Well, today we want to conclude our series on the heroes and the zeros of the book of Judges – and the character that we want to look at today is probably the most famous of all the judges. Today we’re going to look at the life of Samson. Now the Bible gives us more information about Samson than any of the other judges we’ve looked at. A couple of Judges that we didn’t look at in this study – Tola and Jair – both have only two verse each about their lives – but Samson has four entire chapters.
So there must be something important for us to learn from the life of Samson. Which is almost surprising considering what a wreck his life was. Most of us remember Samson for his great strength – how he killed a lion with this bare hands – or how He torn the city gates right off their hinges – or how he killed a 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. These are the acts that made Samson famous – but what do you know about his character? What kind of a person was He? What was his relationship with God like? What was his relationship with others like? You see, these are the kind of issues that determine whether someone is truly a hero or a zero…
So that’s where I want to focus our attention this morning – not so much on his super strength and his fantastic exploits, but rather on his character. In God’s eyes – was He a hero or was He a zero?
Well, as I mentioned, the story of Samson spans four chapters, so we simply don’t have the time to read through it all this morning, so I’ll be paraphrasing and summarizing quite a bit. But do feel free to read through these passages on your own sometime this week. It’s Judges chapters 13 through 16.
Chapter 13 begins with the birth of Samson – we don’t get this kind of information about the other judges, but Samson’s birth is significant. You see Samson’s parents had no children at this time – they were unable to get pregnant. But one day the angel of the Lord appeared Manoah’s wife (Manoah was Samson’s father) we read in verse 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.
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.”
Now these restrictions about not drinking alcohol or eating forbidden food during the pregnancy wasn’t just for the baby’s health. It was because the child was to be a Nazarite. What exactly is a nazarite, you may ask?
Well, if you looked in the book of Numbers chapter six, it actually gives a very detailed description of what a Nazarite is and you can read it if you like later on, but basically it says that the person’s life was dedicate to God, and as a sort of living symbol of that, He would do three things: #1. He would abstain from eating or drinking anything from the vine (including wine, grapes, or even raisins), #2. He would not cut his hair, and #3. he would not come near a dead body. Those were the rules for being a nazarite. And Samson wasn’t the only Nazarite in the Bible – the Bible also indicates that Samuel was a Nazarite – as was John the Baptist. Even Paul, for a short time, took a Nazarite vow.
So while being a Nazarite isn’t unique to Samson, it is key to his story as we will find out a little later. So keep this in mind and let’s jump forward in time a little bit to when Samson is no longer a little baby. He’s now a young man and we’ll pick it up now in chapter 14, verse 1.
One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye. 2When 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.”
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.”
As you can see, young men 3,000 years ago weren’t much different from the young men today. I’m sure that if we still had arranged marriages in Canada, you fathers would be hearing the same line at some point – “Get her for me! She looks good to me.”
But there’s are a couple of problems here with Samson choice. You see, this woman is a Philistine. The Philistines are the enemies of the Israelites. Samson’s God-given purpose in life is to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines – not marry them. It a bit of a conflict of interest, isn’t it? And not only that, Samson’s life has been dedicated to serving God – whereas this Philistine woman would worship the false Philistine god – Dagon. What chance for unity and harmony can there be in this marriage?
You know you can work through a lot of differences in marriage. You can work through different career paths, you can work through how many kids you want to have, how you want to raise those kids, you can work through how you want to spend your money, you can work through the whole toilet seat being left up or down thing – but I tell ya, if you don’t both worship the same God, you’re going to have problems – you’ll never have that unity, that one-ness that God intends marriage to be. Because as I’ve said before, what you believe about God effects everything you do. So if you and your spouse have vastly different beliefs about God, then you’re going to have conflict in every area of your life together.
So for you young men or women who are starting to think about dating and marriage, here’s my free dating advice – for what it’s worth. Find someone who loves God as much or more than you do – don’t settle for anything less. I tell ya, it’ll make all the difference in your marriage. Because you certainly don’t want to end up like Samson – as we will soon find out.
We won’t read through the whole story, but to give you a quick summary, here’s what happens:
Samson’s parents finally agree to the marriage and they all go down to Timnah for the wedding. While his parents are making all the wedding arrangements, Samson throws a party and the brides parents send 30 guys to hang out with him. I presume this is kinda like his bachelor party. Well, at the party, Samson makes a bet with the 30 guys. He says that he’ll give them a riddle and if they can figure it out over the course of the 7-day wedding celebration, he’ll give them 60 sets of clothes. But if they can’t figure it out, they would have to give him 60 sets of clothes. They agree to this bet, Samson gives them the riddle, and they start trying to figure it out. But after three days, they still couldn’t figure out the answer to Samson’s riddle.
Now let me read to you what happens next in verse 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 14:15
Wow. Nice 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 bet that might amount to maybe $1000 each. You can see why Samson’s parents weren’t to eager to marry into the Philistine clan.
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. Then she explained the riddle to the young men.
Wow. What a fun wedding, eh? The bride cries and nags the groom 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.
Maybe that should be my second bit of free dating advice – listen to your parents. Honor their wishes. Not to say that parents are perfect or that they are always right – but quite often they can see things that you can’t. There is some wisdom that comes with age. So even if you disagree with them – It’s still wise to honor their wishes – even in this area of dating and marriage.
Because unfortunately for Samson, his disregarding of his parents advice lead to a whole lot of trouble. Here’s what happened:
Once the 30 guys at Samson’s party hear the answer from Samson’s wife, they go to Samson and tell him the answer to his riddle. To which, he replies in verse 18…
“If you hadn’t plowed with my heifer, you wouldn’t have solved my riddle.” Judges 14:18
Well, I could be wrong here, but I would guess that Samson isn’t very impressed with either his wife or these 30 young men. So now, to pay his debt of 60 sets of clothes, Samson goes to another Philistine town not far away and kills 30 men and takes their belongings and uses that to pay his debt. And the Bible tells us that Samson was so furious about what happened, he leaves his new wife in Timnah and goes home to live with his mom and dad. But it doesn’t end there. The repercussions of Samson’s foolish decisions continue.
Because weeks or months later (we’re not exactly sure on the timeframe), he goes back to collect his wife, but her father won’t let him. He explains in verse 2 of chapter 15…
“I truly thought you must hate her,” her father explained, “so I gave her in marriage to your best man. But look, her younger sister is even more beautiful than she is. Marry her instead.”
Well, when Samon hears this, he gets really mad and so to express his anger, and he goes and catches 300 foxes. He ties them together in pairs and attaches a torch to their tails and lets them run through all the Philistines crops. They burn down all the Philistines grain, their vineyards, and their olive groves.
Well, of course, this makes the Philistines furious and when they find out who did it and why, they go get the woman from Timnah and her father and they burn them to death. Do you see how this whole cycle of anger and revenge is escalating? It gets worse. Look at Samson’s response in verse 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.
Hold on a second…. I think there is something to be noticed here. We haven’t been reading through this story verse by verse, and so I think we’ve missed an important re-occurring phrase. Let me jump back for a minute. Earlier when Gideon was on his way to Timnah to meet with this wife-to-be, a lion attacked him. And the Bible says in Judges 14:6…
“The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him, and he ripped the lion’s jaws apart with his bare hands.” Judges 14:6
Then later when He goes to attack the 30 Philistines to provide the 60 sets of clothes to the other 30 men, the Bible says in in verse 19…
“Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to the town of Ashkelon, [and] killed thirty men….” Judges 14:19
Both times, it says… the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him… But where is that phrase in this verse?
“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.
There’s nothing in there about the Spirit of the Lord. It says that every other time – what happened this time? Could it be that this was not God’s doing? Could it be that Samson, who was so filled with rage against the Philistines, crossed the line and acted independently of God? Could it be that this eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth escalating battle of revenge was not God’s intended way of rescuing Israel from the Philistines, but only Samson’s personal agenda of revenge? It doesn’t say that specifically – but I wonder.
It kinda seems that Samson had an anger management problem. He seems to be consumed by his anger and his desire for revenge. It seems somewhere along the line, Samson had allowed Satan to get a foothold in his life through his anger. Ephesians 4:36 warns us of that very thing.
“Don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
You know, it’s not a sin to get angry. Even Jesus got angry sometimes. I think we should get angry too, when we see things like injustice, abuse, and other ugly manifestations of sin. But the key is not to let our anger control us. The Holy Spirit is what should control us – not our anger.
And while I can’t say for sure that that’s what happened with Samson, it sure seems like it. His actions seem less and less about rescuing Israel and more and more about personal vengeance. And you know, the Bible is pretty clear on the topic of revenge too. Romans 12:7 says…
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Those are some hard verses to live out. It’s much easier to hold a grudge. To get bitter. To fight back. To take your sweet revenge. But let me warn you – that’s exactly what gives Satan a foothold in your life. That’s just what he needs to steal to your joy – to take away your peace – to harden your heart. Don’t let him do that. Don’t let bitterness and anger grow up in your life. Leave the revenge business to God.
So what happened to Samson? Well, for the sake of time, let’s jump down to the last chapter of Samson’s life.
We read in Judges chapter 16 that some time after this, he fell in love with another Philistine woman. It seems that he didn’t learn his lesson last time. So we read in verse 4…
4 Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek. 5 The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “Entice Samson to tell you what makes him so strong and how he can be overpowered and tied up securely. Then each of us will give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” Judges 16:4-5
Now that is a very significant amount of money. You Bible scholars might remember that the average price of a slave back then was 30 pieces of silver. So for these rulers to offer Delilah 1,100 pieces of silver from each of them was a massive payout. So Delilah does her best to figure out the secret of Samson’s strength.
And she’s not all that subtle… She just flat out asks him “Please tell me what makes you so strong and what it would take to tie you up securely.” Hmmmm. You’d think that would set off some warning bells for Samson, but instead of taking the hint, he decides to toy with her. He tells her that he could be tied up with seven new bow strings. So she ties him up with seven new bow strings and then, with several Philistine men hiding in the next room she calls out, “Samson the Philistines have come to capture you.” Well, he snaps off the ropes like they were nothing.
Well of course, now she starts pouting a little bit because she knows he’s just making fun of her. So Samson says, “Ok,ok. I could be tied up with brand-new ropes.” Again, she ties him up with brand-new ropes and calls out, “Samson, the Philistines have come to capture you.” Of course, he snaps the ropes off again. And you’d think by now, that he would start becoming suspicious of this girl, but apparently he’s either pretty naive or his ego has become so inflated that he thinks he’s invincible.
Now she’s getting really pouty, and so Samson tells her that if his hair was woven into the fabric in a loom, he would become as weak as any man. So while he’s sleeping, she weaves his hair into her loom and again calls out that the Philistines are here to capture him. But just like before, he’s as strong as ever. Now look what happens in verse 15…
Then Delilah pouted, “How can you tell me, ‘I love you,’ when you don’t share your secrets with me? You’ve made fun of me three times now, and you still haven’t told me what makes you so strong!” 16 She tormented him with her nagging day after day until he was sick to death of it.
Boy, can this guy pick the women or what? First, at his wedding, his wife cries and nags him to find out the answer to his riddle until he gives in. And now Delilah torments him with her nagging day after day until he was sick to death of it.
So finally, he tells her the truth. That he was a Nazarite and his hair had never been cut – and if his head was shaved, his super strength would leave him.
Delilah realizes that he had told the truth and she calls for the Philistine men to come back one more time. She lulls Samson to sleep, has his hair cut off, and she calls out as before, “Samson, the Philistines have come to capture you.” Verse 20.
When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him.
21 So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison.
What a sad ending for someone who had so much potential. Never before had God given someone such strength – such opportunity to be a great hero. But because of his uncontrolled anger and his arrogance, he lost that opportunity. Verse 20 says it all – He didn’t realize the Lord had left him. And I don’t think it was simply because his hair was cut. I think the Lord left him, because he had left the Lord. Now that’s not to say that God had abandoned him completely – we read later that God gave him a second chance. But God left him in that, as long as Samson was acting on his own selfish agenda, God wasn’t going to use him anymore. God wasn’t going to provide him with super strength anymore. Samson forfeited his opportunity to be used by God.
And this should serve as a warning for us. When we serve God and live for him and follow his agenda, God is going to be with us. He is going to lead us and strengthen us and use us to do great things for him. But, when we start living for ourselves – for our own pleasure and according to our own agenda – we’re going to lose out on those kinds of blessings. He’s not going to be “with us” anymore.
Maybe this is a good time to take stock of your own life. Who have you been living for? For yourself or for God? Whose agenda have you been following – you own or God’s? And as you reflect on that, if you find that you’ve been living more for yourself and less for God in these recent days – can I encourage you, it’s not too late to change directions.
Let me read for you the conclusion to Samson’s life: Verse 23.
The Philistine rulers held a great festival, offering sacrifices and praising their god, Dagon. They said, “Our god has given us victory over our enemy Samson!”
24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy to us! The one who killed so many of us is now in our power!”
25 Half drunk by now, the people demanded, “Bring out Samson so he can amuse us!” So he was brought from the prison to amuse them, and they had him stand between the pillars supporting the roof.
26 Samson said to the young servant who was leading him by the hand, “Place my hands against the pillars that hold up the temple. I want to rest against them.” 27 Now the temple was completely filled with people. All the Philistine rulers were there, and there were about 3,000 men and women on the roof who were watching as Samson amused them.
28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.”
29 Then Samson put his hands on the two center pillars that held up the temple. Pushing against them with both hands, 30 he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. So he killed more people when he died than he had during his entire lifetime.
So what do you think? Was Samson a hero or a zero?
You know, Samson made a lot of mistakes in his life. God had given him such great potential, such an opportunity to become a great hero for God. But he let his anger and his arrogance get in the way. Yet despite his shortcomings – God used him anyway. And when He blew it, God was always ready to give him a second chance. The moment Samson humbled himself and submitted himself again to the sovereignty of God, God was right there – Ready to forgive, ready to give him strength once again.
And you know, God does the same thing for us. No matter how many mistakes we’ve made in life – no matter how greatly we’ve blown it – God is always there – ready to forgive us – ready to give us a second chance – a third chance, a fourth chance, a whatever-it-takes chance – ready to give us strength again.
I don’t know all the details of your life. I don’t know about all your short-comings and failures. But I know about Samson’s. I know about mine. And I know that God is a God of compassion and mercy. He is filled with unfailing love and He lavishes unfailing love to a thousand generations. Can I encourage you, don’t wait until you find yourself with your eyes gouged out, in chains – blindly grinding grain in the prison before you turn to God. Don’t wait until your world crashes down around you before you look to him for forgiveness and strength. Look to God today. Submit yourself to His sovereignty. Seek His forgiveness. Ask Him for strength. He’s just waiting to give you a second chance and fresh start. Don’t wait. Do it today.