Friday, August 17, 2012

Samson: Hero or Terrorist

Friday, August 17, 2012 -- Week of Proper 14
Samuel Johnson, Timothy Cutler, and 
Thomas Bradbury Chandler, Priests, 1772, 1765, 1790
Today's Readings for the Daily Office 
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 979)
Psalms 102 (morning)       107:1-32 (evening)
Judges 14:20 - 15:20
Acts 7:17-29
John 4:43-54

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]
Samson is the kind of hero's folk tale that thrives among an oppressed people.  His story happens at a time when the Philistines are dominant over the tribes of Israel.  The Philistines have consolidated their position in the prosperous coastal plain in an alliance of five strong cities.  The Israelites live in the hill country, their tribes related in a loose confederacy.  The Philistines are able to reach into the hills and express their power whenever they wish.  No doubt, the more sophisticated coast people made sport of their rural circumcised neighbors.

Samson's exploits are the stories of an individual of great personal power and courage who wreaks havoc with an oppressor.  When his riddle is betrayed, he raids one of the coastal town and kills forty men to seize their festal garments to pay his bet.  He uses clever low-tech means to terrorize the powerful Palestinians -- tying torches to foxes' tails to burn their harvest and orchards; slaying a cohort of men with the jawbone of a donkey.  Guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

We've also got the intrigue of counter-terrorism, as the Palestinians exploit his weakness for women to compromise him.  This is great spy stuff and a compelling story.  Stay tuned.  The Delilah story starts tomorrow.

And Sunday's reading for Morning Prayer will bring the cycle to its end.  Blind Samson will pull down the pillars of the house "full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines" -- 3000 of them.  Looking ahead at the story, my heart skipped just a bit when I read that number.  A suicide attack on a great building in which 3000 were killed.  That sounds too familiar.

In the end, nothing much changed.  The Philistines still held sway over the Israelites, a condition that would continue for many years until the successes of Saul and David.  But the oppressed Israelites had a story of a hero they could tell their children about.

I remember as a child being told the story of Samson.  It was one of my favorites.  I wanted to grow up to be strong like him, able to defeat God's enemies with my might and cunning.  The stuff with girls just sounded perplexing.  I wouldn't be so stupid as to tell some girl about the secret of my strength.  I wouldn't make the mistakes Samson made -- then nothing could stop me.

It might seem like pretty innocent stuff.  Like Superman and Batman.  Unless you are a kid growing up in occupied Palestine in a Hezbollah school in Gaza for the children of the unemployed, demoralized masses there.  This is the kind of story oppressed people tell to restore a bit of pride.  It's the kind of story that inspires courage for resistance.  It's the kind of story that plants seeds to grow freedom fighters.  It's the kind of story that can create a new generation of heroes -- or terrorists -- depending upon with side of the power struggle you occupy.  It's the kind of story that glorifies wanton damage and death.  It's not one of my favorite stories anymore.

But then, I am a Philistine, one of the powerful.

What would I think of a story like this if I were a black Moslem in Darfur?  ...a Kurdish child on the Turkish-Iraqi border? ...a student in a Taliban school in Pakistan?  ...a Palestinian boy in Gaza? 


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Kathy Trotter said...

Very thought provoking -- that we are the Philistines. Thanks!

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice poem from anonymous.

The early part of your story -- the organized Philistines and the disorganized tribes of Israel make me think of what a blessing and a curse is the human ability to work in large groups.

He was one of my heros too. Was it VIctor Mature who played him in the movie?

Mike Wertz

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

Some wag once said, "God so loved the world that he didn't send a committee."

I long for a nation that invests in the things that make for our common good -- a strong public education, universal quality health care, effective public transportation, good parks & museums -- the kinds of things that are so excellent that the wealthy and the poor will both use them.

I worry about those who feel so alienated that they are willing to destroy those common goods. We have to protect ourselves from them even as we work to find paths of hope for their lives too.


At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, the poem is really a song, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Sorry, I should have attributed the quote, but I thought it was familiar enough that I didn't need to.


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