The Readings: Judges 14:1-19; Acts 6:15––7:16; John 4:27-42
After the auspicious and ceremonial announcement of Samson’s calling, the beginning of his career could not be more jolting. (Drawing back the camera, the prominence of riddles in the stories suggests that Samson himself is a riddle, for which one solution may be Samson = Israel.) God calls Israel into covenant at Sinai; Israel responds with the Golden Calf. Samson is called to be a nazirite; Samson seeks a bride among the Philistines, eats and shares honey from a ritually unclean source, hosts a drinking party. But God has already been adapting: the spirit has begun to drive him (13:25; Alter’s translation, who notes “more literally, ‘to pound/pulsate [within]’”); Samson’s libido is also the Lord’s getting him engaged against the Philistines.
Where does all this leave God’s justice? Olson (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary) wrestles with the question: “God seems constrained to work through such devious and sinful means in the disordered context of a splintered and rebellious Israelite nation. God is free to contravene the very laws God has given to Israel for the sake of God’s mercy and love for the people and for the sake of the punishment of the oppressive Philistines.” Perhaps. Re the last point, note Alter’s translation of v.19 “and struck down from among them thirty men and took their armor” (the italicized word occurs also in 2 Sam 2:21, there translated ‘spoil’) and his comment “Samson, then, chooses to confront and kill armed warriors.”
The Gospel of John is interested in testimony (‘witness’ [marturia] 14x vs. 4x in the other Gospels; ‘to witness’ [martureō] 31x vs. 2x in the other Gospels), and in this story notices the price the woman pays for her testimony. V.27: how many degrees did the temperature drop with the disciples’ arrival? V.42: Jesus may be the “Savior of the world” but that doesn’t mean any less care is needed to guard the male ego. The Gospel honors her, honors her witness.