Of the Lord Judges 14
“It was of the Lord” is often used to pin responsibility on God for actions that do not reflect a God of love. Even when the Bible itself says that, we must consider idiomatic expression, the context and what the Bible says elsewhere about God’s character.
Traditional Legal Model: “It was of the Lord” or God’s plan for Samson to do what he did to give an occasion to fight against the Philistine’s oppression of His people.
Biblical Healing Model: “It was of the Lord” for Samson to do what he did in the sense that God allowed it as He honors free-will choices but it is never “of the Lord” for a person to commit a sin.
“And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. 3 Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. 4 But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel. (Jud 14:1-4)
The question is “does of the Lord mean from the Lord”? Was that His intent? In the context, Samson demanded to marry a Philistine woman against the protests of his parents. This was a direct violation of God’s commands to His people against marrying pagan women:
“Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.” (Deut 7:3-4)
Did God Really Want That?
If we read Judges 14:4 literally, it appears as if God is the direct cause of someone violating His commandments: “… it was of the Lord.” This makes God’s character appear questionable. It could imply that Samson’s lust and willingness to marry a pagan was the result of God’s doing.
Commentaries suggest that even though this was a clear violation of God’s divine statute, God had a “secret purpose” in bringing this about, which was what?
“… he sought an occasion against the Philistines.”
Grammatically, the “he” in verse 4 is the Lord. Some might say that the end (the destruction of Israel’s enemies) justifies the means (a little sin). However, if an all-wise God must move people to sin in order to fulfill His purposes—secret or otherwise, then isn’t there a problem? He can be neither wise nor holy.
“But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?” (Rom 3:5-6)
Will God sin or tempt to sin to carry out His will? See a definition of vengeance as it applies to God.
God does not need to use our ways to bring about His purposes. Furthermore, His ways are quite different than ours as in the case of anger or wrath:
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Furthermore, God would never subject man to temptation for any reason.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” (James 1:13)
Reconciling “Of the Lord” with a God of Love
So how do we reconcile Judges 14:4 with the truth that God does not want, need or use sin to accomplish His plans?
Certain expressions in Scripture, when rendered “word for word” in English, need to be understood from the perspective of the original language. The word-for-word meaning might not reveal the actual intent of the original words. We call that an idiom.
For example, the phrase “It was of the Lord” does not necessarily mean that God was the “divine manipulator” of the event (from the early 1800s so the wording is a little difficult):
“It is a solemn, but not unusual expression in the Hebrew tongue, to say of a thing beyond measure great, that it is of the Lord; not always meaning hereby, that God himself is the immediate cause of it, but signifying it to be such, that naturally no account is easy to be given of it.” (Shuckford, Samuel The Sacred and Profane History of the World. Connected from the Creation of the World to the Dissolution of the Assyrian Empire; London: W. Baynes, 1808, p39-40)
This is referred to as “the Hebrew idiom of permission.” See many more examples.
of writers who recognized that God was often said to do what He merely allowed to happen.
While explaining the authority to remit sins that our Lord delegated to His apostles, Thomas Jackson writes:
“…. and this authority our Saviour expresses according to a well-known idiom of the Jews’ language. It is no wonder, then, that God is said to do that which He permitted men to do, when they had by their sins provoked Him to withdraw from them the restraints of His providence and grace. Inattention to Scripture forms of expression is one of the most fruitful sources of theological error.” (Jackson, Thomas, The Providence of God, Viewed in the Light of Holy Scripture; London: John Mason, 1862, p300-01, emphasis added)
Jackson noted that our neglect of Hebrew idioms is the primary source of error. No doubt, inattention to this truth has led many to read in Scriptures such as Judges 14:4 the false idea that God moved Samson to sin.
Jackson goes on to explain how Judges 14:4 is to be understood through the lens of this the Hebrew idiom of permission:
“Samson’s marriage with a heathen woman, belonging to the original inhabitants of Canaan, was a direct violation of the law of God. He had said to His people, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.” (Deut. vii. 3.) When Samson set his heart upon such an alliance, his parents attempted to dissuade him from the enterprise, and urged him to turn his attention to some daughter of Israel, as his future wife; but in this it is said, “His father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, that He sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” (Judges xiv. 4.) The meaning, we apprehend, is, not that it was “of the Lord” that Samson should break His law; but that as Samson was bent upon this unholy connexion, and would not be satisfied without it, God would not interpose His power to prevent it, but would overrule it for good, as He often does the evil actions of bad men. To Samson and his family the consequences of this marriage were most disastrous, as might be expected; but it led to beneficial results so far as the people of Israel were concerned. At this time they suffered greatly under the oppressive dominion of the heathen, who still dwelt in the land. By means of this marriage Samson was brought into direct intercourse with these oppressors; he destroyed their power, and liberated his own people, though he brought upon himself great dishonour, and even lost his life. Samson sinned, and endured the bitter penalty of his waywardness and folly; but “it was of the Lord” to bring good out of the evil, by making it a means of relief to His suffering people.” (Jackson, Thomas The Providence of God, Viewed in the Light of Holy Scripture; London: John Mason, 1862, p301-2)
Bringing Good Out of a Bad Situation
It was Samson who was determined to violate God’s clear commands. God, being an omni-resourceful God, would find a way through Samson’s rebellion to accomplish His purpose for Israel. Nevertheless, this does not infer that God authored the event. That is why we must read Judges 14:4 as idiomatic rather than literal.
“The sin of Samson must not be attributed to the Lord, but the deliverance of the Israelites by Samson was from the Lord. Remember, scriptural language frequently attributes directly to God what he merely permits.” (Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Hard Sayings of the Bible, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1996, p196-7)
Scriptures appearing to make God the author of sin must be read in a permissive sense. While God allowed Samson to sin (exercise his free will) and had the ability to work around his sin to accomplish His goal, this does not mean that God wanted or condoned the sin itself.
In the description of Samson’s behavior, there is no direct mention of any influence on God’s part.
“This chapter opens with the courtship and marriage, which was properly reproved by his parents as contrary to the Mosaic law. Samson, as is often the case with only and darling sons, was wayward; he had not been subjected to control, and would not now submit to it. The matter, however, was “of the Lord:” not by his direction or approbation, but by the permission of his providence; and it formed an essential link in that chain of events which led to the liberation of Israel from the Philistines.” (Patton, William (Ed.) The Cottage Bible and Family Expositor: Genesis-Song of Solomon: Hartford: Case, Tiffany, & Burnham, 1842, p383)
Any Scripture which seems to make God appear to be the author of sin, sickness and catastrophe must be considered from the perspective of Hebrew idioms. Perhaps a better rendering of Judges 14:4 would be:
“But his father and his mother knew not that the LORD would overrule this to bring about His original intentions to deliver Israel.” (Judges 14:4 paraphrased)
There is yet another way to understand this passage. It could be that it is “of the Lord” (of His ways) to always allow free will. So it was not “of the Lord” that Samson did what he did but “of the Lord” to allow Samson’s free-will actions.
Remember too, that Samson is included in the Hall of Faith of Hebrews chapter 11:
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:” (Heb 11:32)
It was “of the Lord” in Joshua
There is one other case in the Bible (KJV) of “it was of the Lord” referring to an action inconsistent with that of a non-violent God.
“There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. 20 For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:19-20)
The action attributed to the Lord in that case was to harden their hearts. This is similar to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the Exodus discussed on this page which shows that, really, Pharaoh hardened his own heart in reaction to God’s appeals to him to change his ways. Notice that the result of the action in Joshua was due to Israel not God.
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