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Samson and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Wedding

Last week we began to look at the life of Samson. And of all the unlikely heroes that we’ve looked at in this series – it seemed, in the beginning anyway, that Samson was actually the most likely. We read how before he was even born, God had specially chosen him and had set him apart as the hero – as the one who would begin to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines.

You’ll remember that an angel told Samson’s mom before He was born that her baby was to be a Nazarite from birth. Being a Nazarite meant that he was dedicated or set apart for God and as a sign of that, he was never to eat or drink anything from the vine (including wine or grapes or raisins) – he was never to cut his hair – and he was never to come near a dead body. Those three things were symbols of how Samson was set apart – dedicated to the Lord.

And things were very promising for Samson right from the beginning – we read that God blessed him as he grew up and that the Holy Spirit began to stir Samson or to prompt him to action as he got older. We even read about the time he was attacked by a lion and empowered by the Holy Spirit, he ripped the lions jaws apart as easily as if it were a young goat. We could clearly see that God was setting up Samson for greatness. It was starting to seem pretty obvious that God was going to use Samson in some amazing ways.

But then we read about two incidents that kinda shook our confidence in Samson. Despite the fact that God had set Samson up for greatness (or perhaps even BECAUSE of the fact that God had set Samson up for greatness), it seems that Samson is starting to become a little bit arrogant.

We read first of all how he totally disregarded his parents by insisting that he marry a young Philistine woman that had ‘caught his eye’. He didn’t even know the girl, but he insisted that she looked good to him and he demanded that his parents ‘get her’ for him. Of course, they saw the foolishness in this decision (knowing that God had specially set Him apart to rescue the Israelite from the Philistines – not to marry them) and they tried to dissuade him – but Samson had no regard for his parents advice. He did not honour his father and mother – as God had instructed in 5th of the 10 commandments.

The second incident that kinda shook our confidence in Samson was his disregard for his Nazarite vows. We read how after he killed that lion that attacked him, he went back later on and found that a swarm of bees had made honey in the carcass. And despite the fact that, as a Nazarite, he was never to go near a dead body, Samson scooped out some of that honey from the lion’s carcass and ate it. This was blatant disobedience to God’s command that he live as a Nazarite – set apart for God.

So we’re started to get some pretty serious red flags about Samson character. He seems to have no regard for authority of any kind – not his parents – not even God Himself. And you can be pretty sure that when someone has no regard for authority, disaster is just around the corner.

Well, today, we’re going to pick it up right where we left off. Samson and his parents have now arrived in Timnah to make the final arrangements for the wedding – this is the wedding that Samson’s parents had tried to talk Samson out of – but Samson wouldn’t listen to them and so the wedding went ahead. So we pick it up in Judges 14 – verse 10.

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. Judges 14:10-11

Now there are a few little curiosities in this passage. First of all, it seems that Samson had no friends. At least, none that supported him in this marriage. Typically, then you think of throwing a bachelor party, you think primarily of inviting all the grooms friends. And yet here, the bachelor party seems to be made up of 30 young men that the brides’ parents invited. So maybe there are two possibilities here. Possibility #1 – none of Samson’s friends from back home supported his marriage to this Philistine woman. Remember, the Philistines had been oppressing the Israelites for 40 years. They were the enemies. This would be like a Jewish man marrying into a Nazi family. You can understand why his friends might not support this marriage.

The other possibility here is that the Philistines were afraid of Samson and wanted to keep an eye on him. Verse 11 says “When the bride’s parents saw him, they selected 30 young men from the town to be his companions.”  Now maybe they just didn’t want him to be lonely… but maybe the bride’s parents had their own suspicions about Samson. After all, he was an Israelite, and I’m guessing – based on some of his incredible feats of strength – that he probably posed a pretty significant physical threat. So maybe these 30 ‘companions’ were more like friendly security guards – just in case things got out of hand… We’re not really sure….

Either way, these 30 guys are hanging out with Samson for the next 7 days – cuz back then, when they throw a party – they really throw a party! And so we read in verse 12 now…

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. 13 But if you can’t solve it, then you must give me thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing.” Judges 14:12-13

Now this is a pretty significant bet! The 30 linen robes would be like the under garments and the 30 sets of festive clothing would be like the real fancy, name-brand, designer tuxedos. This is expensive stuff. If you had 30 changes of these kind of clothes back then – you would certainly be seen as one extravagantly wealthy guy.

So you’ve got to wonder at Samson’s motivation here. I don’t know if Samson came from a wealthy family and he wanted to flaunt that. Or that he was from a poor family and wanted to simply appear wealthy. Maybe this was another sign of his arrogance and wanted to embarrass and shame the Philistines. We don’t really know – but it certainly seems pretty foolish to make such a significant bet on a riddle.

Well, believe it or not, Samson’s 30 companions agree to Samson’s bet. Perhaps they are as foolish as Samson is…

“All right,” they agreed, “let’s hear your riddle.”

14 So he said: “Out of the one who eats came something to eat; out of the strong came something sweet.”

Judges 14:13-14a

Now of course, Samson is thinking about the honey that he found in the carcass of the lion. And that makes perfect sense to us (who just read about that) and perfect sense to Samson – but really, there is no way, that those 30 companions would ever come to that same conclusion. Bees did not usually make their homes in dead lions. This was unusual. No one was going to guess that honey came out of a lion. So Samson was pretty confident (and rightly so) that they would be unable to solve his riddle.  And in fact, three days later, they were still stumped. verse 15.

Three days later they were still trying to figure it out. 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?” Judges 14:14b-15

Yikes. This wedding suddenly took a very dark turn. What a great bunch guys, these Philistines. They get invited to a wedding and what do they do? They threatening to kill the bride and her family over a foolish bet they made with the groom. You can see why Samson’s parents weren’t too eager to marry into the Philistine clan. But here they are anyway and then we read in verse 16…

 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?”

17 So she cried whenever she was with him and kept it up for the rest of the celebration. At last, on the seventh day he told her the answer because she was tormenting him with her nagging.

Judges 14:16-17

What a fun wedding, eh? Let’s recap, shall we? The groom’s parents disapprove of the whole wedding. The bride’s parents are suspicious of the groom and send 30 groomsmen to keep an eye on him in case something goes down. These same groomsmen threaten to kill the bride and her family. In response, the bride cries and torments the groom with her nagging whenever she sees him. What a great way to start a marriage. I wonder if Samson is starting to wish that he listened to his parents in the first place.

I know I said this last week, but it’s worth saying again: Young people – listen to your parents, listen to those who are older and wiser than you – especially in this area of dating and marriage. Choosing a marriage partner is one of the most significant decisions you will ever make – it will change the course of your life forever! So it is for your benefit that you listen the to advice of your parents who love you. Solomon – the wisest man who ever lived – wrote this in Proverbs 1:8-9…

8 My child, listen when your father corrects you.

    Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.

9 What you learn from them will crown you with grace

    and be a chain of honor around your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9

In other words, honoring your parents will bring honour to you. Dishonoring your parents… well, that will bring you a wedding like what Samson had… And I don’t think anybody wants that! So let’s see how this wedding all ends up. Verse 18

18 So before sunset of the seventh day, the men of the town came to Samson with their answer: “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” Judges 14:18a

You can kinda see how these guys presented the answer to the Samson’s riddle in way that suggested that they had figured it out on their own. “What’s sweeter than honey? And what’s stronger than a lion?” But of course Samson knew right away that they had cheated and gotten the answer from his wife. So we read next…

Samson replied, “If you hadn’t plowed with my heifer, you wouldn’t have solved my riddle!”

Judges 14:18b

And you don’t have to be an expert in the original Hebrew language to see that Samson isn’t very impressed with either his wife or these 30 young men. Calling your wife a cow was no more endearing back then as it is today.

But I think this really highlights just selfish Samson was and how little he understood what marriage is all about. We don’t ever see that Samson is concerned about his wife. He’s not concerned with her well-being – even though her life and her family have been physically threatened. All we see is Samson talking down to her – treating her like his property – calling her his heifer. And this all during the wedding!

And many of us probably saw this coming from the first time Samson said to his parents – “She looks good to me – get her for me.” Samson had no idea that marriage is about putting the other person first. It’s about putting their needs before our own. We can see that Samson was going into this marriage thinking only of what He was going to get out of the deal. He didn’t love this young woman – He liked how she looked – but he certainly didn’t love her. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that…

4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

That’s what love is and I really don’t see any of that in this story. All I see are two people who are only looking out for themselves – not for each other. That’s not love. That’s not God’s intention for marriage.

But maybe before we blast Samson for his failures in not loving his wife, maybe we should take a minute just to examine our own lives – our own marriages.

In that verse up there on the screen, could your spouse put your name in there? Instead of the word ‘love’, could Heather say that Dave is patient and kind? That Dave is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Dave does not demand his own way. Dave is not irritable, and he keeps no record of being wronged.

In all honesty, I don’t think she could say that – at least not all the time. There are moments when I’m not all that kind. Sometimes I do demand my own way – and you can ask my kids – sometimes I am certainly irritable. But if I am going to truly love my wife and my kids the way God has called me to love them – I need to work on those areas of my life where I fall short.

And to that end, I’m so thankful for the relationships I have with several of you guys here in the church where you can call me out when I’m not loving my family as I should. It’s so important to have that band of brothers that can lovingly get you back on track when you go off course – Guys that care enough to ask the hard questions and to give you a kick in the pants when you need it. We all need those people in our lives.

And if you don’t have that in your life right now – I know there are people in this congregation right now who would love to give you a kick in the pants! Lovingly, of course! But all joking aside, that really is a key element of being part of a church. We want to help each other be the best dads we can be, the best moms we can be, the husbands and wives we can be. We need that help to love others like God loves us.

I wonder what a difference it would have made in Samson’s life if he had a band of brothers that cared enough about him to intervene in his life and save him from some of the foolish decisions that he made. Imagine if he had some older, wiser mentor in his life that could help him learn what it really meant to love his wife. Imagine what a husband he could have been!

But now instead of standing up for his wife, protecting her, and loving her like he should have – Samson is self-absorbed, selfish, and is really only concerned about losing his bet. That’s not the kind of husband God wanted him to be.

Well, let’s see what happened next… Actually, wait. Before we read what happened next, I want to go back to the verse we read last week – when Samson first disregarded the advice of his parents concerning this marriage. I think we need to read this verse one more time in order to understand what’s about to happen. So go back to Judges 14:4 and it says…

“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.” Judges 14:4

It so important to remember that God can work in any situation. Even when we’re selfish and ignorant! That’s not to say that God causes us to do these foolish things and it’s not to say that God approves us acting that way either. The point is that God works in any situation – as messed up as it is – to bring about his good purposes. And that’s exactly what we’re about to see. verse 19…

19 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. Judges 14:19

So Samson holds up his end of the bargain by killing 30 other Philistines from a nearby town and then gives their clothing to his 30 wedding companions.

And at first glance, you kinda wonder – why is God empowering Samson to kill these 30 men after Samson had been such an idiot? Good question!

Well, I think we find the answer to that in this other verse we just read about God being at work in this – creating an opportunity to work against the Philistines.

If you go back to the beginning of the story, remember how the angel of the Lord told Manoah and his wife that their son Samson was going to begin to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines? Well, this is the first link in a chain of events that would cause that to happen. And we’re going to look at that chain of events next week, but for today, I just want to note that, despite the fact that Samson was acting out of selfish motivations and that he had made such a mess through his foolish decisions – God still used Samson to bring about His good purposes.

Which is an incredible act of grace on God’s behalf! God didn’t have to empower Samson – He could have just abandoned Samson to suffer the consequences of his own foolishness and rescue his people some other way. But He didn’t. God stepped in. He showed up right in the midst of Samson’s mess and began to rescue his people from the Philistines.

And you know, that’s really the picture of God we get throughout the Scriptures. Time and time again, mankind ignores God’s plan and God’s design and ends up making a total mess of things, but time and time again, God doesn’t just abandon them to suffer the consequences of their foolishness. He steps in,  right into the midst of their mess, and begins to rescue his people.

We see that in the story of Adam and Eve. We see that in the story of Noah. We see that in the story of every single judge. We see that throughout Isreal’s kings. We see that in the story of Zacheus, Peter, & Paul. It’s throughout the Bible – and we see it most clearly in Jesus Christ!

If ever there was an illustration of God stepping into our mess, it was when Jesus Christ (God Himself) came down and was born as a baby into our sin-filled world so that he could die on a cross, taking the punishment for every stupid, foolish mistake we’ve ever made, so that we could forgiven and be free to live life with our Creator for eternity.

And he did that before we even asked. God acted when we didn’t even realize the mess that we were in. Romans 5:6 says…

6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6-8

We were still smack-dab in the middle of our mess. We had completely blown it. The only thing we deserved was condemnation, but instead, God gave us grace.

And God continues to do that today. He continues to step into our mess and give us grace.

One of my favourite stories of Jesus is when he goes and he shares a meal with Levi the tax collector and all his disreputable friends. I mean these guys are the lowest of the low. They are society’s scum bags… But let me just read for you how Jesus treats these guys… Mark 2:15…

15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Mark 2:15-17

I love that. Jesus didn’t come for those who think they have their act all together. (Because really, none of us do.) But Jesus came for those who know they are sinners. For those who know they’ve messed up. For those who know they’ve blown it.

And I am so glad that Jesus came for me. I am so glad that Jesus stepped into my mess and instead of giving me the condemnation that I deserved – instead, He gave me grace. He gave me forgiveness. He have me hope, and joy and peace. Not because of anything I’ve done – but all because of what Jesus did for me.

And God offers the same thing to you. It doesn’t matter what kind of a mess your find yourself in – God wants to give you amazing grace. His grace is greater than all your sin, all your failures, all your mess. He loves you like crazy and he wants to step into your mess, pick you up and carry you through.

The very same God that stepped into Samson’s mess is more than willing to step into your mess. He wants to meet you where you are, and how you are, right now in this moment – and he wants to give you grace.

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