A Flawed Hero
Bible Text: Judges 15:1 – 20 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Samson – A Broken Saviour | Judges 15
A Flawed Hero
Samson gets rejected (v 1 – 2)
When I was a ministry trainee, one of the other guys doing an apprenticeship was named Steve, and Steve was an avid watcher of culture and society.
He could pick apart the themes in a TV program, or tell you why some art was popular and some wasn’t.
But Steve also had a theory about classic movies;, In the classics, he said, you could always tell the goodies from the baddies, because the goodies wore white hats and had straight teeth, while the baddies wore black hats and had crooked teeth!
And when you go looking for that, it’s surprising how often it turns out to be true;, the goodies, just , everything about them is good, while the baddies kind of fall short across the board.
But real life isn’t that neat is it?
Whoever we might think are the goodies, they’re not all good, and those we might be tempted to label the baddies, are never all bad.
And perhaps nowhere do we see this more clearly, than in the life of Samson.
He’s a goodie,
He’s set apart by God to save Israel from the Philistines,
But really, he’s incredibly flawed, and Judges 15 paints a picture of all kinds of people reaping the consequences of Samson’s reckless conduct and bad behaviour.
You’ll remember at the end of last week, we saw that Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast., that’s chapter 14 verse 20.
It may be that they never actually got married,
It may be that her father thinks they were married but Samson abandoned her.
In any case, her father marries here off to the best man.
But it seems that someone forgot to tell Sampson.
Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife. He said, “I’m going to my wife’s room.” But her father would not let him go in.
It wasn’t altogether unreasonable on the part of this woman’s father to think that Samson had abandoned her. Samson did, you’ll remember from last week, kill 30 of her countrymen, then, burning with anger , return not to the wedding party, but back to his father’s home.
And so poor old Samson, he’s brought his wife flowers, or actually, a young goat, there you go fellas, flowers are so 2015, a young goat is where it’s at these days!
But if one Philistine daughter has already been treated poorly by her father, just being passed off to the nearest available bloke, her younger sister doesn’t get any better treatment from their dad. He tries to offer her to Samson, to placate him, even saying he’d be getting a better deal, since the younger sister is more attractive. He’s like the worst kind of salesman isn’t he? “I can’t give you what you do want, so I’ll try and convince you to take what I have.”
It’s an appalling way to treat your daughter, to offer her up to stay on the right side of the man who just killed 30 of your fellow Philistines.
We saw last week that Samson’s behaviour is sometimes a representation of Israel as a whole, he acts out in microcosm, the failings of the whole nation.
Well, here we get a glance into the life of the Philistines;, people are treated badly,
Women are treated badly,
And in fact there are all sorts of occasions in the book of Judges, where women are treated just appallingly by the men who are in a position to serve them, protect them, and provide for them.
The narrator draws our attention to a number of these sorts of instances, to say “this is the kind of behaviour going on in Canaan,
This was the kind of behaviour that God wanted wiped from the land,
When Israel had no king, and everyone did as they saw fit
Don’t read Judges 15 and think “this is in the Bible, does God endorse this?” No, this is the kind of behaviour that happens when people refuse to recognise God’s kingship over their lives.
Samson gets revenge (v 3 – 5)
But Samson won’t have a bar of it, anyway. And so begins a tale of revenge,
And counter revenge,
And counter-counter revenge and so on.
And I was originally going to use those as our headings on the outline to track our movement through the passage, but by the time we got to the fourth revenge, for revenge, for revenge, it was getting a bit too confusing!
But notice, the desire for retribution and revenge, which just ratchets up the body count.
So Samson says in verse 3, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” 4 So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, 5 lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.
We know that last time God was using Samson to confront the Philistines, but perhaps Samson realises that as far as his motivations are concerned, it was a little unreasonable, killing 30 Philistines because they found out his riddle.
But he doesn’t hold back here, does he?
He catches 300 foxes or maybe jackals, it’s the same word in the narrator’s language, and ties them together, with a flaming torch attached to each pair, and then he lets them go in the Philistines’ paddocks.
This wasn’t necessarily a new trick, there was an ancient Roman pagan festival where they’d tie torches to fox tails and then go hunting the foxes at night. It would seem to tip the odds slightly against the foxes, wouldn’t it?
And then in 217 BC, Hannibal used a similar trick to beat the Roman army in in the battle of Ager Falernus. He’d captured 2000 cattle, and at night, tied torches to their horns and made them stampede towards the Roman army.
The Romans saw the torches rushing towards them in the dark thought they were being attacked by thousands upon thousands of Carthaginian soldiers, and deserted their posts.
But while it at first seems utterly impossible to us, foxes, torches, and all that, it was certainly well within the capability of a man who can tear a lion apart with his bare hands, and strike down 30 Philistines.
Of course, what they didn’t do in the pagan festival, was let the foxes run around in the recently harvested or soon to be harvested fields.
And here we see why the narrator told us in verse 1 that it was the time of the wheat harvest.
There is standing grain in the fields,
There are shocks of grain, that is, piles of wheat that has already been cut,
And the fire spreads from the paddocks into the vineyards and olive groves
I was reminded this week, of the Dambusters raid on Germany’s Ruhr Valley in 1943. One of the lasting effects of that raid in that major food producing area, was that they still couldn’t grow crops there into the 1950’s.
Samson’s act here not only destroys what they’ve got, it affects their ability to produce food into the future.
This is not what you’d call a proportional response!
When everyone does as they see fit, sin multiplies (v 6 – 7)
So, understandably, the Philistines are somewhat put out, by Samson’s massive economic raid, and they seek revenge.
They ask, “Who did this?”, verse 6, and were told, “Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his companion.”
So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.
Samson is ferocious and mighty.
The girl and her dad are an easy target, and they are brutally murdered.
This is how the Philistines treat their own. The narrator won’t let us develop any sympathy for this nation who live as God’s enemies, when this is the sort of thing that characterises them.
And there’s a terrible irony here, you might have noticed it. Look over in chapter 14 verse 15, it’s just the previous column in the church Bibles, back when Samson was preparing to marry this woman, and at the wedding party he gave the Philistines a riddle. They couldn’t figure it out, so they said to this woman, “Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death”
In trying to avoid being burnt to death, she gives away her husband’s secret,
Which leads to him killing 30 Philistines and then going home,
Which leads to her being married off to some other bloke,
Which leads to Samson burning the Philistines’ fields and vineyards,
Which leads to her and her father being burnt to death.
The very outcome she was trying to avoid, in fact is visited upon her.
I can’t help but think of Walter Scott’s famous line from Marmion;
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!
Almost every character in this story behaves appallingly,
treats people badly,
Does what they see fit.
And almost every character in this story then suffers as a result of the chain of events in which they’ve had a hand.
That’s not to say that every person bears equal responsibility, or that people deserve what they get. Samson’s wife, or former-wife-to-be, certainly didn’t deserve to be burnt alive,
She’s not responsible for the conduct of the Philistines who burnt her and her father to death.
But feel the weight of the picture, of a world lived apart from God,
Of a world where everyone does what is right in their own eyes.
See how sin multiplies,
How the cost of sin grows,
How the consequences reach further and further, destroying more lives,
And over and over, other people suffer for Samson’s conduct, don’t they?
In chapter 14 he loses his temper, and so loses his wife.
In chapter 15 he loses his temper again, and the woman he loved is killed.
This is what it’s like to live with no king, neither God as king, nor any human king, exercising God’s rule among his people.
At Christmas time last year, in the Nebraska state capitol building in the US, where there had previously been a nativity scene displayed, instead this time there was a display from an atheists’ group. And one of the sponsors put up a sign explaining, “It’s meant to communicate that atheists are not bad people; we can be good without God.”
Now, of course I’m not going to suggest that atheists can’t do good things.
It would be both offensive and wrong to say that.
But if we raise our eyes from the level of the individual to the society, “can society be good without God?”, if there is no God, or if everyone lives as if there’s no God.
Well, it’s not a pretty picture, is it?
But even so, notice God’s sovereign hand at work.
People make decisions,
They make choices,
They plot courses of action, but God in his sovereignty is able to use people’s choices and behaviour for his own ends.
See, don’t think, that because your efforts are prospering that God is necessarily blessing your behaviour.
God might hate your behaviour, and yet be using it for purposes , unseen by you.
And so, Samson then takes revenge on the Philistines, for them taking revenge on his wife and her father.
Samson said to them, “Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” 8 He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.
We might wonder, at what point does retaliation stop?
Well, “Not yet.”
Samson and the Israelites despise their distinct identity
Samson’s hiding out in a cave, and so look down at verse 11.
Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?”
He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.”
12 They said to him, “We’ve come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.”
Notice that even when Samson starts doing the kind of thing God had called him to do;,
Challenging the authority of the Philistines,
Driving back their reach and influence,
In his mind, he’s not doing it because it’s what God wants.
It’s not out of concern for God’s name,
It’s not because he’s distraught at the idol-worship that Israel has absorbed from the nations around them,
It’s not because he’s conscious of the fact that Israel was called to live under God’s rule, and to model to the nations around them, what it was like to live like that as the recipients of God’s blessings.
No, he just does it because he’s ticked off,
His feelings are hurt.
“I merely did to them what they did to me he says.
Samson is indistinguishable from the Philistines.
As are the other Israelite men.
Three thousand men from the tribe of Judah, side with the Philistines against Samson.
Israel were called to be distinct, other, separate, but here you can’t spot the difference.
They’re not the least bit upset that they’re not living with God as they’re king.
In fact, they’re desperate to maintain the status quo, Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? They ask Samson. What have you done to us?”
And the Philistines, it seems have no quarrel with the men of Judah. When they ask “why have you come to fight us?” The answer that comes back from the Philistines is basically, “It’s not you that we’re interested in.
We’re quite happy for you to go about your business,
It’s Samson who we’re after.”
God’s people have been immersed in this pagan culture so long they’ve become indistinct!
They don’t stand out from the nations around them, they’ve become the nations around them.
They don’t display God’s goodness to their neighbours, rather they’ve started doing the evil of the nations around them.
And the way Samson despises his Nazirite identity, touching the fresh jawbone of a donkey, remember; no touching dead things, and this one is still fresh! It’s all an echo of Israel’s failure to be maintain their distinctive identity.
And here’s the danger that we face, when we think about living as God’s people in our culture. Now, our culture has been significantly shaped by the gospel of Jesus, but still we’re called upon to live distinct lives, so that others might see the many blessings of being in relationship with God.
And yet so many Christians, they immerse themselves in the world, but instead of transforming it, they become unrecognisable in it.
You know when you put a red sock into the wash with a white shirt, what happens?
The sock stays more or less the same, but the shirt comes out pink!
It’s never the other way round, have you noticed that?
The white never transfers from the shirt to the sock!
The sock never comes out white!
And yet drop a Christian in society, all too often, the Christian loses their distinctiveness and you can’t spot them!
They look just like, the world around them.
Israel was supposed to be a demonstration to those around them of what it was like to live under God’s rule and blessing.
But they couldn’t do it.
They kept falling, as they do here.
They continually became indistinguishable from the nations around them, like here, 3000 men from Judah, assembled to hand God’s appointed saviour over to the people who were supposed to be their enemies,
“Have you forgotten that you’re supposed to be distinct?
Have you forgotten that you’re supposed to stand out!”
I tell my kids that there is a Dad’s Association, who send out weekly updates of Dad jokes, so that all the dads have a ready supply! My children don’t believe me, and so every now and then they ask me for this week’s joke to try and catch me out!
And so sometimes I look at web page called “Dad Jokes Australia”, just to keep up my repertoire!
And the other day there was a photo that someone had posted to the page, a photo of a roadworker, wearing a high-visibility vest, and camouflage pants!
And someone had written, “does this guy want to be seen, or not?”
You want to say to Israel at this point, don’t you, “Do you want to be seen, or not?
Do you want to be distinct or not?
Do you want to stand out, or not?”
These men of Judah, the Israelites as a whole, are content to live indistinct lives,
Happy to side with those opposed to God,
For the sake of comfort,
Or for the illusion of peace,
Or even for personal advancement.
They can’t decide if they’re wearing hi-vis or camouflage.
And even though God knows his people will content themselves time and time again to tolerate sin,
To live with sin,
They live lives that show the distance between them and God,
They’ve thrown off God’s pattern for life,
Still God is committed to his people being distinct, and living out their distinct identity, freed from the oppressive rule of the wicked Philistines.
God’s people Israel might not know what is best for them, so dulled have they become to what is good, and so deaf to God’s Word, But God certainly does.
God won’t allow them to remain indistinguishable from the culture around them that is so opposed to God.
And so he raises up a saviour, someone who will live the life that the rest of Israel have abandoned.
But of course, this wasn’t the only time that God raised up a saviour for his people.
And this wasn’t the only time that Israel sided with her enemies, and turned over God’s appointed saviour to the people who wanted him dead.
Jesus is described in the Bible as the “true Israel”, he was everything that Israel couldn’t be;,
The nation couldn’t live under God’s rule,
The nation refused to acknowledge God as their king.
Jesus submitted his will always to his Father.
The nation failed repeatedly and continually, to shine as a light to the world, demonstrating what it was to live in relationship with God.
Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And it was Jesus’ own countrymen who handed him over to the occupying enemies, in order to be killed.
I said a moment ago that this continually escalating cycle of violence is so shocking to us that we want to ask, “When does this stop?
When can the cycle be broken?
And one difference we see between Samson and Jesus, is that Jesus willingly absorbs the cost himself.
Which is so very , very good news for us, because it is our offence against God that is punished there.
Jesus doesn’t escalate the cycle, and come after us, seeking to repay the debt, the offence that we have caused to God.
He takes it all on himself.
And deals with the problem of sin and rebellion once and for all, when Jesus dies in the place of sinful people.
God acts for his people through Samson’s weakness
And so while that lasting rescue is still far off,
God acts for his people through Samson.
He uses Samson’s weakness,
His desire for vengeance,
The fact that he fell in love with a Philistine woman, God uses all this, to save his people from the rule of the Philistines,
To call them out from their in-distinct lives among the Philistines, and to call them back to himself,
To live as God’s people,
Living under God’s kingship,
In the land that God had given them.
As we saw, Samson’s not motivated particularly to be doing God’s business, but through this sinful man, and his sinful choices, God is able to bring a rescue.
It shouldn’t surprise us, that God can act in this way in Samson’s life. We see it elsewhere in the Scriptures. Think of the story of Joseph, who was treated appallingly by his brothers and sold into slavery. He says to them, much later on in is life, Genesis 50 verse 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Or the ultimate example in the death of Jesus at the hands of sinful people.
The Apostle Peter says in Acts chapter 2, speaking about Jesus to the crowds in Jerusalem, This man was handed over to you, by God’s, deliberate plan and foreknowledge;, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
No one is exonerated, just because God was able to use their sinful behaviour for good. Peter there calls those who carried out Jesus’ crucifixion wicked men, and he says the people in Jerusalem need to repent.
But still God was able to achieve his redemptive purposes through those sinful decisions and actions.
Which means that , even when our motivations are mixed, God can still use us,
When our motivations are , actually, selfish,
When we do things to make ourselves look good,
When we do things , well, sometimes we do things specifically to hurt other people, don’t we?, to get back at someone else?
God can still use us.
I don’t know whether you saw this week, the photos of the lifeguards at Olympic swimming events?
The pool is filled with the most able swimmers on the planet, and because of an , entirely reasonable Brazilian law that any pool larger than 6 metres has to be patrolled by life guards, throughout the Olympics, there are 4 lifeguards on duty, yellow t-shirt , whistle, life-preserver and all.
And I don’t know if you’ve seen the photos, but they are bored out of their brains!
They know they are absolutely not needed! Even if there was an incident, there are hundreds of people who are better swimmers than they are, ready to jump in, or already in the pool.
Sometimes, as Christian people, we can feel like that.
“There are plenty of people better than me God can use,
Plenty of people who haven’t made the mistakes I’ve made.
And yet God says to us “You’re the one I want to use,
You’re the lifeguard.
You’re not the best swimmer in the Olympic pool, but you’re the one I’ve called for this task.”
God can use us despite our weakness and sinfulness,
God can even use us through our weakness and sinfulness.
People want to fit in. God wants his people to stand out
So come back to the story, Samson says to his countrymen,
“Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.”
13 “Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.”
So they tie him up, and then lead him towards the approaching army of quite possibly a few thousand Philistines.
And then see verse 14, The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. 15 Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.
Now, what’s missing?
What doesn’t happen?
What should happen, but doesn’t?
Where are the 3000 men of Judah now?
Samson kills a thousand of their enemy right in front of them, but even that isn’t enough make them think, “This is what we’re supposed to be doing!”
None of them join in the battle!
How apathetic have they become?
Maybe there’s someone in your family who’s a really deep sleeper. You can give them a little nudge with your elbow now if you would like to!
But you know what it’s like,
No matter what you do, it seems impossible to rouse them.
You can turn on the radio,
Set an alarm,
Turn on the light,
Pull the blankets off them,
Tip cold water on them,
I’m not giving you ideas, I’m just,
But no, they’ll sleep through anything!
Spiritually that’s what these Israelites are like!
Even Samson killing a thousand Philistines single handed, can’t rouse them from their drowsiness, their willing acceptance of their compromise.
Samson’s amazing feat isn’t sufficient to stir them into action, to remind them of God’s command that the enemy were to be driven from the land because of their wickedness.
God had promised this land to their ancestors, and so even though the people turn their back on God,
And forget his promises,
And abandon the covenant God had made with them.
God doesn’t turn his back on the people,
God doesn’t forget his promises,
God doesn’t abandon the covenant that he made with the people in the days of Moses.
And so we see God faithfulness to his promises in his raising up of Samson here to separate out the people of God, from the pagan Philistines.
The peace between Israel and the Philistines has been shattered,
The calm, quiet living under pagan oppressors has been shown for what it is, an unacceptable fitting in of God’s people, to the pagan world around them.
And so I wonder if this raises in your mind, the question of where the church fits in the world,
Maybe you’ve started to feel that the church no longer , fits in world,
Or fits less in the world than it has in recent generations, at least in the west.
There’s a push for this week’s census to be used to reduce support for Christian organisations,
You may have read the article last weekend by The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan. He quoted a recent study which found that Christians are the most persecuted minority in the world. And he argues, and I quote, “The Western media is imprisoned in a kind of psychotic fantasy loop that makes it all but ignore this historic drama.”
Now, while it’s right for us to mourn the horrific treatment of brothers and sisters in Christ in places like Syria, Iraq, North Korea,
But when it comes to the , comparatively minor , opposition or persecution we face, maybe our first response should not be to avoid it, but to thank God, that he has chosen not to allow us to become comfortable,
To thank God that he’s prodding us,
That he won’t allow us to continue to be indistinct,
To thank God that he’s reminding us, there is a difference, between God’s people and those who aren’t.
See, it’s easy to point the finger at those men of Judah, who say they’re children of the God of heaven, but prefer to remain under the thumb of pagan idol worshippers,
But are we not just as prone to the danger of wanting to remain indistinct?
Aren’t we sometimes the guy wearing the high-vis vest and the camo pants, not quite sure whether we want to stand out or not!
We hear things that we know are wrong,
We don’t speak up.
We see a Christian leader abandon the gospel and embrace the world, “stay away from that false teacher”,
We witness our friends, colleagues, workmates, classmates, engaging in behaviour, developing patterns of behaviour that we know are destructive,
That we know are abhorrent to God,
That we know can only lead away from God and never towards him, only away from Christ, never closer to him, but our friends pursue these behaviours because all the other voices speaking into their lives are saying this is where life is at.
And yet we keep our mouths shut.
We watch as Christian friends slip into the idolatry of the world around us, which in our community right here are the idols of pleasure and family; Gain as much as you can of the first, and give everything you have to the second. Pleasure and family, they are the idols of Mount Barker today, and friends we know Christian people who are slipping into the worship of these idols, laying everything they have before them, making everything else subservient to these,
And we do not warn them.
And why not?
Well, today, through the story of Samson, God warns us about complacency,
About choosing comfort over identity,
About chasing after an easy existence, instead of pursuing holiness.
If you’re a child of God, which, most of us are. Most of us identify as followers of Jesus who said those words, “I am the light of the world”,
You’ve got to make a choice.
It’s high-vis, or camouflage,
One or the other.