Bringing Down the House

  He's one of the Bible bookstores' most popular action figures: Samson, the Israelite who destroyed a Philistine temple with his bare hands. The action figure has long hair and muscular-looking arms. He comes with five trading cards that tell the dramatic story of Samson's revenge on God's enemies. We enjoy Bible stories like these as children. But when we grow up, we sometimes begin to wonder: Did these incredible events really happen? Or were they just stories people made up to illustrate some spiritual truth, some aspect of God's character? Fortunately, today we have the science of Archaeology--a science that is confirming the accuracy of the Bible in its historical, cultural, and geographic details. For example, the Old Testament tells us that in Samson's day the Philistines would not allow the Hebrew people to create axes, plowshares, and sickles out of iron, lest they make swords and spears as well. The Israelites were thus unskilled in the art of iron making and were obliged to travel to Philistine cities and pay to have their iron tools sharpened. Modern archaeology has confirmed this ancient cultural detail. Very few iron implements have been unearthed in Israelite cities. By contrast, many high- quality iron tools, along with iron stocks and furnaces, have been uncovered in Philistine cities. Archaeologists have also found ruins that add credence to the scriptural account of Samson's death. The Bible says that after Delilah betrayed Samson, the Philistines gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza, where Samson languished in prison. One day the Philistines brought Samson into their temple to make sport of him. As he lay his hands on the temple pillars, Samson called out to God, asking Him for strength one last time. And then, we're told, Samson "grasped the two middle pillars upon which the house rested and he leaned his weight upon them . . . and the house fell upon . . . all the people that were within it." Excavations in the 1970s back up the biblical drama. The excavations, which took place near Tel Aviv, uncovered two Philistine temples. Archaeologist Bryant Wood writes that "both temples share a unique design-- the roof was supported by two central pillars." These pillars were made of wood and stood about six feet apart. Bryant writes: "A strong man could [have] dislodge[d] them from their stone bases and [brought] the entire roof crashing down." Now, we still don't have direct proof outside of the Bible that Samson was a real person, the way we do about other biblical characters like King David, for example. But archaeology does confirm the geographical and cultural details described in the Bible. They attest to the plausibility of the biblical account-- that the Old Testament stories were not just made-up fables intended to illustrate spiritual truths, but were stories of real people in history who encountered God. And that's what we ought to tell the skeptics who scoff at the veracity of biblical stories. We need to tell them that archaeological evidence is confirming that stories like the one about Samson aren't just pious fables for children that they eventually outgrow, along with action figures and playing cards. They're part of the tapestry of real space and time-- the historical record of how God intervened in the lives of His people.  


Chuck Colson


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