Judges 15:11b  I merely did to them what they did to me.”


          The Judges we are reading about in this part of the Daily Walk are not the same sort of judges we have in our courts today.  The Judges in Israel were charismatic leaders who rose to lead Israel at a time of crisis.  Usually this was a military crisis and, in that day and time, that military crisis usually involved the Philistines.  These “judges” were not elected or appointed by any outside human authority.  They were skilled leaders whose ability to rally the people and defend Israel from outside threat convinced the people that God had selected and blessed that leader for the job.


          Like with the later kings of Israel, however, being a Judge (even a divinely appointed one), did not exempt people from either sin or stupidity.  I’ve never heard this in a Bible trivia game, but I think if I were asked to name the dumbest person in the Bible, Samson would have to get my vote.  Samson doesn’t seem to be conniving like Jacob or as prone to sin as King David who comes later; but Samson is dumb as a post.  He falls for the same trick time after time, which both puts his country in danger and ends up costing his life.


          When it comes to leading Israel, his national policy isn’t too swift either.  Samson is vengeful and hot-headed; and when the Philistines treat him badly, he is right out there ready to return the favor.  “I merely did to them what they did to me,” he says.  Just two verses before this, the Philistines announce that they have come to take Samson prisoner, “to do to him as he did to us.”  It is a vicious cycle where no one wins, and Samson is not doing Israel any favors in leading Israel on a tit-for-tat crusade.


          What we see here is a Biblical principle being played out.  Both in the Old and New Testaments it is quite clear that God’s justice and mercy are perfectly combined in the principle that we are treated according to the way we treat others.  The measure you use is the measure you receive, Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:2, just one of many passages bearing such a message.  It’s even in the Lord’s Prayer… “forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us.”  So, because that’s the way it works, it is in everyone’s best interest to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves, not simply to give what we get.  We call it the “golden rule” for a reason, and it applies to both individuals and to nations.


          The principle that we reap what we sow is both scary and encouraging, depending on how we behave.  If we are nasty to others, we’ll get it right back.  If we demand that others hold to the letter of the law, the same will be expected of us.  But if we break the cycle, as Jesus encourages, and love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us; if we forgive wrongs instead of avenging them; if we show mercy to those who don’t deserve it; it seems that God is taking notes and will decide what to do with us and our transgressions according to the decisions we have made about others.


          When Samson’s father-in-law gives his wife to someone else, Samson responds by burning his fields.  They respond by killing the woman.  He responds by slaughtering more Philistines; they respond by coming to take Samson prisoner; he responds by killing a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey; and so it goes on forever…quite literally as the descendants of both nations still fight each other today after more than 3,000 years.  The Samson story gives us a nice foil to the story of Jesus, who responds to his own brutal execution with the words, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  That act saved the world and we now look to Jesus as the greatest of all the Judges.


          And so the choice is before us.  We can go by the old eye-for-an-eye standard and end up killing both ourselves and our enemies; or we can adopt the more difficult way of Jesus and return evil with good.  It is just important to remember that the response we choose is the response we are electing to receive for ourselves.


God of justice, help us to learn mercy and become more like you, for all our sakes.  Amen.



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