The Judges reading begins the story of Samson, the last of the judges profiled in the book, and the longest of the stories. Already we are warned that there will be ambiguities: the boy will “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines;” the woman adds “to the day of his death” in recounting the messenger’s announcement to her husband.
“For everything there is a season” (Eccl 3:1)—so also times both to act and to refrain from acting, wisdom that Gamaliel and John the Baptist share. Our culture has trouble recognizing the times to refrain; the preacher in Ecclesiastes would probably have liked these proverbs from Lao Tzu: “The Way is every without action, yet nothing is left undone.” “Use justice to rule a country. Use surprise to wage war. Use non-action to govern the world” (Tao Te Ching chs. 37, 57).
The quotation of John the Baptist’s words: does it stop at v.30 or v.36? The NRSV opts for the first; the content of vv.31-36 may suggest an intentional blend of perspectives. The ending (“the wrath of God abideth on him” KJV) sounds like John the Baptist: this is the only use of ‘wrath’ (orgē) in this Gospel, and two of the other four uses in the other Gospels are quoting the Baptist (Matt 3:7; Lk 3:7). On the other hand, the beginning of v.36 forms an inclusio with v.3, providing, in passing, further evidence that ‘eternal life’ in this Gospel is at least roughly equivalent to ‘the kingdom of heaven/God’ in the other Gospels (boldface mine):
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (v.3)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. (v.36)