Part of the “What If I Stumble” series
This week we continue with our series What if I stumble. We’ve looked at Peter, his denial and then return to Jesus. We heard Judas Iscariot’s story and how it ended with no hope to overcome his problems. Today we go old school. Like Old Testament old school. We’re going to look at the bible hero, Samson. Like with the previous messages, we’ll begin with a dramatic interpretation of the main point in his life where he stumbled and fell.
[If you’d like to listen to this message, click HERE.]
Bad Hair Day
A Dramatic Interpretation of Judges 16
For such a strong man, I was constantly falling in love. Or maybe it was desire. Either way, today I have found myself a new love: Delilah. That’s a pretty name…and a pretty face and I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m pretty great.
I mean, who wouldn’t!? Have you heard the amazing feats of strength I have performed? I mean, just recently I took the doors of the Gates of Gaza and set them on top of a hill! Why did I do it? Well, one…because I could and two because the people there were plotting to attack me in the morning. And now their little city is a lot less safe.
But that’s a different story. This one’s about me and my new girl, Delilah. One thing I learned about her…she seems to be very how would smart people put it? “Inquisitive.”
Like the other night…We’re just sitting, enjoying a nice fire after dinner and she says,
“Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
Now maybe she was just trying to be romantic, but I got the sneaking suspicion that there was more to her question than meets the eye. So I lied to her.
“If anyone ties me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
And wouldn’t you know it as I laid down to rest…she actually tried it!
“Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”
What a way to wake a guy up!
I sat up and merely flexed my wrists so quickly, it was like fire had burned the strings and freed me.
After that I figured one thing out. I don’t think she was trying to be romantic. She began to nag and moan at me:
“You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.” (Judges 16:10)
This was getting weird… but if my new gal was going to be around me, she needed to know how to take a joke. So I tell her another way to tie me up…that would most certainly fail.
“If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16:11)
She may not have learned this time what my weakness was, but she sure did learn one thing about me: I’m a sound sleeper. I fell back asleep and sometime later I wake up to that annoying little alarm:
“Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” She shouted.
She’s woken me up twice, right? A guy’s gotta get his beauty sleep. I mean, muscles and good looks are a package deal…am I right? So I sit up, ready to fight someone. No one is there. I look down around my wrists. Broken ropes. I had snapped them like they were threads. I barely even noticed them.
I wondered what kind of weird relationship had I gotten myself into anyway? I like to show off…for sure, but not on command. But Delilah was not pleased I had lied to her again.
“All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.” (Judges 13:16b)
Man she sure could not take a joke. She whined and complained some more and so I told her…a way to take away my strength…that would also not work.
“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.”
I mean seriously. If she falls for this one, I’m going to have to reconsider being a bit more selective of the women I allow to fawn over me and such.
“Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”
I hear again. She didn’t…did she? I reach up to my beautiful locks and find that they’ve been woven into fabric and secured with a pin. I pull the pin and tear away the fabric. Looms are not a good fashion statement.
“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.”
If we had a dog, I would have been sleeping in his house. She nagged me and complained to me night and day so much that I just couldn’t handle it any more.
“No razor has ever been used on my head,”
She gave me the look. You know the one. The look that says “Well Duh” and “Are you serious right now?” simultaneously.
It’s true. “I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16:17)
I felt like something changed with her when I told her this. I think she finally believed me. I was out of the dog house and back into her good graces. No more nagging. I would sleep good tonight. Nothing between us anymore, no tension. We sat down after dinner and I fell asleep, my head on her lap. If my hair wasn’t braided in locks, I’m sure she would have brushed it with her hand.
“Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”
Seriously woman? You need to get a better line.
In a split second I jumped to my feet, ready to fight any foe. Or at least I thought about doing that. But my body wouldn’t listen. My strength had left me!
I reached up to run my hand through my dreads… GONE! No! My beautiful locks. I was saving those…for me! Why did I trust her? Why did I stay with her after all those strange questions? Why are there men in my house?! I reach back with my right fist ready to knock someone out. It is blocked by one of my attackers.
They didn’t have a hard time tying me up this time. Last thing I remember seeing was a man handing Delilah a rather large sack. It jingled a bit. Pieces of silver I bet! She turned to me, blew me a kiss and then someone else stood in my view as she left.
This someone else…I didn’t get a good look at him…But he gripped my head, and shoved something into my eyes. It was like he was trying to make my eyeballs burst inside my head! I realized it was his thumbs. Intense pain followed by a sickening sensation. I could feel blood running down my face but I couldn’t see anything.
I’m as good as dead. No eyes and no super strength. And I’m being led away in chains. How did I get into this mess?
Samson-ite! I was way off! (Who was this guy?)
Samson is a well known bible character. People know the very basic part of his main story arch but do they truly know and understand the man that was Samson? I think most of us picture Hercules – Disney Animated, Kevin Sorbo or Duwayn Johnson…take your pic. But that’s not who he was. He could have given inspiration for the strongman of Greek Mythology, but he was certainly a real person and the bible contains the only known history of his life. From before his birth to after his death, we get it all in Judges 13-16.
Important people in the bible have their births foretold by angels to their future parents. Samson is in an exclusive group that includes Isaac, Ishmael, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
We find record of the plans God had for Samson in Judges 13:2
A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”Judges 13:2-5 NIV (Emphasis added)
Can you imagine this woman…(by the way, we never find out her name! How rude!)
But this woman known as Manoah’s wife is given this great news: “congratulations! It’s a boy!” She’s given these very specific instructions on what she must do while pregnant and how to raise Samson.
But oh, what a promise! “He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” An older edition of the NIV says
“He will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
He wouldn’t be the end all be all he would be a start. He actually ends up being the last judge in the book of Judges.
So his beginning came as a promise from God through an angel to Samson’s mother. Samson’s dad, Manoah, wanted more evidence and so the angel visited Mrs. Manoah again. Finally he got to see the angel and present an offering to the Lord.
So this is Samson’s pre-birth calling, so to speak.
“The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” Judges 13:24-25 NIV
Before his birth, Samson was set apart for God’s Purposes
And that’s all we get until he’s of marrying age! This verse just says “the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him.” To prepare him, make him ready for what he’s called to do. Take the lead and begin the work of deliverance.
And usually that would be a great track to be on. Parents who raise you right, a calling from God, a clear path. But we don’t see any stories of him actually judging, rescuing or freeing any one. Samson may have been mighty, but the patterns of behavior we will look at point to stumbling and falling time after time until the moment he gets a haircut.
How do the Mighty Fall? (look back a patterns of behavior)
From the few chapters in the book of judges that chronicle his life,
Samson lived his life for Himself.
It will become more clear as we look at his first recorded decision as an adult. To desire and choose to marry the enemy of his people, a philistine woman.
“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
3 His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?”
But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” 4 (His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)”Judges 14:1-4 NIV
Samson sees a woman, likes what he sees and wants to have her…for his wife. His parents are not happy about it, but go along with him anyway. I find it very interesting what verse 4 tells us: this was something God was doing in Samson. It was time for those ruling over the Israelites to be confronted.
Verse 5 says, “As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him.” (Interesting, a lion in a vineyard. I didn’t know lions enjoyed grapes. More likely they enjoyed eating the lifeforms that do like grapes.)
6 The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.Judges 14:6 NIV
This is Samson’s first recorded act of strength. It’s gross, terrifying and a bit graphic. First of all, the idea that he would have torn apart a lion like it was a young goat…I wouldn’t even begin to know how to rip apart a young goat, would you? In any case, he did it and left the pieces where they lay and headed about his business.
After meeting with the future Mrs. Samson, the Manoah clan left for home, but later returned on the day of the wedding. As tradition, The wedding party was big and the groom didn’t always know his attendants personally. So Samson decides to try and make some “quick cash” so to speak. He bets his companions 30 linen garments he has a riddle they can’t solve. Unfortunately for Samson, they do figure it out. He told his bride and she told the wedding party the answer to the riddle. So, Samson has to pay up. Mind you, gambling is not explicitly forbidden for Samson. But how does this man who ripped a lion in two go about getting 30 linen garments?
He goes and kills 30 men of Ashkelon and takes their stuff to pay his loss on the bet.
After which he seemingly abandons his new wife. The scripture says he returned to his father’s house.
Eventually he remembers he has a wife and goes back to see her, but her daddy says no. They thought he’d left and would never return…so she was given to someone else.
You thought killing 30 Askelonites and taking their stuff was cruel, Samson was so mad he even used live animals in his weird revenge plot.
In Judges 15 he takes 300 foxes, ties pairs of them together by their tails and then attaches torches to the fox-tail-rope-thing. This ensured the foxes would run crazy. Not only tied to someone else but on FIRE! Too bad foxes don’t know “stop, drop and roll.”
He releases these unwilling animal arsonists in the farmland of the Philistines and it burns all the crops, vineyards and olive groves.
Suffice it to say, the Philistines were not happy. They burn Samson’s wife/not wife and her father.
Samson then puts on another layer of vengeance. He fights and slaughters “many” Philistines. The Philistines try to capture him with the cooperation of some from Judah, but Samson breaks free of his bonds, he finds a fresh donkey jaw bone and strikes down 1,000 men.
After this very violent act, Samson cries out to the Lord for water. He’s thirsty…says he’s going to die of thirst.
“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.”(Judges 15:19 NIV)
Through all his actions, God, his Holy Spirit had not left Samson.
God still used Samson in spite of himself
The next “Feet of strength” was referenced in the opener. Samson ripped off the doors of the gates of the city of Gaza and carried them to the top of a hill “that faces Hebron.”
He had stayed the night there with a prostitute and in Gaza men wanted to take him in the morning…yes you heard me right. Samson went to a prostitute. Not exactly a holy, set apart activity. So far we’ve got him on touching dead bodies, (when he took the 30 men’s cloaks), cruelty to animals, arson, killing a thousand men in battle and now prostitution. If I was God…I’d be like, “Yo, Samson. You are messing around too much. You’re supposed to be set apart for my purposes, not yours. I’m done with you.” I’m glad I’m not God. He doesn’t give up on us and he didn’t give up on Samson.
I am afraid though that when we focus so much on ourselves, our revenge, our pride, our resources, our strength, we tend to lose sight of what’s real and important. We lose sight of our calling. And that led him into yet another dysfunctional relationship with a woman named Delilah.
Love Betrays Him (Delilah’s betrayal)
We don’t know how long Samson and Delilah were together. The bible doesn’t even say they got married! It says Delilah was a “woman Samson fell in love with.” Shocker, I know. But in any case, she was able to get close to him. So close that he finally told her the secret behind his strength.
“If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”Judges 16:17b NIV
She once more took full advantage of his status as a sound sleeper and shaved his head.
Why was this a big deal? Why was the hair key to his power? Was it like Rapunzel in the movie “Tangled?” Was it magic? No. It was part of the Nazarite vow. He was raised as a Nazarite. No drinking wine or drinking from fruit if the vine. No touching dead bodies (oops…had to get those linen garments off those dead guys somehow.) And no shaving your head or cutting your hair. That’s why he had his hair in 7 braids. I imagine they were very thick and long like dreadlocks.
With his hair cut…
Samson lost the POWER of the Spirit of Lord and so too, his strength.
There’s a phrase that keeps popping up “The Spirit of the Lord”
- Before he comes into his own, at the beginning of his story “The Spirit of the Lord” begins to stir him…
- Right before he tears the Lion into pieces “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power…”
- Right before he strikes down one-thousand men with a donkey jawbone, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power.”
God used Samson’s hair as a venue for obedience (would he cut it or would he obey being a Nazarite all his life…set apart for God’s purposes?) But the real power and source of Samson’s strength was the Spirit of the Lord.
Even though he lived a life at his own desires and will, even as he was being carted off, eye sockets bleeding from the gouging out of his eyes…God still brought hope into the hopeless situation. Samson’s hair had already started growing back
Bringing Down the House – One last Heroic Act
So at the very end of Samson’s story, things begin to wind down. He’s blind, in prison, grinding grain for his enemies. What a sad end to a story that seemed so promising!
What was it the angel said about Samson?
“He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Some lead. Not one noble thing in his recorded history as a judge. A life lived for himself, giving into the impulses of his desires: love or anger. He flexed his muscles and made things happen. But he had no muscles now. Gone were the days of super long locks of hair.
His capturers want to bring him out and make fun of him. To praise their god, Dagon and disgrace the name of Yahweh.
And then Samson does something that changes the trajectory of his story.
“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.” 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. 28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” “Judges 16:26-28 NIV
So this is the second recorded prayer of Samson. Both at times of great desperation, but this time it had nothing to do with saving his own life. It was about taking down the Philistines.
The most important part is how he addresses God: “Sovereign Lord.” The one in control. The one who rules over all. Sovereign.
This prayer reminds me of words spoken from the thief on the cross next to Jesus.
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He asks to take down all the Philistines as revenge for his eyes. Again, sounds like selfish motives, but here…
He recommitted to God’s purpose for his life at the end of it
God used the desires of Samson to serve his own purposes. He said that Samson would “take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” This one moment, he was in the right place he needed to be to do just that on a large scale. In a big temple, filled with Philistines and leaning against two support pillars of the building.
“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.” Judges 16:30 NIV
On A Pedestal
Have you ever noticed that when you place something high up and on an unstable surface…such as a pedestal or small table, the less likely it is to safely stay in that place? It seems common knowledge that it’s unwise to put a large, breakable vase on a tall, wobbly platform. If that is logical, then why do we do something similar with people? Especially Christian and spiritual leaders. We place them high on the pedestal…all the more easy for them to fall and break. We make sure vases are on sturdy foundations. Precious knicknacks have flat surfaces at the bottom so they don’t roll off whatever they are one. This makes them more secure. But we don’t do this with people do we? Point in case, we might look at the stories of Samson.
On the surface: Mighty warrior for God, slayer of the Philistines! Those are the same bad guys from the story of David and Goliath! Samson was a great hero of the bible! We put this man from the bible on a pedestal, and it all stays night and sturdy until we get a little closer. You’ve heard the expression “warts and all?” Samson had some warts. He had flaws. And yet, God still had a plan for him, used him in spite of himself and led him to redemption at the end of his life.
Our problem today is we place people on a pedestal and then are surprised that they are human! “I can’t hardly believe they’d get a divorce, they were so close to God.” or “I really used to look up to him and now he’s walked away from the faith and his calling.” What about the all too painfully familiar: “I had all their tapes and videos, bought every book and now they’re going to jail for stealing from their ministry. I can’t believe they’d do such a thing.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be disappointed when things like this happen, but remember: the higher on a pedestal we place someone, the more unstable the platform and the further and harder they will fall. The only one who deserves to be lifted that high is Jesus and he won’t stumble or fall.
What can we learn from this big Hairy Mess that Samson got himself into?
We can check your own life motivations: are you living for yourself or living for God?
- Each part of Samson’s story is about him. He makes it about him. His desires, his cunning, his eyes. But we need to live consistently focused on God’s desires.
Be wary of placing people on spiritual pedestals.
- Jesus was and Is the only perfect example of how to live. Samson is a great tragic character, akin to Shakespere’s Romeo and Juliet. Doomed from the opening act, but what matters is what he did with his life before it ended. Jesus Made every moment count, not for his glory but the glory of his father.
Don’t wait until it’s too late!
- None of us are given a set time when we will die. We don’t know if it will happen quick or slow. So we have to live prepared for eternity. Right with God and forgiven through the blood of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It’s too late to give you “life” fully to God when there’s only a few grains of sand left in your hourglass.
We can check your own life motivations, Beware of pedestals. And don’t wait until it’s too late.