…he went down and stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam. Judges 15:8
Samson’s time in the cleft of the rock is the most understated and least discussed event of his life. Maybe it lacks the excitement and intrigue of the lion wrestling, riddle telling or fox unleashing.
It is one of the darkest moments in Samson’s life.
Samson’s family ties – already tested by his marriage to the Philistine – have now apparently been completely broken. For whatever reason, he feels unable to return to his family. The one who joyously shared wild honey with his parents (Judges 14:9) is now very much alone. According to the record, he does not return to his family until he is laid to rest in his father’s tomb (Judges 16:31). After his turbulence of destruction, he takes himself to a cave to seek refuge in a region named Etam.
Samson has chosen recluse and isolation.
How does he feel about himself, his family, his people or his God?
Samson puts himself in the ‘wild beasts lair’ – this, the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘Etam’. It’s not an unusual expression to come across in the life of Samson. His life, recorded in the book of Judges, has more than its fair share of wild beasts and ravenous creatures.
A lair of wild beasts becomes a place of renown. A feared place, a location where the locals would dare not tread. Why would Samson head there? Does he believe his home is with the wild beasts, like the lions and the foxes? Has his life been captured by impulse and animal instinct. He wrestled with the wild beasts and now he wrestles with his own wild nature.
There are times when we feel like life is utterly fractured and broken beyond repair, times when we feel like we can’t return to our Father’s house. There are times when life feels wildly out of control, when we feel like we don’t belong. So we take ourselves to the cleft in the rock, to the wild beasts lair.
We may, on occasions of trouble or despair, isolate ourselves from our friends and family. This can be done in many different ways. We can place ourselves somewhere (physically or mentally) where others feel uncomfortable to approach.
Do you know someone in this situation – someone who has isolated himself or herself? Can you help them?
The real tragedy in this story was that the people of Judah, Samson’s own countrymen, knew exactly where he was. Had anyone tried to approach and help him?
Even when we are alone, the one who works wonders is close. In times of distress we can look for shelter absolutely everywhere, not realizing that God is our refuge.
On this occasion, God saved Samson from himself. God drew him out from the cleft in the rock, in a most unusual way. How would Samson be brought back into civilization?
As we observe Samson and watch the situation unfold, we find that he has delved Israel into further danger. The Philistine armies have invaded Israel’s territory looking for Samson. What is God doing with this man? Wasn’t Samson supposed to be delivering Israel? Instead he appears to be bringing about their downfall.
Samson, far from delivering his people from the Philistines, invited the enemy into Israel’s backyard!
Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam… (Judges 15:11)
The Israelite people acted quickly to pacify the Philistines. Samson’s own angry countrymen bring him out of his seclusion. Whilst betraying him, they inadvertently rescue Samson from the wild beast’s cave. They hand him over to the Gentiles, into the hands of lawless men. We can only begin to imagine the sound of 3000 Israelites clambering up the rock to find Samson.
The resolution to our problems might not always come in the shape and form that we are expecting. Wonders are often wrought through tears.