Why does strongman Samson in the Old Testament story (Judges 14) grab a lion and kill it with his bare manly hands? I’ve always wondered why that story was there, it’s kind of an aside while Samson is on route with his parents to take a bride. My own “Samson” (beloved late bulldog) once starred as a lion in a church animal play; and I have a good mate called Samson who is a Knight.
At the February 2013 men’s retreat I attended last week in California, John Eldredge mentioned the biblical simile of Satan as a “roaring lion” roaming about looking for someone to devour, and how the church says he is now a “toothless lion.” Not so says John Eldredge; the devil is still highly dangerous (like a ravenous lion). In this story of the lion, the beast comes at Samson, roaring. Something snaps and Samson reacts and tears the creature to pieces, “like (a lion would) a goat.”
And then, click, a light bulb goes on. Samson is a picture of the strengthened godly man, filled with God’s strength in his own human weakness (read Romans 7 for Paul’s own honest admissions). Samson subdues the ‘lion,’ his own flesh-man within – his weaknesses, failings, ‘demons,’ failed humanity (Hebrew: Golem, as in “Gollum,” man of clay associated with lust). But he doesn’t tell his parents, because this is about being grown up, a man himself, independent, strong, centered.
Later, he comes back once the ‘flesh’ is subdued to find honey within the rib cage of the carcass. He gives some to his parents, but again, does not tell them about the lion. This speaks of private (internalised) treasure, of finding his true male warrior heart (created as a manifestation of God’s likeness) and “leaving his mother and father and cleaving to his wife” [Genesis 2:23] i.e. being a man, creating a new family separate from them. The honey is sweet, precious, rare, won through struggle (the lion) and bee stings, but deeply satisfying (wives are often ‘Honey”). It was incredibly prized in the ancient world, which is why Samson gives some to his family. I think it is a metaphor for the modern spiritual life, because of the unusual aspect of the honey forming within the rib cage, literally inside the lion (the man).
“What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” (Judges 14: 18).
“In the rib cage” is also significant, for here we see the picture of Adam reconciled with Eve, formed from his own rib by God, leading her to her own honey (finding her own feminine heart and likeness of God) through the vanquishing of the ‘lion.’
It’s a tremendous picture with many more allusions: Samson’s strength being in his lion-like mane; carrying away the gates of the philistine city, a picture of undoing the strength of this world culture and being free; little foxes spoiling the vine; wrestling with life as a riddle (Samson has a riddle scene just like Bilbo and Gollum’s, culminating in the incident of the lion); being betrayed by a beauty (undoing his manhood with her femininity); shackled like an ox to a treadmill (working 9 till 5, desk, computer, commute, mortgage); losing his perspective (having his eyes put out); mocked (surely this is the age where appropriate manhood is mocked); and final victory through death.
The Middle-Eastern lion, now extinct, was a little smaller than the African lion we know today, but still formidable. They were very dangerous and it was the job of the Assyrian kings to ride out and kill them, as Provider of Order and Civilisation. We see this depicted on numerous ancient carvings. The story of Samson doing this, whether tribal prose or literal historicity, depicts Samson as a king-type figure within the Hebrew clan’s sacred writings prior to the emergence of the ancient tribal monarchy.
~ John Stringer (Christchurch).