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TEXT: Judges 13-16
SUBJECT: Judges #10: Samson
Of the twelve men who judged Israel, none is more fascinating-or less appreciated-than Samson. While everyone admires his super-human power, they also look down on his sub-par morality, and pass a judgment on the man that is mostly negative. Scholars have called him, 'a profligate judge, a bawdy giant, an oversexed muscleman, and a man 'full of high spirits and low ethics'. There is truth in what they say, but it is a one-sided truth because it fixates on the man's character and forgets his calling.
Some of what he did was shameful, but we must distinguish this some of what he did from what he was. What was Samson? He was a Judge, who both saved God's People from some of their enemies (in part and for a time) and who foreshadowed the One who would save us from all of our enemies and for good.
THE BACKGROUNDHis story begins in the customary place-
Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.
While the sin they were guilty of is not spelled out, the word, again reveals what it was-idolatry. If other wicked crimes are mentioned in the Book, idolatry is the one everywhere emphasized. Whom you worship-and how-matters! When people break faith with the Lord, it's not long until they break faith with their husbands and wives, their parents and children, their neighbors and even themselves! This is what the children of Israel have done. Again.
If they are true to form, so is the Lord. As soon as they turn to the gods of Philistia, He turns them over to the kings of Philistia, whom they serve for forty years.
If this part of the story is the same old, same old, what follows is entirely new. In the stories that came before, Israel suffers for a time, and then cries out to the Lord for relief. But, here, there is no cry to heaven.
I wonder why?
Could it be the Philistines were kind and generous in their rule? I suppose it could be that, but if it is, it sure seems out of character. The Bible never, ever portrays the Philistine lords as benevolent men! If any nation can be summed up in one of its members, it is the Philistines, who ideal man is Goliath-a proud, cruel, jeering, and stubborn enemy of the Lord and His People.
It was a loss of faith that kept Israel from asking the Lord for help. This is a major theme in the Book of Judges: the land will be taken if the people believe, and it will be taken away if they don't. Since the death of Joshua, their faith has been slipping away, and now, they have so little of it that they cannot even rouse themselves to pray!
But lucky for them-and for us-God's grace does not depend on our asking for it! If Israel won't cry out for mercy, the Lord will send it anyway. Here's how He did it.
There was a lady in Zorah, a small town near the Philistine border. Her husband was named Manoah, and they had no children. One day, while her man was away from home, another Man dropped in to see her--who was not a man. He was The Angel of the Lord, who came with a message from heaven-
Indeed you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.
This is not the first time an angel has announced an unlikely birth-and it won't be the last time either. Many years before, three angels paid a visit to Abraham's tent, and One of them told him-in his wife's hearing (or eavesdropping)-
Sarah, your wife, shall have a son.
Abraham and Sarah thought the Angel was joking, but He wasn't. Within a year the ninety-year-old woman bore a son. The Promise made that day, however, was not for the old couple's private happiness; it was for the salvation of the world!
The son promised to Manoah's wife will also be a carrier of salvation. In the years to come, three more miraculous births will be announced by angels, each building on the ones that came before. Samuel will anoint the first king of Israel; later, John the Baptist will introduce the True King of Israel; and then the King Himself will come, our Lord Jesus Christ!
THE NAZIRITE VOW
The son born to Manoah and his wife will have a special calling and he must bear the special marks of his calling. From birth, he will be a Nazirite.
[Let me stop here to clarify: he will not be a Nazarene, but a Nazirite. The former is somebody from Nazareth-and he's not from there. A Nazirite is something else altogether].
A Nazirite is one consecrated to the Lord in a special way. The outward signs of his devotion are four: he must not touch a dead body, he must not tear his clothes for a death in the family, he must not drink wine, and-he must not cut his hair or shave his beard.
For most Nazirites, the vow was taken of their own free will and limited to a certain time, a month, a year, five years, whatever. But Manoah's son did not take the vow for himself, it would be taken for him-by God! And, it did not start and end when he said it would, but would be life-long-
The child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
Because it began in the womb, his mother must keep the vow herself, until her son is born.
With the message delivered, the Angel takes his leave. When Manoah came home, his wife told her what happened, and he believed his wife. But, wanting to be sure, Manoah prayed to the Lord to send the Messenger back to them so that he too would know how to bring up the promised son.
The Angel came back to Manoah's wife, her husband was fetched, and the same instructions were given. Manoah then asked the Man to stay for dinner-but he wasn't hungry. He would, however, receive an offering to the Lord. Why? Because He was the Lord! Food was brought, the Lord touched it with His walking-stick, and it went up in smoke, and so did the Lord!
Both Manoah and his wife were thunderstruck of course, but she wisely and he rather foolishly!
And Manoah said to his wife, 'We shall surely die, for we have seen God'.
Then his wife said to him, 'If the Lord had desired to kill us.He would not have told us such as these at this time'.
The Nazirite calling the unborn child has received will not be an end in itself-it's for something. Samson is to be devoted to the Lord because-
He shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
In other words, he will be a Judge. As far as we know, the other Judges were not Nazirites-and certainly not from birth. But Samson will be, because he's also a symbol and a prophecy. What he symbolizes is Salvation is of the Lord, and therefore, the man who saves is not an ordinary man (with rippling muscles as we often think), but God's Man. What he prophesies is.Christ, who is, in a way, the only true Nazirite, the only Man who can honestly say, I am He whom-
The Father has sanctified and sent into the world.
Inside of a year Samson was born to the formerly barren couple, and the Lord blessed him. He must have known his calling from the time he could know anything; but as a young man, he began to feel it, and so Chapter 13 closes-
And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zoral and Eshtaol.
The Spirit of God is moving Samson to free His people from the Philistines. We would have expected this; but how He did it, no one could have expected.
Instead of filling him with holy desires, He used the desires that were already in the man, and they were.not as wholesome as they might have been.
Samson had an eye for Philistine women. While it is not wrong for us to be attracted to women of other races, it was wrong for him, and for two reasons:
Firstly, the Law of God forbade it, Exodus 34-
Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land.and you take of your daughters for your sons.
Secondly, the Philistines were oppressing Israel. Samson going for a Philistine girl, therefore, was like a Jewish girl falling in love with Adolf Hitler!
In loving these women, Samson was betraying the Lord and His People. His actions cannot be justified or excused. They were wrong and shameful. Yet the Lord used them to fulfill His holy purpose! When he asked his father to arrange the unlawful marriage, Manoah didn't want to do it-
Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?
He was right to protest his son's folly, but underneath it all-
It was of the Lord-that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines.
The first Philistine he went for was a woman of Timnah, whose name we don't know. Samson met her, fell in love, and won his father's consent to marry her. On his way to see her one day, a lion roared against him, the Spirit of God seized the man, and he tore the lion to pieces with his bare hands! On his way home, he turned aside to see the carcass, and found bees had turned it into a hive. He ate some of the honey and carried the rest home for mom and dad.
A wedding date was set, and the party began. In those days, weddings were a lot bigger than they are today. Instead of lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, they were two weeks long!
Halfway into the party, Samson proposed a riddle to his thirty groomsmen. If they got it, he would give them thirty suits; if they didn't, they would give him thirty suits. Even today, this is a substantial wager; back then it was humungous! Here it is:
Out of the eater
Came something to eat,
And out of the strong
Came something sweet.
After days of puzzling over it, the men had no clue. But, being the tightwads they were, they asked his fiancée. She didn't want to tell them, of course, and she wouldn't have-if they hadn't threatened to burn her house down, and with her in it!
She begged and cried and wheedled Samson for the answer, until he gave it to her. She told the wedding party, and when the answer was demanded, they had it-
What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?
Samson knew where they got the answer, but being a gentleman, he paid off the wager, by going to the next Philistine town, killing thirty men, and taking their suits. Was he being spiteful? I suppose he was, but not only spiteful. For he didn't kill them with his big muscles or martial arts, but 14:19 says he did it by God's Spirit-
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down the Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle.
Killing thirty men put Samson out of the mood for love, and he storms off. As for the bride? Well, if she's already got the wedding gown, why not get married? She was given to Samson's best man.
THE OTHER MAN
After cooling off for some time, Samson went back to Timnah to spend the night with his bride. When he was told she was married to someone else, Samson saw red.
His was not a blind rage, however, but a well thought-out act of vengeance. He caught three hundred foxes, tied their tails together, and put a torch in each knot. Then he let them go two-by-two into the Philistine farms, vineyards, and orchards. When they were done, so were the Philistines. They burned up-
The [harvested grain] and the [unharvested], as well as the vineyards and olive groves.
This was a blow to the Philistine economy, and to its religion. A year's work was lost and Dagon, who was a fertility god, was put to shame: the idol who promised to provide and protect their crops, was powerless before the Judge of Israel, and his God!
Needless to say, this made the Philistines unhappy, and they set fire to his wife's house, burning her and her father to death.
This made Samson really mad-
'Since you would do a thing like this-he said-'I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease'. So he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter; then he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the Rock of Etam.
Unable to rein in Samson, the Philistine marched on Israel and demanded they do something with him-or else. They're commanded to arrest their own Judge, bind his hands, and bring him to their enemies. The Tribe of Judah was given the dirty work, and they did it, without protest.
What a disgrace! Judah was the Royal Tribe, the tribe that once led the conquest and would some day produce the King who must-
Break the nations with a rod of iron
And dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.
Now the Royal Tribe is acting like a bunch of slaves, kowtowing to their masters, and liking it. Three thousand men of Judah march to the Rock of Etam, and ask Samson to come quietly. He agrees to do it, on the condition they not lay a hand on him. They agree, and he allows them to tie him up good and tight,
When the Philistines see their enemy subdued, they start shouting insults at him, and he gets mad-and not only he-for the Lord says-he who touches you touches the apple of my eye. Once again, the Spirit of God comes upon him, he snaps the ropes as if they were threads, and finding the jawbone of an ass, he picks it up, and has a good old time with the Philistines. After the slaughter, he composed a funny poem-
With the jawbone of a donkey,
Heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey
I have slain a thousand men!
The Philistines are again humiliated. A thousand armed men against one man without a weapon. Yet the army falls to the power of an angry and almighty Lord!
To underscore God's role in the victory, and to remind Samson-and us-that he was only the Lord's tool, Samson feels a deadly thirst, and he's afraid that, after killing a thousand Philistines, he himself will die. He cries to the Lord for relief, and he gets is. A spring bubbles up under the jawbone, Samson drinks his fill, and names the place, En Hakkore which means spring of the one who calls.
This relatively minor event has major significance. Like the nation he represents, Samson has been brought into a desert, where he will have to depend on God's mercy alone. When he cries out for it, he gets it. Back in the day, the Lord split to rock to save His people; now He splits the jawbone to save their Judge.
By now you would think Samson had learned his lesson. He would stay clear of the Philistines now, once and for all. But he didn't. He next goes to Gaza, the most important city in Philistia, and spends the night with a prostitute.
When the Philistines find out where he is, they surround her house planning to take him at dawn. But Samson is a light sleeper, and at midnight he rises, sees the ambush, walks right by it, tears the city gates off their hinges, and sets them up on-
On the top of a hill that faces Hebron.
Hebron was an important city in Judah. Abraham had once built an altar there, and Samson's gates were a kind of offering to the Lord. It used to belong to the Sons of Anak-giants who held the whole country in fear. But God took it away from them and gave it to Caleb. And now, by looking up at the gates of Gaza, they would know that the Lord was still with them and that the land could still be theirs-if only they would believe!
If the prostitute of Gaza satisfied Samson for a night, it was only for a night. Before long he had taken up with another Philistine woman and she's the one you know: Delilah.
Seeing she had Samson's love, the Philistines came to Delilah with an offer: if you can find out where his strength comes from , we'll pay you eleven hundred pieces of silver. Loving money more than her man, she set out to do it.
Like his bride years before, Delilah began begging Samson for his secret. He held out for some time, but nagging has a way of wearing a man down. He first told her to tie his hands with green cords and he would be as any other man. She did and he wasn't. Next he said tie his hands with new ropes; she did and he was as strong as ever. Then he said to braid his hair and put a pin in it; she did that, too, and he was the same old Samson.
Finally, she played the love card on him-
How can you say you love me if you won't tell me your secret?
He told her he was a Nazirite and that if she cut his hair, he would be as any other man. That night she cut his hair, and sent word to the Philistines. When they were in place around her house, she woke her man-Samson, the Philistines are upon you!
He sprang to his feet, not knowing God's Spirit had left him. He was then taken, his eyes were gouged out, and he was put in chains and tied to a gristmill.
How the mighty have fallen! Israel's Judge is reduced to doing the work of an ox or a donkey.
However, the hair of his head began to grow after it had been shaven.
Was Samson's great strength in his hair? No, it was in his devotion to God, which was symbolized by his hair!
The Philistines were a religious people and wanted to praise their god for saving them from Samson. A holiday was proclaimed and all the big-wigs came to Gaza to celebrate Dagon's victory over Samson and the Lord.
Speeches were given; hymns were sung; and there was plenty of drinking-maybe too much-
When their hearts were merry, they said, 'Call for Samson that he may perform for us'.
Samson was fetched from the prison workhouse and put on quite a performance! At first, it was just what they wanted-I suppose a blind man stumbling around is extremely funny to certain people!
But then he found the pillars of the great building and leaned on them, apparently to rest. But he wasn't resting that quiet moment; he was praying, and what he was praying for was strength-one last time-to be avenged on these Philistines for his two eyes.
God heard his prayer, and as Samson pushed with all his might, the pillars went sideways and the whole place fell in, killing three thousand Philistine dignitaries, and one Jew-Samson-
Who killed more in his death
than he did in his life.
I have told this story hundreds of times and this is where I have always ended it. But the Bible doesn't end there, with Samson dead under a pile of Philistine rubble and bodies. Instead, it says-
And his brothers and all his father's household came down and took him, and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. And he judged Israel twenty years.
The man who died that day was taken up and given back the inheritance the Philistines had taken from him. And, instead of closing with a rebuke or even a regret, it ends with a tribute: he judged Israel twenty years.
Samson, for all his faults, was still God's servant and the savior of His people.
SAMSON AS ISRAEL
At the start of this sermon I told you Samson was both a symbol and a prophecy. A symbol captures what is; a prophecy, what will be.
Samson symbolized Israel. Like him, they were chosen by God before birth to be a holy people; in the law they were given the outward signs of holiness, and enjoyed the presence of God's Spirit all their lives.
But, also like him, they were unfaithful to the Lord. If Samson chased foreign girls, Israel chased foreign gods, and both brought calamity on the servants of God. Though their pains were sore, they did not separate Samson or his people from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If Samson was a symbol of Israel, he was also a type of Christ. The parallels are not accidental: like Samson, our Lord's birth was announced by an angel and came through a woman who couldn't have a child--but did. He was devoted to God from his mother's womb, until the day of His death, and beyond. He served His people in life and then saved them by His death, which was a willing sacrifice. Like Samson, our Lord was buried, for a time, but then got back to His inheritance. For the Judge that was Dan; for the Lord it was heaven. Like Samson, our Lord fulfilled the prophecy about him: Samson was to begin to judge Israel, and our Lord was to finish the work. Which He did. In case some were hard of hearing, our Lord shouted out the words-
It is finished!
Finally, like Samson, our Lord was a man of faith. Samson, a man of faith? Yes he was, Hebrews 11 says so. What did his faith do?
It suffered mockings and scourgings, yes also chains and imprisonment.out of weakness, it made him strong.and conquered kingdoms, set armies to flight, performed acts of righteousness, received the promise.and obtained a better resurrection.
If this man's faith could do such things, just imagine what the faith of Christ could do. For Himself, and for everyone connected to Him by faith.
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