Please turn in the pew Bibles to Judges chapter 16 and follow along as I read verses 28-30.
28 Then Samson called to the LORD and said, "Lord GOD, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes."
29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other.
30 Then Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines." He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Everybody has heard something about Samson. Everybody knows that he was an incredibly strong guy, a warrior hero like Achilles or Beowulf or Superman. And everybody knows the story of Samson and Delilah—the hero is betrayed by the femme fatal, Mata Hari sells out Captain America. But if we look for spiritual lessons from Samson, they are hard to find. We admire his prowess; Samson could do amazing things, but he never seemed to have a thought that went beyond himself. Yet Samson is presented to us as God’s man for that time. What are we to make of him? To lift a quote from Winston Churchill, Samson seems to be a bit of a “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
For example, Samson was a Nazirite. The Nazirite vow involved three things:
1. No alcohol—no use of any products of the grape vine, no wine, no grape juice, no grapes, no raisins.
2. No cutting of the hair. In the 1949 movie Samson and Delilah, Victor Mature played Samson as a clean-cut all-American boy. In reality, Samson had a beard halfway down his chest and hair down his back. His hair was a sign of his consecration to God.
3. The third part of the Nazirite vow was no contact with the dead, no touching of a dead body
But Samson was not very careful about his Nazirite vows. In Judges 14, Samson killed a lion with his bare hands. That was amazing. Afterward, he went off and left the body of the lion lying where it fell—which was what a Nazirite was supposed to do. But some time later he returned and found that bees had set up a hive in the lion’s carcass. He scooped honey out of the carcass and went on his way, eating the honey. It sounds gross to me: it was also a gross violation of his vows.
Consider another aspect of Samson. He was called to be a Judge of Israel. In that time, a judge was far more than what we think of as a judge today. A judge was a deliverer. The main section of the book of Judges consists of several cycles. The cycles go something like this:
1. Israel does evil.
2. The Lord gives them into the hand of oppressors.
3. After years of oppression, Israel cries out for a deliverer or judge
4. The Lord raises up a deliverer/judge, who defeats the oppressors.
5. Finally, the land has rest again.
In Samson’s time, Israel was oppressed by the Philistines (Judges 14:4), but strangely enough, the Israelites did not cry out in distress. Most Israelites were willing to go along with Philistine rule.
Perhaps that is why God called Samson to be a judge, to begin the resistance to Philistine dominion. If so, Samson pretty much failed his call. Samson was not in any sense a resistance leader. He did not lead Israelite guerrillas in battle. In fact, Samson apparently did not like Israelites very much. In the four chapters of Judges that tell Samson’s story, not a single Israelite friend is mentioned. Samson did not associate with Israelites; he associated with Philistines. And Samson was fascinated by Philistine women. We read in chapter 14 that Samson saw a Philistine woman at Timnah and wanted her for a wife. His father and mother were outraged. They ask him, Are there not maidens in Israel? Not for Samson. He makes a deal for this woman (her name is not given) and he has a wedding feast. At the feast, only Philistines are present, no Israelites except Samson. When the wedding feast turns ugly, Samson in a rage kills thirty Philistines. Then, Samson destroys part of the Philistine grain harvest. He does this not out of any sense of patriotism, but simply because he did not get the woman he wanted. This begins a cycle of escalating violence between Samson and the Philistines. But, even so, Samson never seeks help from Israelites, perhaps because he knows they will not help him. In fact, when the men of Judah learn that the Philistines are seeking Samson, they capture Samson and hand him over. They did not want any part of any rebellion against their Philistine Lords.
But Samson escaped from the Philistines and took up the jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand men. Now the jawbone of a donkey is only about so long. It was a weapon that he apparently improvised on the spot. This was an incredible victory against impossible odds. But notice that Samson violated his Nazirite vow. He touched the bone of a dead animal. Notice also that Samson fought alone, for revenge.
Then he meets Delilah. What was it about Samson and Philistine women? Maybe it was the forbidden fruit syndrome. He was not supposed to have the women of the conquerors, and so he was determined to have them.
Delilah was a spy for hire. She was not a Philistine patriot. The Philistines offered her 1,100 pieces of silver to find out the source of Samson’s strength. So she begins to nag him for this information.
Three times Samson gives her the wrong answer. He says he can be bound with fresh bowstrings, and then he says he can be bound with fresh ropes, and then he says that he can be bound if his locks are woven together. In each case. Delilah tries out the answer and finds that it is false, and she weeps and wails because she says he does not love her or trust her. Now you would think that Samson would figure out that something was going on after three failed attempts to bind him, but when it comes to women Samson does not have a clue.
Many men are like that. I have a friend, nice guy, I like him. He has been married three times. Each marriage crashed and burned—because when it comes to women, my friend is an idiot. Samson was much the same.
This clueless idiot eventually told Delilah the truth. He is a Nazirite. His uncut hair is part of his Nazirite vow and symbolizes his connection with God. God is the real source of his strength, but Samson carelessly tosses his relationship with God away in order that he might have Delilah. He pays for his foolishness in full measure. She has his head shaved while he is asleep and calls in the Philistines who bind him and gouge out his eyes. They take him down to Gaza and set him to grinding grain like a donkey.
One day the Philistine leaders assemble in the temple of Dagon, and summon Samson so that he might entertain them. Thousands of Philistines gather to see their worst enemy chained between the two middle pillars of Dagon’s temple.
Then we have Samson’s final prayer in Judges 16:28, "Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes." There is little about this prayer that a Christian can like. It is a prayer for revenge. Samson does not care about Israel. Samson only cares about Samson.
He grasped the pillars of the temple, and God answered his prayer, and strengthened him. There was a titanic struggle as Samson pushed and pulled at the temple pillars, and then he succeeded. As the pillars fell, Samson prayed: "Let me die with the Philistines." And God granted that prayer also. Samson committed suicide in order to rain down destruction on the Philistines.
We might ask a number of questions about Samson. Why did God answer such a prayer? We might even ask, Why is this story in the Bible at all. Samson is a story of great gifts wasted by stupidity and folly. But Samson did do one thing. Though he never realized it, he began Israelite resistance against the Philistines. He showed that the Philistines could be beaten. The resistance Samson begin single-handedly, and for the wrong reasons, would be continued under the last judge, Samuel, and under Israel’s first king, Saul. Finally, the Israelite revolution would be successful under their second king, David.
Perhaps the lesson of Samson is this: we often say that God is everywhere and God is acting always to bring about his purposes. This is easy to see when we have noble people acting for a noble cause, but Samson’s story shows us that even when people do not act for God, even when people act only out of their own selfishness, God is still there to use that selfishness for his cause. That does not make these people good. Samson was not good, but he was used of God anyway.
But perhaps we also ought to think about another aspect of the Samson story. Aside from his father and mother, he had no relationships with Israelites. He had no friends among the Philistines either. They never trusted him. He did not really have any relationship with the women he chose to love. They never loved him. Finally, when he gave up his secret to Delilah and broke his Nazirite vow, by getting his first haircut, he also broke his relationship with God. All of this leads us to the conclusion that Samson must have been the loneliest person in the Bible.
Loneliness is sometimes called the modern disease, not because people in other times were never lonely, but because we have so much more of it. In former times, large families served as a source of relationships and love, but we no longer have large families. In former times, most people lived in small towns and villages where they might literally know every person in town. That is no longer true. In our mobile society, most people don’t even know their neighbors. In former times, most people had the church as an important part of their relationships. Now, on any given Sunday, most Americans are not in church. In former times, most people understood that a relationship with God is a necessary part of life. Now many people have lost that most crucial relationship along with all the other relationships that used to be so important.
And so loneliness is epidemic among us. Millions of Americans have this powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation. Mother Teresa says, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Millions of people live in that “terrible poverty.” They live with a feeling of alienation and emptiness.
Doctors tell us that chronic loneliness is a serious, life-threatening condition. It is a major risk factor in stress-related conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and stroke. So when we talk about an epidemic of loneliness in America, we are talking about a serious problem.
The church should stand as a beacon against the darkness of loneliness, because in church we find two kinds of relationships. As Christians, we are the body of Christ, we have a relationship with each other. We should be careful to tell people, to assure people, we are there for them. Then the church offers another relationship, the relationship that Samson broke when he gave his secret to Delilah, the relationship with God. That is the most important relationship of them all. As long as we have God, we are never alone. Wherever we are, whatever our condition, we never walk alone. God is always with us. So, the final word of advice from Samson is this: Cherish your relationships. Build and strengthen whatever relationships you have. Above all, build and strengthen your relationship with God. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 08/27/07