Dark Sayings

Covenant Structure in Judges 14-15:8

“I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old… “
Psalm 78:2

The account of Samson’s marriage and the subsequent collateral damage is one of those stories out of which teachers and preachers try in vain to wring a moral. After all, isn’t that what the Old Testament is for? Actually, no. It is a history of God’s Covenants, and every single text, whether historical narrative or prophetic vision, has a Covenant structure. Certainly, there are morals, but some stories resist such an obvious use (unless we are willing to cook the Book). These stories of God’s delegated authorities are intended to illustrate the work of God in the world.

Firstly, a structural overview, using the Covenant steps, the matrix terms and the sacrificial process:

Creation/Initiation: A Gentile Bride is right in Samson’s eyes. (Ark – Day 1)
Division/Delegation: Samson and his parents travel to Timnah (“to divide”). The Spirit rushes upon him and he tears a lion apart (as if it were a “Passover” kid). Days later, he discovers honey inside it. (Veil – Day 2)
Ascension/Elevation: Samson prepares a feast for the young men. (Altar – Day 3)
Ascension/Presentation: He presents a riddle with a promise of under- and over-garments. (Table – Day 3)
Testing/Purification: On the fourth day, the men threaten to burn Samson’s wife and her father’s house if she doesn’t tell them the answer to the riddle. (Lampstand – Day 4)
Maturity/Transformation: Samson’s wife presses him for the answer, then shares it with the young men, who answer Samson’s riddle. (Incense – Day 5)
Conquest/Vindication: The Spirit again rushes upon Samson, who travels to the maritime city of Ashkelon (“I shall be weighed”) and slays men for their garments. Samson comes to his wife (with another young goat) but his wife is given to another. (Mediation/Laver – Day 6)
Glorification/Representation: In revenge, Samson torches the Philistine grain stores and olive orchards. In response, the Philistines carry out their threat to burn his Gentile Bride and her father. (Shekinah – Day 7)


“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

This story begins with Samson’s desire for a Gentile woman. I guess a lot of teachers would tell you this was what led him into trouble, but we must remember it was Aaron’s and Miriam’s condemnation of Moses’ marrying an Ethiopian that got them into trouble. God isn’t against intermarriage as long as He is at the centre of it. Race is irrelevant and always has been. Covenant is everything. It was this way under the Mosaic Covenant and it is this way under the New Covenant. But at this point in history, Israel was engaging in intermarriage with Philistines and their gods. Jordan observes that Samson’s offer of marriage to her was an offer of salvation. [1] So, Samson was actually picturing Christ’s plan for the nations in His desire for this woman. But, like Christ, he went on this mission expecting there to be a conflict, one which would wake God’s people up to Covenant-breaking aspect of their own interracial marriages, and reveal the true nature of the Philistines as oppressors and betrayers.

The Lion Divided

“Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:2

Jordan speaks of the lion as a sphinx, guarding the Philistine territory as the sphinx guarded Egypt (the Philistines were descendants of Egyptians). The sphinx used riddles, so here Samson conquers the cherubic guardian of the oppressors and takes on its guise. In other words, he cloaks himself as the sphinx. Step 2 of the pattern is Hierarchy and the Veil, which for Joseph meant a robe of office. In a sense, Samson passes through the veil by taking it on as a garment.

I believe there is a second aspect to this, related to the Tabernacle architecture as the garment is. The four points of the Tabernacle relate to the four faces of the beasts which guard God’s throne. The Ark of the Covenant is the Lion face, looking East. So, in some sense, Samson is the true Lion, the priestly Law of Moses incarnate in kingly flesh (as a Judge), the Ark on the move, in the field, scattering God’s enemies. By cloaking himself, he becomes the face of God hidden behind a Veil, as it was under the Old Covenants. But what of the honey?

The Land Promised

“There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the [Land], and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:3-4

The curses upon Adam and Eve concerned the Land and the Womb. Honey was a symbol of the abundance of the Land. Milk was related to this but tied it to the firstborn of men and cattle. But the picture here is of a head that dies that a new body might be found inside it, a bridal body, a swarm (Day 5 is related to the clouds of the fragrant Incense Altar, which pictures the resurrection). Deborah’s name means “bee,” and she was the third elected judge of Israel. Day 3 is often a promise of Day 7. Interestingly, Deborah’s victory song follows the same pattern, with a mention of Jael’s blessed “milk of deception” in the Day 3 “Land” region, and Deborah’s mention of those who love God being like the sun in the Day 7 spot. Samson means “sunrise.” So, in some sense, the bees, being bridal, are the “filling up” of the ministry of prophetess Deborah, a potent symbol of blessings and curses contained in the body of the dead king. Hell hath no fury like the Bride of Christ scorned. [2]

The “veiling” begins with Samson not telling his parents where the honey came from. Again, Jordan observes Samson’s incredibly wily nature in all his exploits. He is the only one who knows the answer, which means he can use the unveiling of the riddle to identify a betrayer.

The Heat of the Sun

“In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.” Psalm 19:5

The threefold Ethics at the center of the story is the “thesis” of the pattern, that is, the main point. In the sacrificial process, the cut animal is displayed on the Altar, burned with holy fire and transformed into smoke. The dead body becomes a bridal “cloud,” a sweet-smelling savor for God. Using our “cross-eyed exegesis,” we have here the Levitical Law (Ascension) as a great riddle given by the Judge of Israel, Moses, which contains a wonderful “bridal” promise, the veil of the Temple delegated and multiplied as many “bridal garments” to a Gentile priesthood.

The Smoke of Torment

“Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Psalm 19:6

But the riddle is opened by a Great Betrayal, a wife who, at Pentecost, fears the holy fire, breaks Covenant with her Sunshine Bridegroom and turns back to Egypt. But she has traded holy fire for strange fire, and her ending will be eternal fire. Her bridal “smoke” will be that which goes up forever and ever. Due to Samson’s cunning and discretion, she was the only person privy to the answer. Dark sayings are indeed designed to enlighten the eyes.

“…the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…” Psalm 19:7-8

The opening of the riddle is a “retelling” of the Law (Deuteronomy/Sermon on the Mount), and it is fitting that the Philistines’ answer to the double-tongued riddle is framed as a double-tongued question. Only the man who has had the answer, by the Spirit of God, from the beginning, will know the answer before he hears it.

The Day of Coverings

“More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10

Matching Division is Conquest. The Spirit rushes upon Samson once again but this time he slays actual Egyptians. (Moses did the same thing by the Spirit, judging and executing a single Egyptian guardian, and then wiping out all of them.) The typology concerning the Gentiles here, as it relates to the ministry of Israel and especially to that of Christ and the apostles in the first century, is complicated, but it follows the same pattern. The point is that the Covenant breakers are destroyed and those who confess the truth are given glorious garments. The Philistines, representing the nations, are divided in two like sheep and goats: those by the sea (representing the laver) are slain and stripped naked, and those who believed the promise received a Great Blessing. All this is a great riddle, and there is much still to to chew on. But we have the Spirit of God who opens things to the mind and the hands and the feet of faithful men.

“Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 19:11

Cunning or Catastrophe

At Sanctions, Samson has kept his promise. But at Succession (Glorification), which matches the first step, we have fiery judgments. The final feast is intended to be joyous celebration of Jew and Gentile together under God, the bread and wine being a fulfilment of the promise at step 3. But here, Samson burns the fields (bread) and vineyards (wine) and olive groves (oil) in revenge. While in most texts the word is “foxes,” due to the festal structure I think the reading of “handfuls” is probably the correct one. [3] Foxes do symbolize cunning but that is out of place at step 7. If Samson indeed tied bundles of grain to torches of fire, we have a transition from Firstfruits to Pentecost, which in this passage, was the time between the riddle being given and the betrayal by his wife. The burning “firstfruits” sets the whole harvest alight, and appearing at Succession in this structure, means it is possibly a judgment for the loss of offspring, since this wise judge now had no wife. This curse upon the Philistines thus ties the curse upon Adam (the Land) to the curse upon Eve (the womb). It also relates Samson once again to the pattern of the seven elected Judges, of which Gideon is the “Pentecost” with his own 300 torches as the “Lampstand” eyes of God. It seems to me that the only fox in this picture is Samson himself, walking to and fro among the Philistines and placing each firebrand strategically by his own eye and with his own hand. 300 and 3000 are Pentecostal numbers. It is the Land and the Fruits of Day 3 set “alight” on Day 4.

This assertion is also supported by the fact that Samson’s purpose was vindicated by a “burnt offering and a grain offering” accepted by God (13:23), and the fact that this part of the Samson narrative is right at the centre, that is, at the “Pentecost.”

Genesis (Sabbath): Samson’s birth and anointing (13:1-25)
Exodus (Passover): Samson’s exodus to “Egypt” (14:1-9)
Leviticus (Firstfruits): Samson’s marriage and betrayal (14:10-20)
Numbers (Pentecost): Samson’s and the Philistines’ war of fire (15:1-8)
Deuteronomy (Trumpets): Samson betrayed by his brothers; slaughters Philistines with the jawbone of an ass [4] (15:9-20)
Joshua (Atonement): Samson breaks his Covenant vow (Oath/Sanctions). He is betrayed by Delilah and finally shaved, bound as a sacrifice, blinded, and set grinding in a cultic mill. He is forsaken for a time by God (16:1-22)
Judges (Booths): Samson, as the prophetic voice of God between priestly and kingly pillars, finally becomes the “Triune Man,” and cuts off the heads of Philistia. [5]

In retaliation, the Philistines burned the house of the woman and her family. So fire unites the Jews and the Gentiles, but here it is a sick parody of the Feast of Booths, as was the Jewish War and the “year of the four emperors.” It also reveals that the entire passage subtly follows the Ten Words, ending with a “coveting” of house and contents.

[1] James B. Jordan, Judges, pp. 245-246. [PDF]
[2] See A Woman Scorned.
[3] From Adam Clarke’s Commentary:

Dr. Kennicott, however, objects to the common interpretation; and gives reasons, some of which are far from being destitute of weight. “The three hundred foxes,” says he, “caught by Samson, have been so frequently the subject of banter and ridicule, that we should consider whether the words may not admit a more rational interpretation: for, besides the improbability arising here from the number of these foxes, the use made of them is also very strange. If these animals were tied tail to tail, they would probably pull contrary ways, and consequently stand still; whereas a firebrand tied to the tail of each fox singly would have been far more likely to answer the purpose here intended. To obviate these difficulties it has been well remarked, that the word שועלים shualim, here translated foxes, signifies also handfuls, Ezekiel 13:19, handfuls of barley; if we leave out that one letter ו vau, which has been inserted or omitted elsewhere, almost at pleasure. No less than seven Hebrew MSS. want that letter here, and read שעלים shealim. Admitting this version, we see that Samson took three hundred handfuls or sheaves of corn, and one hundred and fifty firebrands; that he turned the sheaves end to end, and put a firebrand between the two ends in the midst; and then, setting the brands on fire, sent the fire into the standing corn of the Philistines. The same word is now used twice in one chapter, (Ezekiel 13:4, Ezekiel 13:19); in the former verse signifying foxes, in the latter handfuls: and in 1 Kings 20:10, where we render it handfuls, it is αλωπεξι, foxes, in the Greek version.” – Remarks on Select Passages.

[4] Trumpets, step 5, concerns armies but also Gentiles and prophets. The jawbone of an ass here is probably a divine reference to Balaam. Samson’s slaughter was a legal witness from the man who was God’s angel, unmasking the lie and the harlotry and becoming a blessing to Israel. It seems that donkeys refer to the Gentile believers who act as kingly sponsors to the priestly work of God’s people. One other point is that Joseph is also betrayed by his brothers at this point in his first “cycle.”

[5] James Jordan’s outline of the Samson narrative in the notes for his lecture series Samson the Mighty Bridegroom is also very helpful as it demonstrates how the sevenfold process of “seeing a woman | guardian removed | “marriage” | riddles | betrayal | justice | strength” is repeated in microcosm in the Sanctions section of the narrative. You can purchase the lectures from wordmp3.com. The outline is also on page 683 of Totus Christus.

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