(And why does it matter?)
Ruth the Moabitess and Mighty Samson from the Sorek Valley may be the two most unique characters in the Old Testament. Sweet, faithful Ruth, the relocated widow and eventual great-grandmother of Israel’s King David, seems at first glance to have nothing in common with the famous scourge of the Philistines, easily the best known and most intriguing of ancient Israel’s long line of judges. But it is likely that these two were contemporaries. I will explain below why it’s probable that, for at least a short time, Samson and Ruth lived within 20 miles of each other. Then I’ll explain why I believe that apparent coincidence is not a coincidence at all.
Married in the hills at Bethlehem, Ruth and Boaz lived a few hours’ walk from what is thought to be the ancient foothill village of Lehi, the place where Samson slew a thousand Philistines. That victory marked the beginning of the end of the 40-year period known as The Philistine Oppression.
By making reasonable assumptions based on the biblical record, doing a bit of addition/subtraction of years between events and, finally, relying upon the broadly-accepted date of 1010 BCE as David’s ascension to Israel’s throne, we can place both Ruth and Samson in a timeline.
Beginning with Ruth, working backward, we place her in time noting:
- David was born in 1040 BCE, thirty years prior to his becoming king.
- Assuming Ruth’s grandson and David’s father, Jesse, was at the youngest, 23, the oldest, 50, when his wife gave birth to David (Jesse fathered seven other sons before Israel’s future king) puts Jesse’s birthday between 1090 and 1063 BCE.
- Assuming that Jesse’s father, Ruth’s son Oved, was between 15 and 40 at Jesse’s birth, places Oved’s birthday between 1130 and 1078 BCE.
- Lastly, if Ruth gave birth to Oved between one and ten years after marrying and adding that span to the uncertainty above, her marriage to Boaz would fall between 1140 and 1079 BCE, a 61-year span of uncertainty.
Now to estimate when Samson first became Israel’s judge. The Book of Judges tells us that our hero judged Israel for 20 years after his victory at Lehi. We can then work backward from David’s ascension to the throne, noting that Samson was followed by Eli, Samuel, then Saul (where the “rules” of Samuel and Saul, according to some experts, may have partially overlapped).
Counting backward from David’s ascension in 1010 BCE:
- The beginning of Saul’s reign would then fall between 1050-1042 BCE. (Assuming he reigned, as most say, between 32 and 40 years.)
- Samuel’s term as Judge is not exactly known, so we’ll guess he served between 20 and 40 years, which places the start of his service between 1090 and 1062 BCE.
- The beginning of Eli’s reign, if he served between 38 and 40 years, then falls between 1130 and 1100 BCE.
- Thus, Samson likely began to judge Israel twenty years earlier, somewhere between 1150 and 1120 BCE.
(See illustration below.)
Admittedly, this analysis proves nothing. If the assumptions change, so do its conclusions but, because the assumptions seem reasonable, the result suggests that it is certainly possible, if not highly likely, that Ruth and Boaz were married sometime during Samson’s twenty-year reign as Israel’s judge!
Why it matters…
The above was inspired by my soon-to-be-published novel, The Lion or The Lamb, Samson, Ruth and Salvation. I had initially intended to write yet another book about Ruth (she’s certainly worthy) with no mention of Samson but, while looking for a unique way to present her story, it occurred to me that it would not be difficult to estimate when she lived.
Given that she was the great-grandmother of King David, it was a short leap to estimate a reasonable span for three generations then begin plowing through that period to gain a better understanding of the world in which she lived.
Doing so, I found that Ruth and Boaz were more than likely married during the ongoing, forty-year Philistine Oppression, in which Samson, as a hero to oppressed Judah, played a major role.
It seems clear from the Samson stories in Judges that he, by his successful opposition over his people’s Philistine masters, was seen by many of his kin as a redeemer. Ironically—and irony is good stuff in novels—Judah’s true salvation, as Ruth and Boaz begat what would soon be known as the line of Messiah, was springing forth, only miles away from the violent action, in the virtual shadow of, alas, a false hero.
So the idea for The Lion or the Lamb was born, two ancient stories combined to make a new, unique tale by contrasting the peace abounding in Bethlehem with Israel’s misplaced concurrent reliance upon force, in the person of Mighty Samson, over faith.
The tale begins as a smallish, Philistine misfit, Padi, our story’s mild hero (and lifelong friend to Judah’s Samson) is forced to abandon his warlike kin in the Sorek Valley to live among their enemies in the hills at Bethlehem. Padi’s ensuing close association with Samson, Ruth, Boaz and the Judean people, make him an excellent one to question and find answers regarding the true meaning of salvation.
Look for The Lion or the Lamb to be published in September 2018 at all major online outlets in EPub form (Kindle, Nook, etc.) as well as a paperback version at Amazon.com.