- Judges 13:24-14:20
All Sunday school children will encounter the story of Samson. About all children’s Bibles will have a full-colour page of Samson tearing the lion to bits.
What do you remember of Samson? How should we understand the story of Samson?
The official synopsis of the 1951 film reads: When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret. In that movie, Samson won his bride after a contest of strength. The woman he married then betrays him and fell in love with another man. Samson went after them and killed them. Her sister Delilah who had loved Samson in secret, seduces Samson into a relationship, in an attempt to avenge the death of her sister. She succeeded, and Samson dies a blind man.
That’s it! That’s the plot! It that we need to know about Samson?
The story of Samson was not included into the Scriptures to provide the script for a movie or even a large colour page in a children’s Bible. Samson was not a precursor to Superman.
One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to compare the Bible with itself. Whit this in mind we need to bring into account what the Bible centuries later said about him:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-22, 39, ESV)
If the name of Samson is mentioned along with the heroes of old for his faith and he is commended for it, then surely we have to try to understand why Samson’s story is included into the Scriptures.
In my research for this sermon, I found precious little theology about Samson. Not a lot of sermons are recorded, and the commentaries are at best skimpy. So, it is with fear end trembling that I preach this morning. Think with me, and test the word of today against the Scriptures. May God’s Spirit give us understanding.
Prayer: That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding
God gave Samson to perform a specific task
Samson’s birth was unexpected and humanly impossible. His mother had been barren. His birth was because of God’s direct intervention.
Both Samson’s parents would play an active role in his birth and upbringing. They had to raise Samson as a Nazirite—a child dedicated to the service of God. Even before his birth, they had to treat him as God’s chosen instrument. Manoah knew that Samson would be unique when he asked what his son’s mission would be (13:12). From birth, Samson would be set apart to “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)
The encounter of the parents with the Angel of the Lord has all the marks of a covenant between God and them. It was sealed with a sacrifice, which God accepted.
Samson grew up as a specially consecrated instrument in the hands of God. His name was carefully selected: “Sunshine” as if his mother saw the mission of her son as God giving light to his people.
Through his diet, appearance and everyday activity his parents would imprint on him God’s calling for his life. One can be sure that his extended family and neighbourhood knew about God’s mission with the young man. God affirmed his intentions with Samson; we read,
And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25, ESV)
Samson’s misguided program to of attack
Timnah was a Philistine town only a few miles away from where his parents raised Samson, on the other side of the border. He probably went there often. In the back of his mind the words of his parents echoed: You must deliver the people of God from Philistine oppression.
In his mid-twenties, he met a girl and fell in love with her. Maybe he thought he could overcome the enemy by first becoming part of them, he would thus gain a platform to execute his mission. All along we read: the Lord was seeking an occasion [the right moment/time] to confront the Philistines. Samson knew this fact very well, but his personal strategy went along a different path.
His patents protested because they disagreed with his strategy. Samson insisted, “She’s the right one for me.” (Or: “She’s right in my eyes”.) This was probably not the action of a man only blindly in love. He understood his mission, and all along he probably still thought God will bless him through his marriage to get a foothold on the oppressors.
So, the parents went along to make arrangements for the marriage. They had to negotiate the dowry. This made the betrothal to be married binding. (So by the way, in this word betroth, the word for truth is buried. This, of course, leads us to understand marriage between man and wife as a relationship based on truthfulness.)
But on the way to Timnah, something extraordinary happened. In the Sorak valley of vineyards, God’s Spirit came upon Samson. When a lion attacked him, God gave him the strength to rip it apart as if was a young goat. This must have impacted Samson to know getting married to the Philistine woman was not in God’s plan. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us no indication that Samson was physically stronger than any other person of his age. He most probably never was, but God enabled him with exceptional strength when only he needed it.
Samson suppressed God’s plan, but even subconsciously he must have known it was the right thing to do. Contrary to what one might expect, he hid the episode with the lion from his parents,. Would you not tell your parents that God empowered you and you just killed a lion with your bare hands? He was probably afraid that they might see it as a sign of God to not go ahead with the marriage.
If it was my mother, she would be quick to tell me that God wanted me to listen to God’s voice!
But his heart was set: if he had to deliver the enemy, he would do it his way! He did not abandon his mission, he just went about it in his own strength, thereby rejecting the power by which God wanted him to go about it.
On his way for the actual wedding day, he diverted into the vineyard and had a look to see if the carcass of the lion was still there. Yes!, and this time it had bees and honey in it. He took the honey and gave it to his parents—but did not tell them where he got it from? Why?
Once again he missed the message. He probably saw it as a sign that God would bless his marriage, but he lost the picture as a followup of him killing the beast: if he could kill a roaring lion by the strength God provided, he would lead the people to restore the Promised Land to a place of milk and honey.
Samson did not overcome the enemy; he only somewhat distressed them
From what we gather from the Scriptures, unlike the custom of the day, the wedding feast did not take place in the house of the groom’s father. That was in some sense humiliating for Manoah: having a wedding feast in the house of your oppressors. If his relatives were present, those who had been told that God gave Samson to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors, this wedding celebration was instead a sign of defeat and further oppression. It would be a riddle to the Israelites who attended it.
But maybe God can still hit a straight blow with a crooked stick. Samson, as God’s special consecrated man, might have other insights regular folk did not have!
It lasted a full week. The guests were intrigued by Samson’s riddle: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” If only Samson’s heart were receptive to understand his own riddle, he would have followed God’s plan: he would have assumed that the eater, the Philistines, would be defeated and God would restore his people in the land of milk and honey.
Instead, Samson, the consecrated Nazirite, frivolously squandered the opportunity amongst the enemy known for their wallowing in drunkenness and hedonistic self-gratification. Does it remind you of the lost son in the parable of our Lord?
Surely, Samson did infiltrate the enemy, but only thirty Philistines lost their lives, and that because the Spirit of God enabled him. It was hardly a comprehensive victory! Even more so when this episode in Samson’s life ended up where his ministry started: in his father’s house: he lost his wife and went back to live with his parents.
There are other examples in the Bible of men of God who made the same mistake as Samson.
- Abraham: instead of staying in the land God promised to him and his descendants, he went down to Egypt, gave up his wife, only to return humiliated. He misunderstood the promises of God, and he wanted it to come true as he saw it. Through the school of faith, Abraham learnt to fully trust and obey God, even if it were needed to sacrifice his only son.
- Lot: He thought he could gain something by living in Sodom. He chose wrongly. Yes, the Bible calls him a righteous man (2Peter 2:7), but his witness became weak, and none in Sodom believed him when he told them to flee the city ahead of God’s judgment. By the grace of God, he was saved.
- Samson: Samson had it wrong and initially squandered the opportunities God gave him because of his own stubborn understanding of God’s purposes. Pigheadedly, he insisted on being the leading player in his life drama, instead of being like clay in the hand of the Holy Spirit.
Borrowing from Spurgeon’s sermon, we have to say that the secret of Samson’s strength only lied in his consecration as God’s instrument. Never should we think that we have any power and understanding of our own.
We have to guard our consecration; it must be sincere; we must mean it, and then look up to the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to give us daily grace. It is not by any grace or insight, or power we have in us, but by the grace that is in Christ, and that must be given to us hour by hour, or we will fall. Then, when we have done all required of us, we will be crowned last as a faithful one, who has endured unto the end.
Just one last thought: Samson, and all human deliverers before and after him, was born of a man; they were sinners. They were born on the long road to Bethlehem. It was only then that the Messiah, not born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit, was born. Being sinless, being one with the Father, His mission succeeded. He totally destroyed the enemy. For his wedding feast we, his bride, are waiting.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2018