MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 27, 2002 FROM JUDGES 16:1-22

 

          This week, we continue in our study of the book of Judges and in particular, Samson.  Up to this point we have seen that this man was the most thoroughly paganized of all Israel’s judges.  Instead of delivering his people from the Philistines, he himself needed to be delivered from the wicked, pagan impulses of his own self-centered heart.  He has repeatedly betrayed God’s calling as a deliverer, his calling as a special class of Nazirite and his miraculous entry into this world.  We have seen that Samson is a walking contradiction.  Physically, he is an unequalled brute of a man, but spiritually he is a pigmy. On the one hand, God powerfully uses him, but on the other, there is no indication he has any true love for God.  He hates the Philistines for all the harm they have done to him and those around him, but he refuses to separate himself from these pagans.  He consciously, repeatedly and sinfully flirts with destruction, yet God repeatedly delivers him from his self-made dilemmas.  All those contradictions are explained by the fact that in chapter 13 before Samson was conceived God decreed He would use him to begin to deliver the Jews from the Philistines who were ruling over them and God’s decrees cannot be violated by sin or anything else.  We see this sinful pattern continuing in the narrative for this morning as we look at Judges chapter 16.  Let’s begin reading with verse one.

          “One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. 2The people of Gaza were told, "Samson is here!" So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, "At dawn we'll kill him."  3But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. 

          This is a fascinating story but there are so few details given here and the ones the author does provide are so astounding AND incomplete--its very difficult to be dogmatic about much here.  One scholar has summarized what we CAN take from this opening story in chapter 16.  First, it tells us that Samson was now spending time in the area of Gaza—a large city controlled by the Philistines, which means he is still more comfortable with the pagans than he is with his own people.  This story also dramatically highlights the breathtaking, supernatural physical strength of this man—to uproot and carry on his shoulders a city gate 40 miles from Gaza uphill to Hebron is a miraculous feat of strength.   The emphasis on his physical strength here sets us up for the next story when all his awesome strength is removed in an instant and he becomes just like any other man.  Think about the dramatic contrast here--before his hair is cut, Samson is able to carry this enormous load 40 miles uphill on his shoulders.  After his hair is cut, he wouldn’t be able to budge it an inch.  Finally, this story once again highlights Samson’s profound weakness with women.  His amazing physical power enabled him to strike terror into the hearts of 1000’s of Philistines, but by contrast, this incredibly dominant man is himself ruthlessly ruled by his own glands and sinful lusts.  That of course prepares us for his final and ultimately disastrous relationship with Delilah. 

          Verse four begins that story with; “4Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, "See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver."  6So Delilah said to Samson, "Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued."   7Samson answered her, "If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man."   8Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9With men hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.  

The story begins with Samson once again falling in love with a Philistine woman.  Delilah is from Sorek, north of Gaza in Philistine territory.  Unlike his wife and the prostitute of verse one, this is the first woman in Samson’s life actually named by the author. 

By this time, Samson had become “public enemy number one” to the Philistines.  We know this because the rulers of the Philistines come to Delilah and contract her to be a spy for her people.  They offer her an incredible amount of money, perhaps in excess of 5000 shekels of silver.  Compare that sum to the 17 shekels Jeremiah needed to purchase a field in Jeremiah 32 and the 50 shekels David paid for the threshing floor and oxen he purchased so that God would halt his destruction of Israel in 2 Samuel 24.  This amount of money offered to Delilah shows what a tremendous “thorn in the side” Samson had become to the Philistines.  Delilah obviously agrees to this betrayal and begins her espionage for her people.  She is remarkably direct in her approach toward Samson.  She asks in verse six, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”  Delilah had clearly missed the day in spy school when they studied subtlety and deception—she just blurts out her transparent agenda.  Why would anyone want to know what it would take to bind and subdue you if they were not intending to DO that to you?

The obvious question at this point is, “why didn’t Samson just walk away from this woman or at the very least question this highly suspicious request she made of him?”  There are at least two answers.  First, as we have seen before, Samson loves to live on the edge of danger.  He is fearless and reckless.  He makes 150 moving incendiary devices by tying 300 wild dogs together in pairs.  He shows no fear at the prospect of being bound and having to face 1000 angry Philistines while bound.  Instead of trying to escape from them, he picks up a donkey’s jawbone and, like a 1920’s Hollywood swashbuckler, mows the pagans down.  When he somehow discovers the Philistines are waiting to ambush him in Gaza, instead of trying to climb over the wall or slip out quietly under the cover of darkness, he instead tears down the city gate and lugs it to Hebron leaving the city defenseless against intruders.  Do you hear in those accounts Samson’s love of risk and danger?  The author portrays Samson as supremely cocky—he has a strong sense of his own invincibility—someone who thinks he can overcome ANY odds.  He must think that surely a person of his extraordinary abilities would somehow find a way to turn Delilah’s destructive agenda to his own advantage.

Another character flaw of Samson’s we have seen that compels him to do something so foolish as playing games with a woman who is clearly out to destroy him is the fact that when it comes to women, the man is an absolute fool.  We have seen him sinfully command his parents to arrange a marriage with a pagan.  He visits a prostitute in Gaza and now with Delilah he falls in love with a woman who was not only a pagan, but whose willingness to seduce Samson for money shows her to be a woman of extremely low character.  When women and lust come into Samson’s life, his brain shuts down.  We must never try to find intelligence or rational thought in a context of lust.  Sin is never rational.  People trade their own souls for it every day.  How rational is that?  Samson’s love for risk taking and game playing as well as his sheer stupidity with women set him up for a huge fall here with Delilah.  Notice Samson’s love for playing games as he toys with Delilah here, telling her in verse seven, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”  The word translated “thongs” in the NIV literally means the sinews or tendons from a freshly killed animal.  Again we see that by essentially inviting Delilah to try this on him, Samson is showing his utter disregard for his Nazirite vow, which prohibited him from touching dead animals.  The plan leaves Samson defiled but the sinews are no match for his strength and Delilah is forced to wait a little while longer for her blood money.  She tries again in verse 10.

10Then Delilah said to Samson, "You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied."  11He said, "If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man."  12So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.   13Delilah then said to Samson, "Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied."  He replied, "If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I'll become as weak as any other man." So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14and tightened it with the pin.  Again she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.

Here we see two more failed attempts to bind Samson.  The new, fresh ropes are no match for his strength and neither is this other attempt, which is particularly interesting to us.  First, this lie to Delilah about the loom is intriguing for its sheer creativity.  You wonder what kind of mind would devise an elaborate lie like this one.  To suggest that you have your hair interwoven with fabric on a loom and locked in place requires a healthy imagination. Another reason this particular lie is revealing to us is because it involves his hair.  By coming so close to revealing the true key to his strength Samson is once again walking that fine line that separates thrill seeking and self-destruction.  He is perilously close to spilling the beans here, but this proves that Samson loves the thrill of getting as close to the edge as possible without falling in.  His recklessness finally does catch up to him as the story continues. 

Verse 15 says, “15Then she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength." 16With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.   17So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man."   18When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, "Come back once more; he has told me everything." So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands.  The irony of Delilah who, out of her own greed, has repeatedly sought to trap Samson like a caged animal, lamenting over his lack of love for her is almost too much to take.  She takes a page out of the book of Samson’s wife and nags him day after day for the key to his strength and once again we see that although this man could stand up to 1000 Philistines, he is unable to stand against the incessant prodding of one woman.

Notice something very important about Samson’s confession to Delilah.  He shows us that he is aware of his Nazirite status before God and that his strength comes from God. The long hair of a Nazirite was the one preeminent sign among all the others of his commitment to God.  We know that because according to Numbers chapter six when the typical Nazirite concluded the time of his/her vow, they had to go through a special ceremony that was performed in connection with the shaving of his or her head.  When Samson broke his silence about his hair, he is betraying the external “emblem” (if you will) of his Nazirite vow.  In any case, this is the first time Samson has spoken of his Nazirite status and he does so, not in any context of worship to Yahweh, but in the context of betrayal.  The author reminds us of the cold, commercial nature of this transaction when he tells us the Philistine rulers this time come with their bounty money in hand for Samson.  Delilah has reduced this man, with his gargantuan potential for service to God, to nothing more than commodity—a human trophy who will bring a handsome price from the right buyers.

The inescapable consequences of Samson’s sinfulness unfold beginning in verse 19.  19Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.  20Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"   He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free." But he did not know that the Lord had left him.   21Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison. 22But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.  The author paints a very pathetic picture here of Samson because although we, the reader know he is powerless, HE does not yet know it but pathetically declares, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.”  No, not this time, Samson.  The Lord had left him and he didn’t even know it.  The Philistines seize him and gouge out his eyes.

Think about the significance of Samson losing his eyes.  This man, who we meet in chapter 14 (and the author makes a point of mentioning that) he SEES a young Philistine girl and demands her for his wife—in chapter 16 he SEES a prostitute in Gaza and goes in to her—this man has his eyes gouged out.  The moral lesson is—if you live by your senses alone, you will perish by them too.  Dan Block captures the irony of Samson’s fall.  He says, “Overnight this man is transformed from one whose life is governed by sight and whose actions are determined by what is right in his own eyes into a blind man with eyes gouged out.   The sensual lusts of Samson’s here, which he had so often indulged, here finally consume him.  Notice however that even though this is a truly dismal fall from grace, the author hints at the fact that God isn’t finished with Samson by this pregnant statement in verse 22, “But the hair on his head began to grow again after it was shaved.”   That sets us up for the conclusion of the story which, Lord willing we will look at next week.

In the time remaining I want us to look at some points of application from this sad chapter of Samson’s life.  The first point is directed toward the men here and is simply, men, we must be especially vigilant of our relationships with women.  This is also true of women and their relationships with men, but the focus of the author here is Samson the deliverer, not Delilah the pagan.  Recently, I heard to my dismay of yet another prominent evangelical leader whose ministry went down in flames because of his sin of adultery.  This word of warning is so badly needed today when the myth is propagated that men can, without risk to their marriages, relate to women with the same level of vulnerability as they do with other men and all the social barriers separating men and women are being smashed to the ground.  It is more difficult to live a chaste and faithful life today than ever before! 

Samson was a man of tremendous gifts and abilities and yet he is reduced to a prison slave because he couldn’t control himself around women.  If there is an Achilles heel spiritually for men, it’s this sin right here.  It’s tempting to look at Samson with his egomania and his incredible recklessness and come to the conclusion that because we are clearly “morally superior” to Samson, his failures with women have little to teach us.  If Samson’s failures with women are not a warning to us, how about the man who finished the task of delivering the Jews from the Philistines, David—a man after God’s own heart, the worship leader of Israel, a clear type of Christ?  The message men must bring away from David’s sin with Bathsheba is, “If David can fall, ANYONE can fall and that means me.”  No one is insulated from this—we must ALL be vigilant in our relationships with women.  The lesson of Samson’s relationship with women is unmistakable.  We must never push the envelop in this area.  We should always err on the side of safety rather than trying to walk as close to the edge as possible without falling in.

A second point of application is related to this but is applies to both genders.  That is: playing with sin eventually leads to destructive consequences.   Don’t misunderstand, all sin is self-destructive and our first motive for avoiding it should NOT be avoiding its painful consequences but rather that God might be honored in our lives.  But the bible DOES teach  we must remember that unrepentant sin will eventually cause us suffer grave consequences and that truth should cause us to temper our lives.  Samson’s adult life was spent living on the edge of self-destruction.  He constantly compromised himself as he lived among the pagans, he married one, he tried to unfairly profit from them by his riddle and in this story, and he engaged another as a prostitute.  He spent his whole life playing with fire but, he seems on a human level to have remained unsinged by it—until this episode.  Now, in a moment his protection is ripped away and he gets badly burned.  Except for one last destructive feat of strength, Samson is done as the deliverer of Israel and as a human being.  He falls hard and we must never forget this truth.  There are doubtless people here today who have sinned the same often secret, self-destructive sin for years, but to themselves and others they APPEAR to be undamaged.  We dare not be deceived into thinking this will continue indefinitely.  Proverbs 6:27 says, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” In other words, can a person continue to engage in unrepentant, self-destructive sin or foolish risk-taking without the house of cards one day collapsing?  God’s answer is, “no.”  Paul says in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction… 

There is an indestructible rhythm God has established in life; sin>>> destruction>>>sin>>>>destruction>>>>sin>>>>destruction.  Sin destroys people—it destroys marriages and ministries and reputations and local churches!  Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  Unchecked, unrepentant sin will destroy us.  If you are knowingly committing unrepentant sin, let the life of Samson remind you that although God’s justice is sometimes slow in coming, it always comes.  And the worst thing that can happen to a person is for them to “successfully” keep their secret sin concealed until they die. These people may have kept their scandalous secret from man, but they will not escape the eternal judgment of God.  It’s far better to have the sin revealed, be humiliated in this life and genuinely repent, than to “successfully” pull the wool over the eyes of people and have to face an angry God in the judgment.

In a crowd of people this size there are doubtless people who have unrepentant sin you have perhaps for years flirted with, for years justified or rationalized, for years you have walked on the very edge of the precipice, perhaps enjoying the thrill that brings you.  If that describes you, know this beloved, you are playing with fire and you WILL like Samson, get burned--perhaps beyond recognition and perhaps for eternity.  And when you go down, you may bring those you love down with you.  No one gets away with anything with God—there are only some who, like Samson THINK they are escaping the inevitable consequences of their sin.

        A final point of application is our lives must more and more conform to our profession.  Samson finally breaks his silence on his own understanding of his status as a Nazirite and tells Delilah in verse 17, “I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth.”  He knows his status before God and he confesses that to Delilah.  The problem with Samson was he had the hair of a Nazirite, the blessings of a Nazirite and now he has the profession of a Nazirite but he doesn’t have the LIFE of a Nazirite.  Indeed, he lived the life of a pagan.  For Samson, being a Nazirite meant having a status, an anointing, a position but it wasn’t a way of life for him. 

        God didn’t uniquely equip him so he could live a life of adventure and use his unique gifts for his own thrills.  He called Samson to be set apart to himself and as that set apart, anointed man, God would use him to begin to deliver his people from their Philistine oppressors.  Samson was called first to BE someone before God and from that life, DO something with God.  The BEING was to serve as a basis for the DOING.  God did indeed use Samson but tragically, he used him not BECAUSE of who he was, but IN SPITE of who he was.  As North American evangelicals we must not lose the lesson here.  Evangelicals are often quick to make profession of who we are before God.  We put it on the back of our cars, on our bumper stickers, stationary, the checks in our checkbooks and on our front doors.  There is a huge industry that makes money producing these purely external professions of faith but Samson’s life begs the question, are WE living out what we profess?  We may have the evangelical jargon and vocabulary down—we may display the external emblems of faith that are clearly visible to those around us, but are our hearts sold out to God?

        Here is Samson with Delilah making this profession of his status before God but without one ounce of integrity to back it up.  The ONLY way you would have known about his spiritual responsibility before a holy God was by the confession of his lips and the length of his hair.  There was certainly NOTHING else to give evidence of any relationship to Yahweh.  Is that us?  How do people know if we are related to Christ?  Is it only or fundamentally through what we profess and the external emblems we wear?  Or is the strongest, most persuasive, most powerful expression of our testimony a set apart life of holiness and devotion to God?  For far too many evangelicals, the bumper stickers and doorknockers and their verbal professions speak far more loudly and are often in direct contradiction to their lives.

          We must openly, unapologetically stand for Christ in our testimony, but our external testimonies should be backed up by lives of holy integrity.  St. Francis said, “preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.”  Does the holy character of our lives preach Christ to the world?  Do our lives, our marriages, our families, our relationships with neighbors and coworkers reflect Christ, or is the only way anyone could tell you were a Christian by the testimony of your lips or the symbol on the back of your vehicle?  Do we meet ourselves in Samson—having a profession of faith without what Paul calls the “obedience that comes from faith” (Rom.1:5)?  May God give us the grace to live lives that match and give credibility to our profession.

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