Samson and the fall of the house of Israel

Posted: September 15, 2012 by J in Bible

Modelling his Gospel on the Samson story has other pay-offs. It also helps Luke emphasise the note of judgement, which is particularly strong in Luke. The death of Samson is the death of the people and their rulers and the fall of the house of Dagon. But when Jesus dies it is the Jerusalem temple that is symbolically torn apart. Luke has prepared us to see the rejection of Jesus as finally sealing or representing the fall of the house of Israel and of the temple (Luke 13:35, 19:44, 20:15-16). Now this is graphically confirmed by the Samson imagery. There is a secondary echo from 2 Chron. 3 (the other place where the phrase ‘one on the right, the other on the left’ occurs), and there the pillars are actually those of the Jerusalem temple, This reinforces the connection between the phrase and the temple in the mind of the reader. A house is falling, and it is the house of Israel, represented by the temple.

Another function of this intertextual link is to identify the role of the Jews in Luke’s story. They play the part of the Philistines in Judges 16, gloating over the judge of Israel and sending him a death which is ultimately their own. This is of a piece with the numerous reversals in this part of Luke, where Jerusalem and its inhabitants and particularly their leaders are several times cast as enemies of Israel – Babylon etc. Jesus has come as the true judge to conquer the enemies of God’s people – but it turns out to be those in Jerusalem, not the Romans, who are the real enemies. It is for this reason that the promised ‘redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2: 38) requires a complete reconfiguring of the people of God, ‘the falling and rising of many in Israel’ (2:34) – a national death and rebirth, in fact.

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