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.