Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
August 12, 2012 :: Judges 13:1-14:20
We have reached the surprising story of the twelfth and last of the Judges of Israel in the book of Judges–the most famous judge of all–the very weak man named Samson.
Yes, you heard me right. The very weak man named Samson.
Yes, he was perhaps the strongest man to ever live. He might have been able to take the gold in many many Olympic events.
But the most glaring features of Samson’s story in the book of Judges are his many weaknesses and the downfalls that come with them.
Last week, we studied 6 judges with the title, “Downward Judges” in the series about Israel’s “Downward Spiral.”
Well, this isn’t the bottom of the bottom for Israel–hold on for the last couple of chapters to get that.
But this is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the judges themselves.
Samson was a picture of the downward-ness of Israel.
And it's not a pretty picture.
Today, we’re only going to get halfway through his story, and I want us to learn some lessons about four things:
Apathy, Waste, Weakness, and Hope.
Those will be our four areas of personal application.
Judges chapter 13, verse 1.
“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”
By now, most of us could probably reproduce this diagram from memory.
We are so used to Israel acting in this way.
“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD [they followed other gods, they forsook the Lord, they ignored the covenant, they disobeyed the law, they prostituted themselves with false gods and idols], so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”
That’s the most that any of these oppressors oppressed Israel.
And what did Israel do about it?
What does verse 1 say?
That was a trick question.
Israel does nothing. Search the whole story (4 chapters), and you won’t find it anywhere.
They don’t even do step 3 in cycle of the Judges.
They don’t cry out to God for help!
We’ll see as this story goes on (esp. in chapter 15) that Israel has become USED TO Philistine oppression.
It’s become the new normal.
Here’s our first word of application:
#1. APATHY: DON’T GET TOO COZY WITH THE ENEMY.
Don’t get too comfortable with spiritual oppression, living under your enemy.
Israel had gotten to the place that they just didn’t care anymore.
Have you been there?
“I just don’t care any more.”
“I know my life is not like it’s supposed to be, and I know that I’m making my life harder for me than it needs to be, but it’s so hard to change, and I just don’t care any more.”
I don’t care that I’m not reading my Bible.
I don’t care that I’m not fellowshipping with other Christians.
I don’t care that I’m living like the world.
I just don’t care any more.
That’s spiritual apathy.
And it had infected Israel so much that even though they were under the heel of the Philistine’s they had stopped caring so that they didn’t cry out to the Lord for help.
But the LORD, catch this, still loved them. He had still made covenant promises to them.
And even though this oppression was His doing, He still had compassion them, and sent them a deliverer. V.2
“A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.”
Oh ho ho! There is a story starting here! This sounds like Sarah getting a visit from an angel and being told that she would have a baby boy in her old age.
Manoah’s wife was barren but not for long.
And whenever a special child like this gets announced (think Samuel or John the Baptist), that special child will have a special role to fulfill. V.4
“Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’”
Oh ho ho! Something special is going on now!
This boy is to be a lifelong Nazirite. Remember the vows of the Nazirite from back when studied Numbers together? Numbers chapter 6 has all of the details.
Nazirites took a special vow and kept away from three things.
Anybody remember what they are:
Grapes, Razors, and Corpes, right?
No grapes (or drinks that come from grapes), no razors–no cutting of the hair, and no contact dead bodies for the length of the vow.
This boy is having the vow made for him before he’s even conceived! The mother is to keep from drinking wine or touching any corpses so that he is born ceremonially clean–consecrated from birth to death.
A walking picture of holiness.
Not that those grapes, cut hair, or corpses are inherently unholy, but they are pictures of unholiness.
And this boy was to be special, a walking picture of holiness from birth to death! Wow!
And he has special calling on his life. He is judge. He is a deliverer. V.5, “He will BEGIN the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
A deliverance that they haven’t even asked for yet.
They may be apathetic, but the LORD is not.
He is preparing for them a savior.
Unfortunately, this savior’s dad is spiritual dull and apathetic himself. V.6
“Then the woman went to her husband and told him, ‘A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. But he said to me, 'You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'’ Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: ‘O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.’ [I don’t think he truly believes his wife. She just told him all of that. But God is gracious. V.9] God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. [Notice that God shows up to the one who is open to Him. Not the spiritually dull one. V.10]”
“The woman hurried to tell her husband, ‘He's here! The man who appeared to me the other day!’ Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, ‘Are you the one who talked to my wife?’ ‘I am,’ he said. [Hmmm.] So Manoah asked him, ‘When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work?’
“The angel of the LORD answered, ‘Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.’”
[Okay, what should I do know. Try to stall him? Try to control him? Get some control in this situation?]
“Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, ‘We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.’ The angel of the LORD replied, ‘Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD.’ [Yahweh.] (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.)”
See how spiritually dull Manoah is? He is a picture of Israel at the time. They don’t care they are under the thumb of the Philistines, and they don’t know God when they see Him at work.
V.17 “Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?’ He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’”
And Manoah still doesn’t understand.
“Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the LORD. And the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.”
“‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’ But his wife answered [with wisdom], ‘If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.’ [Remember, buddy, he said that there was a boy coming?]
“The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
Isn’t it interesting how deaf and dull Manoah seems to be?
I used to think that Manoah was a righteous man that God blessed with a special baby boy, but there is very little about Manoah that show his uprightness.
He seems almost apathetic himself until the angel jumps into the flame and blazes up to heaven!
Too many so-called Christians are apathetic today.
We just don’t care.
We don’t try to live a holy life.
We don’t try to reach others for Christ.
Too many have given up on actually living out the Christian life.
And we’ve gotten cozy living under the enemies’ thumb.
But God is not comfortable with that.
He wants to deliver us from our enemies: sin, Satan, and self.
Do you detect spiritual apathy in yourself?
Open yourself up to the Lord, and live up to your potential in Christ.
Unfortunately, Samson did not live up to his potential.
Chapter 13 exists to show us how special a boy Samson was to be.
Never since, Moses, has there been a boy born with such a high level of expectation.
Moses didn’t even get an angel to announce his birth!
Samson grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him.
He had all of the potential in the world.
And it went to (almost completely) to waste.
#2. WASTE: DON’T SQUANDER YOUR GOD-GIVEN POTENTIAL.
In the very next chapter, we are introduced to the all grown-up Samson.
And we might expect to see him raising an army to overthrow the Philistines.
But instead, we see him lustfully wanting to marry one of them! Chapter 14, verse 1.
“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”
Whoa. This is all wrong!
That’s not what chapter 13 led us to expect.
(That’s what his parents said, too.) V.3
“His father and mother replied, ‘Isn't there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me. She's the right one for me.’”
The strong-willed child!
And his parents could never say “No” to him.
This is the pattern of Samson’s life from here to the end.
Samson wastes his God-given potential.
He lives like the world and chases after skirts.
He follows his senses and his desires and not wisdom or truth.
And he uses the gifts God has given him for personal gain not (for the most part) to fulfill God’s calling on his life.
Samson squanders what God has given him.
We’ll see that more and more next week. Waste.
Are you and I wasting what God has given to us?
Everybody here has God-given potential to live for the Lord–gifts, time, treasures, abilities, experiences, potential.
What are we doing with it?
Everybody here is good at something–many things. Are you using it for the Lord or are you just sitting on it?
I see so many Christians who waste what the Lord has given them, and it’s sad.
I love that our Serbia team took stock of what they were each good at and everybody did their part.
We all have something to offer the Lord, and not hide it away for a rainy day or just use it for our own pleasures.
But Samson does the opposite. He sees something he wants and says, “Give it here.”
He is weak.
#3. WEAKNESS: DON’T GET ENSLAVED TO YOUR APPETITES.
V.4 “(His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)”
We’ll come back to that. That’s the most important verse for us today.
But, first, let’s see how controlled Samson is by his desires. V.5
““Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. [That’s where the girl is! But they get separated along the way.] As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.” Stop there for a second.
First off, what is Samson doing in a vineyard?
What kind of a Nazirite is he?
He shouldn’t be near grapes.
He shouldn’t be allowing a razor to touch his hair.
We assume that’s he keeping up that part of it.
He probably looks now like cross between Troy Polamalu and ZZ Top.
But what is he doing in a vineyard?
Being attacked by a lion, I guess.
And God’s Spirit rushes upon him and gives him the supernatural strength to tear a lion in two!
But he doesn’t mention this to his folks. V.7
“Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her. Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion's carcass. [Wait! What? That’s a corpse! What kind of a Nazirite is he? A bad one, apparently.]
In it was a swarm of bees and some honey, which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion's carcass.”
Now this is extraordinary. Roper, do bees normally make honey in body cavitites?
No, this was miraculous. God was doing something different here.
But Samson shouldn’t have been anywhere near it.
And when he saw the honey, what should he have done?
But he said, “Yum.”
And then he offered some to his mom?!
Samson was enslaved to his appetites.
What he wanted, he wanted, and he grabbed.
That was a big part of what was wrong with Israel, and it’s easy for us to fall into today.
Samson was a prisoner to his appetites.
We saw that with the woman of Timnah. “Get her for me. She’s right in my eyes.”
“I want what I want and I want it now.”
That is the current American motto, and it will destroy us.
Chuck Swindoll said that Samson was a He-Man with She-Problem.
I like that. We’ll see that clearly clearly next week.
But even more fundamentally, Samsons biggest weakness was a lack of self-control.
He just went after what he wanted and didn’t care about the consequences.
That’s how he wasted so much of his life.
He’s just having fun!
I think that “having fun” is one of the great American idols right now.
What are you enslaved to?
It could be lust. Maybe pornography? If the internet had existed in Samson’s day, he would have clicked around in the worst places.
But we can be enslaved other appetites, as well.
Information. I fight every day with an addiction to information. I want to know, know, know.
Gossip? You haven’t heard me talk about that one in a while, but that’s addictive. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
How about money?
How about adrenaline? Excitement? Action?
Are those things bad? Not all of them.
But if they get ahold of our insides and start running us?
Samson was a very weak man. V.10
“Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms. When he appeared, he was given thirty companions. [Kind of a like a big party, though you get the idea that they are here to keep an eye on him in Philistine territory. What do you make of this hairy guy?]
“‘Let me tell you a riddle,’ Samson said to them. ‘If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. If you can't tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.’ ‘Tell us your riddle,’ they said. ‘Let's hear it.’
He replied, ‘Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.’ For three days they could not give the answer.
[They would NEVER get the answer. Who could? Nobody knows what he’s talking about. But Samson runs right on.]
“On the fourth day, they said to Samson's wife, ‘Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father's household to death. Did you invite us here to rob us?’”
Sounds like a fun wedding party, huh?
“Then Samson's wife threw herself on him, sobbing, ‘You hate me! You don't really love me. You've given my people a riddle, but you haven't told me the answer.’ ‘I haven't even explained it to my father or mother,’ he replied, ‘so why should I explain it to you?’
She cried the whole seven days of the feast. [What a party!] So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. [We see what drives Samson.] She in turn explained the riddle to her people.
Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, ‘What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?’ Samson said to them, [You cheated!] ‘If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.’
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father's house. And Samson's wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.”
Looks like there was a divorce at the very end of the wedding!
That’s what weakness leads to. Constantly giving in to your appetites will enslave you.
God has something better for His people.
Now, that is some fight that Samson gets into in verse 19.
He goes to Ashkelon and in one action-movie scene, kills thirty men.
He takes their clothes and keeps his bargain.
“Here’s your dirty thirty outfits! Hope you enjoy them. The previous ownwers were dying to get rid of them.”
Did you notice that God was involved in verse 19?
Here, Samson, inflamed with anger and a result of his foolish marriage with a Philistine woman is clothed with power from the Spirit of God to kill people.
And he does.
What is going on here?
It’s actually our last word, a word of hope.
#4. HOPE: DON’T FORGET THAT GOD IS UP TO SOMETHING GOOD.
In reading this sordid story, it’s easy to forget that God had a plan for Samson and had made some promises about Samson that He was going to keep.
No matter how apathetic, pathetic, wasteful, or weak Samson was, God was still going to use him to begin the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines.
Go back to verse 4. It’s a parenthesis in the NIV, but it’s the most important verse.
“(His parents did not know that this [his marriage! His stupid foolish marriage to a Philistien girl!] was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)”
This becomes round #1 in a war between Samson and the Philistines.
A war that God wants.
A war that Samson apparently would never have waged on his own initiative.
But God has plans that overrule Samson’s plans and intentions that overrule Samson’s intentions to accomplish God’s own purposes.
This does not excuse any of Samson’s weaknesess.
But Samson’s weaknesses don’t stop any of God’s plans either.
And that should give us hope.
God is always up to something good for His people.
Even when we are the most apathetic, pathetic, wasteful, squandering, and weak.
If we truly belong to Jesus, God is up to something good.
That’s what happened at the Cross, isn’t it?
When the disciples ran away?
Where our sinful squandering of our potential had brought punishment?
Where our weakness and foolishness had enslaved us to our appetites and earned for us the oppression of our enemies.
God was up to something good.
Jesus turned it all around.
He took on Himself what we deserved, went to war with our enemy, Satan, and won the day.
And that’s true every day for God’s people.
God is up to something good.
We can’t always see it.
Things were bleak in Samson’s day.
And even though God had promised something good, they couldn’t really see it.
And Samson looks like a poor excuse for a Savior.
But God can use a poor excuse for a Savior to save His people.
So we should put our hope in Him.
Messages in This Series:
Israel's Downward Spiral
Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Gideon Part One: The 'Mighty Warrior'
Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King
Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon