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Sunday, August 19, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “The Weakness of Samson: Part Two"

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“The Weakness of Samson: Part Two”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
August 19, 2012 :: Judges 15:1-16:31

We are learning together about the last of the judges in the book of Judges, the very weak man named Samson.

“The Weakness of Samson.”  He was very strong, supernaturally strong physically, but he also had significant weaknesses–especially spiritual ones.

Samson was a living picture of the downward depths to which the nation of Israel had fallen.

We saw last week how Samson had been born with so much promise and potential. The angel of the LORD Himself had announced Samson’s birth and declared him to be a Nazirite from conception: no grapes, no razors, no corpses.

And the angel promised that Samson would begin the deliverance, the salvation, of Israel from the Philistines.

But Samson seemed determined NOT to live up to his potential.

Even though he lets his hair grow long, he doesn’t seem to care about whether he gets near grapes nor corpses. In fact, he scoops out honey from a lion he killed and not only eats it, but gives some to his parents.

And instead of going to war against the Philistines, he wanted to marry one!

And so he did, and it was a total disaster.

Worst. Wedding. Ever.  The bride cried for a week. The guests cheated at the games at the reception. The groom killed 30 men. And, they were apparently divorced by the end of the week.

But in chapter 14, verse 4 the author of Judges let us into a little secret: God was still at work.

Even though Samson would never have done his part on his own to deliver Israel from the Philistines, God would still use Samson do just that.

Chapter 14, verse 4 says, “His parents did not know that this [disastrous marriage] was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.”

Now, this doesn’t excuse the weakness of Samson, but it does show us that God is still at work, mysteriously, behind the scenes, providentially making everything turn out the way He wants it.

God had promised to deliver Israel from the Philistines, starting with Samson, and He’s going to do it–no matter what.

So, at the wedding, if you remember, Samson tells his 30 Philistine guests an impossible riddle and offers 30 new outfits if they can figure it out.

And they lean on Samson’s weakness for women to outsmart him.  His new wife cries for the whole wedding week and Samson gives in and tells the answer to the riddle which she tells the Philistines, and that makes Samson mad.

“Hulk smash.”  Right?

He goes to another Philistine town, kills 30 men for their outfits and throws them at the feet of his wedding guests.  Not a great start to your marriage.

And it was the beginning of a war between Samson and the Philistines.

That war is the subject of chapters 15 and 16.

It’s really like a gangland war with escalating violence on both sides, and no end in sight.

The story picks up right where we left off with Samson and his ex?-wife.

As we read these two chapters, I’m going to point out 5 areas of application where we can take what we read and apply it to our lives.

Here’s #1.

#1. GETTING EVEN: REVENGE.

This story is about revenge–which is not a good thing.

Samson is so caught up in himself. He doesn’t think about anyone but himself.

Chapter 15, verse 1, Samson shows up at his father-in-laws house.  V.1

“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.”

Hold on for a second.  Do you get the picture?

A little bit of time has passed, and Samson gets to thinking about that wife he left back in Timnah.

It appears that he’s feeling a little randy and wants to enjoy the benefits of being married.

I can’t imagine this going well. He’s got the ancient equivalent of a box chocolates under his arm (a young goat) [this humourous insight was suggested by a scholar named Boling quoted in Lawson Younger’s commentary], and he expects (as if nothing had ever happened) to be let into the house and into his wife’s room.

But his ex-father-law stands in front of the door and says, “No way.” v.2

“I was so sure you thoroughly hated her,’ he said, ‘that I gave her to your friend. Isn't her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.’”

Nice. Wouldn’t you love to live in that Philistine culture?

And Samson doesn’t like it either. V.3

“Samson said to them, ‘This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.’”

There’s our phrase in the NIV, “getting even.”

That’s what this is all about for Samson, personal revenge. V.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, 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.”

That is quite a feat!

Having foxes in our backyard, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to catch one, much less 300.  And now, you have 150 pairs with torches lit between them and they wreak havoc on the fields of the Philistines.

Now, we know that God is using this to break deliverance to Israel.

But from Samson’s point of view, it’s retaliation.  It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

And that’s how the Philistine’s take it, too. V.6

“When the Philistines asked, ‘Who did this?’ they were told, ‘Samson, the Timnite's son-in-law, because his wife was given to his friend.’ So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.”

Great!  And then Samson hears about that. V.7

“Samson said to them, ‘Since you've acted like this, I won't stop until I get my revenge on you.’ He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.”

The King James says, “he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” I take that to mean that he left them in a big jumble of broken and severed limbs.

Samson was an awesome warrior.

But he was driven by personal revenge.

His motto was “do to others what they did to you, or worse.”

Getting Even: Revenge.

That’s a powerful motivation. It can begin with a simple desire for justice to be done. Justice does involve retribution and payment for offense.

But a desire for revenge eats away at the hearts of humans and is not easily satisfied.

And more, it quickly falls into an endless cycle of tit for tat, of revenge for revenge, of retaliation for retaliation.

This week, I heard a news report about two tribes in Sudan who have endless warfare basically over cows.  One group steals some cows, the other group comes over and steals the cows back and takes some more. And now, it’s grown to include murder and rape and kidnaping.

And nothing seems to be able to stop it.  Both groups are sure that they are in the right, and they don’t trust that other group as far as they can throw them.

Have you gotten there in your relationships?

I know marriages like that.

I know families that have broken down over “getting even.”

Well, they did that to me.  So, I did this to them.

I don’t think that our culture even understands that personal revenge is a bad thing.

Most of the action movies that come out are based on this concept of getting even.

You hurt my son, my daughter, my wife.  I’m going to get you.

But Jesus presents a radically different way of living.

He talks about turning the other cheek.
He talks about going the extra mile.
He talks about loving your enemies.

Break the cycle!

The apostle Paul says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:19-21)

Now, we see here that God can use our sinful motivations to accomplish His good plan.  God had a bone to pick with the Philistines, justice to be done, and He used Samson to do it.

But Samson (and the Philistines) were operating out of self-centered get-even motivations that would eat them away from the inside out.

Where will it stop?

Yes, someone has done something to you. But that doesn’t mean that you have to get even.  Leave room for the wrath of God, and love your enemies.

So, Samson is hiding out in cave in the rock of Etam, and the Philistines come up in force to get him. V.9

“The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. The men of Judah asked, ‘Why have you come to fight us?’ ‘We have come to take Samson prisoner,’ they answered, ‘to do to him as he did to us.’”

See the “getting even?”  They sound like a bunch of kids.  “We are going to do to him as he did to us!”

And Judah has fallen very far from the days of Othniel when they were leaders in following the Lord.  Now, they are just scaredy-cats. V.10

“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.’ [Sound familiar?] They said to him, ‘We've come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.’ Samson said, ‘Swear to me that you won't kill me yourselves.’ ‘Agreed,’ they answered. ‘We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.’ [They will, not us!] So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock.”

Now, this is a really sad story.  You know, nothing in these two chapters is how it should be. Everything this wrong.

Look what’s happened here.

Judah, 3,000 men!, has tied up Samson to turn him over to the Philistines.

They should be asking Samson, “What’s next? How do we defeat the Philistines?”

But instead, they are fearfully turning him over to them, with sentences like in verse 11, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us?”

This is what we said last week: apathy.

#2. GETTING COZY: APATHY.

Getting cozy with the enemy.

Being mad at Samson for fighting Philistines?!  That’s all backwards.

The fact is that they have become comfortable with their enemies.

They are apathetic, and it’s pathetic.

How about you and me?  Have we gotten to where we don’t care any more?

Are we apathetic and cozy with the world, the flesh, and the devil?

Remember, we have enemies, and we can’t forget that they are our enemies.

I think that verse 11 is the saddest verse in chapter 15.

Israel has become comfortable being ruled by their enemies. They have forgotten how to resist.

And that can happen to Christians, as well.

I see it in our choices of entertainment.
I see it in our lifestyles.
I see it in the daily choices we make.
What we submit ourselves to, etc...

We can become comfortable with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

And then, God help us.

The men of Judah here have tied up their judge and are trying to deliver him to their enemies.

But, at this point, the Lord will not allow that. V.14

“As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.”

What a scene that must have been.

“Then Samson said, ‘With a donkey's jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey's jawbone I have killed a thousand men.’ When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi [Jawbone Hill.]”

Now, this story reminds us of the Shamgar story from chapter 3, but it doesn’t seem as godly as Shamgar’s did.

Again, Samson is motivated by personal revenge and sinful anger, not God’s glory and righteous anger.
And there he is again, using a corpse as a weapon. A fresh jawbone with its teeth still in it must have been a formidable weapon, but unclean, especially for a Nazirite.

And when he’s done, he’s boasting. But he’s also thirsty. V.18

“Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the LORD, ‘You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?’ Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.”

#3. GETTING HELP: PRAYER.

Samson acts self-sufficient in most of the stories about him, but we all know that he was just a man and just as needy as any man.

Now, his prayer isn’t a great one. It seems full of boasting even as he asks, but he does ask. He does pray. He does see his own need and turn to the One who can help.

The spring on Jawbone Hill is re-named En Hakkore, “Calling Out Spring.”

Because Samson called out for help.

And we need to do that, too.

We need help all of the time, and we need to turn to the Lord who can help us.

I don’t know about you, but if I'm not careful, I can go for a long period of time without praying.

To my shame!

Bob Bakke used to say that a prayer-less life is boast against God.

“Thanks, but I don’t need you, God.”

Have you ever asked someone if they have a prayer request, and they say, “No thanks, I’m good.”

What?  I know what they mean, but it could be dangerous.

We need. We pray.  We get grace.

Hebrews 4 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

And when we do, we can rename where we live, En Hakkore.

Now, verse 20 makes it sound like the end of the story. Maybe we’ll just have another cycle of the judges?

But no, there is more to come.

Apparently, Samson hasn’t learned a thing. Chapter 16, verse 1.

“One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, ‘Samson is here!’ So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, ‘At dawn we'll kill him.’ But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.”

The fourth area of application is weakness.

#4. GIVING IN: WEAKNESS

We here we see a very strong man with a very strong weakness.

Last we said last week, Samson continually gives in to his appetites, his desires.

He is ruled by his wants.

This time, he doesn’t even marry the girl. He just pays for her.

It’s down in Gaza, which is Philistine territory again. What is he doing there?

Well, we know what he’s doing.

And yet the Philistines don’t win. Samson carries the city gates about 40 miles!

What strength!  And what weakness.  V.4

“Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. [And his weakness for her will be the death of him. V.5] The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, ‘See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.’”

Now, our story turns from being a gangland violence story to being an espionage spy story.

A female agent has just been offered an enormous sum of money to get the information from the hero.

But the hero is wise to her feminine wiles and...no wait. Maybe he’s not.  V.6

“So Delilah said to Samson, ‘Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.’”

[Samson, run!]

“Samson answered her, ‘If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs [animal sinews] that have not been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man.’

Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them.  With men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.

Then Delilah said to Samson, ‘You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.’ He said, ‘If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man.’

So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.

Delilah then said to Samson, ‘Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.’ He replied, ‘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.’

So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 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.”

Stop there for a second.  What’s going on?

Doesn’t Samson realize what is happening?

Can he really be that dumb?

I guess so.

Samson had a weakness for women. Not that women are bad, but there are bad women.

Samson was a he-man with she-problem.

He was stupid for sex.  He was in love with being in love.

He must have known that he was playing with fire, but he wouldn’t (or couldn’t even) stop himself.

Here he is asleep in the arms of a woman who is trying to defeat him.

I think we’re supposed to remember Sisera and Jael when we read chapter 16.

And it’s all wrong. This is not how it should have been.  V.15

“Then she said to him, ‘How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength.’ With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

So he told her everything. [Giving in.]  ‘No razor has ever been used on my head,’ he said, ‘because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.’

[And telling her this is repudiating the last of the Nazirite vows, the only one that he has kept.  That’s the true weakness of Samson.  He was not faithful in any way to the LORD and did not fulfill his calling. He was only interested in himself and not in saving Israel, and he was a slave to his passions. And Delilah knew it. V.18]

“When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, ‘Come back once more; he has told me everything.’ So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.

Then she called, ‘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. [Saddest verse in this chapter. I don’t want to ever get there. V.21]

“Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.

But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.”

Samson was blinded by and enslaved to his appetites and became blinded by and enslaved to his enemies.

The only remedy is to repent, and Samson didn’t do it soon enough to escape.

But there is still hope. And it rests in God’s commitment to His own glory.

#5. GETTING GLORY: FAITH

Verse 23. “Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, ‘Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.’  When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, ‘Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.’”

[Stop one second. Is that what happened?

Should the glory go to Dagon of the Philistines?

Did Dagon deliver Samson into their hands?

No. There is no God like Yahweh, and He will get the glory. V.25]

“While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, 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.’ Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform.

“Then Samson prayed to the LORD, ‘O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’ Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson 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. Then his brothers and his father's whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years.”

Now, Samson is not much of a hero. Not a godly one.

He was amazingly strong and killed a lot of bad guys.

But he was almost completely a loser when it came to spiritual values.

He’s not much of a role model.

But he did put his faith in the right place.

Hebrews chapter 11 says, “I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

Samson was not much of a role model. Even in his last prayer, he’s praying for personal vengeance. There is nothing in there about saving Israel from the Philistines.

He just cares about his eyes.

But he does pray. He has faith. He does trust God for strength.

And God in His grace and for His glory, gives it to Samson. His weakness was turned to strength.

God is zealous for His own glory. He won’t share it with Dagon or with any other false God.

But when we turn to Him in faith, He turns our weakness into strength.

The point is not how much faith we have but whom we put our faith in.

When we trust in the Lord, He gets the glory.






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Messages in This Series:

Unfinished Business
Israel's Downward Spiral
Ehud
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
The Weakness of Samson: Part One

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