Questions From Readers
How could Samson touch dead bodies that he had slain and still remain a Nazirite?
In ancient Israel, an individual could voluntarily make a vow and become a Nazirite for a certain length of time.a One of the restrictions resting upon the one making this vow stipulated: “All the days of his keeping separate to Jehovah he may not come toward any dead soul. Not even for his father or his mother or his brother or his sister may he defile himself when they die.” What if someone “should die quite suddenly alongside him”? Such an accidental touching of a dead body would defile his Naziriteship. Thus, it was stated: “The former days will go uncounted.” He would need to go through a purification ceremony and start the Nazirite period over again.—Numbers 6:6-12.
Samson, though, was a Nazirite in a different sense. Before Samson’s birth, Jehovah’s angel told his mother: “Look! you will be pregnant, and you will certainly give birth to a son, and no razor should come upon his head, because a Nazirite of God is what the child will become on leaving the belly; and he it is who will take the lead in saving Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5) Samson took no vow of Naziriteship. He was a Nazirite by divine appointment, and his Naziriteship was for life. The restriction against touching a corpse could not apply in his case. If it did and he accidentally touched a dead body, how could he start over a lifelong Naziriteship that began with his birth? Evidently, then, the requirements for lifetime Nazirites differed in some ways from those for voluntary Nazirites.
Consider Jehovah’s commandments to the three lifelong Nazirites—Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptizer—mentioned in the Bible. As noted earlier, Samson was required not to cut the hair of his head. Concerning her yet to be conceived child—Samuel—Hannah made the vow: “I will give him to Jehovah all the days of his life, and no razor will come upon his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11) In the case of John the Baptizer, Jehovah’s angel said: “He must drink no wine and strong drink at all.” (Luke 1:15) Moreover, “John had his clothing of camel’s hair and a leather girdle around his loins; his food too was insect locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4) None of these three individuals were commanded not to come near a dead soul.
Though a Nazirite, Samson was among the judges whom Jehovah raised up to save the Israelites out of the hand of their pillagers. (Judges 2:16) And in fulfilling this assignment, he came in contact with dead bodies. On one occasion, Samson struck down 30 Philistines and stripped off their outfits. Later, he went smiting the enemy, “piling legs upon thighs with a great slaughter.” He also took a moist jawbone of an ass and killed a thousand men with it. (Judges 14:19; 15:8, 15) Samson did all of this with Jehovah’s favor and backing. The Scriptures refer to him as a man of exemplary faith.—Hebrews 11:32; 12:1.
Does the statement that Samson ripped apart a lion “just as someone tears a male kid in two” suggest that the tearing apart of young goats was a common practice in his day?
There is no evidence that in the time of Israel’s Judges, it was common for people to tear apart young goats. Judges 14:6 states: “Jehovah’s spirit became operative upon [Samson], so that he tore it [a maned young lion] in two, just as someone tears a male kid in two, and there was nothing at all in his hand.” This comment likely is an illustration.
The expression “he tore it in two” could have two meanings. Samson either tore apart the jaws of the lion or tore the lion limb from limb in some way. If the former is meant, then doing the same thing to a young goat is conceivably within human power. In this case, the parallel illustrates that conquering a lion with his bare hands was no more difficult for Samson than had the lion been a mere male kid. However, what if Samson killed the lion by tearing it limb from limb? The comment then can hardly be taken as anything more than a simile. The point of the simile would be that Jehovah’s spirit empowered Samson to perform a task that required extraordinary physical strength. In either case, the comparison drawn at Judges 14:6 illustrates that with Jehovah’s help, a powerful lion proved to be no more ferocious to Samson than a male kid would be to the average person.
a The length of time for Naziriteship was left up to the individual making the vow. According to Jewish tradition, however, the minimum length for the vow was 30 days. It was thought that anything less would make the vow commonplace.