The final sermon in a summer series
on Joshua and the Judges
The story of Samson would not cut it as a children’s story these days, what with all the empowerment narratives we foist upon the young! These days every girl has to be a She-Ra action princess and every boy has to identify with some anthropomorphized truck or airplane or penguin. And for everybody in every story, if you just believe with all your heart, your mediocre world will suddenly get better.
Problem is, life isn’t like that! The Christian faith isn’t like that! And once upon a time a kid would learn this by reading a story. There was Old Yeller. But the dog dies in the end, so you can’t have that anymore. There was The Yearling. But the deer gets shot at the climax, and you can’t have that either. Why, even Disney’s famous Bambi embraced tragedy with more realism than the currently reigning ice princess!
Oh yes…there were gentler stories as well. But it’s good to read the hard stories in the days of one’s childhood, because life itself is hard. Faith is hard! For the young and the old, for the big and the little. And this is most certainly true, whether you believe it with all your heart or not!
When we left our hero he was sulking. Now, 15:1, “After some days, at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife with a young goat.” The equivalent of a dozen roses. “And he said, ‘I will go in to my wife in the chamber.’”
But the girl’s father replies, v2, “I really thought that you utterly hated her.” In anger, Samson had left her at the wedding dinner. “So I gave her to your companion.” The father’s public embarrassment, more than feelings for his daughter, are behind his actions. And because the man doesn’t want to face an angry Samson, he quickly offers him his younger daughter to do with her as Samson likes. But the big man replies, v3, “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm.”
Ah, but there is a reason the Bible teaches, “Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” And Confucius was wise to observe, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge…dig two graves.” There are going to be many, many graves before this path of vengeance is satisfied…Samson’s among them.
V4, Samson goes out and catches 300 foxes. Ties them in pairs, tail to tail, puts a lighted torch between each pair, and lets them loose into the Philistines’ ripening wheat fields and olive orchards. V6, The Philistines cry out, “Who has done this?”
They now exact their revenge…against Samson’s wife and her father. They burn them alive! V7, “And Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will be avenged on you, and after that I will quit.” V8, “And he struck them hip and thigh with a great blow…” “Hip and thigh” implies a massive slaughter. But Samson does not quit. Vengeance has a big appetite!
The Philistines in retaliation attack the Israelites, v9. So Israel sends 3000 men to capture Samson. “What have you done to us?!” V12, “And they said to him, ‘We have come down to bind you, that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.’” Samson consents, if they promise not to kill him themselves. V13, They promise, bind him, and deliver him to the enemy.
V14, “When [Samson] came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him [there’s that phrase again], and the ropes that were on his arms [binding him] became as flax…” V13, “And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it struck 1000 men.” And when he was done, v17, like any good action hero, Samson casually threw aside the jawbone and walked away, leaving death and destruction behind him. And vengeance finally takes a breather.
So the moral of the story is? Well…that’s complicated. You could say, “The moral of the story is: Keep your eyes to yourself.” After all, this whole thing began when Samson went to town and his wandering eye caught sight of a cute Philistine girl.
You could say, “The moral of the story is: Look before you leap!” After all, as Napoleon once said, “Vengeance has no foresight.” And the story of Samson could certainly teach both of those morals…if legalism is all you want.
But Bible stories go much deeper than legalism. At heart, the Book is not a collection of morals. At heart, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s about the Christ. And finding Christ in the story of Samson…well…for that, we must push on to the end.
After everything Samson has done, after all the violence he has heaped upon the Philistines, 16:4, “After this he loved a woman…” Well, the man has loved many women, his appetite as voracious as his strength. But Samson did not love well.
Enter Delilah. V5, “And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, ‘Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1100 pieces of silver.’” And Delilah becomes Samson’s Judas.
You certainly know this part of the story. She turns on the charm and gets an answer from him. V7, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings…I shall become weak.” She ties him up. A band of armed Philistines jump out of the closet. But Samson breaks the bowstrings as if they were nothing. Delilah tries again. He tells her, v11, “Seven new ropes.” She ties him up. More Philistines out of the closet. He breaks these too.
Now you would think the big man would get suspicious of all these Philistines jumping out of Delilah’s closet. But Samson isn’t thinking with his brain!
Delilah doubles up on her charm. He confesses, v13, “If you weave my hair and fasten it with a pin…” She does. Out jump the Philistines. He pulls the pin and explodes. And, v14, Delilah bursts into tears, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?”
Samson is putty in her hands. And after several days of tears and kisses, he finally tells her, “A razor has never come upon my head… If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me.”
Okay…it is important to remind ourselves here of what Samson has forgotten in his passion. It’s not really the hair. It’s God! The hair is the sign of Samson’s lifelong vow of service to God. But it’s the Spirit of the Lord God who has been the source of the man’s great strength throughout this saga. Cut the hair, cut the vow, cut the tie with God and His powerful, rushing Spirit.
V18, Delilah could read in Samson’s eyes that this time he was being honest. While he slept in her embrace, another Philistine slipped in with a razor and shaved Samson’s head.
This time, when those armed Philistines jumped out, Samson was powerless. And to make sure we, the readers, understand why he was powerless, the writer adds, V20, “He did not know that the Lord had left him.” Cut the hair, cut the vow with God. V21, “And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in prison.” It’s as though Samson had been cast down to hell! “My God, my God…why have You forsaken me?”
We might be tempted to conclude, “Seriously Samson? Just look at the mess you made of your life and the gift of your great strength! What did you expect would happen?” And, yes, that is a Biblical truth. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
But there is a deeper truth here. In the words of Isaiah the prophet, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him…when his soul makes an offering for guilt…the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Ultimately, that’s Jesus on His cross. Stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus became our Samson, and by His weakness, stripped and shorn of every dignity, God redeemed His people. And by that Christ, redemption is what we see here with Samson!
V23, The Philistines gather in the temple of Dagon to rejoice at Samson’s defeat. “All the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about 3000 men and women, who looked on” as Samson was brought in for sport. V26, “Samson said to the young man who held him by the hand (he’s blind remember), ‘Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests…”
Then, surrounded by a mob…”Save yourself!” “Let your God rescue you if He wants you!”…in the darkness of his blindness, in the depths of his humiliation, for the first and only time in this whole saga, Samson prays, v28, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” It’s still vengeance for him; for God it is Samson’s and Israel’s redemption. V29, “Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested…his right hand on the one and his left on the other.” Then one last prayer, v30, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And God heard him.
“[Samson] bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.” And by Samson’s death, Israel is free.
So if there is to be a moral to Samson’s story, perhaps the one hymn stanza which didn’t make the cut into our hymnal sings it best: “Thou on my head in early youth didst smile, And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile, Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee. On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.” So Samson teaches us Christ, and in Christ we learn that our end is our beginning. Though we die yet shall we live. “Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee.”
Thus, no matter where the strengths and appetites of our lives take us…like Samson…in Christ…we too learn to pray, “In life, in death, O Lord…abide with me!”