I was blessed to have been born into a Christian family. Starting at one week old, according to my mother, I started attending church. In my youth my imagination was set on fire by all the Sunday School lessons covering David and Goliath, Moses & The Red Sea, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Joshua & Jericho and the list goes on. I was especially interested in Samson; after all, what boy, at least in my generation, doesn’t want to be strong?
In later years I could see another side of Samson; this is a side where personal dependence spurred him to make bad choices. These choices ultimately led to his death.
I’d like to take a moment and hit the highlights of the life and times of Samson.
Life in Review
There are three parts to the narrative of the life of Samson: the circumstances surrounding his birth, the beginning of his time as judge of Israel and the last months of his life.
Chapter 13 starts at the home of Manoah, a man of the tribe of Dan, whose wife was barren. An Angel of God told Manoah’s wife God would give them a child and this child would be special. He would be a Nazerite, set apart for God’s work, and there were precautions to take. The biggest precaution you likely remember… no haircuts. Twice the angel visited and the second time Manoah was able to be a part of it.
In chapter 14 the narrative now skips ahead to when Samson was grown. This would be the beginning of the 20 years he judged Israel. The tribe of Dan was given two plots of land when Israel was divided, one area was the northern most border of Israel and the second plot bordered the land of the Philistines. The house of Manoah was located on the border of their enemy. At this time the Philistines had overthrown Israel and were subject to them. Samson was on a mission to change that.
Samson had found a Philistine woman and told Manoah to arrange a marriage. Obviously this raised eyebrows and Manoah pleaded for Samson to select and Israelite woman. Clearly, verse 4, Samson was not doing this for any personal interest; this was part of a plan to pick a fight with the Philistines.
During the marriage feast Samson posed a riddle to 30 Philistines who were handpicked by the Philistine leadership to attend this wedding. The men threatened Samson’s wife, and family, with death if she didn’t find out the riddle and tell them. On the final day of the feast they told him the answer and Samson knew his new bride had told them. Samson returns to Israel alone and the woman’s father gives her to another man. Do you smell trouble coming?
Chapter 15: Later Samson returns to see his wife and finds out she had been given to another. In reprisal he uses foxes with brush tied to their tails and sets their fields on fire destroying the crops. The Philistines retaliate and kill Samson’s wife and her father. Here we go… Samson declares all that are responsible will die and that will be the end of it. In 15:7 Samson does just that killing those responsible. Afterwards he retreats to Israel.
The Philistines escalate the situation be sending a large contingent of soldiers to capture/kill Samson. When this force invades Israel inquiry is made and they declare they only want Samson. A group of three thousand men of the tribe of Judah go to see Samson. (They were more afraid of the Philistines than Samson) They asked Samson to allow them to bind him and deliver him to the Philistines so there would be no more trouble. (Wow! Thanks for nothing brothers.)
Samson agrees and is presented to the Philistine soldiers.
Now, one of those big moments has arrived: in chapter 15:14 the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson and he broke the ropes, picked up a jawbone, and proceeded to destroy this army. In verse 15 the bible says one thousand men died that day.
After the battle Samson was thirsty and prayed that God would provide him water. God answered his prayer and gave him water springing forth from the same jawbone he had used to slay the enemy.
This third section, chapter 16, details a major change in the character of Samson. Close to twenty years has passed since the end of chapter 15.
Samson, verse 1, satisfies his lustful desire and solicits the services of a prostitute. While there someone informs the Philistine authorities that Samson is in town. The city was surrounded and they were going to wait until morning to take him down.
At midnight Samson decides to leave and as he came to the gate he pulls the posts up and takes doors, post and all away on his back. A great feat to be sure but there is something missing. I don’t know about the soldiers, were they sleeping or when they saw him carrying away the door decide not to mess with him. That is hard to say and the bible does not tell us.
Now we get to the infamous Delilah, typically known as the villainess of the story. This time it says Samson was in love. Delilah is approached by the heads of state and a deal is struck to betray him. Several times she asks for the secret of Samson’s strength and several times he tells her if you do this or do that I will be as a normal man. Finally Samson does tell Delilah his secret and she causes him to sleep and his hair is cut.
What a sad scene, Samson is awakened not knowing his strength is gone and is bound, blinded and taken to prison. There is one more scene to this story but it is time to make application.
We just ended talking about Samson’s eyes being put out but Samson had already become blind to the real enemy, Satan. This great man, empowered by God, began by following God’s plan and God was with him. Somewhere in those twenty years of silence Samson began to trust in himself instead of God. He took for granted the gifts God had given him thinking there was nothing he couldn’t handle. In the beginning the Spirit of the Lord was with him but in chapter 16 there is no such mention of God’s hand at work. Samson indulged in sinful personal pleasure and cared nothing for his relationship with God. He sinned and was still able to carry the gates away, why worry?
One might think “why didn’t his strength leave him when he went in to the harlot?” This is a tough concept to grasp. Now we are talking about God’s mercy instead of God’s judgment. This topic comes up a lot when a great evil is done and we wonder “Why didn’t God strike them down?” There is a verse in Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
God’s mercy delays God’s judgment. Satan uses that knowledge to blind us to the consequences of our sin. If we listen to Satan and indulge ourselves we might not pay the price that day or even that year but full payment will be required. God shows mercy in the hopes that we will see the error of our ways and repent. This is not a sign of weakness; it is an act of mercy.
I mentioned earlier that we often cast Delilah as the villainess of this story because she sought to betray Samson. I would disagree, certainly her actions were not above board but Samson betrayed himself. He had no one to blame but his own foolish pride. He had been blinded by the lies of Satan and felt secure because his sin, at that moment, was not changing his circumstances. Satan, knowing God’s mercy, uses this knowledge to say things like “see there, nothing happened, go do what feels good”.
Dear reader, please do not take God’s mercy as a sign of weakness or inconsistency. God’s judgments are sure and all sin will be paid in full.