Judges 13-16: The Story of Samson
Today we will look at the life of Samson as recorded in these four chapters. He is the last judge of Israel during this period. We will quickly realize Samson is also the most flawed judge of those God had given to the nation of Israel.
The phrase, ‘ again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ is recorded for the last time here in this story. God gives them over to the Philistines. We will also discover the judge God has given them, Samson is : sexually immoral; impulsive, emotionally immature, selfish, prideful, and with a terrible violent temper. He is also unteachable and unreliable. He is in fact a poster boy for what Israel had become- he reflects the attitude of Israel- a nation that did what was right in their own eyes. The lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh ruled them and now God has given them a ruler just like them.
Samson, again is one of those unlikely people who ends up in Hebrew 11- Faith Hall of Fame. More about that later- but I want you to observe what happens when a believer is carnal. When we are carnal we live by sight and not by faith. Our senses control us and react to what we feel and what we see. Samson is unpredictable and unreliable. Do you know why? He is double minded- which is what a carnal, sensual believer is. And a doubled minded man is unstable in all his ways. You know what else Samson was? He was a loner. We do not read of him gathering a group around him.
There is something else which is not mentioned in this account which by its absence is very significant. There is not a single mention in this account of anyone crying out to the Lord to save them from their enemy, the Philistines, who now has control over them. The people of Israel did not cry out to be rescued because they did not want to be rescued. They had completely adopted the values of the Philistine culture. We have met the enemy and he is us!
Let’s start at the beginning- a beginning with great promise. Samson was a child of promise. We see the angel of the Lord approach Samson’s mother, who was barren. From the very beginning- God has come to couples and with the promise of a child. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and many others in the Old Testament. Then in the New Testament John the Baptists and finally Jesus, God the Son who became flesh. Remember how concerned King Herod was when the wise men arrived searching for the One born King of the Jews? He had all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem killed because he feared the threat to his kingdom.
God delights to use the weak to confound the strong and there is none weaker than a baby. What a tragedy we have come to live in a society that does not realize the promise of each new baby- a new life, a gift from God. Children are a heritage from the Lord, children are a reward from Him.( Psalm 127) They are a reward to our society and culture, not just their families.
We are a society in which many view an unborn baby as an invasion and inconvenience rather than a reward, a gift, a miracle of life. The unborn child is considered a threat to one’s kingdom. In doing so we have done much greater destruction than Herod did in Bethlehem, we have taken the lives of 55,000,000 unborn children of promise. America once known as a Christian nation has for the most part adopted the values of the unbelieving culture around us. ‘ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way( the way of pagans) because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.’ ( Deut. 12) You realize most aborted fetuses end up in incinerators.
Samson was a child of unbelievable promise. He was named Samson. The name Samson means “ little sun” or ‘ sunny’. I have watched adults in all types of public places make faces and play peek-a-boo with little children who are perfect strangers and smile and laugh at the smiles and laughter of the those little ones. Their sunny dispositions have that effect on us. Jesus loved little children and beckoned them to come to him. And they did. You can imagine- the funny faces Jesus made at them and how he laughed as they laughed.
The plan of salvation was wrapped up in swaddling clothes, a baby lying in a manager in a stable in Bethlehem. God is saying- over and over – children are a heritage, a reward, a gift. Samson was a gift- a child of promise. I also know we have those who mistreat these little ones and the Lord was harsh in his judgment of those who harm these little ones.
The story moves quickly from Samson’s birth to chapter 14 where our first encounter is with Samson as a young man. I do not know about you, but I immediately did not like this spoiled, demanding young man. Yet I realized this was the one God has selected to lead Israel. He is a leader who reflects Israel’s spiritual state. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Prideful, demanding to have whatever they wanted and don’t tell me what is right or wrong in God’s eyes- because I don’t care. Controlled by the lust of the flesh- Samson is dismissive of his parents’ counsel and authority.
His parents said to Samson- ‘ isn’t their an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife? Samson’s reply. “ Get her for me. She is the right one for me.” In other words- I will do what is right in my eyes, not God’s eyes.
Now in the midst of this brash, rude, disrespectful young man’s demands comes a surprising verse. “ His parents did not know that this was from the Lord seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines for at that time they were ruling over Israel.: ( Judges 14.4) Sleeping with the enemy- intermarrying with a worshipper of Dagon, the pagan god of the Philistines hardly seems the right strategy for confronting the enemy . But- God’s ways are higher than our ways, aren’t they?
Samson’s parents were right to oppose the marriage to a heathen woman from the people who constantly oppressed them. God is about to use the very weakness of Samson, his sexual lust and violent temper to bring about confrontation between these two nations. I am reminded of what Joseph’s brothers did to him, selling him into slavery. Years later, Joseph, looking back understood what the Lord God had done. Upon revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph told them- “ God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then it was not you who sent me here but God.” And later after their father, Jacob died, Joseph reassured them with this statement: “ Am I not in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” ( Genesis 50) All through the Bible we see this truth of God’s ability to work all things together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. The greatest of which was the Lord Jesus’s crucifixion which Peter explained in his famous Day of Pentecost sermon: “ This man( Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. “ ( Acts 2)
God fulfills His promises and His sovereign will not only in spite of sin, but even through sin. God uses the free, wicked choices of human beings to accomplish what He has promised.
Now the people of Israel were at peace with the Philistines. They were at peace with the world around them. James tells us: “ You adulterous people, don’t you know friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” Have we become in America – friends with the world? Do we go along to get along? Do we accept their idols? Their culture? Their philosophy?
Do you realize we are living among the ‘ Philistines’? And like it was in the days of Samson, there is no king and everyone does what is right in their own eyes? Israel had embraced the Philistine culture and all that it offered. We read this story and it is obvious how wrong they were, yet we cannot see where we have done the same.
Have you noticed how slowly but surely the world is turning against the church? Have you noticed how obvious it is God is forcing us, His people, to realize we are not a part of this world? We have a different Lord and Savior and it is becoming clear we must speak out against the sinfulness of our culture and cry out to the Lord to rescue us. God will not allow the world to love us. Listen to what Jesus said on the very night of his arrest: “ if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” ( John 15)
Now a word about Nazirite vow. A Nazirite was not to cut his hair during the period of the vow; was not to drink any produce from vines, alcoholic or non-alcoholic; and was not to touch or have contact with any dead body. Samson is the only judge chosen before he is born. Chosen in the womb like John the Baptist. Keeping of this vow was like training intensely for a mission that God had for you.
Samson evidently has little regard for the vow and breaks it. Yet as we see, God uses Samson’s sin, his weakness to cause the division God desires between the pagan world and His people. Watch when the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson: on the way down to talk to this woman and arrange their marriage, a lion came roaring toward Samson. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson in power and he tore the lion apart. A few days later coming back the same route, Samson sees the lion’s carcass where a swarm of bees had left honey. Samson ate some of the honey and gave of it also to his parents. In touching the dead carcass- Samson violated his vow. Interesting John the Baptist, an Old Testament prophet who showed up in the New Testament to herald the coming of the Messiah kept his Nazirite vow and lived off locusts and wild honey. His message was also one of repentance.
As they prepare for the wedding feasts, Samson makes a riddle and in effect gambles with his Philistine companions. He bets they cannot solve the riddle and the wager is 30 sets of clothing. If they cannot solve it in 7 days- they pay him. If they can solve it- he will have to pay them. The riddle was about this lion and the honey: ‘ Out of the eater, something to eat, out of the strong, something sweet.’ Samson was a clever man- clever with words.
As the days go by without solving the riddle, the Philistines say to Samson’s wife- get us the answer or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. What ruthless people. She finally gets the answer from Samson. When they solve the riddle, Samson knows they have obtained the answer from his wife.
This is the next time we see the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson in power and he went and struck down, killed 30 men and took their garments to pay his off his debt.
Samson was so angry- he did not return to his wife, but went up to his father’s house. In the meanwhile, Samson’s wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.
Now we begin to see God’s plan unfolding. God is causing a division between His people and the pagan culture of the Philistines by divorcing them from their marriage to their idols. God uses Samson, as flawed as Samson is to get His work done. God does not use just godly people, in His grace He uses flawed people also. God will not be put in a box that says you will limit your work through deserving people only- that would be the antithesis of grace. And salvation is all of grace. This story of Samson underscores the story of grace and undeserved mercy and how God works to bring about His will. In fact, our failures are often the foundation for His success. Just ask Peter what was the turning point in his life and he would answer the night I denied the Lord three times. For me it was a slow decline into alcoholism that brought me to the brink of suicide which led to my desperate prayer for salvation. God allowed those choices I made to lead me to Him. “ Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out? Who has known the mind of God? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, To Him be the glory forever, Amen.” ( Romans 11)
A series of events take place quickly following the killing of the lion with his bare hands and the killing of 30 Philistines to take their garments.
Next he sets the fields of the Philistines afire using captured foxes or jackals.
This brought about revenge by the Philistines as they burn Samson’s wife and father-in-law.
Samson then attacked them and we are told he ‘ slaughtered many of them.” ( Judges 15:8) Samson then went down and stayed in a cave.
The men of Judah, 3000 of them, confront Samson in the cave and said to Samson: “ Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” Samson replies he has only done what they have done to him. The men of Judah have come to take Samson captive and turn him over to the Philistines.
His own people betray him. He is causing them trouble- they have had peace with the Philistines. They were friends with the world. Samson was ruining everything, causing the world they had befriended to turn against them. Lot thought the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were his friends, respected him. When the men of Sodom and Gomorrah demanded to have their way with the angels who had arrived at Lot’s house listen to the exchange that took place: “ Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him as said: “ No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughter who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof. Get out of the way they replied. And they said, ‘ this fellow came here as alien and now wants to play judge. We’ll treat you worse than them.”
This is the way the world will treat us when we say to them: ‘no more’. Notice Lot addressed them as friends. But God would not allow Lot to stay friends with the world. When Lot stood up to the world and the pagan culture and called their sin- wicked, they turned on him quickly.
God has called us to be separate. He has called us to a mission. He has called us to a covenant without compromise. He is now calling us to come out- and to be what we are supposed to be- salt and light.
Samson will kill a 1000 of the enemy that day in the power of the Spirit with the jawbone of a donkey. He leads Israel for 20 years in the days of the Philistines we read in Judges 15:20.
But Samson’s weakness leads him ultimately to his ruin. While visiting a prostitute in Gaza, his presence is detected. He escapes during the night, tearing down the gates of Gaza. And then we meet the woman who is forever connected to the story of Samson. Delilah. Samson falls for her – his sexual lust makes a fool of him, as it has many a man, including men of God. She is approached by the Philistines to find out the secret of Samson’s strength. Samson had told Delilah he loved her. Perhaps this is so- or perhaps Samson thought he loved her. She was promised 1100 shekels of silver by each of the Philistines. So three times Samson tells her a lie about his strength. But finally , we are told she prodded him day after day- ‘ until he was tired to death.’
He told her the truth. No razor has ever been used on my head. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would be as weak as any man.
The real source of Samsons’ strength was not his uncut hair or his Nazirite vow- it was the One and Only True God to whom he had made the vow.
She cuts his hair and the soldiers come. His strength had left him. When he awoke- ‘ he did not know that the Lord had left him. ‘
I wonder if there are churches today who are going about doing what they usually do, compromising and making friends with the world in the name of tolerance and good works and do not know the Lord has left them?
They blind the shorn Samson, bind him with bronze shackles and set him grinding in the prison. We see the consequences of sin. Our sins blind us, they bind us and they grind us down to a life that seems completely meaningless, a treadmill on which we climb everyday. Get up , go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch boring television and go to bed to wake up and do the same things over until we die. “ Teach us to number our days aright, so we might gain a heart of wisdom.” ( Psalm 90) Do you ever feel like I do- you got old too soon and smart too late? The poet said: Tell me not in empty numbers life is but an empty dream. And the soul is dead that slumbers and things are not what they seem. life is real and life is earnest and the grave is not the goal, dust thou art to dust returneth was not spoken of the soul.
“ But his hair began to grow again after it have been shaved.” ( Judges 16: 22)
We can finish strong. It is never too late to do the right thing. Samson’s story is a story that makes that point. The most important moment in Samson’s life is his death. The most triumphant moment in his life is his death.
“ Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to make a great sacrifice to Dagon, their god and to celebrate, saying our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hands.” They brought Samson out to entertain them, to make fun of him and perform for them. ( not unlike Herod did to Jesus at his arrest- show us a miracle and mocked him)
Samson’s prayer and actions that follow are the ones that put him in Hebrews 11 Faith Hall of Fame. “ Samson said to the servant who brought him out- put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so I may lean against them. Now the temple was crowded with men and women and all the rulers of the Philistines. ( About 3000 of them)
Samson prayed: “ O Soveriegn Lord, remember me,O God, and please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
You know the rest of the story- he brought down the temple that day and killed 3000 of the enemy. The power he had lost by sin he regained by repentance and prayer.
The enemy was destroyed- their god, Dagon, was defeated utterly by the God of Israel. Samson prayed for vengeance but the Lord Jesus prayed for our forgiveness. Both defeated the enemy.
Samson’s death accomplished what God wanted it to accomplish- to begin the deliverance of Israel from the enemy. Jesus’ death accomplished the deliverance. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. And if the Son sets you free – you are free indeed.
Look what we have seen so far: Othniel and Ehud had rallied Israel to fight against their oppressors. Deborah and Barak took only two tribes to defeat the enemy. Gideon only needed 300 to defeat the thousands. But Samson did it by himself. One man. We see Samson, blinded, tortured, chained and all alone. He was a strong man who became weak, but in the end a weak man who becomes stronger than ever before. His victory was in his death.
I did not like the young Samson, he was not likeable. I like the Samson I saw that last day. I like that humbled Samson. I like to believe each day as he went round and round pushing the millstone, he prayed to the Lord. He repented of his sins. He wanted only to finish what God had wanted him to do- the child of promise would become the champion of men and in death would bring victory. His weakness was turned to strength.
God shows He can defeat the enemy with one man. That one man would be the God-Man, the Lord Jesus.
Jesus became weak to become strong. His death however was not the end- it was the beginning. He arose on the third day and after a 40 day ministry ascended to heaven where today He sits at the right hand of God.
Do you believe you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you?
Has the enemy convinced you that you are too flawed to be used by the Lord?
Do you think it is too late in life to be used by God? Then the story of Samson should tell you it is never too late to do the right thing.
It also tells us our prayer life perhaps even more than our activities are the indication of our spiritual health. Fight your battles on your knees in prayer.
When I am weak – I am strong.