A Victorious Defeat
A Victorious Defeat
The definition of insanity,
Supposedly it was Albert Einstein who said, “the definition of insanity, is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.”
As it turns out, it was almost certainly not Einstein who said that. The earliest documented reference is in a booklet for Narcotics Anonymous, and it would certainly make good sense in that context.
But you could just about use that definition, as an explanation for what we see of Samson’s life in the book of Judges.
There’s a pattern;
Samson makes a poor decision, a disobedient decision,
He despises his unique identity as the chosen saviour God has raised up to deliver his people,
He acts out lust,
Or out of anger,
Out of a desire for revenge,
In God’s kindness he enables Samson to escape the clutches of the Philistines, God’s enemies who are oppressing the Israelites.
But Samson never seems to learn.
He just does the same kind of thing over and over without getting anywhere.
Of course, God is getting somewhere. He’s able to use Samson’s weaknesses, even his sinful choices for his own ends.
Remember God wants to disrupt the cosy relationship between the Philistines and the people of Israel.
Israel are content to live indistinct lives, blending in with the Philistines,
Worshipping their pagan gods.
But God longs for something different for his people, something better, and so he uses Samson, even with his poor decisions, and his seemingly uncontrollable lust for women, to bring things to a head,
To try and awaken Israel from their spiritual sleep, where they tolerate their own sin, and the worship of foreign gods and all the rest of it.
And so we’ve seen that God isn’t going to wait for us to be perfect,
To have completely overcome sin in all its forms, before he uses us, for mission in the world.
More of the same (v 1 – 3)
But we might have hoped that after last week, or the last 2 weeks, Samson may have learnt his lesson.
Going down into Philistine territory had ended badly for Samson last time,
Trying to marry the wrong kind of woman, a Philistine woman, ended badly , last time. But look at what Samson does here: Verse 1, One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her.
Not only is Samson sleeping with a prostitute, Samson has gone to Gaza.
We probably think of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean Coast. But in Samson’s day, Gaza was in Philistine territory, and in fact it was the capital of the land of the Philistines.
Nothing has changed.
Samson’s not becoming more and more the rescuer that God wants him to be.
If anything things are getting worse;
He wandered down to the capital of the Philistines, not to throw off their rule, but just because he wants to sleep with a prostitute.
And so, we’re ready, we’re expecting, that if God is going to use Samson to rescue his people, once again he’s going to have to do it despite Samson’s sinfulness, or even through Samson’s sinfulness.
Because even this isn’t enough, for God to wipe his hands of Samson, is it? I think if I was God, chapter 16 would end at verse 2, when the townspeople say “At dawn we’ll kill him.”
But no, God had promised this land to the people of Israel,
He’d raised up Samson as the deliverer,
And so he enables Samson to make this remarkable escape, not only with his life, but also with the city gates! he tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.
God is not done with Samson yet.
God has given Samson this gift of amazing strength, On some occasions the narrator specifically points out that the Spirit of the Lord strengthened Samson for a particular feat, but even when it’s not explicitly stated, Samson’s strength is still a gift from God.
And of course, every gift that we have, every ability, comes to us from God.
Samson takes the gift of God, and uses it for his own good and his own pleasures.
Presumably he’s not worried about staying the night with a prostitute in Gaza, because whatever scrape he gets into, his strength will get him out of.
And at that level, there’s a warning for us isn’t there?
Who of us, has not used the gifts God has given us, for our own pleasures,
We think “because I’ve been got this, I’m able to do that.” But all the while God’s saying, “I gave you the gift, so you could do this other thing,
So you could work for other people’s benefit,
So you could work for my purposes.
Often I think we receive God’s good gifts, whatever they might be;,
We receive God’s good gifts, and our first question is “how can I use this for me? For people I like? Instead of asking “How do I use this for God’s glory and his purposes?”
But notice God’s grace and kindness, that even though Samson uses his gift, as an escape clause so he can go and sleep with a pagan prostitute, God doesn’t abandon Samson. He is faithful to his promises, and he goes on to use Samson for the purpose that he called him for in the first place.
And so we come to where Samson’s final victory over the Philistines begins, with Samson falling in love Delilah.
Samson plays a dangerous game with sin (v 4 – 16)
One guess as to whose territory the Valley of Sorek lies in?
Yes, once again, this is Philistine territory!
And the rulers of the Philistines went to Delilah and said “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him
Notice this is the rulers of the Philistines. This is the war cabinet. We’re getting hints that just over the horizon, we might see the sort of confrontation between Samson and the whole Philistine nation that we’ve been expecting.
And the Philistines know enough about Samson’s past exploits, to know that they only want to mess with him if they first know the secret of his strength.
They probably had to slow down for the construction work on the way out of Gaza, the traffic’s down to 25 kilometres an hour because they’re still rebuilding the gates!
And because of their pagan religious background, they would imagine that Samson has some kind of lucky charm, and perhaps they think that if they can learn his lucky charm, they’ll be able to find a stronger charm, stronger magic that can overcome his.
Each one of these rulers offers Delilah 11 hundred shekels of silver, about 13 kilos each, if she finds out his secret, and betrays him to his enemies.
And the rest of the episode unfolds in 4 very briefly told scenes, with Delilah asking Samson the source of his strength,
He gives her an answer,
And Delilah then tests his answer, by announcing that the Philistines are about to seize him.
Each scene, is, I think, more haunting than the last, as we see Samson play this dangerous game of toying with sin, and he seems unwilling or unable to get himself out.
So, not very subtle, Delilah asks him straight up. Verse 6, 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
Now, you would have thought that this would have set alarm bells ringing for Samson!
The last time a Philistine woman tried to get information out of him, she and her father got burnt to death.
We know that from what comes next, that Samson knows the secret of his strength. He knows that God has enabled him to be strong,
And now when one of his enemy asks him for the secret to his strength, he doesn’t run the other way, he just tells her a fib.
Samson is playing a dangerous game, flirting with sin and disobedience. Probably he thinks that because his great strength has got him out of scrapes in the past, that he’ll get out of whatever happens here.
Where is his confidence?
Not in God.
Not in obedience.
Not in the conviction that God always knows best and that God’s pattern for life is always best.
He’s put all his confidence in his strength.
His trust is in the gift that God has given him.
And it made me wonder what this looks like for us.
Are there times when we are tempted, like Samson, to think “sin doesn’t matter!
God will take care of it!
It doesn’t matter what scrape I get myself into, God is there to pick up the pieces afterwards.”
Do we presume upon God’s grace and mercy?
Have we convinced ourselves, of something false about God?
Have we started to doubt that obedience to God will turn out for our best? And started to imagine that we know what’s good for us better than God does?
Even, do we think so little of our sin, that took Jesus to the cross, that we think we can continue in that sin, and God won’t mind?
This is what happens,
When we flirt with sin,
When we presume upon God’s grace,
When we choose pleasure or glory over obedience.
Samson plays this deadly game,
Verse 7, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
So Delilah repeats this information to the rulers of the Philistines, who bring her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she tied him with them
There are Philistine men hidden in her room, verse 9.
It’s hard to imagine that Samson didn’t know all this, it’s obvious that it’s a trap,
He allows himself to be tied up, .
But he snapped the bowstrings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
Maybe you watched some of the archery in the Olympics. Imagine being tied up with 7 bowstrings.
Well, for Samson, gifted as he is by God, snapping them is like a piece of string in a flame.
Literally, the narrator’s description is piece of string snapping when it “smells” the flame.
All it takes is just a whiff! That’s how easy it is.
So second attempt, and notice the emotional level is going up. Delilah tries to blame Samson for the fact that she’s been made a fool of. Which, I guess, is fair enough, because he did lie to her!
But instead of saying, “you tried to hand me over to my enemies!
You’re trying to have me killed for your own advancement, Samson steps up for another round of this dangerous game.
Verse 11, He said, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
Maybe he remembers that in the previous chapter, the men of Judah tie him up with new ropes, and so he thinks, “Oh yes, let’s try that again”, .
We know that new ropes have no greater chance of holding Samson than the fresh bow strings,
And yet see how he flirts with this danger.
He can only expect that Delilah is going to try the same thing again;, tie him up, men hidden in the room, all of that,
Which, yes, is exactly what happens, verse 12 “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”
But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.
Now, I can snap a thread, that’s pretty easy!
What you and I can do with a single thread, God enables Samson to do with brand-new ropes.
Even though Samson is dabbling with sin,
He’s courting disaster instead of fleeing from it,
Still God is working towards his ultimate purpose, which is, well, it’s getting closer, isn’t it?
Samson’s continuous flirtation with sin makes his end loom large.
This time though, when Delilah pleads with him, and accuses Samson of making a fool of her, we get even further into dangerous territory, because now Samson gets almost to the truth. Second half of verse 13, “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.”
It makes you wonder, how far Samson imagines he can do, while still remaining in control?
How far does he think God will let this go?
And is he doing it because he likes to live dangerously?
Does he like it when he hears people re-tell the stories of his exploits? When he sees his name on the front page of the Philistine newspapers?
Is it about uncontrolled desire for this woman?
What could possibly be more important than his unique calling? Well, sadly for Samson, the answer to that is “just about anything.”
But Samson’s not unique in that, is he?
Something blinds him to the danger of sin,
Someone says something to him that he likes more than the sound of God’s Word,
Sin has an appeal, that he thinks obedience doesn’t offer.
He’s not the first person to think like that,
And he’s certainly not the last.
Maybe he thought he could stop. “Yes, this is dangerous, but I can stop anytime I want.”
Again, he’s not the last person to think that, is he?
It’s easy to think we’ve mastered sin, when in fact, sin has mastered us.
We dabble so long,
Maybe it’s in an inappropriate relationship, like it is here,
Or with despising our distinct life and calling, also like here,
Or maybe it’s with greed,
Or some other addiction,
We convince ourselves that it’s harmless, that I can walk away whenever I want,
That I can stop.
But eventually won’t stop, becomes , can’t stop.
And when we engage in this kind of behaviour;, chasing sin,
Whatever it is,
Who’s speaking into our lives warning us?
We so prize our individualism, our privacy, and so we cut ourselves off, from Christian brothers and sisters who would speak God’s word into our lives, and warn us of the danger of playing with sin.
And if someone does have the godly concern for our well-being, to warn us of the path that our behaviour has set us on,
Well, you’ve seen it,
And I’ve seen it,
Christian people breaking off a relationship, because that other Christian warned them, of the dangerous game of playing with sin.
Samson’s off on his own, in Philistine territory,
We’re not, but we might as well be, if we don’t allow Christian brothers and sisters to warn us of the consequences when we play this dangerous game with sin.
When we start flirting with sin perhaps we choose not to see how dangerous it is.
Eventually, we’re not even able to see, how dangerous it is.
Samson is getting closer and closer to his own destruction, and he can’t even see it.
while he was sleeping, verse 13, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14 and 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.
That sounds painful to me! Pulling a weaver’s loom along with your hair! But the point is, for a third time, Samson has lied to this woman who he says he loves.
She resorts to nagging, emotional blackmail, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me?”
Which is a fair enough question!
Neither of these two are actually loving the other.
She’s hanging out for 11 hundred shekels of silver, and he’s stringing her along, perhaps just for the sexual gratification she gives him.
In one of the marriage books I’ve read recently, I think it might have been Christopher Ash’s Married for God, although I couldn’t find it to check! But somebody has written in their marriage book, to husbands and wives, “If you don’t feed on Christ, you’ll feed on each other.”
That’s what these 2 are doing, aren’t they? They are feeding on each other.
They are both consumers in this relationship.
Samson discovers he’s gone too far (v 17 – 22)
And so, verse 17, he told her everything.
“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”
Literally he told her “everything of his heart”, which presumably also includes the purpose for which he has been set apart as a Nazirite;, that God had chosen him to defeat the Philistines.
And yet even speaking that to Delilah wasn’t enough to shake Samson to consciousness of his situation, he falls asleep in her lap, verse 19, and she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him.
And his strength left him.
Like I said before, the Philistines imagine there’s some magical secret to Samson’s strength, so it would make sense to them, cut off the hair, and his strength is gone.
But despite what he says to Delilah, Samson’s hair was not the magical source of his strength. You know, If Samson had tripped over in a knife shop, and accidentally cut all his hair off, he wouldn’t have instantly become weak!
No, Samson’s strength doesn’t come from his hair, but from God.
See what happens when Delilah calls to him, “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.
Before he goes to sleep, he knows what’s going to happen, doesn’t he?
This is the fourth time. He knows she’s going to reveal his secret and call the Philistines.
He knows she’s going to cut his hair.
And then when he wakes up, surely he notices something’s missing! He had so much hair that it was done up in 7 braids.
I know that sometimes it can take a while to wake up,
You can turn of your alarm without realising you’ve turned off your alarm, or maybe that’s me!
Samson knew his strength came from God and not from his hair,
But he had taken God’s gift and provision for granted
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.
Possibly the saddest words in the whole Old Testament;, he did not know that the Lord had left him.
Even with his hair gone, Samson thought he could go and throw the Philistines off like he had every other time.
Samson toyed with sin,
He assumed upon his relationship with God,
He assumed God would always be there to do his bidding,
And even when he despised the one remaining aspect of his Nazirite vow, he still thought everything was OK between him and God.
Even Samson’s language demonstrates just how far he’s drifted,
All through chapter 14, 15 and 16, the personal name of God is used, translated “the LORD” in capitals in our Bibles.
But when Samson speaks in verse 17, he just uses the everyday word for “god.” It could apply to any god, any pagan idol or whatever.
It’s almost a Freudian slip, showing just how far Samson has drifted from the God of his people,
He had dabbled in sin for so long, that when it finally mastered him, he didn’t even realise.
Watch out for sin!
The escalating cycle of Samson’s toying with sin warns us about the danger that sin poses to us.
We think that we can control sin,
We think that our sin doesn’t matter,
We don’t realise the danger.
When I was a kid I used to read the Jungle Doctor comics, which a number of other probably did also. They were written by Paul White, a CMS missionary in the 1940s in what is now Tanzania.
And in one of those stories, a family took in a baby leopard.
And people warned them, “little leopards become big leopards, and big leopards kill.”
But he’s just a baby, he looks harmless, and they like him, so they don’t pay any attention to the warnings.
But the cute baby leopard grows into a much bigger leopard.
And sure enough, one day this leopard that the family had convinced themselves they knew, and was under their control, turned on them, the fierce predator that it was.
Little leopards become big leopards, and big leopards kill.
Sin is the same.
We think we can control it,
We think it’s just, a habit, a bit of fun, just part of my personality, and yet when I have entertained it, and cultivated, what a danger that sin poses.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m down on fun, or that God is down on fun, he is absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy the good gifts of life.
But sometimes tempted to think that enjoyment and pleasure are over here, and God’s pattern for life is over there.
While actually it’s in God’s pattern for life that enjoyment and fulfilment can be found.
Do you remember that movie The Gods Must be Crazy? In the second of those movies, the father, an African bushman, tells his little children that if they see a hyena, they should try and make themselves look taller so that the hyena will be afraid of them.
And it becomes a running joke in the movie that these 2 tiny little kids are running around holding bits of wood on top of their heads, to try and make themselves look bigger.
Sin is the opposite.
Sin tries to make itself look smaller.
Think of an animal hunting its prey. What does it do? It crouches down low, trying hide, and trying to make itself look smaller than it really is.
When I look at sin in my life, how easy it is for me, to either not see it at all, or to think it’s much smaller and less significant than it really is?
“I’m not abandoning my Nazirite identity”, Samson might have said. “I just want to enjoy my relationship with Delilah”
I’m not greedy, I’m just saving for the future.
I don’t have a problem with anger, I’m just passionate!
I’m not gossiping, I just think people need to know the truth.
You know the myth of the frog in the pot, don’t you?
They say if you drop a frog into boiling water, it will jump out straight away,
But if you put a frog in cold water, they say, and slowly heat it up, the frog will swim happily around until he’s cooked to death.
That is a myth, it’s not true. And don’t go home to try it out! Just believe me!
It’s not true of frogs, but it is absolutely true of people.
If you play with sin long enough, eventually you won’t even know when to jump out.
Now, we don’t know why this is the occasion that God withdraws the special blessing that Samson had enjoyed all his life.
We know he broke his Nazirite vow by touching dead things,
We’re lead to believe that he broke his vow by drinking at parties,
Why was this one, the shaving of his head, the point at which God decided enough was enough?
Well, we’re not told are we, but as we’ve seen, the story of Samson’s life, is a spiral of toying with sin, and walking further and further away from God.
God is patient.
God is very patient.
But God is not infinitely patient.
For so long Samson had been playing with the gift that God had given him, using it for his own benefit and pleasure.
Now God’s taken it away.
For so long he did what was right in his own eyes,
Now even those have been taken from him.
Friends, don’t ever think, that playing with sin is worth it.
Samson defeats the Philistines (v 23 – 31)
In order to humiliate Samson, the Philistines gouge his eyes out, and give him the job of grinding grain in the prison.
This was women’s work.
The super-strong man, is now blind, shackled, and forced into what was considered demeaning labour.
But if those words in verse 20 are some of the saddest in all the Old Testament, verse 22 is one of those verses from which hope rings out!
But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
Now, we know that it wasn’t his hair that made Samson strong! It was God who made Samson strong, and his long hair was a symbol of Samson’s relationship with God.
If Samson’s hair was a sign of his relationship with God, then his hair growing back, gives us some hope for Samson’s relationship with God.
When the hair starts growing back, we’re not supposed to think, “oh, nice, soon Samson will be able to do something great”,
No, it’s “Oh, God is doing something great.”
A hairdresser once told me that the only difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut, is 2 weeks! I’m sure that’s a consolation to those of you who have small children who have ever taken the scissors to their own fringe, or their sibling’s pony tale!
But we’re not told what the length of time here is, but at some time later the Philistines hold a festival for their god Dagon.
They praise Dagon saying “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.”
And they call for Samson to be brought out so they can make fun of him.
26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.
Then verse 28, Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
Perhaps for the first time in his life, Samson acknowledges that he is a servant of God, and that his strength is a gift from God.
What a pity that it was only his last day on earth, that he realised that.
He said “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.,
Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
It’s not a pretty picture. But remember the narrator has gone to great lengths to show us the utter wickedness of the Philistines. He thinks we should be convinced that God is entirely right to want them driven from the land.
And so Samson rescues God’s people from these wickedly evil oppressors.
How does Samson prepare us for Jesus?
I’m sure you couldn’t help but notice the parallel between Samson and Jesus?
Not only does Samson show us the danger of sin, but there is some parallel between the rescues that these saviours accomplish, isn’t there?
A great victory achieved in death?
A rescue that cost the saviour his life?
Of course there are significant differences;,
Samson’s death was in complete contrast to his life,
While Jesus’ life was lived, the whole time, in anticipation of his death.
Samson’s victory, was perhaps the first time in his life that he had depended on God.
Jesus’ who life was lived in dependence on his Father.
And yet it’s good for us to be reminded by this story here, of Jesus who gives up his life to rescue his people,
To rescue people caught in sin.
Because it’s important that we have a right understanding of God, and how he works, and how a relationship with God works.
See, in this story, people mis-understand God, they make assumptions;
They think that God will bless them, because, well, he has in the past!
Samson presumed upon God’s blessings, but gave no thought to a relationship, or to obedience.
At other times in this episode, people seem to think that if they do certain things, then God will do certain things;
Get the right formula for Samson’s strength, we can defeat Samson's strength.
That’s how the Philistines viewed their gods, “you do this for the god, in order to get that from the god.”
Can you see that those are 2 errors in relating to God?
We dare not presume upon God,
Think that our sin doesn’t matter,
We’ve seen that pretty clearly.
But equally, we mustn’t think that there’s some magic formula to get right, in order to be in relationship with God or to receive his blessings.
If I turn up to church,
If I read the Bible,
If I give money,
Then I’ll get the things from God that I need.
No, we see at the cross of Christ, that the things we need;, the relationship with God that we need,
The spiritual blessings that can be ours,
These come out of a relationship,
We don’t do those things in order to get into relationship.
God offers us relationship and blessing through Jesus, when we were his enemies.
And that is the most fundamental difference between Samson and Jesus.
Both saviours, yes.
Both raised up to save their people, yes.
Samson killed his enemies.
Jesus died for his.