Last time, we considered Jephthah’s vow. Samson was judge at the same time as Jephthah. Jephthah dealt with the Ammonites in the east. Samson had to do with the Philistines in the west. The Philistines, a warlike and idolatrous people, occupied a strip of land by the Mediterranean Sea to the southwest of Israel. Samson was born about the time the Philistines began to oppress Israel. Let us study together the history in Judges 14, focusing on one clause in verse 4: “he [Samson] sought an occasion against the Philistines.”
Peace with the Philistines
Israel was living peaceably with the Philistines. The enemy nation ruled over God’s people without resistance. Certainly, reasons can be supplied for this period without conflict. First, Israel was entrenched in idolatry, worshiping the Philistine gods. Scripture mentions nothing of Israel’s repentance at this time. Why would Israel war against the very nation whose gods they embraced and loved? Second, the Philistines intimidated the people of God. The fear was that any aggression toward the Philistines would incur their wrath and mean harm (Judg. 15:11). Third, conflict with the Philistines would be costly—war is always costly. Fighting the oppressor would only multiply Israel’s troubles. If living at peace with the Philistines would be the smoothest road, then that is what Israel would do.
This friendly coexistence with the foe was serious sin on Israel’s part. Jehovah established His covenant with His people. They were God’s friends. Flowing out of that covenant was the antithesis: because the people of God were Jehovah’s friends, they were not to be friends with Jehovah’s enemies. When Israel cozied up to the Philistines instead of warring against them, this was covenant transgression. No, the covenant was not broken—the covenant is unconditional, and, in Christ, God will never break His covenant. But this does not minimize the fact that this was serious transgression of the covenant!
Such can be the case for the church in the world and with us young people who are members of the church. As you examine your life, do you notice a low level of conflict with the wicked world? Do you find that the evil ways and philosophies of this age have flooded into your home and life? Do you observe that you are coddling your sin and cherishing your sinful nature, rather than fighting against them? In summary: are you living peaceably with the spiritual enemies that are present today?
If you are honest, your answer will be “yes.” There are reasons for this, as there were for Israel. First, when we bow the knee to the world’s idols—whatever those may be today—we are not engaging in battle against the world. Conflict with the world is the furthest from our minds when we are intoxicated with its treasures. Second, to be at war with the world is a fearful thing. We say, “I better not speak out against prevalent sin in the workplace, because doing so will leave me all alone and hated by my co-workers”; or, “Why would I testify against the wickedness of this age when I know that this may very well bring persecution?” Third, the spiritual battle is costly. Spiritual conflict means that we will face inconvenience, hardship, and a life of sacrifice.
When we live peaceably with our enemies, dear readers, this is covenant transgression, as it was for Israel. God has established His covenant with us in Jesus Christ. We are the friends of God! What a marvel this is, and something that ought to make us speechless with thanksgiving. Because we are friends with Jehovah, we may not be friends with His enemies. For this transgression of the covenant we must repent, and we must flee to the cross of Christ where alone is our refuge.
Samson seeking an occasion
While the nation slumbered contentedly under the Philistine oppression, we read of Samson, that “he sought an occasion against the Philistines” (Judg. 14:4).
An “occasion” is an opportunity for a quarrel. Samson sought an opportunity for conflict with the Philistines. Samson looked for the Philistines to manifest their enmity in some way against him—this was necessary, for it would show Israel that the Philistines were indeed wicked and truly did hate God’s people. When the Philistines would rise up in their hatred against Samson, that would be Samson’s occasion to fight against them and begin to deliver Israel. It was not in his own strength that Samson sought occasion against the enemy, but it was by the Spirit’s working in him. Jehovah equipped Samson also for this aspect of his work as judge.
We must not have a wrong understanding of Samson seeking opportunity for conflict with the Philistines. We should not see this as the activity of a vengeful and unstable man. Neither was Samson fighting the Philistines as his personal enemies for personal reasons. Later on, we will learn that Samson was at his wedding feast with Philistine companions, and those companions behaved wickedly toward Samson. Were Samson an explosive man with the desire to “get even,” he would have killed these companions on the spot. This he did not do. Instead, he went to Ashkelon, a distance away, and killed 30 men there (Judg. 14:19). Such is not the mark of a wild man some commentators make Samson out to be.
We should see Samson’s activity much differently. Samson sought occasion against the Philistines who were the enemies of God and the oppressors of God’s people. With the enemies of God there may be no peace. Besides, this is the work to which God called Samson as judge. Before Samson was conceived, the angel of Jehovah announced to his mother that he would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines (Judg. 13:5). Most basically, this history is another example of the enmity that God Himself put between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).
Seeking occasion against the Philistines was a process. It included, first, taking a Philistine for a wife. Samson traveled to a place called Timnath, where he found a woman that attracted him (Judg. 14:1-3). Although Samson’s parents protested his choice of a wife, they gave in. Samson’s purpose in marrying her was good: he knew this would bring him into closer contact with the Philistines whom he hated and sought to destroy. But his lust for and marriage to this woman was evil. While it is true that God was not the Author of nor responsible for this sin, neither did He compel Samson to sin, we must say that this sin was of Jehovah (Judg. 14:4). This sin, and the events surrounding it, were “of the Lord” in the sense that He decreed it. Jehovah decreed this sinful marriage to serve the higher purpose of beginning to deliver Israel from oppression by the Philistines. Second, the process of seeking opportunity for quarrel against the Philistines continued with a riddle (cf. the history in Judges 14:10ff.).
An occasion against the enemy Samson sought, and an occasion Samson found. I can do no better than quote a memorable paragraph from Prof. Engelsma’s exposition of the history:
Marriage to the Philistine results in Samson’s killing of thirty men of Ashkelon (Judges 14:19) and in his firing the crops of the Philistines (15:3-5). The burning of the Philistines’ corn, vineyards, and olives leads directly to Samson’s smiting Philistines ‘hip and thigh…with a great slaughter’ (v. 8). This, in turn, gives Samson the opportunity to kill a thousand Philistines—no doubt the flower of the Philistine army—with the jawbone of an ass. By the time the consequences of Samson’s marriage to the woman of Timnath have been fully worked out, the fields of Philistia are smoldering wastelands, the Philistine people are threatened with famine, the army of the Philistines is destroyed, and these enemies of Israel are paralyzed by the terror of Samson.1
In seeking and finding occasion against the enemy, Samson pointed ahead to Jesus Christ. Christ repeatedly sought occasion against His foes during His earthly ministry. An instance of this was the Sabbath that Jesus and His disciples walked through a field, and the disciples plucked the crop to eat it. Jesus did this deliberately, seeking occasion against the Pharisees. The Pharisees found fault with the Sabbath crop-picking of the disciples, and Jesus used this as an opportunity to expose the Pharisees (Matt. 12:1ff.). Whenever Christ sought an occasion against the foe, He did so with a burning zeal for the glory of His Father. In each instance of occasion-seeking, the greater-than-Samson stepped ever closer to the cross where He would defeat sin, Satan, and death. Then He came to that cross. On that tree, Jesus paid for the sins of His people. Having paid for their sins, He actually and inwardly, by His Spirit, delivers His own from the dominion of sin. One day He will return to complete the destruction of His enemies and ours.
By the Spirit of the crucified and risen Savior, we also seek occasion against our spiritual enemies. Youth of the church, this is our calling! Obviously, seeking an occasion against our foes does not mean we engage in physical warfare. Neither is our calling to be a generally rude or needlessly militant people. Rather, it is a spiritual battle fought by God’s grace against His enemies and ours.
Consider what this looks like on the church level. Week by week, in his reading of books and magazines, as well as by his careful observations of society, your pastor is seeking occasion to battle against the enemy. Whether it is a particular sin, a certain temptation of the devil, heresy, or something else which assaults the church, your minister is called to expose these enemies and fight against them in the pulpit. This is one part of well balanced preaching. Support your minister in this—you and the church need it.
How about you, personally? Are you aware of the enemy within the gate, your sinful nature? What is so much of the Christian life, even minute by minute, but seeking occasion against this enemy and its lusts! Are you watching for the foe outside the gate, the evil world? When it rears its LGBTQ+ head, there is an occasion; when it seeks to influence you by its authority- defying ways, there is an occasion; when it offers its whorish women on the screen without you even looking for them, there is an occasion. Different battlefronts call for different tactics, but always this is true: you are to battle against these foes in Christ’s power and to the glory of God!
Such is your calling, young men and women. This you will do, by the mighty Spirit of Jesus Christ.
1 David J. Engelsma, Unfolding Covenant History: an Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 5, Judges and Ruth (Grandville: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2005), 146.