Tag Archives: John

Samson’s Wife & Delilah – Part 3

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Judges 16:1-3

Before we meet Delilah, Samson took a HUGE detour. This chapter begins with the story of Samson, going all the way to Gaza, a Philistine town 45 miles from his home base (Word Commentary). This is the same town in which Samson ends up as a prisoner, making the reader wonder if this was a foreshadowing of events to come. Samson visiting a prostitute “casts him in the role of a fool destined for destruction. Wisdom literature teaches that prostitutes reside in the gateway of death (Prov 6:26, 7:10, 23:27).” (Chisholm in Word Commentary)

[He has] neither knowledge nor understanding,
    [he walks] about in darkness….” To spend the NIGHT with a prostitute.

Because he is public enemy number one in Philistia, a group of men wait at the city gate to ambush him. However, it seems that they disappear or give up at some point, and Samson leaves, taking the gate of Gaza with him!

Samson city gate Ashkelon

Here is a picture of the city gate of Ashkelon, the Philistine city where Samson killed the 30 men. It is the oldest arched city gate still standing. Perhaps the gate at Gaza was similar to this one. Block writes that these elaborate gates were often 2-3 stories high with guard rooms flanking the tunnel-like opening….Samson would have had to get past 4-6 groups of guards before taking the gate (loudly) off of its hinges (p. 450 NAC).

What is amazing about this feat of strength is that the text says he took the gate all the way to Hebron, a 40 mile journey, climbing over 3,000 feet in elevation to get there. What I love about this passage is that this prepares the way for the one, David, who WOULD complete the deliverance of Israel from Philistia, because Hebron is David’s first headquarters (2 Sam 2:1-4)!

Now to our text:

Because Delilah was also in the Valley of Sorek (v. 4), like Samson’s Philistine wife, we assume she was a Philistine. However, scholars note that she has a Hebrew name, meaning feeble or weakened and lived on the boundary of Israel and Philistia. Interestingly she is not referred to as a daughter of the Philistines like Samson’s wife.

Beth Shemesh, Sorek Valley Area

Remember this picture of the Sorek Valley? With the Sorek River running east to west? Israel was on one side and Philistia was on the other. But don’t forget that the Philistines at this time had pushed their way further into the region of Dan, into Israelite territory. So Delilah could have been either Hebrew or Philistine. [Some scholars note that just because she had a Hebrew name does not mean she was a Hebrew woman. Sometimes they gave people Hebrew names, particularly ones with meaning as they related to the narrative. In this case, Delilah, meaning “weakened”, was the one who “weakened” Samson.]

If she were a Hebrew, it would make her betrayal all the more reprehensible. (From Samson and Delilah: A Parable of Power by Carol Smith in the Journal for the Study of the OT)

Regardless of these views, how do we characterize our girl?

She was a woman interested in money and with a high tolerance for violence. If a Philistine she’s patriotic, shows initiative, is independent, & self-sufficient. Her actions are very business-like, not tied to emotions. She’s whiny, wheedling, pestering, and uses her sexual allure to entice a man. She has prostitute-like behavior, using her sexuality and a man’s desire for her in order to ensure her own well-being. She’s the sort of dangerous, treacherous woman about whom proverbial wisdom warns and which underscores the impossibility of alliances with godless foreigners. (Word Commentary p. 348-49)

Did you catch how much silver Delilah was promised by the 5 Philistine lords?? (v. 5) 1,100 pieces EACH! So 5,500 pieces of silver! This much silver probably weighed about 700 pounds. (Word Commentary p. 349)

Because the value of a unit of silver fluctuated in biblical times, the significance of this figure can only be appreciated when this reward is compared with other transactions in Scripture:

  • Judges 8:26 This is more than three times the weight of the gold retained by Gideon after the victory over the Midianite kings.
  • Genesis 24:15, 19 We may also compare the 400 shekels of silver paid by Abraham to purchase a burial plot for his wife.
  • 2 Samuel 24:24 Or the 50 shekels David paid Araunah for his oxen and threshing floor.
  • Jeremiah 32:9 The 17 shekels Jeremiah paid to purchase a field.
  • Exodus 21:32 And the 30 shekels set as a price for a slave.

(Block p. 455 in NAC)

The IVP Bible Background Commentary states, “Eleven hundred shekels of silver is an exorbitant sum – a king’s ransom (see 2 Samuel 18:12). The 5500 shekels would equal 550 times the average annual wage. If we took $25,000 as an average annual wage today, that kind of offer would be [just short of $14 million].” [In other words, the sum she received would seem to her like $14 million seems to us today. The amount she received was not equal to $14 million.]

Interestingly, the Philistine lords wanted not only to know where Samson got his strength but also how to overpower him in order to HUMBLE him (v. 5). Many translations use the word “afflict” instead of humble, but the actual Hebrew word (‘anah – aw-naw) holds both meanings [to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down].

It’s almost like this whole affair with Samson has become personal for these Philistine lords. We don’t simply want to subdue him; we want to humiliate him. We want to oppress him so he’ll feel utterly shamed. After all he’s killed 30 of our men at Ashkelon, burned our fields and killed several of our men at Timnah, and killed 1,000 of our men at Lehi. Why don’t we use this woman against him! That kind of blow would do just the right amount of damage to his ego.

An interesting view is that since his strength was not apparent, he likely had the stature of an ordinary man, not with giant muscles or incredibly large in size like a Goliath-like behemoth. His strength then was NOT obvious because it came from God. (Word Commentary)

Are you as irritated as I am at how these men used these women for their own advantage? Made to be weapons of revenge? Their bodies used to achieve the purposes of men? And how ironic that these men couldn’t weaken the Great Samson, but the women were able to afflict him in ways no man could.

Nevertheless, there is an inkling that perhaps Samson knew exactly what he was walking into the minute Delilah opened her mouth. How could he not know her angle for she says:

Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound that one could subdue [afflict/NASB] you. (Judges 16:6)

She really couldn’t get any more BLUNT than that!

And if that doesn’t convince you, he gives her an answer (knowing it won’t harm him) and she performs the binding with the bowstrings, calling for the Philistines. But the text is silent on his response to the Philistines. It appears as though he does nothing.

Does that sound like Samson to you? Normally when someone or something came at him, he ripped it apart! Not only that, but he stayed with Delilah! He didn’t storm off in “hot anger”, leaving her to sort out her life, but he stayed for more questions, more pressing.

Next he tells her to try new ropes, but that doesn’t work either. The Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah. Then he says to weave his hair into a web, fastened with a pin. This clue is close to the real answer, but again the Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah, unharmed.

Ah, but then, Delilah calls on the name of love to manipulate him. What is sweeter than honey? Stronger than a lion? Love. If you love me, you’ll…

The queen of manipulation. She doesn’t need to harm him to weaken him. She simply appeals to love. The thing that first drew him to her when he saw her in the Valley of Sorek.

Verse 16 says she pressed him daily, until “his soul was vexed to death.” (also RSV). Other translations say “annoyed” (NASB), “tired to death” (NIV), “sick to death” (NET, NLT).

Have you ever been that kind of woman? Manipulative? Vexing? A drippy faucet?

“Warnings for the Wives”

  • Proverbs 19:13 (NIV) “…a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.”
  • Proverbs 27:15 (NLT) “A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day.”
  • Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” (also REPEATED WORD FOR WORD in Prov. 25:24)
  • Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”

I know Delilah was not Samson’s wife, but you get the idea. Heaven forbid we act more like the pagan Delilah than the woman of virtue.

It makes me think back to what Laura (in her talk on Eve) said about the enemy being the best psychologist, prowling around, watching, studying, dealing his low blows. Spewing his lies. If we know the truth, it is easier to recognize the lies.

“God didn’t really say, you shall surely be under your husband…” “You will not surely die…” “Don’t you think you deserve to be in control?” “You’re better off without him…”

Do we, like Delilah, buy into the lies?

Clink clink clink. The 5,500 silver pieces fall into her hands.

However, the woman of virtue: does him good and not harm all the days of her life. (Psalm 31:12)

Clink clink clink. But Delilah? She sold Samson’s safety for money.

She began to torment him and his strength left him. “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Clink. clink. clink.

And she washes her hands of him, having filled them with enough wages to last a lifetime (and beyond). [550 times a year’s wages. Because she likely didn’t live to be 550 years old, you can see how the sum would have been extravagant, lasting into the afterlife!]

Can you think of anyone else who was betrayed for mere pieces of silver? 30 to be exact. The price for a slave. Not nearly the handsome price that Samson was wanted for, making the betrayal of Judas that much more callous.

Samson reveals his secret to her, also showing us, the reader, for the first time that he is even aware of his Nazirite calling. This man with the high calling had the knowledge of his Nazirite vow, but what good did that knowledge produce in his life?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

One thing that is vitally important for us as we study the Bible is never to become so wrapped up in knowing things about God and gaining knowledge that we lose sight of our calling. He doesn’t give us knowledge, wisdom, and understanding so that our brains become full of delicious facts or so that we can talk circles around people. We can have all the knowledge of the world, but if the Word of God makes no difference in our lives, the pursuit of knowledge is worthless.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:2, 8

Let His truth sink in deep, being careful to abide in the Vine, working in concert with the Spirit of God who produces in us the character of Christ (John 15:4-5).

 

we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Let the knowledge of who God is stir the affection in your heart for Him rather than allowing it to be a stumbling block of pride. Don’t be “puffed up”.

Do not simply be hearers of the Word, but rather be doers as well (James 1:22).

 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:23-25

(Too many times instead of picking up the mirror, we pick up a magnifying glass. With the one we are to look at ourselves, with the other we try to draw attention to others’ faults.)

Continuing in the text:

Delilah’s betrayal seems even more cruel when you read verse 19:

19 She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. 

  • Delilah’s tightening (tāqa‘) of Samson’s hair with a pin (ê) in 16:14 recalls Jael’s striking (tāqa‘) the tent peg (ê) into Sisera’s temple in 4:21
  • Both scenes take place in a woman’s private quarters
  • The sleeping Samson of 16:19 recalls the sleeping Sisera of 4:21

(NIVAC p. 319)

Then we read the saddest verse in our text:

Samson did not know that the LORD had left him. (v. 20)

Let’s make one thing clear, it’s not that his hair had supernatural power or magic, but rather that the Nazirite vow was broken, just like the covenant with Adam and Eve was broken. And the consequences were immediate. No more strength. No more presence of God.

Did Samson realize this is what his actions would cost him? Did he realize that perhaps his captivity was better than his freedom because it would place him in the den of Lions? That perhaps his captivity meant one more opportunity against the enemy of God?

The Philistines had their enemy after all. They gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza, bound him in chains, and threw him in prison to have him grind at the mill (a task for slaves and women). (Tyndale; NIVAC) Perhaps this is also ironic justice since he burned up their grain fields earlier. (NIVAC)

Here he is humbled by his enemies, losing that source of strength, which never really belonged to him anyway. And this enemy, puffed up in their pride, believes their grain god, Dagon, has triumphed over the “ravager of their country” (v. 24).

Samson’s imprisonment at Gaza, the furthest Philistine city from his home, is very telling for the nation of Israel. Just like Samson, Israel “fritters away her high calling, lives by what is right in her own eyes, and provokes Yahweh to abandon her. According to the covenant of curses in Lev 26 and Deut 28, this is precisely the fate the nation should expect for persistent rebellion against the covenant Lord. Like Samson, the nation will be seized, blinded, exiled, imprisoned, and humiliated with forced labor. (The book of Judges may have been written against the backdrop of the Northern Kingdom’s fall to Assyria in 734-722 B.C.) (Block p. 462 in NAC)

But then we read verse 22, giving hope to the end of the story

But the hair of his head began to grow again… (v. 22)

Judges 16:23-24 says,

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god.

As if the story wasn’t dripping with enough irony, this last section of the passage stands as the bookend to Samson’s final showdown. The Philistines are seen here worshipping their false god, praising him for giving their enemy into their hands.

But that roaring Lion, Philistia, didn’t stand a chance against the God of Israel. Not even their god, Dagon, stood a chance against YHWH. Dagon wasn’t even powerful enough to keep his people from dying as they worshipped him in his temple. Samson stretched out his arms, pushing over the columns and as Gunn writes, “[Their] praise died coldly on [their] lips. The [writer of Judges] underlines the power of Yahweh and the irrelevance of Dagon. The victory is unquestionably Yahweh’s…” (Word Commentary p. 354)

And so it began…the destruction of Israel’s enemy.

Delilah was devoted to Samson’s destruction when she struck a hefty deal with those Philistine lords. But did she meet her destruction in the Philistine temple that day? Many scholars believe she would have been at this feast. A Heart Devoted to destruction only to be devoted for destruction.

The Lion, Philistia was no match for the Lion of Israel. God is depicted as a Lion…

In Hosea 5:14, He is frightening:

14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

And again in Hosea 13:7-8:

So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

And yet we have this picture of hope: (Hosea 11:10-11)

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.

But do you hear the pounding of the paw prints? Because the Lion of Judah approaches in Rev. 5:2-5, 7, 9-10:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

This is OUR God!

Just like the Philistines, the enemy, Satan, thought he had conquered Jesus. He entered Judas who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. But God used the betrayer as an OPPORTUNITY against the enemy.

Jesus was stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, utterly humiliated. But it was by His stripes that we are HEALED.

And the enemy scoffed and leered as they hung Jesus on the cross, thinking Jesus had been given into his hands. Jesus wasn’t humbled by ANY person, but He humbled HIMSELF by becoming obedient to death on a cross.

He stretched out His arms for His final showdown. It was because He hung on that tree that we are REDEEMED from the curse of the law.

Even as the enemy gloated over the death of Jesus, we received redemption for by His blood He ransomed us.

Unlike Samson who lost his strength and perished with the enemy, when Jesus died, He added to His strength, having conquered our enemies – sin and death.

He is both the Lamb who was slain AND the Lion of Judah. The Sacrifice and the Mighty King.

And Satan’s praise of himself died coldly on his lips because God overcame the evil one once and for all by sending the Ultimate Deliverer.

How does the knowledge of all THIS change your life? We cannot simply know it, we must live it.

How are you encouraged to live differently, knowing that His death and resurrection means certain blessings, gifts, fruit, and responsibilities for the believer? You are being transformed into the image of His Son, what does that look like for you today?

THIS is a love that does not let go. This is the divine love. Even when the loved one repeatedly betrays that love and loyalty, still God pursues her. We see God’s amazingly patient and relentless love for Israel throughout the book of Judges! (Word Commentary p. 355)

In case the people of Israel had forgotten that they HAD a King, God reminds them that He is still on His throne and would not share His glory with another.

These women were among the people without knowledge of God. They were idolatrous, sinful pagans. Contrast them with, Samson, who had the knowledge of his high calling but accomplishes less on behalf of his people than any of his predecessors. It is this narrative that shows the utter despair of spiritual growth and political maturity in Israel. And yet God uses Samson just as he is, flaws and all. (Word Commentary 356, 360)

Let that encourage you today.

God pursues you with the same patient, relentless love. His is the relentless pursuit of the human heart for His divine glory!

 

My talk on Samson’s Wife & Delilah

Mary of Bethany: A Heart that Learns (Part 2)

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Let’s take a look at Mary in her first encounter with Jesus. We meet her in Bethany, a small town 2 miles east of Jerusalem in Judea.

city of bethany

This is a sketch of what Bethany *might* have looked like. Notice how small it is.

If you’re keeping track of Jesus’ timeline, we are in the latter part of His ministry in which He has completed His tours in Galilee and has already headed south toward Jerusalem.

Luke 10:38-42

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

Normally, the women would be doing exactly what Martha was doing! Martha was plying her trade! She was being hospitable, a GOOD Jewish woman, taking care of her guests.

jesus-mary-martha

And then there was Mary. Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet WITH THE OTHER MEN and listened to His teaching. Remember, women weren’t considered worthy of receiving the Word of God or instruction in the Scriptures! Jesus defends Mary and says she has chosen the good portion. When I read that, the part about the “good portion”, it made me very curious. What does it really mean?

The Greek word is meris and means, well, “portion”! Ha! It can also mean “assigned part”. Remember when the Israelites were going into the Promised Land that God had assigned each tribe a portion in that Land that they could call their own. The word in Luke 10:42 meris is the same word used in Genesis 43:34 about Benjamin’s portions at Joseph’s table:

Portions were taken from Joseph’s table but Bejamin’s portion was five times as many as any of theirs…

And also in Deut. 12:12:

You shall rejoice before the LORD, you and your sons and…the Levite in your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.

Jesus had assigned her the right to sit among the men and be His disciple. I kinda wonder if His defense of Mary wasn’t just for Martha but also for every MALE ear listening to the exchange, wondering the same thing as Mary sat among themJesus was giving her the opportunity to be a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus. To sit and learn and imitate the Teacher. She could soak in His teaching. Take on His yoke. For the first time in her life, she could learn of God first hand.

The second account we read of Mary with Jesus is of the  death and resurrection of Lazarus:

John 11:1-6

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister MarthaIt was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and LazarusSo, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Wait, shouldn’t that read when He heard that Lazarus was ill, [HE WENT TO THEM RIGHT AWAY]?

My husband Eric likes to play a game when reading Scripture sometimes called “what comes next?” He’ll read part of a passage, usually a Psalm (one that I’m not usually familiar with), and leave off the second half of the verse. He’ll ask me what I think comes next. And most times, I have NO idea. Then he’ll finish the verse, and the train of thought is usually WAY different from what I was thinking it would say. It’s the same for verse 6! You’d think Jesus would go right away to help, seeing that He loved them. But He doesn’t show His love in this way.

And there’s a very specific reason – for the glory of God and the Son of God to be glorified.

We read further about Mary in:

John 11:17-20

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

Martha is the one who rushes out to Jesus while Mary stays behind in the house. (Why did she stay back? Were her feelings hurt? Surely she wasn’t pouting?)

John 11:28-36

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jewswho were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he as deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!

Jesus, after speaking with Martha, had called for Mary. Did you catch that? The Rabbi called for his disciple. She immediately goes and in her utter grief, falls at His feet, the same ones where she had sat listening to His teaching, and it is here that she cries out to Him. We always seem to find Mary. She’s always at His feet. Sitting there. Rushing there. Falling there. Anointing there.

It’s after Mary’s display of grief that we see Jesus’ reaction to their sadness.

Deeply moved.  **not splagnon**

This phrase comes from the word that meant to snort with anger as in the snort of a horse (in war or in a race). For humans it describes outrage, fury, or anger. (From *NIVAC on John) How interesting that Jesus’ response resembles how we feel when someone has been severely wronged, creating in us an indignation or righteous anger. Jesus is angry at death itself and the devastation that it brings. (From *NIVAC)

Death, where is your sting? O yes, I’m coming for you.

Greatly troubled.

This phrase meant to cause inward commotion, to take away His calmness of mind, to disquiet, to make restless, to render distressed, and to perplex the mind by suggesting doubts. There was a twisting in His core, producing in Him a distress that took away His peace of mind. And He is racked with tears and His own grief. It’s not that Jesus was unaware of Lazarus’ death, and being caught off guard, He weeps. On the contrary, He knew what would happen, and it was when He saw Mary’s grief, and the Jews’ grief, that He is moved to tears.

Jesus wept.

See how He loved them!

After Jesus raises Lazarus, we see that Mary is the one associated with the believing Jews based on v. 45.

John 11:45

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

The final passage of our Mary is the one which John references in the Lazarus story, just one chapter later, about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in John 12. We didn’t read the Lukan account found in 7:36-50. As we’ve already learned, the story in Luke concerning the “sinful woman” anointing Jesus is not the same account found in Matthew, Mark, and John.

Allow me take a brief moment to explain a few facts and dispel a few myths concerning some of the women in the New Testament.

This is what I like to call Mary does not = _____.

Mary of Bethany is not the “sinful woman” who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. The reasons for this include:

  • Luke’s account is much earlier in his gospel story, indicating that it happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Our account found in the other 3 gospels happens right before His death.
  • The second reason is that the woman in Luke is referred to as a “sinner” and Mary of Bethany seems to have a glowing reputation.
  • Thirdly the message that Jesus gives is completely different in Luke, which is one about forgiveness while Matthew, Mark, and John talk about His burial.

There is no reason NOT to believe that there were 2 instances in which Jesus had His head and/or feet anointed.

Also to note, Mary of Bethany is not Mary Magdalene. Mary of Bethany is from BETHANY. Mary Magdalene is from MAGDALA.

Mary of Bethany is also not the woman caught in adultery in John 8. This woman is anonymous, and Mary is always named as being from Bethany or as Martha’s sister. In other words, NOT ANONYMOUS.

She’s also not Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary, the wife of Clopas, or my Aunt Mary. 🙂

Continuing on, we read of Mary anointing her Rabbi’s feet with oil.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany,where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep itfor the day of my burialFor the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.

We are now as close to the final week of Jesus’ ministry as we can get. Bethany is very close to Jerusalem (Scripture notes it is only about 2 miles away). The Mount of Olives is nestled in between the two cities. The Garden of Gethsemane is also right outside of Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley. We are only days away from the cross.

Mary at Jesus feet

Now, why this anointing? What reasons did they have for anointing a person?

In the Gospels, anointing was associated with healing, the celebration of meals, hospitality, and the burial of Jesus. In the OT the anointing of the head was associated with the consecration of kings and of priests and prophets. The term “messiah” has the literal meaning “anointed one.” So in Mark, when Mary anoints Jesus during the meal, she is portrayed as a prophetic figure, since her act of anointing Jesus’ head alludes to his kingship, which is revealed at His death. She was showing that He is the Messiah, the ANOINTED ONE.

Then also in John, our passage this week, the writer wants to show Mary’s act of anointing Jesus’ feet as her way of identifying Him as the suffering Messiah, preparing Him for His death. (Mt. 26 and Mk 13)

The mention in John of the perfume’s scent spreading through the home is reminiscent of the scent of the sacrifices pleasing to God, thus alluding to the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. (From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Perhaps Mary anointed Jesus out of her love for Him because of what He did for her brother.

Mary’s actions stand in stark contrast to Judas. The betrayer! The thief! I’m sure you noticed that John really picks on Judas much more than the other gospel writers. Mary seemed to be the only one who understood that Jesus was going to die AND be raised. That He was the long-awaited Messiah. You may recall that the gospel writers indicate that the 12 did not understand that Jesus was going to die. In fact in Luke 18:31-34 it says that after Jesus predicted His death a 3RD TIME, they,

did not understand any of this. They did not know what He was talking about. (NIV)

 

But Mary? She had learned well. All those moments spent at the feet of Jesus had transformed her view. She had tasted the Word become flesh and it was like the sweetest honey. She had reached out to touch the Scroll of God. The Word of God. She had seen the goodness of God in what He spoke and how He lived, raising her brother from death. Mary anointed Him because that was only fitting for a king about to face His death. Perhaps she knew that even He might raise from the dead, just as He’d raised Lazarus. She understood that true leadership was in service and love to others. Mary modeled this to Jesus as she anointed Him, becoming a servant like her Rabbi.

Interestingly, and not by coincidence, what happens next is the Last Supper, in which Jesus Himself, the Rabbi, washes the feet of His own disciples, wiping them with the towel just as Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. John seemed to indicate that Jesus elevated Mary’s service to Him as He imitated her selfless act of anointing Him. He wanted them to do as He did. To be servants to one another, just as Mary had served Him. She had learned well.

Mary of Bethany could say something about herself that many Jewish women could not say at that time.

I am a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus.

I believe in the Rabbi. He’s not just a Teacher – He is God! He’s the Messiah, the Anointed One! I believe He is the resurrection and the Life, the only way to salvation. I will follow my Rabbi wherever He goes. I will be an exact representation of the Rabbi so that the world may know who He is!

She had expressed her faith in the Messiah as she poured out the oil over His feet, proclaiming that He was indeed the King, promised long ago. The oil permeated the room like a poignant message testifying to the truth of the Gospel. Yes, He was going to die, but even more Yes, He is the Promised Messiah come to give them Life.

What about you? Can you call yourself a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus? Are you covered in the dust of your Rabbi? A reflection of Jesus to the world. Do you realize the blessing it is that you have been called by Jesus Himself to be His representative? To take on His yoke, to bear His teaching?

Mary knew it. And she now speaks to us to live out our faith just as she lived out her’s. To go and make disciples, not to mirror us, but to be a reflection of the Rabbi. To spread His yoke, to pour out the honey, to hold out the scroll. To be covered in the dust of the Rabbi.

[Please note that, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture comes from the ESV translation.]

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