Hebrews 11 is the chapter of the ‘Heroes of Faith’ and is traditionally understood as a list of those ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Heb. 12:1). However, after taking a class on the book of Judges, I realize that I need to rethink this chapter because I cannot hold the Judges listed (Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah) as ‘heroes of the faith.’ These are not commendable characters. Let us look at Samson as an example.

Samson is called before birth to be a ‘Nazirite’ before God. He is promised to begin to “deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judg. 13:5). The Nazirite vow comes from Num. 6:1-8. The vow consists of abstaining from 3 things: 1) wine or other grape products, 2) cutting the hair, 3) going near a corpse. In the stipulations set before Samson’s mother (the unnamed wife of Manoah), only the first two stipulations are mentioned but we can assume by the label ‘nazirite’ that the third was in view also.

The reason given for the vows of the Nazirite is that they are to be “holy to the Lord” (Judg. 6:8). In other words, they are to be dedicated as especially holy to the Lord for a certain amount of time. They are to take on extra stipulations so that for a time they are ‘more holy’ or ‘more set apart’ than the average Israelite.

The first thing we see Samson do is desire a Philistine woman for his wife (Judg. 14:1ff.). In the book of Judges this is “the evil” that Israel is so often accused of. In the book of Judges this is the main problem. Israel is repeatedly accused of doing ‘the evil’ or ‘the bad thing’ which one author has defined as “intermarriage leading to worship of other gods” (See my Review of Schneider’s Commentary). Samson’s first act as deliverer of Israel is to commit the very evil that Israel is accused of throughout the book!

Next we see Samson killing a lion with his bare hands (14:6). We all know this Sunday School story, but what he does next directly violates his nazirite vow. He scoops some honey out of the decaying carcass of the lion (14:8-9). This is certainly not kosher for any Israelite, but is an especially obvious violation of the nazirite vow.

It is true that nowhere is it explicitly stated that Samson drinks wine. But we see him making a feast (14:10) and if we believe his sobriety we are forced to assume he abstains from the wine that would have been plentiful at a wedding banquet. But that’s an argument from silence.

We all know that Samson gets his hair cut by Delilah and that seems to be the last straw, as it loses him the Holy Spirit and his superhuman strength. So we could make a good case for the fact that Samson breaks every vow he was supposed to uphold.

An argument in Samson’s favor could be that he did bad things but he also did great good for the people of Israel by fighting her enemies. However, even in his last great act, his motivation for the destruction he brings on the Philistines is revenge. Samson prays to the Lord “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes” (16:28). This is hardly a pious act.

So I cannot accept a positive assessment of Samson. If he were a king of Israel he would have had the negative assessment: ‘And Samson did evil in the eyes of the Lord.’ So I am at a loss as to how to understand the deeds that the Judges did ‘through faith’ (dia pisteos). It does not appear that Samson was faithful in any way.

It seems to me that I have two options: 1) I can understand the ‘faith’ of the Judges as the ‘faith of God’ as ‘God’s faith.’ In other words it is God’s faithfulness that is on display in Hebrews 11 and not the faithfulness of the characters listed. Or 2) I can accept that the hermeneutic of the author of Hebrews does damage to a clear reading of the book of Judges. Right now I am leaning toward the former option but I’m not sure that makes complete sense in the context of Hebrews 11. I am currently reading Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation, and I am curious to see how he uses his ‘Incarnational Analogy’ to talk about the NT’s use of the OT. Maybe that will push me toward option 2. That is where I am for right now, further thought and discussion would necessitate another post.

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