by Tim O'Hearn
Some people say I am quite a wit. Others say they are half right. Half-wit or not, there are certain passages of scripture that I think are exceptionally humorous. For instance, in Acts 8 when an angel helps Peter escape from prison, I think it hilarious that Rhoda leaves him at the front door after she recognizes him. Just as funny is that the Christians praying for his release hear that he is at the door and their reaction is, “You must be joking.” But then, I also think it funny that, in Genesis 18, Abraham is sitting in his tent with God and when he sees men coming he essentially tells God, “Wait for me here; I’ll get back to you as soon as I take care of these guys.”
If I consider those events funny, imagine what I think about Samson (Judges 13-16). Yes, his humor is often a little strange, even cruel at times. Still, he was a master of wit.
Whenever I give a present I often accompany it with a “clue” about what is in the wrapping. These clues are designed to conceal rather than reveal. My father was the supreme master of this. His classic clue was, “It is loud and it is quiet; it is round and it is square; it is hard and it is soft; it is big and it is little.” He went on for several days with such clues before we eventually found that he was describing a Ping-Pong (table tennis) table and equipment. Perhaps my dad and I are descended from Samson. In Judges 14 Samson is at a party and presents a riddle. “Out of the eater came forth meat; and out of the strong came forth sweet.” This riddle made no sense to anyone who had not known (as nobody did) that he had killed a lion and bees made a hive in the carcass. It was a perfectly good riddle. The wicked wit is that it was unsolvable to anybody but Samson. My kind of guy.
As God intended, the Philistines were the usual targets of Samson’s humor. To pay a debt of thirty garments he went to another town and killed thirty Philistines for their clothes. When trapped in a city at night he took the huge gate, with its doorposts and the bar used to lock it, and carried it to Hebron, 94 miles away. What a way to tell somebody that their gate is useless to hold him! On another occasion his father-in-law thought Samson had deserted his wife, so he gave his daughter to Samson’s best man instead. When Samson learned of this he burned the Philistine crops in a unique way. Catching 300 foxes, he tied their tails together in pairs and attached burning torches. Imagine a videotape of that. Pairs of foxes running every which way, trying to get away from the fire, but getting in each other’s way because they are tied together. It was cruel, yet an effective way of saying, “sly as you are, I am even more so.”
There was a time when the Jews were upset with Samson for upsetting the status quo. They wanted to turn him over to the Philistine army. They bound him with new ropes, but when he came to the army he burst them like burnt thread. When his new girlfriend, Delilah, asked how to take his strength he told her to bind him with strips of bark, and then with new ropes. By now Delilah should have known he was playing with her. If new ropes had not worked before, he must be joking with her now. If his joke with the foxes was cruel, this was even more so. Nobody ever said Samson was smart, but even he should have figured out that these jokes were putting his girlfriend in danger, especially since these were the same people who burned his first wife to death. I grant that this was not the best situation in which to play a joke, but it must have been fun pretending to be weak and then watching the men scatter when he freed himself.
So Samson’s brand of humor may not have been the same as some people’s. Nevertheless, he does show that God doesn’t expect all of his people to be unsmiling Puritans. Our jokes should not be as cruel as Samson’s, but God’s people can joke around. In his word God tells us about some funny events. It is acceptable to laugh when reading the Bible. It might even do you some good.