The Breastplate of Righteousness 4

The story of Samson is a cautionary tale about the consequences of presuming on God’s grace. Although it’s often couched as a salutary story on the wiles of sultry temptresses like Delilah, she is in fact only the agent of the judgment that inevitably befell him. The incident immediately prior to her introduction is the real turning point of his career:

One day Samson went to the Philistine city of Gaza, where he met a prostitute and went to bed with her. The people of Gaza… waited for him all night long at the city gate… ‘We’ll wait until daybreak, and then we’ll kill him.’ But Samson stayed in bed only until midnight. Then he got up and took hold of the city gate and pulled it up—doors, posts, lock, and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them far off to the top of the hill overlooking Hebron. Judges 16:1–3 GNT

Now the next time we hear of Gaza it’s when Samson is defeated and taken there as a slave. There he died, between two pillars. The chronicler clearly meant the reader to see a cause-and-effect sowing-and-reaping relationship between the two events.

However let’s examine this tantalisingly brief story in more detail. It sheds so much light for us as to how and why we can be presumptuous about God’s gift of protection through the breastplate of righteousness.

As the story starts, strongman Samson is having a night in town with one of the local madams. His enemies find out and decide to wait by the gate to knock him off on the way out. But, instead of fighting his way through the ambush, he uproots the gate and carries it off some forty kilometres or so to Hebron.

Now scratch this story even a little and you realise there has to be some major detail missing. This group of killers waiting at the gate might have been taken by surprise but how is it they weren’t able to rush in with their weapons and overpower Samson during any stage of this cross-country gate-carrying trek? It defies credibility.

This very complex, nuanced story has notable levels of irony. Samson, in acting unrighteously from start to finish, was trying to save his skin by relying on the righteousness of the Philistines. What!? Righteousness and Philistines in the same sentence?

Yup. Seriously.

‘Gates’ in the ancient world were synonymous with judgment because that’s where judges sat to deliver justice. Justice and righteousness were inextricably related, so it’s no surprise the words for gates and righteousness were related. So, Samson was picking up the righteousness of Gath and making off with it.

Moreover, he was cleverly manipulating a covenant. The reason the Philistines were waiting outside the gate was because, inside, Samson was covered by a threshold covenant.

Way back when Rahab had sheltered the spies in Jericho, she protected them because, on entering her house, they too were covered by a threshold covenant. Still further back, when Lot offered his daughters to the men of Sodom to save his visitors, he did so because of a threshold covenant. Such a covenant required the householder to defend his visitors even to the death. It also required the visitors to fight on behalf of the host, if need be. If either side didn’t keep up their end of the covenant, a host of curses would befall them. (These curses are, of course, why the spies who entered Jericho were so careful about specifying conditions for the safety of Rahab’s family when they left.)

So, back to Samson. The Philistines were being a bit sneaky by waiting right outside the gate but it was within the letter of the law, if not the spirit. They didn’t want to be accused of breaking any threshold covenants. Samson obviously realised this. By picking up the gates, he took the threshold with him. He extended the limits of the town behind him and, with it, the covenant which covered him.  To keep the covenant, the Philistines couldn’t attack until he stepped outside the gates. Which he didn’t. Instead he headed for Hebron, a city of refuge, with its own guards who no doubt came swarming to his rescue when he appeared on the hill outside the town.

It might be clever but it comes with a diabolic twist.  It tarnishes grace, using righteousness not to preserve justice but pervert it. Instead of being the light on the hill he was called to be, Samson blighted God’s name before the Philistines.

So when it comes our righteousness in Christ, do we act like Samson in front of our neighbours? Or not?



  1. Thanks anne. I’d not thought about Samson ‘hiding’ under the gate he carried. The threshold covenant I understand. It is often disturbing how there are times when the unrighteous are more righteous than the ‘righteous’.

    I find Samson one of the saddest men in Scripture.To me he epitomises the Carnal believer. Yet the record on our side of the cross of him reveals the greatness of God’s gracious mercy. It offers hope to those with the ‘genes’ of Samson in their Christian life. Hebrews 11:32.

    If I read 1 Corinthians 3:15 right, Samson and his ‘spiritual genetic’descendents have nothing to offer the Lord and nothing to receive from Him.

    Thanks again for your insights

  2. Hi Ray –

    I agree with you that he represents the carnal believer. And I was actually thinking about 1 Corinthians 3:15 as I wrote this – that some believers will be saved with only their foundation (Christ) but nothing of the works (and calling) they could have offered Him.

    I think the writer of Judges meant the reader not just to see the unrighteousness of Samson contrasted with the greater righteousness of the Philistines – but was driving the point home in the next story after that of Samson. The tribe of Benjamin in the next story so violate the threshold covenant that they make even Samson in this story look ‘righteous’ and the Philistines almost as pure as the driven snow.

    The ironies pile up one on another when we consider that this is just a generation or so beyond Joshua.

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