of humble heart. Even as she courted Boaz, she called herself servant (Ruth 3:9), laying at his feet in a posture of humility showing her willingness to let him do with her as he saw fit. She followed after the advice of both Naomi and Boaz, as Naomi told her where to go to glean the wheat, and as Boaz told her to follow close to the women and not to depart from his fields.

Due to Samson’s pride and disregard of God’s calling, the Spirit of God left Samson and he fell into the hands of his enemies. They poked out his eyes and made him their slave. Though he would avenge himself, not the Lord nor the Israelites, but himself, he would die a slave rather than a deliverer (Judges 16:28-30). Ruth on the other hand, died a prosperous woman and the great-grandmother of King David.

It is clear that Samson while a man from Israel was not a true Israelite, faithful to the covenant of God. Yet Ruth, while a woman from Moab, embraced the God of Israel and the people of Israel becoming part of the lineage of the Messiah who was to come. Samson forsook the Torah while Ruth made it her own. May every believer seek to imitate Ruth in her obedience of faith.

Where Does Deuteronomy Really Belong?

When asked who I believe wrote the book of Hebrews, I often respond with tongue firmly in cheek that it was Cleopas. After all, it was Cleopas who heard from Jesus’ own mouth, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27, ESV). One could almost say that my theory is about as plausible as those who developed the theory involving Israel’s history. Yet a man by the name of Martin Noth took a theory that seemed nearly incoherent and developed a succinct understanding of how the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings combine to make one whole historical account.  It commonly known as the Deuteronomistic History. “The content of the Deuteronomistic History is the story of Israel’s emergence, success and ultimate failures as an independent political entity in the land of Canaan.”[1] While Noth is not the originator of the theory, he is certainly the one to make it more cogent. According to Noth, the books in question were written by someone, a redactor or editor—known as “Deuteronomist”, who accumulated source materials and then put them into a historical narrative. Like any narrative, these collections of books rise, have a climax, and fall. One can easily recognize the rises within the narrative by the three main characters’ speeches given within the books: Joshua’s speeches in Joshua 1:11-15 and 23:2-30, Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12:1-24, and Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kigns 8:12:51.[2] “Noth’s evidence for his singular trident included the repetition of similar phraseology apparent throughout the Deuteronomistic History [Deut-2 Kings]. . .the prophecy/fulfillment schema of the history; the strategic appearance and function of unifying speeches and narratives by the leading characters,”[3] and various other evidences. To Noth’s credit, he claimed that the Deuteronomist was not seeking to entertain or slant evidence, but “intended to teach the truth meaning of the history of Israel from the occupation to the destruction of the old order.”[4] Noth seemed to want to remain as true to the text and its truth as possible. In fact, with some questions, Noth’s argument and understanding are quite appealing. There does seem to be a link between Deuteronomy and much of the historical books. If one was inclined not to believe or at minimum have doubts in future prophecy, Deuteronomistic History would be quite appealing as it allows for God’s work to continue to be done throughout Israel’s beginnings through her monarchial history. The same could be said about those who find Deuteronomy to be a book different the rest of those which it normally is association: the traditional understanding of the Pentateuch. Rather than having a Pentateuch (5 books of the Law), one would have the Tetrateuch (4 books of the Law) and the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy-2 Kings).

As interesting as Noth’s ideas are, they are not without their flaws. In fact, many later scholars would bring these flaws to light. The result has been disastrous for the Deuteronomistic History. As one scholar wrote, “the concept of the Deuteronimism has become so amorphous that it no longer has any analytical precision and out to be abandoned (R. Wilson, 82).”[5] Noth does not answer in any real way about other speeches within the Deuteronomistic History such as the prophetic words by Nathan and the speech by David, which goes along with his seeming to focus more on the pessimistic view of the narratives than the optimistic. Noth argued, “We cannot possibly claim that the latter section [speaking of Nathan’s prophecy] is Deuteronomistic, since neither the prohibition of temple-building not the strong emphasis on the value of the manarcy are in the spirit of Dtr [the Deuteronomist writer]” (Noth, 55).”[6] In other words, as it would seem to me, Noth disregards the prophecy and speech because it doesn’t actually fit into his understanding of who the Deuteronimist writer would be or what he would write about; if something doesn’t fit into his narrative, he simply seeks to explain it away.

Obviously, such questions and explanations would lead to other theories about the Deuteronomistic understanding of Scripture. Suddenly, there was not simply one editor/redactor, but two, and then three, and so forth. At one point, the theorists began noticing that certain aspects of the books seemed to be in opposition. As if parts supported David and the monarchy and other parts were against it. “Veijola concludes that the apparently contradictory messages regarding the monarchy may be resolved by understanding DtrH as pro-David and promonarchy, DtrP as generally antimonoarchy, and DtrN as pro-David but generally anti-monarchy.”[7] Thus there are three Deuteronomist writers, and they oppose one another within the Scriptures themselves. It must be admitted at this point that when one calls into question Scriptures authenticity and authority in one place, it calls into question all of Scripture. If one is apt to disregard this concern, one only need to see that Noth’s concise theory (though not solely on the head of Noth) led to the likes of Peckham who does not limit the Deuteronomistic History to only Deuteronomy-2 Kings, but includes the whole Pentateuch and the Former Prophets (those prophets within Joshua-2 Kings).[8] If this expansion of the Scripture’s authorial authenticity is not bad enough, Van Seters’s claim that “the sources that the Deuteronomistic Historian refers to within history may be only a literary device—these ‘sources,’ and therefore the Deuteronomistic History itself, may be completely fictional (Van Seters, 43-49),”[9] take one to its logical conclusion: the Scriptures cannot be trusted because they are fictitious.

It is no wonder that even the historical critics now see that Noth’s baby has become a monstrosity and a failure. Noth sought to understand the writings of Scripture better and to make them understandable by moving Deuteronomy away from the Pentateuch and attaching it to the historical narratives, imposing a single author for those books. As stated, part of this was due to Deuteronomy’s seeming break with the other four books. However, one does not have to see the fifth book of the Pentateuch as a separate book, but rather a book in transition. Deuteronomy is different in its literary style, but that ought not be surprising since every other book in the Pentateuch has its own style as well. Genesis-Exodus 20 tends to be historical, but Exodus 20 through Leviticus reads as a legal document, with somewhat of “case-law” or active moments in which the execution of the law was put into practice. Numbers reads much like a census document. Thus when one gets to Deuteronomy, he should not be surprised that it reads differently. It is a different document, or volume, within the Pentateuch preparing the second generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land.

Only persons who was under 20 years of age at the first attempt of entry or those who were yet to be born stand before Moses. At best there was a vague memory of leaving that pagan land. It had been forty years since the people had left Egypt and the law had been given. Moses was about to leave them in the hands of Joshua. When one reads Deuteronomy, it comes across as an iron fist in a velvet glove: firm but soft. It is pastoral and fatherly. In fact, many would consider Moses’ speeches to be more sermonic than mere oratory. Moses stated nothing that contradicted the law, however he did explain the law in different ways. He neither negated the law nor added to the law, but simply spoke of the law to this new generation, who for the most part, did not hear it in its original form at Mount Sinai. In similar ways, one could look to the Gospel According to John and see similar evidences of John’s account being written to a new generation of believers. Unlike the Synoptics which often tell many of the same stories, John brings forth new stories and explains Synoptic stories in fresh ways. While, John is indeed a different writer than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, his motive very well could be the same as Moses’s: teaching the new generation what the law/gospel really means before he dies.

[1] B. T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 220.

[2] Ibid., 221.

[3] Ibid., 222.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 227.

[6] Ibid., 223.

[7] Ibid., 225.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 226.

That being said…