We’re including two full text outlines from CT in addition to a shorter discussion teaching from home church. Spending two weeks on Samson at CT felt a little long, and it should probably be condensed into one teaching in the future.
Tonight we finally move into the life of the final deliverer in the book of Judges. And let me tell you – we’ve saved the best for last.
For those of you who are new, I’ll review a bit of what has been happening up to this point. The book of Judges narrates life in the land of Israel starting around 1370 B.C, a very dark time in the history of the nation. The people continually go through a cycle of forgetting about God and heading off in their own direction, at which point God allows them to be captured by another nation. After years or even decades of oppression the people cry out to God and God sends a deliverer (or judge) to lead his people to freedom. Unfortunately they quickly forget about God and the cycle of sin, oppression and deliverance repeats itself.
We’ve noticed that as the book goes on the cycle doesn’t just repeat itself. It gets worse. The people drift farther from God, they seem to be less bothered by the oppression, and even the judges get worse and worse. Early on the stories were victorious and happy, but the later judges get darker and darker, each one overshadowing God’s victory with his own sin. And we’ve saved the best for last. And when I say “best” I mean “worst.” In the life of Samson everything truly hits rock bottom. And yet, all hope is not lost. In spite of the darkness God shines through as brightly as ever.
13:1 Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.
Once again the Israelites did evil. And once again God handed them over to an oppressor – the Philistines – for a long time. This is the longest period of oppression in the book of Judges.
There is one major difference between this final cycle and the other cycles in the book of judges. Do you remember what normally happens next? The people cry out to God. But here there is no cry. The people are so hardened and so compromised that they seem content to merely live alongside of the enemy, giving them whatever they want and trying not to make them angry. It’s like they’ve lost the will to fight.
2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children.
3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son.
4 So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food.
5 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”
So the angel of the Lord visits the wife of a man named Manoah. And he makes two promises to her.
First of all, even though she is barren she will give birth to a son.
In the Bible this is usually a really positive sign. There are only a few occasions in the Bible where God announces a birth beforehand, and in all of those cases the child to be born turned out to be a mighty man of God, playing a key role in God’s plan.
He gives some special instructions to Mrs. Manoah about her son. She says that he is to be a Nazirite from birth.
Now, the word “Nazirite” just means “dedicated” or “consecrated.” We’re given more information about it in chapter 6 of the book of Numbers. There we learn that people are allowed to take a Nazirite vow, which involves three specific commitments: no wine or grape products, no touching dead people, and no haircuts. This was something they would commit to for a predetermined period of time, and after the time was up they would cut their hair and offer it to God and go back to their lives.
You can see this is the general tenor of the instructions given by the angel here (see instructions in v. 4-5)
But there are a few aspects that make this situation unique.
- Divinely imposed
- Starts at conception
- Permanent (whole life)
The second promise the angel makes is that this child will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines
The other judges fully delivered the Israelites from their oppressors. But this guy will only begin to bring about deliverance – partial deliverance. It’s going to be incomplete in some way, which is a little strange. His birth has more fanfare than any of the previous judges, so you’d think he would accomplish more than any of them.
Regardless, this is exciting news.
6 The woman ran and told her husband…
8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord, saying, “Lord, please let the man of God come back to us again and give us more instructions about this son who is to be born.”
You get the feeling that Manoah is a little irked that the angel appeared to his wife and not to him. He may be a little skeptical too. “Oh, right, honey. You’ve been barren your whole life, but now you’re saying that an angel appeared to you and told you that we are going to have a son who will fight the Philistines? God, please come back and tell us more about this ‘son.’”
9 God answered Manoah’s prayer, and the angel of God appeared once again to his wife…
10 So she quickly ran and told her husband, “The man who appeared to me the other day is here again!”
11 Manoah ran back with his wife and asked, “Are you the man who spoke to my wife the other day?”
“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”
One word answer in the Hebrew. “I”
12 So Manoah asked him, “When your words come true, what kind of rules should govern the boy’s life and work?”
13 The angel of the Lord replied, “Be sure your wife follows the instructions I gave her.
14 She must not eat grapes or raisins, drink wine or any other alcoholic drink, or eat any forbidden food.”
You can tell the angel is not real impressed with Manoah. He’s already been through all of this. No matter how much Manoah tries to control the conversation, the mysterious visitor remains unflappable.
Manoah offers him some food, and he’s like, “Umm… being the angel of the Lord I don’t really need food. But you may offer a sacrifice if you want.”
19 Then Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered it on a rock as a sacrifice to the Lord. And as Manoah and his wife watched, the Lord did an amazing thing.
20 As the flames from the altar shot up toward the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended in the fire. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell with their faces to the ground.
21 The angel did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Manoah finally realized it was the angel of the Lord,
So he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree.
22 and he said to his wife, “We will certainly die, for we have seen God!”
23 But his wife said, “If the Lord were going to kill us, he wouldn’t have accepted our burnt offering and grain offering.
He wouldn’t have appeared to us and told us this wonderful thing and done these miracles.”
Like we learned in the story of Gideon, when God accepts the sacrifice he accepts you. Manoah was right that he deserved to die for his failure to live up to God’s requirements, but the sacrifice he offered was able to symbolically substitute for Manoah and his wife. Good took the sacrifice instead of taking Manoah.
So Manoah’s like, “Good point honey.” Plus, how are we going to have the son he promised if we are going to die immediately.
24 When her son was born, she named him Samson. And the Lord blessed him as he grew up.
So she names her son “Samson.”
The name Samson means “little sun.” Why did she pick that name for him? Well, the most positive spin we can put on this is she sees Samson as a ray of hope in the dark ages of Israel – that a little sun has broken into these hopeless times.
But we also know that just a few miles from Samson’s hometown there was a major center of worship for the sun god. Even if she didn’t mean any honor to the sun god why would she pick a name like that? “OK Israel, lets follow ‘sun god’ into battle against the Philistines. He will lead us to victory!”
That’s like naming him “little Buddha.” Even if he’s got kind of a belly on him you don’t pick a name like that for the miracle baby God gave you.
What comes through here is that Samson was born full of promise with high hopes for his future. But the situation he was born into is pretty bleak.
But God’s blessing was on him
25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he lived in Mahaneh-dan, which is located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol.
So the Spirit of the Lord has not yet come upon Samson like he does with the other judges, but he is beginning to stir Samson. Even though spiritual apathy has a firm hold on the rest of the nation God isn’t going to let Samson go along with the crowd.
You see, God is in a strange situation here. He wants to save his people. He has the power to save his people. He has already provided the deliverer. But his people don’t want to be saved. What should God do when people don’t want His salvation?
Well, we know that he won’t force himself on any of us. As many of us know, you can’t force someone to love you or to even want you around. What he does instead is he raises the need level in the lives of his people. And he does this through a variety of means.
Sometimes God just relies on plan old cause and effect. The Bible says there is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death. Any life direction you choose apart from God will eventually leave you empty. Sometimes he is content to allow those to play out and let the need level rise in your life.
Other times he might specifically engineer circumstances to show you that everything you thought would make you happy doesn’t deliver what it promised. This is what happened in my life. I thought that if I finally had friends, a girlfriend and success in school I would truly be content. And when I got those things and I felt lonelier and more depressed than before I started – that’s when I began to cry out to God.
We’ll see in the following events that God’s intervention at a few key points sets off a chain of cause and effect that viciously breaks the apathetic status quo.
We can’t overlook the role of God’s Spirit in this either. It’s not just your self-directed choices that show you how much you need God. God’s Spirit will come into your life at some point and begin to stir in you. He will tell you that He is there – sometimes in subtle ways and other times in not-so-subtle ways.
You look out at nature and you get this internal sense that this didn’t just happen by accident. We aren’t just – in the words of Stephen Hawking – “a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet.” God is telling you: “I’m here.”
You start to get fired up about why so many evil things are happening in this world, but then you realize – “Where am I even getting this sense of right and wrong? It’s like I’m appealing to some higher standard but I don’t even know what to base that on.” God is telling you: “I’m here.”
You do something that you know is wrong and you feel an internal pang of guilt. Maybe you broke one of your self-made rules. You wonder where that guilt came from, and why your conscience keeps bothering you. You realize that if there is a God you might be in serious trouble. God is telling you: “I’m here.”
You sit through a Bible study like this and the truth you hear resonates with you deep in your being. Your thoughts and secrets are repeated back to you – things you’ve never told anyone. The questions you are wrestling with get answered. God is telling you: “I’m here.”
Maybe you’ve even decided there is enough evidence to call out to God and to ask him if he’s there. And God begins to answer your call. God is telling you: “I’m here. What are you going to do about it?”
Jesus put it this way. He said that the Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8)
Sin = what’s bad
Righteousness = what’s good
Judgment = you aren’t good enough, and God has a problem with you.
That’s the bad news. The good news is this: God loves you. And he has provided a way for you to receive forgiveness. It doesn’t mean making up for what you’ve done wrong. It’s too late for that. God’s solution came at no cost to you, but great cost to himself. God the Son came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and lived a perfect life. He did no sin. He was perfectly righteous. He did not deserve judgment. But he took upon himself your judgment so that you could justly receive the forgiveness of God. So you don’t have to run from God and pretend he’s not there anymore. Because he has provided a way for you to be washed clean, for your guilt to be removed – which if you’re honest was a major reason why you couldn’t bring yourself to admit that he’s really there.
And the thing is, when God sends his Spirit to stir you up, you can’t stay at the same place. It has a polarizing effect. You either move toward Him or you run away from Him. And what God has determined here is that whether Samson likes it or not he is going to be used to begin to deliver his people. He is not going let him settle for apathetic compromise. One way or another Samson is going to choose to fight – either walking with God or running away from God.
Let’s read on to see how Samson responds to the stirring of God’s Spirit.
14:1 One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye.
Well this doesn’t look too promising. Timnah was a Philistine city. What is Samson doing down there and why is he checking out their women?
2 When he returned home, he told his father and mother, “A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye.
I want to marry her. Get her for me.”
Our first impression of Samson is pretty poor. He’s hanging out with the Philistines (the people he’s supposed to defeat) and checking out their women. Now he wants to marry one of them, and he rudely demands that his parents go and make the arrangements for him. Why? Because he saw her and he wants her. What more reason do you need? Apparently what Samson wants, Samson gets.
3 His father and mother objected. “Isn’t there even one woman in our tribe or among all the Israelites you could marry?” they asked. “Why must you go to the pagan Philistines to find a wife?”
But Samson told his father, “Get her for me! She looks good to me.”
Or, translated literally: “She is right in my eyes.” Sound familiar? This is the pattern of the book of Judges – everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, and Samson embodies the spirit of the age.
You can see that he puts full trust in his own senses – what he sees, what he feels, what he wants – those determine what Samson will do. He never seems to think about what God is doing or what God might want. Samson is unbridled passion, like a mighty river overflowing its banks and destroying the surrounding villages.
His interaction with his parents is disturbing here as well: bossing them around and telling what to do. This is extreme even by today’s standards, and it would have been even more inappropriate back then when there was a strong ethic of honoring your parents.
This makes you wonder about Samson’s childhood. Has he always related to his parents in this way? He has all the marks of a man who has always gotten what he wants, who has never been told “no.” How might this have happened?
Well, we know that Samson was the miracle baby, the only child of a couple who thought they would never be able to have children. And his birth was not just any old birth. It was foretold by the angel of the Lord. He was special, set apart, and would be a hero, a deliverer, a conqueror.
And my theory (which I’ve heard from others as well) is that as Samson was growing up this message from the angel was deeply burned into Samson’s mind as well as his parents and relatives. They felt that Samson is special, so let’s never cross Samson. When little Samson is growing up he gets anything he wants when he wants it and never had any discipline. He was probably a little hellion who was never told “no.” And now here he is, as an adult, ordering his parents around. They put up a mild protest but quickly cave into his temper tantrum.
It’s unfortunate because this becomes Samson’s Achilles heel. Samson wasn’t an idol worshiper as far as we can tell, and there are even a few times when he cries out to God. But he never learned to submit to any authority – whether that was his parents or God. He just did what he felt like doing – whatever was right in his own eyes. And his lack of discipline and self-control becomes his downfall.
And by the way, unless you allow God to develop your character, to teach you self-control, this might be your downfall as well.
You can see this right here in his marriage choice. Who cares what God has to say about choosing a spouse? She looks good to me! She is right in my own eyes! I want to join my life to an unbeliever!
It’s always painful to see people in these situations. People get so confused and deceived. You hear things like, “No one else understands her. She really loves me and deep down she wants to follow God.” Or “I’m sharing my faith with him and he seems really close to becoming a believer in God. I’m sure that once we’re married he’ll become a Christian.”
It’s like you’re sitting on a cliff watching the train speed forward, and you can see the bridge is out, and you’ve tried to tell them the bridge is out, and the locomotive keeps busting through signs that say “track ends 1000 feet… 500 feet… 100 feet…” But it doesn’t matter. That person is determined to plunge down into the chasm and hope that maybe they’ll land on some tracks at the bottom instead of bursting into flames.
His parents are objecting but Samson angrily brushes them off. She is right in my eyes! And I want her!
And this isn’t just marriage choices. When we live life stubbornly ignoring God and the council of others, the outcome is going to be a train wreck.
4 His father and mother didn’t realize the Lord was at work in this, creating an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time.
You see, even though Samson is sinning here by rebelling and the rest of Israel is sinning by compromising with the Philistines, God is at work, determined to shatter the status quo. The proverbial monkey wrench needs to be thrown into this apathetic situation and God decides to use Samson to do exactly that. If Israel won’t fight the Philistines, maybe the Philistines will fight the Israelites.
So Samson and his parents went down to Timnah to meet the parents and make arrangements for their wedding. Somewhere along the way when he was momentarily separated from the rest of their party, Samson, all by himself, experiences something extraordinary.
5 As Samson and his parents were going down to Timnah, a young lion suddenly attacked Samson near the vineyards of Timnah.
Imagine this – you’ve taken a detour down through a local vineyard, and you get the eerie sense that something isn’t quite right. From the bushes you hear the snap of a stick, the swish of a tail, and suddenly a young lion leaps at you from the bushes, lunging straight for your neck with his mouth wide open and teeth gleaming.
6a At that moment the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him, and he ripped the lion’s jaws apart with his bare hands.
The Spirit of the Lord now rushes upon Samson, and probably by pure instinct he reaches up, grabs the top and bottom jaws of the lion, and rips his face open. Completely savage.
6b He did it as easily as if it were a young goat.
And we all know how easy it is to rip open the face of a young goat. Imagine doing that to a lion.
6c But he didn’t tell his father or mother about it.
Hmmm… Why wouldn’t Samson tell his parents about this? You’d think this would be something to brag about. Well, remember back to his Nazirite vow? He wasn’t supposed to touch a dead body, and if he did he was supposed to go through an elaborate cleansing process. But that would have been pretty inconvenient. True he’d broken one prong of his Nazirite vow, but he was heading down to see his girl – to get married. He didn’t have the time or money to go through this cleansing ritual. He decides to keep quiet about it, waits until he has calmed down, probably cleans some blood off himself, and heads back to join up with the rest of the group.
7 When Samson arrived in Timnah, he talked with the woman and was very pleased with her.
Again, “she was right in his eyes.” Oh yeah. He’s only getting more convinced this is the right thing to do. Especially now that he’s had a conversation with her.
8 Later, when he returned to Timnah for the wedding, he turned off the path to look at the carcass of the lion. And he found that a swarm of bees had made some honey in the carcass.
9 He scooped some of the honey into his hands and ate it along the way. He also gave some to his father and mother, and they ate it.
But he didn’t tell them he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.
This would have been strange for bees to make a hive in the lion. Normally he would have found maggots or flies. It must have dried very quickly. So he scoops out some of the honey and even shares it with his parents. Again, Samson violates his Nazirite vow by touching a dead body, and again he lies to his parents. This time his sin affects them, since sharing the honey with them renders them unclean without them even realizing it. But hey, Samson is hungry, and that honey sure looked right in his eyes. What Samson wants, Samson gets.
10 As his father was making final arrangements for the marriage, Samson threw a party at Timnah, as was the custom for elite young men.
11 When the bride’s parents saw him, they selected thirty young men from the town to be his companions.
This was his bridal party. He obviously didn’t have any Israelite friends, since he spends all his time with the Philistines. In fact, a lot of the time when we see Samson he is alone. So they provided some friends for him.
12 Samson said to them, “Let me tell you a riddle. If you solve my riddle during these seven days of the celebration, I will give you thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing.
So at this point it looks like the wedding celebration has started. Hebrew wedding feasts would typically consist of partying and drinking for a full week and then the last day of the festival the bride and groom would consummate their marriage.
And the observant reader will notice that Samson is right in the midst of breaking the second part of his Nazirite vow. He wasn’t supposed to drink, and he almost certainly would have broken this during his own wedding feast. But hey, he’s just having a good time.
13 But if you can’t solve it, then you must give me thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing.”
So he places a little wager on the riddle. Winner gets some clothing.
“All right,” they agreed, “let’s hear your riddle.”
14a So he said:
Out of the eater came something to eat,
And out of the strong came something sweet.
Pretty unfair. There was no way they could guess this riddle.
14b Three days later they were still trying to figure it out.
They were stumped. “Hey you got anything?” “No, how about you?” “Well, I thought about ‘cherry vomit,’ but that’s probably wrong.”
15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to explain the riddle for us, or we will burn down your father’s house with you in it. Did you invite us to this party just to make us poor?”
Whoa. They resort to death threats. These must have been pretty expensive outfits.
16 So Samson’s wife came to him in tears and said, “You don’t love me; you hate me! You have given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.”
“I haven’t even given the answer to my father or mother,” he replied. “Why should I tell you?”
Kind of a calloused response to his wife. It also shows her where she fits into the family.
17a So she cried whenever she was with him and kept it up for the rest of the celebration.
Every time he sees her she bursts into tears and starts saying how Samson doesn’t truly love her. You can imagine the fury building in Samson, who never had to experience anything unpleasant in his entire life. Muttering, “Shut up woman. Shut up woman. OK, maybe she’s just emotional because we’re getting married.”
17b At last, on the seventh day he told her the answer because she was tormenting him with her nagging.
Once again Samson’s self-control buckles under his need to avoid pain at all costs and satisfy his every desire. She finally wore him down. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that on the seventh day, when they were supposed to consummate the marriage, Samson finally gave in to her manipulation.
17b Then she explained the riddle to the young men.
18 So before sunset of the seventh day, the men of the town came to Samson with their answer:
Samson’s probably like: “All right boys. Go ahead admit it. You have no idea. Oh, and by the way, I’m registered at Target (OR I wear a 44 long).”
But the men respond, “Not so fast Samson. We’ve got your answer, along with a little riddle of our own for you to solve:”
18b “What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
You can see the shock on Samson’s face as he realizes he was sold out by his woman. “What’s the answer Samson? That’s right – your own wife! Sweeter than honey and strong enough to take you down!”
18c Samson replied, “If you hadn’t plowed with my heifer, you wouldn’t have solved my riddle!”
Now, this is lost on modern audiences, but back in Samson’s day it was an insult to call your wife a “heifer.”
You can feel the anger in Samson’s reply. Notice too how he’s completely unable to take responsibility for this. He blames them and his wife, when really he’s the one that let the cat out of the bag.
So Samson is like, “Well, I guess I better do some shopping.”
19a Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him.
He went down to the town of Ashkelon, killed thirty men, took their belongings, and gave their clothing to the men who had solved his riddle.
So he brings back to the men 30 outfits, many of which may have been torn or bloody from the Philistine corpses he had pulled them off of. Kind of gives new meaning to the term “shopping spree.”
At first it’s surprising for us to see God’s Spirit empowering Samson to do something like this. But remember, the Philistines had invaded Israel and were cruelly oppressing them. And instead of crying out to God the nation had become apathetic about it. God is using a messed up guy like Samson even though he is fully motivated by vengeance to bring about deliverance for his people. Samson meant it for harm but ultimately God used even his sin for good in order to save many lives and advance his plan. (cf. Gen 50:20). [May need to add a little more explanation here for how the Spirit empowered him to do this]
19b But Samson was furious about what had happened, and he went back home to live with his father and mother.
Samson’s bitter rage did nothing to alleviate his anger. Even after he’s done murdering 30 bystanders he is still so angry with his wife that he simply leaves her and runs back home to mommy and daddy.
20 So his wife was given in marriage to the man who had been Samson’s best man at the wedding.
Wow. Before we go on, let’s recap where are at this point.
Samson is disrespectful of his parents, callous toward his Nazirite calling, without any loyalty to his own people, compromising in his ethic, rude to his wife, flippant with his tongue, and driven by lust, eroticism, and appetite. The only way in which good can come from this man is by Yahweh overpowering him with his Spirit and driving him to the task of delivering his people, something he is not naturally inclined to do… But God is in control, and the story ends exactly where he wanted it. At the end of this chapter (1) the work against the Philistines has begun, (2) Samson is back in his father’s house, and (3) the adventure in mixed marriage has collapsed. The woman has betrayed her husband, the husband is calling his wife disparaging names, and the father-in-law has given his daughter to another man. What was planned as an interracial marriage turns into war!
– Daniel Isaac Block, New American Commentary, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 438.
And if you thought that was something, wait until you get a load of chapter 15.
15:1 Later on, during the wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat as a present to his wife.
Time has passed, his anger has cooled and Samson goes to try to mend his marriage. Some guys bring flowers. Samson brings a goat. “Hey baby” (pretend to hold up goat)
1b He said, “I’m going into my wife’s room to sleep with her,” but her father wouldn’t let him in.
“Samson you can’t go in there.” “Why not?” “Well, there’s another guy already in there with her.”
2a “I truly thought you must hate her,” her father explained, “so I gave her in marriage to your best man.
“What!? What makes you think I didn’t want to marry her?” “Well, you called her a heifer, then you went on a killing spree, then you skipped town for several months.”
2b But look, her younger sister is even more beautiful than she is. Marry her instead.”
Dad probably saw the anger mounting and was worried he might be victim number 31. So he offers Samson his younger daughter, who was apparently even better looking than her older sister. You’d think this offer might appeal to a guy like Samson, who was so interested in what looked good in his eyes. But then again, nobody tells Samson who he should marry!
3 Samson said, “This time I cannot be blamed for everything I am going to do to you Philistines.”
Just because his anger has cooled doesn’t mean his bitter vengeance is gone. He doesn’t want any consequences for his rage and immaturity. The blame is squarely on them. Samson is the victim. And when you’re the victim you always feel like you are retaliating (Plantinga quote about victim mentality?). This time no one can blame him for anything he is about to do.
4 Then he went out and caught 300 foxes. He tied their tails together in pairs, and he fastened a torch to each pair of tails.
5 Then he lit the torches and let the foxes run through the grain fields of the Philistines.
He burned all their grain to the ground, including the sheaves and the uncut grain. He also destroyed their vineyards and olive groves.
Finally! Samson is even!
6 “Who did this?” the Philistines demanded.
“Samson,” was the reply, “because his father-in-law from Timnah gave Samson’s wife to be married to his best man.”
So the Philistines went and got the woman and her father and burned them to death.
Finally! The Philistines are even!
7 “Because you did this,” Samson vowed, “I won’t rest until I take my revenge on you!”
8 So he attacked the Philistines with great fury and killed many of them. Then he went to live in a cave in the rock of Etam.
“I won’t rest” literally means “after that I will quit.” So he kills who knows how many more Philistines. Finally! Samson is even!
Then he withdraws to live in a cave. Once again Samson is left alone, all by himself. He just gets lonelier and lonelier as his life goes on. His selfish rage and lack of self-control are driving him further and further away from all human contact.
9 The Philistines retaliated by setting up camp in Judah and spreading out near the town of Lehi.
10 The men of Judah asked the Philistines, “Why are you attacking us?”
The Philistines replied, “We’ve come to capture Samson. We’ve come to pay him back for what he did to us.”
Once again, the Philistines retaliate. After all, justice must be served. They must pay him back and get even with Samson.
11 So 3,000 men of Judah went down to get Samson at the cave in the rock of Etam.
They said to Samson, “Don’t you realize the Philistines rule over us? What are you doing to us?”
This is the point in the story where you would expect the Spirit of God to come upon Samson to lead these 3000 men into battle against the Philistine army. But that’s not what you find at all. These men have accepted the rule of the Philistines and they have come to tie up and hand over God’s deliverer to their enemies.
But Samson replied, “I only did to them what they did to me.”
This is like talking to a bunch of third graders.
12 But the men of Judah told him, “We have come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines…”
So they bind him with some fresh ropes and hand him over to his captors. This looks like the end of the line for Samson.
14 As Samson arrived at Lehi, the Philistines came shouting in triumph.
But the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon Samson, and he snapped the ropes on his arms as if they were burnt strands of flax, and they fell from his wrists.
As Samson is alone with the Philistine army being led away as a prisoner of war, God’s Spirit once again rushes upon Samson, prompting him to break his ropes.
15a Then he found the jawbone of a recently killed donkey.
He quickly looks around and sees a fresh donkey carcass – not a skeleton, but a stiff, rotting donkey corpse. And once again he breaks his Nazirite vow, and once again he rips an animal’s face open when he reaches down and pulls off the donkey’s jawbone.
15b He picked it up and killed 1,000 Philistines with it.
Then he turns and kills 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (show picture of jawbone).
16 Then Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve piled them in heaps! With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve killed a thousand men!”
Just like Deborah, Samson writes a song to celebrate his victory. But unlike Deborah’s song, God isn’t mentioned in this song. This one is all about Samson has done, not what God has done. And unlike with Deborah this is not a joyous occasion with the whole tribe celebrating. This is Samson – alone, all by himself. Probably humming and murmuring as he tosses the bodies into heaps upon heaps, waiting for the adrenaline to die down and the emptiness to set back in.
17 When he finished his boasting, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was named Jawbone Hill.
18 Samson was now very thirsty, and he cried out to the Lord, “You have accomplished this great victory by the strength of your servant. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of these pagans?”
So we see Samson do something that he has not done once up until this point in the story: pray to God.
And even here you can see his pride bursting through in addition to his inability to bear up under pain. It sounds pious at first, but in the end Samson claims credit for the victory (“by the strength of your servant”). Just like everything else in Samson’s life this prayer is motivated by self-interest and personal gratification.
But at the same time you can see God’s hand at work.
19 So God caused water to gush out of a hollow in the ground at Lehi, and Samson was revived as he drank…
20 Samson judged Israel for twenty years during the period when the Philistines dominated the land.
1. Samson did what was right in his own eyes. 2. If God can love Samson He can love you 3. If God can work through Samson He can work through you.
Well, we’re back for one final shot at the book of Judges. As most of us know, the book of Judges is an ancient book of the Bible that covers the history of the nation of Israel from just after 1400 BC until around 1050 BC.
This was a time when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They had thrown off God’s leadership, and that in turn had gotten them into all sorts of problems. God continually tried to get their attention, and finally he decided to let them reap the consequences of their actions, allowing one of the surrounding nations to come and conquer and oppress his people. Eventually the people would cry out to God, at which point God would send a deliverer (or “judge”) to lead the people to freedom. They would enjoy a period of peace, but then they would forget about God and the whole cycle would repeat itself. [keep this short]
We saw last week that things are getting worse and worse. With each cycle the people drift farther from God, the oppression lasts longer, the people seem to be less bothered by the oppression, and the judges get worse. The victories are no longer happy and hopeful. Instead they get darker and darker, each one overshadowed by gross sin in the judge’s life.
Last week we began studying the final cycle in the book of Judges.
At first things were looking pretty good. We read about the birth of Samson. He was announced by an angel and his parents were given specific instructions about how Samson was supposed to be set apart for God in a special way. From conception Samson was supposed to be a Nazirite, which meant that he should never drink wine, never touch a dead body and never cut his hair.
But we also saw that Samson was born into an era of extreme spiritual apathy. The people don’t even want to be delivered from their oppressors anymore and are content to live alongside them. These people don’t want to fight, so it it’s clear that God is going to have to pick a fight.
That’s where Samson comes in. Growing up with such high expectations it seems like he had always gotten exactly what he wanted. He clearly had adopted the same apathy toward God that the rest of his people had, but God uses him anyway. Right off the bat we see Samson hanging out with the Philistines – the very people who were oppressing Israel. Even worse, he sees a woman he likes and demands that his parents arrange to have her become his bride. This sparks a chain reaction of events, with each link becoming more extreme than the previous one. Over the course of this drama:
- Samson discovers and begins to utilize his supernatural strength. He always uses it to get personal revenge, but as he and the Philistines take revenge on one another their feud escalates into all-out war. The Philistines invade Israel and Samson single-handedly defeats an entire legion of troops.
- Samson repeatedly does what is right in his own eyes. He violates two of his three Nazirite vows (no touching dead bodies or drinking wine). And he becomes progressively more angry and alone as he selfishly tramples and discards the relationships in his life.
- Samson finally cries out to God. At the end of the battle with the Philistine army he is empty, exhausted, and near death, and he cries out to God for help, leaving us to wonder if Samson has learned his lesson and is ready to turn over a new leaf.
The Gaza Prostitute (16:1-3)
That’s where we pick up the action in chapter 16.
1 Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.
Well, that kills any suspense we might have about whether Samson has learned from his previous mistakes. Look at 14:1 “Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah.” This is exactly the same thing he did last time. He has learned nothing from any of the previous events in his life. And this time it’s worse.
This is not an accidental slip-up. Gaza is at the far end of Philistia, about as far away as Samson could get from his geographic and spiritual home.
This time he’s not even bothering to try to marry the woman. He saw her, he wanted her, and he went in to her. Now Samson is in bed with a prostitute, paying for sex. Samson’s loneliness, his emptiness, and his lack of self-control are manifesting themselves in his addiction to sex – in this case with complete strangers. Something is missing in Samson’s life, and whether he realizes it or not, deep down he has a yearning for intimacy with God. But he’s settling for a cheap substitute – a very dangerous substitute. The Proverbs liken this to playing with fire:
Prov 6:27-28 Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?
In his effort to escape from the pain he is searing his conscience, hardening his heart, trying not to feel. But when the thrill of this forbidden adventure has worn off Samson is going to be left even emptier, even lonelier, and even farther from God.
2 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.”
Word got back to the other Philistines in the area that Samson had been spotted at Gaza, and they sent a group of armed men to wait outside the city gate and ambush Samson when he left the city the next morning. You see, ancient walled cities would lock themselves up at night with massive, heavy gates and station guards outside for protection. After a certain hour no one could get in or out.
3 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.
This was an incredible feat of strength. This would have easily been several hundred pounds; ripped from its hinges by Samson’s superhuman strength. Imagine being the guys asleep outside the gate, awaking from your slumber to the sight of Samson ripping the enormous city gate from the opening in the wall and lifting it above his head.
He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.
Hebron is 40 miles away. Just to rub it in he carries their gate back to Israel so they can’t just hook it back onto the city. Now, maybe he just carried to a nearby hill facing Hebron, but either way it was a huge display of strength and a hardship to the city, leaving them defenseless against attackers.
It also showed the Philistines that they were going to have to take a different approach to combating the beast. A large force failed. And the element of surprise failed. They needed to figure out how to disable his strength. And so they got their heads together and decided to work through Samson’s only known weakness: hot chicks; hot Philistine chicks, to be more precise. And they knew just who to call.
4 Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah.
So Samson is in love. With another Philistine woman. After all we’ve seen from him it’s hard to believe Samson could love anyone, since he seems to loves himself so much.
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.
They didn’t just want to kill him. They wanted to torture him. To humiliate him.
Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.”
This was a huge amount of money – the equivalent of millions of dollars. That is quite a price they had placed on Samson’s head. But he was the top threat to their national security, so they were willing to pay such an exorbitant price.
6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength
and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
Her straightforwardness here is a little surprising. You’d think she would have been a little more subtle. And the strangest part is that Samson plays along.
Maybe she wasn’t so obvious in the expanded version of this conversation.
Maybe he thought she was suggesting something sexual.
Maybe this is part of their messed up relationship. You see this pattern in dysfunctional relationships – where it isn’t even a relationship anymore and no one is pretending it is. Both parties know they are using the other and playing mind games, power games, sex games, pushing and manipulating the other person into doing what they want. Delilah was just the current woman he was using. But she was a better user than he was.
Maybe Samson wanted to get caught.
Maybe he was just lonely and wanted to be close to someone for once. It does say that he “loved” her (whatever that means) back at the beginning of the story
7 Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
Some translations = bowstrings or cords. These would have been tendons from animals that were freshly killed. Again, bringing him into contact with a fresh corpse. Remember, Samson has already violated two parts of his Nazirite vow. He continues to play with fire.
8 Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them.
9 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.
10 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.”
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.”
12 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.
13a 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.”
It’s hard to imagine what this would have looked like. But he is bringing up his hair, thought he doesn’t quite have the courage to tell her the whole thing.
13b-14 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.
At this point the Philistines leave. They figure their plan has failed and they are not prepared to continue to risk their lives by hiding out in the same house with this Samson. Delilah sees the fortune she is missing out on, which prompts her to kick the manipulation into high gear. She plays every card in her hand.
15 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?
You have deceived me these three times and have not told me where your great strength is.”
16 And it came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death.
Samson, don’t do it man. Run. This is bad. Remember what happened last time? (read Judges 14:17a)
17 So he told her all that was in his heart
and said to her, “A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb.
If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
He’s treating his hair superstitiously, like it was his lucky rabbit’s foot, like his strength would drain out of his head if his hair was cut. We know that the true source of Samson’s strength was God.
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.
19 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.
20 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.”
This is one of the big problems with the patience of God. He is so patient and so gracious that it’s easy to mistake God’s patience for God’s approval. God is patient, but not forever. There are times when he allows you to experience some of the consequences he has been shielding you from, and that is what he does with Samson here.
But he did not know that the Lord had left him.
This is one of the saddest statements in the entire story. Samson was so insensitive to the presence of God that he didn’t even realize that God had left him.
So Samson’s hair wasn’t some kind of good luck charm. His strength left him because the presence of God had finally left him.
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.
Samson was a guy who had always done whatever was right in his own eyes. And the first thing they did was hold him down and rip his eyes out, maybe searing them with red hot pokers just for fun.
And now his sin is finally exposed for what it really is. As fun as it looks and as exciting as that initial thrill might feel, this is sin exposed. It pretends to be your friend, but it will stab you in the back the minute it gets a chance. Sin will betray you. Sin will blind you. Sin will enslave you. And sin will grind you.
Sin had done the same thing to the nation of Israel. And it will do the same thing to you and to me if we give it the opportunity.
It seems like this is the end of the line for Samson. But we can’t forget that we serve a God who is gracious and forgiving. A God who acts to defend his honor and free his people. A God of second chances. And so when we read…
22 But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
… we get a little bit of hope. That maybe there is one more chapter in this book. You see, hair grows back. And for a guy whose relationship with God is so closely tied to his hair, you have to wonder what was going on inside of Samson’s head as he sat there looking back at his life, maybe with the ability to see a little more clearly now that he was blind.
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.”
They were having a festival to celebrate Dagon, who was an agricultural god, the god of grain. Remember, last week we read that Samson had burned all of their grain. And as far as the Philistines were concerned, their god had defeated Samson and his god, finally taking revenge. They didn’t realize that Dagon had nothing to do with this. Samson defeated himself. God was the one who handed him over to the Philistines.
24 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.”
25a 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.
25b-26 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.”
They’ve excavated one of these temples and it matches right up with what we see here. They had these two huge wooden support pillars set on round stone bases right in the center next to the altar, about 6-9 feet apart.
27 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.
A full house plus 3000 on the roof. If he wanted to take out some Philistines, now would be a good time to do it. And so we see Samson, for the second time in his life, turn to the Lord in prayer.
28 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.”
Samson utters one final prayer.
And even to the end Samson’s prayer is tainted by his vengeance and his personal agenda. He’s not concerned about God’s honor or the plight of Israel or his God-given destiny. He’s still mad about his eyes. Even after Samson has lost his physical eyes, they continue to determine his actions. This prayer has lots of problems. Samson has lots of problems.
Yet this prayer is the best thing we’ve seen from Samson. He addresses God as the sovereign Lord. There’s no sense of entitlement like we saw last week, that God owes him something. He throws himself on the mercy of God, asking God to remember him and strengthen him, the cry of a man who is at the end of himself. This is the prayer that says, “God, I’ve wasted my life. I haven’t been faithful enough. But now I throw myself at your feet and ask you to remember me, to strengthen me, to act on my behalf, to grant me your mercy.”
And I’ll tell you what. Those prayers count. I know. Because I’ve been praying the prayer of Samson for my whole Christian life.
29 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,
30 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.
31 Later his brothers and other relatives went down to get his body. They took him back home and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol, where his father, Manoah, was buried.
Samson had judged Israel for twenty years.
Run from sin
Don’t settle for “giftedness”
Hair grows back (also point out God’s grace in raising up Samuel and Ruth)
13:1 – The Israelites don’t even call out to God
God wants to save but his people aren’t calling out to him
13:2-25 – God appears to Manoah and his wife
- Manoah doesn’t even really believe his wife at first (always believe your wife!)
- Angel comes back, doesn’t give more instruction – just repeats what he already told Manoah’s wife
- Nazirite vow is imposed, which is unusual
- Might seem unfair, but Samson should not have been born at all
- Manoah totally overreacts when the sacrifice is burned up; his wife speaks reason
14:1-20 – Samson’s first and second tantrums
- 14:1-4 – 1st tantrum Q: What sorts of things are people prone to demand from God or from other people?
- Samson’s riddle – obviously not a riddle, but just a chance to make people look stupid
- Said nothing about the lion because it violated his vow
- Being dishonest about this small thing would lead to significant problems later.
- Gives in to his wife’s demands, just like his parents gave in to his
- Said nothing about the lion because it violated his vow
- 14:19-20 – Samson’s second tantrum
- Q: What are ways people react when they feel stupid?
- Underlying issue: probably some deep insecurities here
- God still used him, which is crazy
15:1-20 – Samson’s third tantrum
- After abandoning his wife, he goes back for her and acts ‘righteously indignant’ when he finds out she didn’t stay abandoned.
- 15:11 – Samson takes no responsibility for his actions; he blames the Philistines
- So easy to think I’m just an innocent victim
- 15:12-17 – God continues to use him
- 15:18-19 – I think we’re getting to the underlying problem here. Samson does not believe that God will provide for him
- Q: Why is it that we have such a hard time believing that?
16:1-3 – Samson’s fourth tantrum
- At this point, there’s no hiding the fact that his lusts are what are driving him.
16:4-22 – Samson and Delilah
- He falls in love again with a very ungodly woman.
- 1100 shekels of silver: over 140 lbs of silver
- She’s obviously just using him
- Completely blind to her attempts to kill him
- He just toys with her
- Q: What might have caused his ignorance?
- Might have been driven by feelings for her
- Might have wanted to be captured
- Might have believed he was invincible
- People know what they want to know
- Finally gets taken out
- Rather than break his relationship with Delilah, he allows it to break him (expositors)
16:23-31 – Tragic end
- God continues to use him, but what a terrible life and death
- God will accomplish his plan
- God will use us despite our weaknesses and failures
- The important thing to realize is that God will use us as a positive example, or as a negative example to glorify himself
- Not enough to be gifted. Need to have character. Imagine how powerfully Samson could have been used by God to rescue his people if he had been sold out to God.
- Q: What does a Godly character look like?
- Q: What are some steps we can take to develop this type of character?
- My small choices don’t matter – I’ll be faithful with the big stuff
- God will use me no matter what I do
- I simply cannot control my lusts or feelings
- I’ll ignore God in this area, but submit to him in other areas
- If no one sees how I’m sinning, I can effectively hide it