At the end of a chapter devoted almost entirely to the experiences of his parents and their response to them, we are, in just two verses, told of Samsons early days: "the child grew and the Lord blessed him" (Judg 13.24), and of his ongoing spiritual development, "the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times" (Judg 13.25). We then go straight into the record of his activities as an adult, and the first incident does not give us much encouragement to expect a very straight-forward or uncomplicated life.
His compromising walk
"Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines" (14.1). Timnath was very close to the borders of Philistia, and it appears that the occupation of their land by the Philistines was seen by many Israelites as an unhappy situation that had just to be accepted (see 15.11). We might wonder then, how or why, Samson ever came to be spending time in such a place. The Psalmist talks of the blessedness of "the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful" (Ps 1.1), which indicates an ongoing and downward progression - walking, standing, sitting. Lot was a comparative newcomer to Sodom at the time of its overthrow (Gen 19.9), but by then he was already to be found sitting in the gate (Gen 19.1), a place of honour usually preserved for well-thought-of citizens. Earlier mistaken choices and actions can make things very hard later on, as Lot found out to his cost.
Samsons unwise associations were followed by a refusal to listen to the advice or warnings given to him by those in whom he had every reason to have confidence. Such confidence has, of course, first to be earned and from what we read of his parents there is no doubt that they had earned it. Similar situations exist amongst Gods people today. Less mature believers, not necessarily younger in years, can, without help, make mistakes which they will later regret, but still have to suffer the fallout therefrom. Those more responsible may be available to advise, but, if they are not listened to, such advice will be of little use. Teachers exercise a very important role in a local church, but the kind of help envisaged here goes beyond formal teaching. Paul could say to the Corinthians, "Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers" (1 Cor 4.15), which is perhaps why that particular church was in the unhappy state that it was. John was writing to believers of all ages and spiritual conditions (1 Jn 2.12-14), but on several occasions he refers to them all as "little children" (see e.g. 1 Jn 2.1,28). We may not all feel that we can act as spiritual parents but we ought, all of us, to be willing to listen to those who have proved themselves to be such.
From time to time we come up against statements in Scripture which make us sit up somewhat sharply in surprise, and such a situation arises here. Samson had made a foolish choice and was adamant, in the face of remonstrations by his parents, that he would have his own way. "But", we read, "his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines" (14.4). Does God then need, or even just allow, His people to make mistakes so that His purposes might be worked out more fully? No, He most certainly does not. Although God may, indeed sometimes does, test us, He will never tempt us to sin (Jas 1.13), nor does He ever condone sin (Hab 1.13). What we do find in such circumstances is the confirming of the fact that "surely the wrath of man shall praise thee" (Ps 76.10). That is, even the worst effects of mens actions will not be able to thwart Gods purposes. Of their self-confessed wickedness perpetrated against him, Joseph could say to his brothers, "As for you, ye thought evil against me"; there was no hiding that, "but God meant it unto good" (Gen 50.17,20).
His courting danger
Samson now showed that he had learned no lessons from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We read that, in going down to open negotiations with the Philistine womans parents, he "came to the vineyards of Timnath" (14.5). Now that may not seem in itself to be so very wrong, nor need it have been. What it did though was to bring him into a situation where temptation was very real and apparent. Samson was, as he acknowledged, "a Nazarite unto God" (16.17) and one of the requirements of a Nazarite was that "He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried" (Num 6.3). Merely walking through a vineyard did not mean that Nazarites had broken their voluntary vows, but it did put them in a position where they might almost unthinkingly eat the fruit. Remember how easily the disciples, when passing through the corn fields, "plucked the ears of corn, and did eat" (Lk 6.1). Amongst a set of very succinct exhortations to the Thessalonians was, "Abstain", not just from evil, but "from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess 5.22). On two separate occasions Paul urges Timothy, "Thou, O man of God, flee these things" (1 Tim 6.11), and, "Flee also youthful lusts" (2 Tim 2.22). Fleeing from is just the opposite of getting unnecessarily involved in, and should not be equated with cowardice but be seen as taking sensible precautions. Paul was not in any case adopting a merely negative approach. In both instances quoted above he shows that we should be positively pursuing "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Tim 6.11) and doing so "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim 2.22), all of which means being linked in fellowship to that kind of people.
His conscience touched
But there was much more than temptation and potential succumbing to it in the vineyard. Although perhaps an unexpected place for such an encounter, "a young lion roared against him". It is true that at that particular time, "the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him" (14.5-6) and so the immediate danger was averted, but once again the fallout caused a series of long-running problems. On a later visit, Samson went to look for the dead lion "and behold there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass" (14.8). Honey was probably the most valued source of natural sweetness available and such a find was too good to pass up. But as well as Nazarites being forbidden by their voluntary vow to eat or drink anything from the vine, "he shall come at no dead body" (Num 6.6). That however did not stop Samson from taking the honey for himself and then sharing it with his parents (14.8-9). The latter were not affected by the Nazarites vow but their sons failure to tell them of the honeys source evidenced that he had a conscience over the matter.
Conscience is a very delicate emotion but its strength or weakness, perhaps we might say its tenderness, varies between individuals. Whilst we are not competent to judge someone elses conscience, we are expected to respond properly to the urging of our own (Rom 14.1-5). Failure to do so can result in very considerable spiritual harm (1 Tim 1.18-20) and it is possible to deliberately suppress the urging of conscience. Paul wrote of some "having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Tim 4.2) so cauterising their feelings. But even though we should not feel bound by another persons conscience, there are occasions when we ought to be prepared to forgo something about which we ourselves are quite happy but which might cause problems in the minds of others. That should be seen not as a stricture but as an opportunity taken to ease the pressure on someone else (1 Cor 10.23-33).
To be continued.