Sunday, 5 October 2014

The story of Samson


This is the story of two peoples: Philistines, Israelites 
The Israelites had been chosen by God to be his special people. God was going to do something in and through them that would bring blessing to the whole world. But they mess up, disobey God, and run into trouble
And trouble came in the shape of the Philistines.

The Israelites are occupied and crushed by the Philistines. So they cry out to God. And God sends them a deliverer ... Samson.

There was an elderly couple: Manoah and his wife. We are not told her name but she is the most important person at the beginning of the story. She is told by an angel that she would have a son and that he would be a Nazirite - someone who would be dedicated to God, who would begin to bring God's deliverance for the people from the Philistines. And as a sign, he would not drink alcohol and his hair would never be cut. 

So Samson is born. From the very beginning, the Spirit of the Lord begins to stir him (13.24).
He falls in love with a Philistine girl. On one occasion Samson goes to see her, but is attacked by the lion. We are told 'The Spirit of the Lord came on him in power' (14.6), and he rips the lion apart.
He goes down for the wedding. The feast lasts 7 days. He tells a riddle to 30 of the Philistines and says that if they can answer his riddle he will give them 30 special suits, and if they can't, they give him 30 suits. They blackmail the girl to get Samson to tell her the answer. He tells her, she tells them, and they tell Samson. He is furious because they have cheated. Again ‘the Spirit of the Lord comes on him in power’ (14.19); he goes to another Philistine town and kills 30 of their men, and gives their suits to the 30. He then goes off in a rage back to the Israelites.
He cools down and comes back to see his wife, only to be told she has been given to someone else. Now he is really mad. He gets 300 foxes, ties their tails together and then ties burning brands to their tails. You have got 150 pairs of pretty desperate foxes, and he then releases them in the Philistine fields. The Philistines discover that Samson has done this because his wife was given to someone else. They go to the girl and her father, and burn them. Samson gets even madder and he attacks and slaughters many Philistines, and then goes back to Judah.

The Philistines send a force to get Samson, and the Israelites are terrified. They say to him, what have you done? We are ruled by the Philistines, and if we don’t hand you over they will destroy us. Samson says, I'll let you bind me and hand me over to them, if you promise not to kill me yourselves. So they bind him.  

However as the Philistines approach, 'The Spirit of the Lord came on him in power' (15.14), he snaps the ropes, picks up a jawbone and kills 1000 of the Philistines. There then seems to be a gap of 20 years when Samson we are told 'led' Israel. Probably the Philistines had decided that they would not mess with Samson.  

But Samson won't leave the Philistines, or more to the point, their women, alone. There is the story of incident when he spends the night in Gaza. They lie in wait, but he gets up in the middle of night and walks up to front gate, picks up the gates and the two gate post and walks out. He carries them several miles up a mountain, so that they can be seen in the nearest Israelite city.

But then he falls in love again with another Philistine woman. Her name is Delilah. The Philistines bribe her, big time, to discover the secret of his strength. Eventually he tells her the secret of his strength - the story we have had read – and she shaves his head. What is significant is that Samson thinks he can defend himself from the Philistines. He does not realise that 'the Lord had left him'. He is captured, his eyes are gouged out, and he is put to forced labour - grinding grain.

The Philistines are exultant. The man who laid waste their land has been captured. They say, 'Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands'. They have a festival in the temple of their god, Dagon, and they bring out Samson. The crowds come in their thousands. They thought it was very funny to see the man who had burnt their grain threshing out grain; the man who had walked off with their city gates shackled; They now want him to entertain them like a wild chained bear. But he hadn't quite finished. He asks the servant to put his hands on the central columns of the temple and he pushes. But this time he prays, 'Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get my revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes'. They would have laughed at him, stumbling against the pillars .. until masonry starts to fall and then the roof fell in. He was killed but so were 4000 others with him. 

It is a gripping but pretty brutal story.

Samson is astonishingly gifted but also deeply flawed. He is not really a role model for us. But there are two things that I would like to draw from these chapters.

1. God is in control.

When Samson falls in love with the Philistine girl, and there have been clear commands that the people of Israel are not to intermarry with their neighbours - so it was clear disobedience – we’re told, 'This was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines'. On three occasions we are told that it is not Samson's physical strength that gives him the edge, but the fact that the Spirit of God came on him. And at the end of the story, the Philistines think that Dagon has enabled them to capture Samson. They don't realise that God has walked away from Samson and handed them into their hands. And it is significant that Samson's final prayer begins with the words, 'Sovereign Lord' (16:28)

God is in control - even when his people are disobedient, or even when it seems that other gods are doing better than him! 

There is nothing that can frustrate the final purposes of God. Sin, wars, ISIL, militant atheism, materialism, the weakness of the church, or the persecution of the church. His Kingdom will come; the gospel will be preached; the people he calls will be saved; his rule of peace, justice, healing, compassion, abundance and joy will be established. Jesus has died and has risen.

2. When you mess up, it is not the end.

Israel discovered that time after time. They sin and rebel against God. God hands them over to their enemies. At times it must have seemed as if it was the end. But the people repent and God sends them a deliverer. 

Samson discovered this. With all his flaws, his wilfulness, his rejection of authority, his controlling rages and lusts, he still cherished the fact that he had been dedicated to God. That becomes clear in what he says to Delilah, ‘So he told her everything. ‘No razor has ever been used on my head because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb’. It was clearly very special to him. He wanted to belong to God, to be used by him. But then he discloses his secret to Delilah, and in so doing allows someone else to shave his head. In the end it wasn't his lusts or his rage that destroyed him - God could use even them. But he was destroyed when his love for, his infatuation with Delilah, or his desire to have a quiet life with her, overcame his willingness to be an instrument who God could use. 
But it wasn't the end of the road for Samson. In his darkness, imprisonment and humiliation, he comes back to God. He cries for God. He realises his strength comes from God, and at the very end he prays (16.28) - and God uses him to deliver his people.

Samson is, in this aspect, no different from so many people of God. We think of Abraham, Moses, David and Peter. They all had their flaws. Abraham lied about his wife, Moses lost his temper and thought he could do the work of God in his own strength, David committed adultery and then murder, Peter denied Jesus. They all had to face the consequence of their decisions, and yet in each case they listened to the rebuke of God, turned back to him and were used in new ways.

And I do hope that we will discover it.
You may be flawed; No. You are very flawed! We look at our lives - at the chaos, the broken relationships, the failures, the inner rages and resentments - and it is easy to despair. But if God has called you to be his and if you have said that you wish to be His, and trust in Him, and your hair has remained metaphorically uncut, then God can and will use you. He will use you despite your flaws. He may even use your flaws.  
The danger comes when we allow the razor to touch our heads: Spurgeon speaks of the razor of pride (of thinking that I have done it myself), of self-sufficiency (of thinking that I can do it myself), of living for self - for promotion, popularity, experience, ease of life, wealth. The scary thing is that like Samson, we might presume that it is all there, we may even use the God-language, but our head has been shaved and He has gone. 

But that does not need to be the end. Like Moses, like David, like Peter, like Samson, we can always turn back to him. 


It is a great story, and there is much more that could be drawn from this. But at the very least may I remind you that God is control, and may I speak to those who once made great pledges of commitment to God, but who feel that they have really let God down. Your hair is beginning to regrow – our God is the God who delights in giving people second, third, fourth, seventy-seventh chances. 

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