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Samson & the Battle for Revenge

Well this is our seventh week looking at the unlikely heroes in the book of Judges – and its the 3rd week looking specifically at the life of Samson. And in some ways it seems a bit disproportionate to spend so much time looking at just one of the 15 Judges – especially when we consider that several of the other judges – ones we’re not even going to talk about – did a much better job at leading Israel than Samson did.

However, one of the reasons that we are spending some much time with Samson is because I think in a lot of ways, most of us can relate to Samson fairly well. Cuz we know what it’s like to fail. When Samson does stupid things and he messes up and he falls short of what God has called him to be – we know what that’s like. I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there. But what I really like about Samson’s story when Samson does stupid things and when he messes up and when he falls short of what God has called him to be – God doesn’t condemn him – but instead God gives him grace. And that is so encouraging to me. I trust that you’ve been able to find hope in Samson’s story as well.

And for those of you who have missed the last couple of weeks, I should probably back up a little bit and give you the context for what we’re going to talk about today.

We first met Samson when he was just a baby – actually, he wasn’t even born yet. The Philistines had been oppressing the Israelites for about 40 years at this point and God told Samson’s parents that they there we about to have a son and that their son was going to begin to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines. God also told them that their son was to be a Nazarite from birth. That meant that he was to be dedicate or set apart for God for his entire life and as a living symbol of that, He was to do three things.

#1. Never eat or drink anything from the vine – wine, grapes, raisins.

#2. Never cut his hair

#3. Never go near a dead body.

Those three things were symbols of how Samson was to be set apart for God.

So just as God promised, Samson was born and God was with him as he grew up. We even read that God empowered Samson with incredible strength. The first example of this is when he killed a lion with his bare hands – he ripped it apart as easily if it were a young goat. And that’s just the beginning – today we’re going to read about some of the other incredible things that Samson did.

But despite these promising beginnings, things started going off track for Samson when he met a girl.  Well, actually he didn’t even meet her – he saw her from a distance and when he saw how beautiful she was, he immediately wanted to marry her. That’s probably not the best way to find a wife. But the real issue here was that she was a Philistine – and Samson’s God-given purpose in life was to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines – not to marry them.Of course, Samson’s parents tried to talk him out of it, but Samson wouldn’t listen to them. And that was kinda our first red flag – Samson had very little regard for the opinions and advice of his parents.  He certainly did not honour them as he should have. The second red flag in that story is how Samson had no regard for his Nazarite vows. We read about how he went back to that lion that He killed and he found that a swarm of bees had made honey in the carcass. He scooped out some honey and ate it – which was a complete violation God’s command for him never to go near a dead body.

So here is our hero – flirting with the enemy instead of rescuing his people from them, dis-honoring his parents in this marriage to this Philistine woman and dishonouring God by breaking his Nazarite vows. Its not a great start.

Things really start to fall apart at the wedding. At his bachelor party, Samson poses a riddle to his groomsmen and bets 30 changes of clothes that they can’t figure out his riddle before the end of the 7 day wedding celebration. This is a sizable bet so the groomsmen, who happen also be Philistines – threaten to kill the bride and her family if she doesn’t get the answer from Samson. And so without explaining the situation to Samson (Who I’m sure could have quite easily dealt with those guys threatening his wife) – instead she cries and nags him all week for the answer to his riddle and he eventually gives in and tells her.  She then tells the groomsmen and the groomsmen successfully answer the riddle.

Well, Samson is furious that his wife gave away the answer to his riddle cuz he’s now on the hook for 30 sets of clothes, so he goes down to a nearby Philistine town and kills 30 men and takes their clothing to pay his debt.

And that’s about as far as we got last week. And it certainly seems like a really messed up story – but you’ll remember that we ended by saying that this event was the first link in a chain of events that began to fulfill God’s purpose for Samson’s life – that he was going to begin to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines. Despite the huge mess that Samson had made by his foolish decisions, God was at work – even in the mess – to bring about His good purposes.

Well, we pick it up now right at the end of Judges 14. We ended midway through verse 19 last week, so let’s start right there again today. It reads like this:

But Samson was furious about what had happened, and he went back home to live with his father and mother. 20 So his wife was given in marriage to the man who had been Samson’s best man at the wedding. Judges 14:19b-20

Samson’s foolishness and it’s consequences continue. After his riddle bet goes horribly wrong, Samson storms off back home – leaving his bride-to-be at the altar (so to speak). So what do they do? His wife-to-be was then given instead to his best man. And this is such messed up situation. This best man, I presume, was the leader or at least the spokesperson, of the group of groomsman who had threatened to burn down the brides house with her in it if she didn’t get the answer to Samson’s riddle. And now she’s marrying the guy? It’s pretty obvious that this marriage is not a celebration and public declaration of love and unity and commitment between a man and woman.

You really get the sense that this was not much more than a business transaction. Her father doesn’t seem to care who she ends up with and I’m pretty sure she had no say in the matter. And as we read on, I think our suspicions will be confirmed. Look at chapter 15, verse 1 now.

 Later on, during the wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat as a present to his wife. He said, “I’m going into my wife’s room to sleep with her,” but her father wouldn’t let him in. Judges 15:1

Apparently Samson has come to regret his decision to leave his wife behind and so now that his anger has cooled off a little bit, (and this is perhaps weeks or even months later) he does back to collect his wife. But he didn’t realize that she had been married off to someone else.

2 “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.”

Judges 15:2

And you can see that this woman’s father really sees this as business transaction too. He’s almost like a car salesman. “The 2016 model is no longer available – but the new 2017s are out – and they are even more beautiful!”

Well, of course, this did not sit well with Samson. He feels that this is yet another insult from the Philistines – its rubbing even more salt in his wound. verse 3

3 Samson said, “This time I cannot be blamed for everything I am going to do to you Philistines.” Judges 15:3

Samson is ready for revenge. He feels like the Philistines have been playing him all along and he’s had enough. He is going to make the Philistines pay for what they have done.

But before we read what he did – I just want to note that in all of this – no where does Samson admit his own mistakes and his own foolishness in all of this. I mean, really, he’s brought all this upon himself!

He was the one who insisted on marrying that girl that he knew nothing about, He was the one who ignored his parents when they told him not to marry into the Philistine clan, he was the one who proposed that foolish bet in the first place, he was the one who broke down and told his wife the answer to the riddle, and he was the one who stormed off back home and left his wife at the altar.

Not to say that the Philistines were innocent – but Samson certain deserved his fair share of the blame. I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 7…

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

Don’t we do that? We are so quick to pounce on every little sin we see in anyone else – but we fail to acknowledge our own massive failures – our own shortcomings – our own sins. Samson was totally ready to rip apart the Philistines for what they had done to him, but by no means was he ready to admit his own guilt in this whole situation.

Proverbs 28:13….

13 Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

14 Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,
but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

Proverbs 28:13-14

And that last part sure seems to describe Samson – he’s certainly not confessing or renouncing his own sins – he’s just ready to punish others for their sins. And that sure sounds to me like a pretty hard heart. It’s so important that we keep a soft hard before God – that we tremble at the thought of sinning against Him. We need to make sure that we examine our own hearts – and then to confess and renounce our sin – dealing quickly with the issues in our own lives before those issue grow and begin to spin our lives out of control – which is kinda what we see happening in Samson’s life.

Things are escalating rapidly and Samson is certainly on his way to trouble. Well, let’s see what happens…

3 Samson said, “This time I cannot be blamed for everything I am going to do to you Philistines.” 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.

Judges 15:3-5

That’s some pretty significant destruction. That’s a major blow to the Philistine’s economy. And so obviously, that gets the Philistines attention. The murder of 30 men in Ashkelon when Samson was collecting his 30 sets of clothing – that didn’t seem to make it on their radar. But now when all their grain and all their vineyards and all their olive groves are burned to the ground – they begin to take notice. verse 6

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.

Judges 15:6

Sadly, it was this woman and her family that paid for Samson’s actions. Now I’m not entirely sure why this was the Philistine’s solution to their problem. Perhaps they felt that the woman and her father were to blame for how they treated Samson. That this was all their fault somehow. Although that doesn’t really seem justified – I think we see them more as the victims than the villains here.

I think perhaps a better understand is that because the Philistines were unable to capture Samson and make him pay for that he had done, they took it out on the people that he cared about. Samson’s own parents were likely safely within Israelites borders and trying to attack them might have provoked an all-out war with Isreal and the Philistines didn’t really want that at this point — so by murdering this woman and her family, they could hurt Samson without ruffling too many other feathers.

And this certainly did hit a nerve with Samson – and understandable so.

So now in verse 7 we read:

“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.

Judges 15:7-8

And I don’t know if you’ve noticed this by now or not – but this whole story has become one big battle of revenge. The Philistines and Samson are taking turns lashing out at each other in this back and forth, escalating game of retaliation. And as you can see, the casualties on both sides are increasing. And that’s really the nature of revenge. Nothing really gets resolved. The hurt increases on both sides. And it just become a perpetual back-and-forth battle with no end in sight. Revenge just gives birth to more revenge.

I think that’s why the Bible so clearly tell us in Romans 12:17

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.

Romans 12:17-21

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. He is the righteous judge. He is the defender of the weak. Let God fight your battles. We can try to execute judgement on our own, but He is the only One who can dish out true justice!

When we take matters into our own hands, we only perpetuate the escalating cycle of revenge. And that’s exactly what we see happening here in Samson’s story. After Samson kills many Philistines in his fury, he goes an lives in a cave in the rock of Etam – which was near the borderlands between the Israelites and the Philistines. So we read in verse 9…

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.”

Judges 15:9-10

These guys are just as stuck on revenge as Samson was – and their quest for revenge has now threatened to turn into all out war with the Israelites – specifically the men of Judah. However, the men of Judah weren’t really looking to get involved in a war and so they go talk to Samson. Well, perhaps they were ready to do more than just talk because it says in verse 11…

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?”

But Samson replied, “I only did to them what they did to me.”

12 But the men of Judah told him, “We have come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.”

“All right,” Samson said. “But promise that you won’t kill me yourselves.”

13 “We will only tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines,” they replied. “We won’t kill you.” So they tied him up with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.

Judges 15:11-13

It’s pretty clear that the men of Judah do not see Samson as their rescuer. To them, he’s not a hero – he’s a threat.

And that’s certainly different from what we’ve seen in all the other judges. In every other story, the judge rallies the people and leads them to attack their enemies. Gideon even had to turn people away who wanted to fight alongside with him. But here, Samson does not have the support of the people. He doesn’t rally them together to rise up against the Philistines. Instead, Samson has to make them promise not to kill him themselves.

It’s pretty obvious to the men of Judah that Samson was not the kind of leader they wanted to follow. They could see that he wasn’t interested in rescuing them. He was merely interested in carrying out his own selfish agenda – he just wanted revenge.

And that’s such a sad commentary on who Samson had become – rather than being the person that God created him to be. Samson could have been an incredible leader. Imagine following Samson into battle! That’d be like walking behind a bulldozer! If anyone had the physical capabilities to lead others into battle – Samson was the guy!

The problem was that Samson lacked the character necessary to lead others. Man, he couldn’t even lead himself. He was driven by his desires, by his anger, by his need for revenge. He had no self-discipline. And as a result – he was totally incapable of leading himself or anyone else.

So now, instead of leading these men into battle against the Philistines, they were leading him, bound up, to be delivered into the hands of the Philistines. verse 14

14 As Samson arrived at Lehi, the Philistines came shouting in triumph. But…

Judges 15:14

Wouldn’t you know it… There’s a “but” in the story. Samson seems to be heading towards a disaster of his own making – his foolishness is about to catch up with him – then we get to verse 14 and there’s a “but” in the story! We’ll let’s see what this ‘but’ is all about.

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. 15 Then he found the jawbone of a recently killed donkey. He picked it up and killed 1,000 Philistines with it. Judges 15:14-15

Wow! That’s some ‘but’! Before this ‘but’ – things were not looking good for Samson. As a result of his own foolishness and his own weak character, he lost a bet, he lost his wife, he lost the support of his fellow Israelites – and here he is, bound up and being delivered into the hands of his enemies – and then God comes through with this gigantic ‘but’.

I don’t know why, but God still hasn’t given up on this guy! God again rescues this ‘rescuer’. You can hardly believe it. He really is the God of compassion and mercy. It’s no wonder that Paul writes in Romans 8:38…

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

God just doesn’t give up. Not on Samson – and not on you. There are times when we’re tempted to think that God can’t love us anymore – not after what we’ve done. That we’re beyond forgiveness. Beyond redemption. But that’s just not the case. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He never gives up on us.

And we’ll see this even more next week as Samson continues to make a mess of things – but even then, God never gives up on Samson.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s finish up this story for today.

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!”

17 When he finished his boasting, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was named Jawbone Hill.

Judges 15:16-17

You kinda get the idea that Samson still isn’t recognizing God’s hand in all of this. There’s no mention of God in Samson’s little song – it’s just Samson boasting about his own mighty exploits. In fact, the only time in this whole story so far where Samson even acknowledges God’s existence is in this next verse. verse 18

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?”

Judges 15:18

Even this comes across as more of an arrogant demand – rather than a humble request. Samson still doesn’t get it! And yet, God is still gracious. verse 19

19 So God caused water to gush out of a hollow in the ground at Lehi, and Samson was revived as he drank. Then he named that place “The Spring of the One Who Cried Out,” and it is still in Lehi to this day.

Judges 15:19

And I think that’s where we’ll wrap up for today. With God answering the one who cries out. Cuz God still does that today. He answers the one who cries out.

Sometimes we think God answers the one who has his act all together.

That he answers the one who know how to pray the right words.

Or that he answers the one who has a degree in Biblical studies.

No. God answers the one who cries out. That’s really his only requirement. Psalm 145, verse 18 tells us…

The Lord is near all who cry out to him,

all who cry out to him sincerely. Psalm 145:18 (NET)

The chances are pretty good that even this week, you’re going to find yourself in a difficult situation. Maybe the baby cries all night and you get zero sleep. Maybe stuff is happening at work and you’re not sure you’re even gonna have a job. Maybe you & your spouse have a total blow up and your relationship is totally strained. Maybe a good friend or family member ends up in the hospital. Maybe your car breaks down and you just don’t have the money to fix it!

Whatever might happen this week, you need to know that you can cry out to God and He will hear and be near. God answers the one who cries out. He provides water for the ones who are thirsty. He provides comfort for the ones who are hurting. He walks beside the ones who are alone. He gives strength to those who are weak and weary.

God answers the one who cries out. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a life-long history of mistakes like Samson did. Or if you’ve lived a pretty good life all things considered. Either way, there’s gonna come a time when all you can do it cry out to God. And when you do, God will hear and be near.

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