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This is an excerpt from week 7 of my weekly podcast.  You can listen to the complete episode here: Journey – Exploring the world of the Bible – God’s Story, or click the picture below.  This week, the book of Judges with a focus on Samson.

Journey Weekly Podcast

Israelites vs Philistines

Map of the Hill Country, Shephelah and Coastal Plain

Map of the Hill Country, Shephelah and Coastal Plain

At the same time the Israelites were moving into the Hill Country from the east, the Philistines were moving into the Coastal Plain from the west.  They settled on the southern coast of the Mediterranean, between Gaza in the south and Joppa in the north.  The Philistines were a confederation of five major cities often called the Philistine Pentapolis.  Three of these cities were on the coast: Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod.  The other two were on the eastern edge of the Coastal Plain: Ekron and Gath.

View of the Sorek Valley where the Philistines lived from Samson's hometown

View of the Sorek Valley where the Philistines lived from Samson’s hometown

In between the Hill Country of the tribe of Judah, and the Coastal Plains of the Philistine was a region of low, fertile, rolling foothills, called the Shephelah.  The Shephelah region functioned as a natural buffer zone between the hill country and the coast.  Both sides want to control it, but until King David, neither side is able to hang onto it.

Samson’s Story

View from Sorek Valley of the hill where Samson grew up - Mahane Dan is the little clearing on top of the 1st hilltop on the right

View from Sorek Valley of the hill where Samson grew up – Mahane Dan is the little clearing on top of the 1st hilltop on the right

The Shephelah and Coastal Plain are where Samson’s story takes place.  Samson is born into the tribe of Dan in a town called Mahane Dan, which is on top of a ridge that separates two of the six valleys that cut east to west across the Shephelah.  These valleys are the Aijalon and the Sorek and both of these valleys were allotted to the tribe of Dan by Joshua.  So why is Samson’s family living up on a rugged hilltop instead of down on the fertile valley floor where agriculture is easy and crops grow in abundance?  Because the Philistines control the valleys!  The Israelite’s rejection of God has kept them away from the inheritance God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

At the end of Judges 13 barren Manoah’s wife has a son:

Timnah is the flat tel at the edge of the field

Timnah is the flat tel at the edge of the field

“The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” (Judges 13:24-25)

In verse 24 we learn that his name is Samson.  Why Samson?  In the time and place of this story a person was not named whatever was most popular at the time.  A person’s name was based on who their parents hoped they would be and what they would do.  A name was an identity that parents hoped a child would live out as they grew up.

The traditional tombs of Samson and Manoah

The traditional tombs of Samson and Manoah

So why Samson?  In Hebrew his name is Shimshon, which means “little light.”  Repeatedly in the Bible so far, light has been used as a symbol for God.  So if Samson is named “little light” what’s the picture?  Samson, the little light, is to point towards and be a reflection of God, the great light.

As Samson grew up atop the hill overlooking the Sorek Valley, everyday he could look down on the fertile land below that God had promised to his ancestors but that was now under Philistine control.  While living there atop the hill “the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” (Judges 13:24–25 NIV)

If you appreciate this post please listen to the full podcast by clicking this link: Journey – Exploring the world of the Bible – God’s Story.  A new podcast will be posted each week through May, 2015.

You can check out my blog posts from my first visit to the Shephelah of Judah by clicking here: Saloon Door Shephelah.

Grace and peace.