Many of us learned the story of Samson in Sunday school. It was the cleaned up, sanitized version. When you take a long look at the story we just read today it's isn't so neat and clean. It is bloody, gory, vindictive, and filled with God's people who have strayed a very long way away from Him. Samson is the last of twelve judges in the Book of Judges. The Israelites have been under Philistine rule for 40 years, one entire generation. They don't seem to mind, but God does. His love for His people is so great He is willing to raise up a judge to set His people free from oppression. When we read the Book of Hebrews, Samson is listed in chapter 11 as a man of faith. He may be a man of faith, but he is not a faithful man. He wasn't faithful to his parents teaching. He wasn't faithful to his Nazarite vow. He wasn't faithful to the laws of the Lord. It didn't take long for Samson to lose everything the Lord gave him, except his strength, but he eventually lost that as well.
Samson was living by sight not by faith. He was not pleasing the Lord who raised him up and he was not pleasing his parents who raised him. As a judge part of Samson’s call was to defeat the oppressors of Israel. But the key word in this narrative comes in chapter 13:5. The angel of the Lord who appeared to Samson's mother said Samson would BEGIN to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. For some this was welcome news. The Philistines had been a thorn in Israel's side for many years. Knowing that someone would begin to defeat them was great news. For others, the news wasn't so good. All the other judges, whatever their flaws, had defeated the oppressors in their time as judges and the land had known peace. The Philistines would continue to be a problem for Israel until the days of King David. Anything Samson accomplished would be very temporary.
There are several things that prevented Samson from finishing well. His whole life seemed to be a series of missteps, miracles and follies. The only fighting he did against the Philistines came in the form of revenge. In fact, the passion to get even seemed to govern his life. He fought battles but they were not battles of the Lord. When David fought the Philistines, he saw them as enemies of the Lord, and he sought to honor the Lord with his fighting. Samson fought to honor Samson. We see his cruelty in some of that vengeance. After his first father-in-law gave his wife away, Samson sought revenge, but he did it using innocent animals. The word foxes can also mean jackals. Foxes are solitary animals, but jackals travel in large packs. He counted on the animal's fear of the fire to run amuck in the Philistines fields causing major destruction and costly devastation. For a man whose name meant little sun or sunny, Samson spent much of his life living in the dark places of hate, anger, vengeance, and revenge. And even though God was using Samson to harass the Philistines, preparing them for their eventual defeat in the coming years, Samson didn't spend much time trying to unburden the Israelites.
What Samson didn't seem to realize was every time he attacked the Philistines for some reason, they attacked Israel. Instead of seeing Samson as a deliverer, the men of Judah saw him as a troublemaker. It is difficult to be a leader if you have no followers, but much of the fault lay with Samson. He failed to challenge the people of God. He did not organize them to fight. And he didn't trust God to give them the victory. He was fighting in his own strength...which was considerable...but the battle belongs to the Lord. He worked alone, fighting the battles of the Lord as though they were his own. We see what the men of Judah thought of Samson when they realized the Philistines wanted to capture only Samson. They were willing to help the enemy! It is a very sad situation when the citizens cooperate with the enemy to hand over their own God appointed leader. This is the only time in Samson's judgeship that the Israelites mustered an army...and it was for the purpose of capturing one of their own men!
Chapter 16 brings the stories of Samson and two more pagan women. One was a prostitute he visited in Gaza and the other a woman he had a foolish affair with. Her name was Delilah, and she led to his downfall. Samson was way more concerned with his power and pleasure than he was delivering Israel. It seems improbable that a man appointed by the Lord to lead the Israelites out of their oppression would travel 40 miles to find a prostitute but that is exactly what Samson did. However, it is possible for a person’s character to deteriorate so much they don't even have to be tempted to sin. All they need is the opportunity. The city gates were a big deal in these near east towns and cities. They were at least two stories tall with guard rooms on either side of a narrow opening. And they were extremely heavy. The city gate was not only for protection of the city but the place where officials met to transact business. And to possess the gate of your enemy was a metaphor meaning to defeat them. When Jesus spoke about the gates of hell not prevailing against the church, He was picturing the victory of the church over the forces of the evil one and evil itself. Through His death and resurrection Jesus has stormed the gates of hell and carried them off in victory. Given the large size of the city gates Samson's feat was astounding. Hebron is 40 miles east of Gaza and his trip to the top of a hill that faces Hebron would have taken the better part of a day.
Delilah acted in cooperation with the Philistines to trap and subdue Samson. She isn't referred to as a prostitute, but it is likely she was. The Philistine leaders all agreed to pay her handsomely if she will help them capture Samson. She kept working to determine what caused Samson's strength. To fail may well have cost her not only the money but also her life. In the end she wore Samson down and he is captured. His eyes are gouged out and he becomes a common prisoner/slave...grinding grain. Samson is one of three men in scripture who are identified especially with darkness. Besides Samson there is king Saul who went out in darkness to get last minute help from a witch...and Judas who went out immediately and it was night. Saul lived for the world. Samson yielded to the flesh and Judas gave himself to the evil one. All three ended up taking their own lives.
Samson began his life full of promise. He had a chance to do great things. But he squandered every chance he got. We may not have a call like Gideon, Deborah, or Samson but each one of us has a call and a chance to serve the Lord. We can choose to give that chance everything we have, or we can waste it. How do you want to be remembered?
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W