The Nazarene

No man is born into the world
Whose work is not born with him.
—James Russell Lowell

Three hundred foxes, yelping and squalling, gamboled across the valley of Timnath in front of their captor, whose cheery laughter rang out on the evening air.  He whistled and cracked his whip, giving an extra twist with his left hand to the thong that their hundreds of leashes were tied to.  Then Samson turned to the boy walking by his side with a smoking basket of charcoal.

“You can set that down now, Halek,” he said.  “This’ll be a good place to start lighting things up.”

“Yes sir.”

Samson slipped the thong around a handy fence post and grabbed hold of the two nearest foxes by the napes of their necks.  He tied them back to back, braiding a brand into their tails.  The small boy stood respectfully by, too scared to come near the yelping foxes, but too absorbed in admiration to run home, though Samson had dismissed him with a good-natured nod.

“What are you going to do with them?” Halek asked.

“Teach the dirty Philistines a lesson.  It’s about time they learn some manners.”  He lit the brand between the tails and let the frightened foxes go loping across the field of ripening wheat, dropping sparks that caught easily on the standing grain.

Halek shuddered in fear.  “But the Philistines—they’re our masters, Samson.  What will they do to you if they catch you?”

Samson paused for an instant from tying another pair of foxes and stared over the scattered houses, the vineyards and olive trees dotting the valley, now tinged with the golden light of sunset.  “The Philistines won’t always be our masters, Halek,” he said.  “Someday, we’ll be free.  And please God, I’m going to bring that day about.”

The Philistines went up and pitched in Judah, spreading themselves in Lehi.  Samson saw them from the top of the rock Etam.  He was glad they hadn’t had enough yet.  HE hadn’t had enough.  The fiery glint in his eyes was more than the reflection of his attack on their fields; it was the reflection of a grimmer fire, the fire the Philistines had kindled for his wife.  His super-human strength surged up within him.  “Is this what you do?” he cried out.  “I swear I’ll be avenged!”

He looked across the land, the promised land of milk and honey, now groaning under the heel of idolatrous invaders, and pity and courage welled up in his heart.  For his people, for every mother whose child had been dragged away to be the drudge of a daughter of Gath, for every bride whose husband had been torn away to slave in the ports of Gaza, for every farmer whose crops had been stolen, for every child whose home had been ruined.  Yes, he would be avenged.  God would show him how.

It was the men of Judah who came up to the rock Etam, three thousand strong, Johanon of Lehi at their head.  Samson met them, just the faintest shade of scornful.  “Brothers?” he said.

“Don’t you know that the Philistines are our rulers?” Johanon asked.  “What have you done to us?”

“I’ve done to THEM what they’ve done to me,” Samson said grimly.

“We’ve come to bind you and hand you over to them.”

Samson looked him in the eye.  Sometimes, he thought, he understood why his people were so often slaves.

But he walked forward and stretched out his arms.  “Swear to me that you won’t try to kill me yourselves.”

The leaders of the troop glanced at each other in relief.  “We won’t,” Johanon promised.  “We’ll bind you, and deliver you to them—but we will not kill you.”

Samson smiled.  They might as well tie up a whirlwind.  Didn’t they understand?  He wanted to scream at them.  I’m here to deliver YOU—and you deliver me over?  You’re three thousand men; put me at your head, and there won’t be a Philistine left in all the coasts of Israel.  —Instead, they were turning him into a peace offering so they could continue to lead the calm lives of slaves.  But this was God’s way; he let them lead him down to the valley, into the hands of his enemies.

The camp of the Philistines greeted Samson with a roar, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.  He snapped the cords and his bonds melted from his hands.  In the awed consternation that followed, he bent over and picked up the jawbone of a donkey, lying on the dusty earth. 

The Philistine shouts changed character; triumph gave place to terror as Samson laid about him, smashing skulls, beating down weapons, cracking bones.  They fled in panic, pursued by that awful weapon and Samson’s taunt: “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of a donkey I have struck down a thousand men!”

On the field of lifeless slain Samson let the jaw fall finally from his hand.  He reeled with thirst and exhaustion and stumbled to his knees.  But he thanked God for his triumph before his thoughts turned to himself.  “You’ve given this great deliverance to your servant,” he gasped out.  “Will I die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?  Isn’t there more for me to do?”

From that day to this, the Spring of Him Who Called bubbles clean from the hollow place at Lehi.

The Lords of the Philistines put their heads together and went to the valley of Sorek.  There they talked to a young woman named Delilah, who asked them for seven fresh bowstrings which had not been dried, and a few new ropes that had never been used, a loom and a web, and finally for a razor.

Samson was not afraid.  He had ripped the city doors of Gaza, posts and all, out of their place and carried them to the hill in front of Hebron.   God-devoted, a Nazarite from birth, there was nothing he could not do.  His vows and whatever a superstitious Philistine might think notwithstanding, Samson knew his strength was not in his hair.  He let Delilah do what she liked with him.

The Lords of the Philistines packed up eleven thousand pieces of silver each, and Delilah cut off Samson’s hair while he slept.

They came and loaded him with brass fetters, and Samson smiled to himself at the formality.  Like other times, he would get into a position of danger and then shake himself free.  He looked out on the rolling fields, the early morning mist blowing across them, at the soldiers marching him grimly away, at the Philistine Lord riding up to him grasping a spear…

“Hold him still while I take out his eyes, lads.”

God-forsaken, unfaithful to his vows, there was nothing Samson could do.

Samson lay on the floor of his cell, exhausted from the brutal grinding work that blind Hebrew slaves were employed on.  He lifted his aching head for a moment as the door grated open and then shut again with a clang.

“Samson,” a small voice said.

“Who is it?  I can’t see.”  Samson stretched his hands out helplessly.

Halek caught hold of them.  “It’s me, Halek,” he gulped, staring dully at Samson’s sightless, scarred eyes.  “They blinded you!  They really did!” he cried.

“I’m blind,” Samson said dully.

“I’ve come… to help you.  The Philistines say you need someone to lead you, sometimes.”

“I need someone to lead me,” Samson said, incredulously.  “All my life I’ve tried to lead Israel out of this slavery—God chose me to be a deliverer!  I thought I would do it.  I thought nothing could stop me, I thought it was the work I’d been given.  I’ve been holy from birth for this—I’ve abused it, I’ve wasted it, I broke those vows over and over, long before I lost my hair, I broke them in my heart.  But somehow I thought, because I was a Nazarene…

“Oh God!  Who will redeem your people, Israel?”

“God has a plan,” Halek said.  “He always does.”

“It’s not me,” Samson said.  “I’ve failed.”  He drank the water Halek gave him, remembering that other water God had given him when he needed it.  “God hasn’t failed, has he?”

“He never fails,” Halek whispered, gently combing Samson’s regrown hair.

“And someday there will be another Nazarene— holy—holier than I could ever have been.  And he will save his people from their sins.”

The Temple of Dagon in Gaza resounded with the wildly jocular clamor of the worshippers, until the Lord of Gaza stood in his seat of honor and waved for silence.  “Guests of Gaza,” he cried, “we are here to celebrate today, to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon, to rejoice, for our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand!”

Roars and cheers drowned him out.  Lords and ladies stomped and applauded.  “Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand!” they roared back.

“Call for Samson!” someone shouted, and the crowd picked it up.

“Samson!  Samson!  Let us see the hero!  The blind warrior!  Samson, the slave!”

But that was nothing compared to the hisses and the execration and the mocking that greeted Samson himself when Halek led him, stale from the prison house, into the lower court of the temple.  There he stood, bowed, weak, helpless, that hero who had killed and destroyed so many of them.

“Samson the slave!”

“Halek,” Samson whispered.

“Yes sir?”

“Lead me to the pillars that hold up the house.  Let me lean against them.”

Halek took hold of the broken hero’s hand, guiding him, one hand to the left pillar, one to the right.

“Can I do—anything else for you, Samson?” the boy asked.

“Tell my brothers,” he said.

“God will give you strength?” Halek whispered.

“God will give me strength,” Samson said.  “Goodbye.”

The shouts and derisive cries of his captors faded from his ears as the sight of them had long since faded from his eyes.  Those eyes, that had been meant to accomplish so much, but had led him so far astray.

“Oh Lord God remember me, I pray, and strengthen me, I pray, only this once, O God! so that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

The cold stone of the pillars trembled beneath Samson’s clasp.

“Let me die with the Philistines!” he cried.

The echoes of that cry, the crash of the toppling temple, and the smoke of that rubble reached to the heavens.

One day, Israel would be free.

They buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying place of his father Manoah.  He had judged Israel for twenty years.

What more shall I say?
Samson through faith waxed valiant in fight,
Turned to flight the armies of the Philistines,
Had trials of cruel mockings, of bonds and imprisonment, was destitute, afflicted, tormented;
And of him the world was not worthy.
For even Samson obtained a good report through faith.

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